Over 300 love letters for Cody!
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For anyone who submitted a love letter for Cody. We got a testimony for ya:

So I finally gave Cody his bundle on Friday night, the night before his birthday and I can safely say it was a success. I wrote him a letter including the request and a small explanation from me at the bottom (along with the music suggestions that people gave, but I didn’t let him look at that until after he opened the box).

His girlfriend, Kaitlyn, and I bought a nice sized white box to put all of the letters (There were 355 of them and 21 were international. The UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Brasil, Croatia, and Singapore!) in so that when he read the letter, he still had no idea what was in the box. As he read it, I watched him, He told me, "I have no words for it. There were so many emotions coming from the request and the overwhelming amount of responses from people all over the world. It was amazing that all these people that never met me came together in a way to make me feel something that I don't feel often. I felt special in a way. It was just an amazing surprise and I'm so happy. I can't wait to sit down and read every letter. I just made so many new friends.”

He proceeded to open one of them as our dad texted me telling him he was at our house waiting (he was taking us to Dave and Buster's for Cody's birthday). Cody disregarded this, too overwhelmed with everything around him. He promised me that he was going to read all of them as soon as he could.

It was honestly such a wonderful experience and now that the whole college mailroom knows who I am, it’ll be fun to go back for any other shipments. 

It was honestly such a wonderful experience and now that the whole college mailroom knows who I am, it’ll be fun to go back for any other shipments. He and I are incredibly grateful to have experienced this. It was such a good experience and a totally wild ride. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the bottom of my heart to the star beyond the moon. It put a smile on his face and that’s all I could have ever wanted. This experience even inspired me to start a Campus Cursive Chapter on my own campus!

Hannah BrencherComment
How to survive long-distance friendship.
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Her: I’m having wine for dinner.

Me: * High five emoji*

Me: I’m having pizza. Again.

Her: *High five emoji*

Me: I miss your face. Can we check calendars soon to see real life faces?

Her: Yes! What does next month look like for you?

 

Adulting is hard. It comes with taxes you have to pay yourself, jobs that you can’t ditch like class, and laundry that doesn’t fold itself (just like my mom warned me about when I was younger). These were all things I knew were coming with age. The thing that I wasn’t prepared for was friend separation. In college, I would see my “home friends” on holiday breaks and summer vacations but I always thought I would be back. In grad school, I would see my “college friends” when I went back for Homecoming or when they end up in the same city. Then jobs happened and new “job friends” came into existence. And “husband’s friends” became part of “my friends” but more and more of “my friends” were no longer in my immediate space.

life has taken my friends across the country, to the other side of the world, hundreds of miles up the coast, or, even worse, to the other side of Los Angeles… the city where 16 miles feels like that cross-country trip you took with your roommate after college. This has meant that I have to work harder to maintain the friendships I have with the people I love.  

FIVE WAYS TO HAVE A GREAT LONG-DISTANCE FRIENDSHIP

  1. Don’t let out of sight mean out of mind. You or your friends may have partners, kids, jobs, and grocery lists, so it can be easy to become distracted by what’s in front of you. It can be normal to let what you see consistently take over your brain (until you see a post on social media reminding you that your friend is still around). Don’t let it. Set reminders in your phone to reach out to these friends who aren’t always physically easily accessible, maybe every first Tuesday of the month or every Sunday afternoon.

  2. Have interactive dates from your own homes. Do something together at the same time, like watch a favorite TV show or make dinner. The only decision you have to make after that is whether to use FaceTime or Skype.  Pour a glass of wine, turn on the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and talk your way through the show (mostly during commercials). Or stand in each other’s kitchens as you both make dinner at the same time. Sit down at your dining room tables to share a meal and catch up, as if you were actually sitting across the table at happy hour. There’s nothing that says that two friends can’t enjoy each other’s company without actually being in their physical company.

  3. Use technology in new ways. There are so many apps that can be downloaded to allow friends across countries and oceans to stay in touch without any additional cost. Just like iMessage, WhatsApp lets you text people regardless of where they live.

  4. When you make plans, show up. Follow through. Actually be there. When you don’t have the opportunity to see your friends often, it means that when you do see them, you need to make the most of it. Some of my best friends in the whole world require that we compare our calendars months in advance to schedule days and times where we can get together. When you have to plan bonding time so far in advance, canceling can postpone a friend date weeks or even months.

  5. Pick your priorities. Friendship has to become intentional as you get older. I wish I was Wonder Woman and could be everything to everyone whenever they need me, but unfortunately, I do not have a lasso of truth or hair that magically curls perfectly when I take it out of a ponytail. It took a while, but I have come to the realization that not only is my time is valuable, but I get to decide where it goes. Pick the humans that build up your spirit instead of depleting it. Choose to invest in the people that you want to be surrounded by, literally and figuratively, and not the people who don’t give back to you.

Make the call, send the letter, have the FaceTime date, send the text high five. You are a good friend and can always become a better one.

 Melissa Gillespie is a high school counselor with a background in bereavement, Harry Potter marathons, and tutu dance parties, with an affinity for all things pizza and Disneyland. She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and can be found online at  melissaleegillespie.wordpress.com . 

Melissa Gillespie is a high school counselor with a background in bereavement, Harry Potter marathons, and tutu dance parties, with an affinity for all things pizza and Disneyland. She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and can be found online at melissaleegillespie.wordpress.com

Hannah BrencherComment
A love letter to the lonely.
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Recently, I moved out of my parents’ house (again), into my own place. Normally, this would be cause for excitement – a new apartment, your own routines, and ALL the trips to IKEA! But after the excitement faded, I found myself often feeling lonely.

Loneliness is a tricky companion. It seeps into your bones, and before you know it, it has made a home under your skin. There it stays, living in harmony with your fears and insecurities. Loneliness is what the voice in your head tells you you deserve, for being you, for being difficult, for being so hard to love. 

Loneliness becomes a shield. Once you're good at being lonely, you find safety in the quiet, empty spaces. There is no rejection there. You are never the odd one out when you're alone.

Loneliness becomes an excuse. It is a weapon you use against yourself. There is no one there to judge you for your choices, to reprimand you for bad behavior, to tell you to put down the fork, put down the glass. Making excuses is a lot easier when you’re the only one who has to buy them. 

Even though I know that I have love in my life, sometimes when I’m on my own, loneliness still hits me like a sledgehammer. It ripples out into my body like waves on a lake that you toss a stone into, and its momentum seems unstoppable.

As Rupi Kaur said, “The irony of loneliness is we all feel it at the same time”. Even more insidious is the fact that this feeling can be so overwhelming that you start to believe it’s true, that there is no difference between feeling lonely and being alone. It can be even harder to differentiate between the two when you’re single, and it feels like you will never find love.

But I am here to tell you: you are complete, just the way you are. There is nothing wrong with you because you are single and feeling lonely. You are a whole and consummate human being without a significant other. The lies loneliness tells you are untrue.

If you find yourself in a season of feeling lonely, please know that it’s okay. If it feels like you’re putting on your loneliness in the morning along with your makeup and scrubbing it off again at night after you brush your teeth, it’s okay to sit with that feeling. To explore why you feel the way that you do, and what triggers it.

Please also know this: no one is ever truly alone. There is someone out there who is thinking of you. You are someone’s favorite person, your voice is someone’s favorite voice. You matter. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, you matter.

So hold on. When loneliness tries to tell you that this is the only way you will ever feel, hold on. As I have been learning over the last few weeks, if you simply do your best to spend time with the people you love, and take care of yourself in the process, the loneliness will ebb away again. You just have to hold on.

 When Johanna isn't writing, she enjoys spending hours in the kitchen, watching movies with as many explosions as humanly possible, and dreaming up ways to clone Ryan Reynolds. Follow her adventures as she documents life's little moments on  Instagram . 

When Johanna isn't writing, she enjoys spending hours in the kitchen, watching movies with as many explosions as humanly possible, and dreaming up ways to clone Ryan Reynolds. Follow her adventures as she documents life's little moments on Instagram

Hannah BrencherComment
Killing the stigma of living in a small town.
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There are a lot of unflattering stereotypes about being from or living in a small town.  People tend to assume you're uncultured because you're far from the big cities.  In college, when I explained to new friends that I was from a small town, they assumed that I lived on a farm and milked cows as a hobby. I was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, so I've always found the "no teeth, hillbilly" stereotype to be pretty rude, but I can always shrug it off.  The stereotype I can't seem to shrug off, however, is this idea that being from a small town means you can't be successful.  

At first, I thought it was just me.  I'm from a small town in Virginia, but after college, I lived and worked in our capital city for four years.  Once I got used to it, I really enjoyed the city life.  I built my photography business there, worked for a magazine, made friends -- it was great.  But after a while, I felt like I had done all I could there.  I wanted to go HOME.  I had a great opportunity back home to run a wedding venue and focus on writing and photography more.  I felt GOOD about the move, but I also felt embarrassed to tell people.  I wasn't sure where it was coming from, but I couldn't shake this nagging feeling that moving back to a small town meant I had FAILED.  Failed at city life, failed at being on my own, failed at finding success.  I didn't want to be one of those stereotypes.  You know the one I'm talking about -- the sad guy who still goes to all his high school football team's Friday night games, even in his 50s?  I worried that people would think less of me for going back.  

But I convinced myself that no one REALLY thinks less of you if you live in a small town.  I was sure it was all in my head.

I was sure . . . until I drove up to my alma mater to speak to their hospitality management school.  Some fellow wedding industry friends and I were invited to talk about the industry and give advice.  During my introduction, I mentioned that I had lived in the city before recently moving back to my hometown.  

After our talk, students came down to chat with the other panelists and get their business cards.  One girl boldly walked up to me and said, “I am SO glad you said you live in a small town.  I’m actually thinking of moving to a small town after I graduate, but I’ve been worried about it.”

I went on to explain to her that a lot of smaller, rural towns actually have booming wedding and tourism industries.  She was so happy to hear that, and then she said something that made me want to weep and also hit someone.

“An ex-boyfriend told me I wouldn’t amount to anything if I moved to a small town."

I was devastated.  After months of convincing myself that it was just me and my anxiety, the stereotype was staring me right in the face: living in a small town means you won't amount to anything.  Someone actually said it. People actually think it. 

But then . . . I came to my senses.  I was angry, but I also knew this ex-boyfriend was wrong.   I gave the girl a hug and tried my best to tell her that she could do anything from anywhere.  Her address wouldn't determine her success -- she would.  That night, I prayed that I had freed her from a lie.  

See, I think there are two ugly lies that band together to make one big small town myth:

Myth #1: There are no opportunities in a small town.

I lived in the city for four years, and you know what's weird?  An opportunity never came and knocked on my door! I still had to go find them all.  Sometimes I had to make them for myself. Just like in a small town.  

If you have the drive, work ethic, and an internet connection, you can make anything happen anywhere.

If you have the drive, work ethic, and an internet connection, you can make anything happen anywhere.  You don't have to live in a big city to have impact or create opportunities for yourself.  In fact, more people than ever are working remotely.  In 2015, when the most recent data was published, nearly 4 million Americans were telecommuting to work.  The same study found that 56% of jobs can be done remotely.  Now more than ever, where you are located physically doesn't have to hinder your job prospects.  The only thing that limits your potential is how hard you're willing to work.

And sure, maybe an opportunity will take you to the big city.  That's good, too.  Go.  Explore. Learn.  Grow.  Stay there if you love it.  But never feel ashamed to come back if you want to.  It doesn't mean you've failed -- it means you get to bring all of your knowledge, your culture, your experiences, back HOME. Use all of that to improve the community that shaped you from the beginning.

Myth #2: If you live in a small town, your world gets small.  

This was my biggest fear when it came to moving back home from the city.  When you think about living in a city, you think about all the hustle and bustle of NEW and BIG.  There are always new restaurants, new shops, big shows, big concerts, new plays, new people.  Things move fast, and there's a lot of culture at your fingertips.  It's easy to feel like you're at the center of everything hip and new.  

In a small town, I was afraid all of that would stop.  I didn't want to become the person who had never heard of the latest movie or never got to experience new foods and music and diverse people.  But you know what's weird?  I'm closer now than ever to an international airport.  I still live near a train station, and I still have a car.  It may take more time to get to new things, but new things are still out there. 

So how do you keep your world big if your town is small?  Make it a priority to keep experiencing new things and reinventing yourself.  Keep in touch with all kinds of people, and never miss an opportunity to listen more than you talk.  I'm a firm believer that nothing can broaden your world more than asking good questions and listening to the answers.  I'm also a firm believer that anyone can travel, regardless of what your budget is.  Personally, I'm always saving and planning for at least one long international trip each year.  If I have to choose between buying a new pair of shoes and saving for that trip, I'm saving.  See movies.  Listen to different music.  Try a new recipe.  Listen to a podcast.  Technology has made our opportunities for broadening your horizons endless.  No matter where you live, only you can determine how big or small or colorful your world is.

So how do you keep your world big if your town is small?  Make it a priority to keep experiencing new things and reinventing yourself.

I hope anyone living in a small town or thinking of moving to one hears me when I say that there is one thing that does determine your level of success, your happiness, your impact, and the size of your world.  It's not your address.  It's your HEART.  The choices that you let it guide.  The drive you feel from it.  The impact you make with it.  You and your heart are in charge of your destination.  You and your heart are in charge of how big or small your world can be. 

So do yourself a favor and block out the stereotypes.  Ignore the ex-boyfriends.  Remember that other people's opinions have very little to do with what's best for you and much more to do with what makes them feel better about their own choices.  Make the right choices for you, and never let location determine your destination.

 Shalese Danielle is a wedding photographer and writer in Orange, Virginia.  She is a frozen mocha addict and probably has chocolate hidden somewhere in her apartment.  Connect with @sShaleseDanielle on Twitter and Instagram.

Shalese Danielle is a wedding photographer and writer in Orange, Virginia.  She is a frozen mocha addict and probably has chocolate hidden somewhere in her apartment.  Connect with @sShaleseDanielle on Twitter and Instagram.

Hannah BrencherComment
Why boundaries matter... and how to create them!
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What would the world look like if there were no boundaries?  What if there were no separation between land and sea? Skin and bones? Heck, even lawn and street?  

Boundaries are necessary. They are essential to maintaining a sense of balance within oneself and society.  Boundaries preserve personal limits and create a sense of protection for things that frequently come to rob us of peace, joy, and happiness.  In a world where limits are presumed to be a bad thing, we are discouraged in creating personal boundaries for our well-being. It’s like saying “No”, is off limits because we don’t want to be perceived as “rude” or “disrespectful”, but in turn, we hurt ourselves by allowing everything within our lives.  Our world is built on the premise of boundaries.  Cars have doors to create a boundary between the open road and our bodies.  Homes have doors, alarm systems and fences to create a boundary between owners and strangers.  Oh my gosh, even our phones have covers to act as a boundary between the data we love and the elements. I don’t know about each of you, but if something happened to my beloved iPhone…I would absolutely be heartbroken.  

So…what about relationships? Why have boundaries?  Well…

1) Boundaries reveal intentions/motives.

2) Boundaries solidify expectations.

3) Boundaries protect hearts.  

Imagine if I met a total stranger, went to dinner and allowed him to move into my apartment that evening.  My mom, peers and some of you would be like “OMG!!! Why in the world did you do that? “but that is what a life without boundaries look like- chaotic, weird, rushed and dangerous.  When we lack boundaries, we send the message that we hold nothing within us that is worth protecting.  People cannot just roll up on the world’s most precious diamond, and that rule should apply to you. I lived absent of boundaries and it left me heartbroken.  I had guys calling me at all kind of hours of the night, but they did not commit to entering a relationship with me.  They entertained the thought of me, but sensed my lack of boundaries to equate a lack of worth.  I was the girl who adapted her schedule to the guy she was talking to, was open to their excuses and thought if I kept myself available- being with me would appear to be advantageous but the opposite proved true.  Like many women today, I did not require any standard to work towards and that allowed these “awful” (insert your own word here) young men to use and abuse me emotionally. The same way we would not allow a stranger to move into our home, emotionally we shouldn’t allow everyone to move into the intimate places of our hearts.

So… how do we create boundaries?

Here are a few of my go-to steps to create and maintain boundaries!

  1. Say No.  Saying no creates a boundary within itself.  We are not robots and we do not have to agree to everything.  Say it with me- “N-O, spells NO.” For example, say someone interested in you wants to talk to you at 3 am. He/she is not traveling internationally and therefore are not undergoing some type of time change.  They are not in an emergency room, dead and or close to it.  They are in perfect health, sitting in their bed. You get a text saying, “R u up?”.  This text, of course, wakes you up, you reply with “Yeah.” And they ask to call.  You have work or class in the morning and you know that you need to be well rested to do well.  You have two choices: sacrifice sleep and say “Of, course! “and hope you don’t have to present a project the next day OR you can say “Is it okay if we talk later in the day?” go back to sleep and be a happier person later.  If you create that type of boundary early, he or she learns that 3am is not the best time to call.  People will do as much as you allow! Say no, it’s ok- I promise.

  2. Have an accountability partner.  Having someone that you are accountable to allows the extra support in maintaining the boundaries you create.  For example, best friends are great accountability partners since the element of trust and honesty is already present.  I have so many accountability partners because once upon a time, I had no boundaries.  I’m a law student and I need to get a huge workload done in a short amount of time.  Once upon a time, during one of those heavy study nights, a guy I’ve been interested in called to ask me to a party.  Naturally, I called my bestie and she reminded me of my responsibilities as a student and reassured me that there will be another opportunity. Of course, she was right! Having her as an accountability partner kept me grounded in my decisions and protected my dreams of being a great student and future attorney.  At the end of the day, the only person that is going to fight hard for your dream is you. This makes having people in your life that love you enough to say no, VERY important!  Have an accountability partner, it’s worth it.

  3. Create a Standard. How do we want to live our lives?  This question is answered through our standards.  What we settle for reveal where we want to go and what we want to achieve during our short time here on earth.  If you value certain attributes, do not settle for the opposite. For example, I value honesty.  As soon as I see that the person in a relationship has a propensity to lie – that’s a red flag.  My boundary of honesty protects me from dishonesty.  Standards are good!

 Lilly lives in Boulder, Colorado and can usually be found exploring the surrounding mountains. When she’s not outside, she enjoys spending time with her friends, listening to beautiful music, hugging dogs, and eating good food. She is still in high school and is working towards going to college! 

Lilly lives in Boulder, Colorado and can usually be found exploring the surrounding mountains. When she’s not outside, she enjoys spending time with her friends, listening to beautiful music, hugging dogs, and eating good food. She is still in high school and is working towards going to college! 

Courage, dear heart.
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I never considered myself a fearful person.

Over the years, my life has been filled with its fair share of crazy adventures and giant leaps of faith. My bucket list includes items like bungee jumping and skydiving. Many have called me brave; few have called me fearful.

In late 2016, I unexpectedly lost my job and found myself wondering what would come next, and as I contemplated my next steps in life, a familiar desire came up — to run my own business, join the world of the self-employed, and have the flexibility I’d dreamed about since my first day in a gray cubicle.

But then the questions started racing through my head. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I failed? What if people saw me fail? What would I do then?

Then I heard it, that small whisper. Sarah, stop being so afraid.

Then I heard it, that small whisper. Sarah, stop being so afraid.

Me? Afraid?

Yes. Me, afraid.

As I dug into that feeling, I saw countless moments over my 27 years where I’d let fear write the story. Chances I didn’t take. Adventures I didn’t experience. Calls I didn’t make. Conversations I didn’t have. Over and over and over again, I saw fear splashed on the walls of the story of my life.

Overwhelmed by the weight of all the things I’d missed out on because I’d been afraid, I wondered — how different would my life be if I’d lived from a place of trust and love instead of fear?

Then I heard it again, that small whisper. Courage, dear heart.

I first experienced that phrase as a child, as I made my way through C.S. Lewis’ famed Chronicles of Narnia. The third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, chronicles a seafaring journey, of both the Dawn Treader and its crew, as they sail across the ocean in search of loved ones lost.

On their journey, they come to the Dark Island. Everyone is afraid and they decide to turn back, until Reepicheep, the tiny mouse with a lion’s heart, encourages them to not step back in the presence of fear but to face it. So they sail on.

Once in the darkness, they sail and sail, until a voice calls for help and they pull a man aboard. He immediately tells them to go — “Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”

The island to which they sail, he says, is the island where dreams come true. Not daydreams of happiness and light, but the dreams that make you never want to sleep again.

Now fearing for their lives, the Dawn Treader turns about and sails away from the island. But no matter how long they sail, they remain in darkness.

In complete desperation, Lucy whispers, “Aslan, Aslan, if you ever loved us at all, send us help now.” Shortly thereafter, a pin of light pricks the sky, and an albatross circles the mast and leads them toward safety.

Then Lewis penned these words:

“But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

In a few moments the darkness turned into a grayness ahead, and then, almost before they dared to begin hoping, they had shot out into the sunlight and were in the warm, blue world again. And all at once everybody realised that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.”

Many read these words and latch onto that now iconic phrase, myself included, for its words are now permanently etched on my arm.

But the more important words comes a few sentences later — “And all at once everybody realised that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.”

You see, fear is big. It’s bold, it’s loud, and it has no qualms about making itself known. It envelops us, much like the Dark Island, until it seems there is no way out, no possible path to escape.

In those moments, we often do need to hear “courage, dear heart,” a loving call for courage in the face of great darkness and fear. But what carries us beyond those moments is the realization that fear doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t even tell a true story.

So many of the things we fear have no basis in reality. They’re lies imprinted into our minds and hearts because of things we’ve heard and believed, things we’ve experienced, and things the devil wants us to think. They may be big and bold and hard to ignore, but they're still lying.

Fear wants to keep you trapped. It wants to keep you sailing around in the darkness, afraid of sleep, afraid of life, afraid of anything that frees you from monotony and insignificance.

Have courage, dear heart, for there is nothing to be afraid of and never has been.

But oh, dear heart, you were created for so much more. You were created to love big and loud and long, to move mountains and slay giants, to do hard and beautiful things. You were created by a loving God who beat back everything worth being afraid of so you could live your life abundantly, with boldness and confidence, because you are dearly loved.

Don’t let fear have the last word. Don’t let fear have any word. It doesn’t get to tell the story about who you are and what you’re capable of. You are loved deeply and fiercely and the world needs every courageous bit of you.

Have courage, dear heart, for there is nothing to be afraid of and never has been.

 

 Sarah Anne Hayes is a believer, writer, and unabashed bibliophile. She spends her days running her small business, sharing her love of simplicity and ethical fashion, planning out her next adventure, and belting out show tunes. Sarah believes life is a gift meant to be celebrated, Tuesday morning should be as memorable as Saturday night, and nothing boosts your confidence like the perfect red lipstick. Connect with her on  instagram  or  her blog .

Sarah Anne Hayes is a believer, writer, and unabashed bibliophile. She spends her days running her small business, sharing her love of simplicity and ethical fashion, planning out her next adventure, and belting out show tunes. Sarah believes life is a gift meant to be celebrated, Tuesday morning should be as memorable as Saturday night, and nothing boosts your confidence like the perfect red lipstick. Connect with her on instagram or her blog.

The myth of the roadmap.
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When I was a freshman in college, I was convinced there was a formula for how the next few years of my life needed to look. A road map, if you will. I had my major in strategic communication picked out, I was getting involved in all the right organizations that seemed to guarantee my post-grad success, and in the process, I was falling victim to the lies that surround society’s expectations of success. The lies were tiny and unassuming at first – logical, even.

If I can get on the executive board of this organization, I’ll have a better shot at a job right out of college.

If I can land a solid full-time job right out of college, I’ll have a better shot at working my way up the corporate ladder to a more successful position.

But after a while, they started to take an ugly turn. Because there came a time during my sophomore year when I realized I didn’t want to chase the same dreams that my peers were chasing. Their dream jobs were in public relations and big agencies and corporate America. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. That’s what I thought I wanted, too. That’s what I thought was the standard – the expectation of success for someone with a degree in communication.

I didn’t discover this until after college, but my personality type according to the Myers-Briggs is an INFJ. And INFJs need careers that are rooted in purpose. Careers that are rooted in doing work that we know is impacting people’s lives and changing them for the better. It was this disconnect – between what I wanted and what I thought I wanted – that sent me down a spiral of self-doubt. Those tiny and unassuming lies grew into bigger and harrier ones.

I’m not going to be as successful as everyone else because I don’t want to work in the corporate world.

I’m not going to be successful because I don’t know what kind of career I want anymore.

I’m not going to be successful because I’m already halfway through college and it’s too late to change my major and I’m not going to have a job lined up and I’m going to end up homeless.

The last one’s a bit of a stretch. But the standard of success that had been planted in my head was turning my mind into a toxic environment. The need to conform to everyone else’s careers and dreams was smothering my creativity and my potential to step into something bigger than these expectations.

This world tells us that we need to do a lot of things, to be a lot of things and to have a lot of things in order to be considered successful. There’s a lot of pressure to conform to the way everyone else is navigating life – from high school to college to adulthood. There’s pressure to have a degree in a respectable field that’ll get you an impressive job. There’s pressure to get married by a certain age and to have babies soon after. There’s pressure to make our way through life in a way that’s acceptable and normal, that doesn’t disrupt the expectations that this world demands of us. It’s all a myth.

In the age of social media and being engrossed in everyone else’s lives outside of our own, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on something. You might be a couple years behind working toward your degree while everyone else has fallen into their full-time careers. You might not be anywhere close to being married, but all of your friends are announcing their pregnancies. Or, like me, you might be feeling called to a different type of career path than the one that everyone else in your major is propelling toward. And all of this is okay. It is okay, and it’s going to be okay.

If you’re always tracing the life trajectories of others, the comparison will gladly step in and do its worst damage – if you let it. But you don’t have to let it. We each hold more power over our lives than any set of society’s expectations do. The best thing you can do is focus inward rather than outward. Dig deeper into the truth of who you are, and once you discover that, hold on tight to that truth and run with it. There’s nothing more impressive or successful than standing confidently in who you are and where you are – regardless of who or where everyone else is.

We each hold more power over our lives than any set of society’s expectations do.
 Christina is a writer and photographer living in Indiana with her husband, Isaac. She loves Jesus, brunch and nature documentaries. Be her Instagram friend  here  + follow her blog  here . 

Christina is a writer and photographer living in Indiana with her husband, Isaac. She loves Jesus, brunch and nature documentaries. Be her Instagram friend here + follow her blog here

Hannah BrencherComment
A teen's journey to uncover self-love.
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I was thirteen when I started to notice the way that people looked at me. When people whispered in the halls at school, my ears would perk up as though I was a dog and they were calling my name. I would convince myself that they had been talking about me. Rationally, they were most likely discussing Mr. Smith’s latest math homework, but something inside of me wouldn’t let me think rationally when it came to my insecurities. My emotions continued to be a roller-coaster throughout middle school and into high school. I would be out having a blast with my friends when my reflection in a store window would quickly shatter my confidence. My heart fell, my pace slowed, and I would curse myself for feeling pretty. My mind was always cheering for the other team. Everything I said, the way I looked, and the way I acted registered a cruel thought from my own mind. I would stare at the mirror and analyze every inch of myself; dissecting everything I hated about myself. It didn’t make any sense to me why I was hating myself and constantly jumping to the worst possible conclusions. I desperately wanted to find confidence in myself, but I didn’t know where to start. And it seemed that every time I began the journey to self-love, I would tumble back down the stairs whenever somebody whispered in the hall.

High school is a breeding grounds for self-deprecating thoughts. There is constant exposure to other’s judgments. Along with the fact that everyone is stumbling along and struggling to understand ourselves. Most days in my freshman year, I tried to hide my face from my classmates in an attempt to avoid any judgment that I would immediately pin as negative. It was a truly awful feeling. Teenagers are told due to our age, that our struggles and insecurities aren’t real. They are simply a product of growing up. This isn’t true, and when a teenager is struggling their pain is valid. We feel pain as deeply as anyone else. And many teenagers have experienced more than we are given credit for. We have every right to seek help in order to form a loving relationship with ourselves.

Unfortunately, this took me a while to realize. Part of the reason finding self-love while being a teenager is so hard is that even people who love you don’t take your struggles seriously. Sometimes adults who mean well have a hard time understanding what we are going through and they may discredit our pain due to our age. Luckily, I was able to share with my friends what I was experiencing. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but one day when I couldn’t continue my fake confidence while in their company, I shattered.

My friends have always been a very important part of my life, and I am grateful every day for their readiness to listen to me. They sympathized with my struggles in ways I could have never imagined. They shared the same experiences with a challenge to fully loving themselves. They had insecurities about their weight, hair, voice, and
intelligence. I realized I wasn’t alone in my battle, and we decided that together we would get better. Finding true self-love when you are a teenager is a continuous battle but we deserve to be validated.

Simple steps towards self-love:

Stop self-degrading thoughts and jokes: This is so hard to do, but with the persistent effort it can be done. I used to make self-degrading jokes all the time as a way to tear myself down. I see these jokes all the time on Instagram or Snapchat too. They seem harmless and a bit funny, but they actually have an effect on how I feel about myself.

Accept that sometimes doing nothing is perfectly fine: Because I am a teenager, I always feel like I should be doing something. Things such as hanging out with a friend, doing schoolwork, looking for a job, etc. When I accepted that sometimes being lazy was okay, I began to relax more and stop stressing myself out. This helped me stop trashing myself for not being motivated enough. -

Stop reading into other people’s words so much: I often found myself making up someone else’s side of the conversation, and usually, this resulted in me ending up hurt. Whenever I catch myself doing this nowadays, I tell myself to be rational and stop speaking for them.

Cut out negative people from your life: In high school, I’ve met a lot of really fake people who don’t have my best interests at heart. It is simply best to distance yourself from people who make you feel bad. You don’t owe anything to someone who brings you pain. You deserve people who make your confidence shine.

End perfectionism: This one is so hard for me. I am a complete perfectionist from everything from school projects to Instagram posts to the way I look. I eventually accepted that sometimes I had to let myself produce some not-so-perfect work. I also had to accept that I was never going to look completely perfect. Through this, you can form a more forgiving relationship with yourself. -

Reach out to others who you trust: This really helped me on my journey to self-love. If it is possible, talking to someone about how you feel is very effective. For me, my friends were able to relate to my feelings. Other people could be parents, counselors, teachers, siblings, therapists, etc. If someone doesn’t understand or listen, don’t give up!

 Lilly lives in Boulder, Colorado and can usually be found exploring the surrounding mountains. When she’s not outside, she enjoys spending time with her friends, listening to beautiful music, hugging dogs, and eating good food. She is still in high school and is working towards going to college! 

Lilly lives in Boulder, Colorado and can usually be found exploring the surrounding mountains. When she’s not outside, she enjoys spending time with her friends, listening to beautiful music, hugging dogs, and eating good food. She is still in high school and is working towards going to college! 

Hannah BrencherComment
You deserve an offline community.
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It wasn’t until I heard the words “Rare Disease” in reference to my six-month-old that it hit me.

I needed someone. Not a “like.” Not a virtual hug. I needed a friend, someone warm to wrap their arms around me, and not figuratively. I needed more support than an online community could provide as I tried to navigate the dark and scary waters my family ship found ourselves sailing through.

I have lots of friends. I have followers. I have virtual cheerleaders. And I LOVE them. They stand in my corner and cheer me on and have propelled my small business in a way that I’m sure wouldn’t have been without them. They CHOOSE to be there, and I’m grateful for that.

But sometimes real life hurts too much to find comfort within the confines of a 9x9 square grid. Sometimes condolences need to be shared in person, not in an inbox.

Someone I’ve known and loved for a long time loaded up her toddler into her vehicle and drove nearly eight hours round trip to be with me the weekend we received my son’s diagnosis. She showed up, baby in tow, ready to make meals and drink wine and just spend the weekend processing with me. And though it was a time of questions and uncertainty, it was also a beautiful weekend. We laughed and made new recipes and chased two busy little boys (and two wild pups) throughout my tiny house.

I’ve found it’s not only the pain that we miss in doing life with one another in person…it’s also the joy.

May we never resolve to settle for a temporary community, leaving as quickly as we came at the minimizing of a screen. May we be people who never forget what it feels like to hold the hand of a grieving friend. To wipe away a tear. To feel the vibrations welling deep within, erupting into fits of belly laughter. To revel in the warmth of honest conversation around a dinner table. To run and chase still small, frolicking feet. To dream the kinds of dreams that ambition can barely contain. To just show up, to be the presence that confirms “you are not alone in this. You don’t have to walk this alone.” This is what it truly means to be in community.



Six Ways to Cultivate Authentic Community Away From Screens


1) Take someone a meal. Some of my most meaningful conversations have happened as a result of the warmth and generosity of a friend over a meal brought during a time of need. It doesn’t have to be as a result of a loss or a recovery, maybe it’s just Tuesday and you haven’t seen each other in a while. Meals at home lead to more opportunities for honest conversations.


2) You know that “Internet Friend” you met on Instagram? The one you found through your shared love of natural light, clean aesthetic, and Bachelor Mondays? The one who is always standing in your online corner, cheering you on? You should meet her in person. Invite her for coffee and ask how you can support her small business outside of social media.


3) Spring is coming and we’ve all been stuck inside behind our devices for way too long. When the nice weather arrives, let’s commit to getting outside. Invite a friend, or a group of friends, to share in a picnic at a local park. You bring the wine, I’ll bring the charcuterie, K?


4) Have you met your neighbors? You know, the people who LIVE next to you? Have you checked on them recently? Asked what their joys or their struggles are looking like this season? Write them a handwritten note and deliver it in person (maybe with a nice potted plant or some vegan brownies from that great place down the street). Let them know you’re right next door, and that you’d love to communicate with them more than through the “Next Door” app.


5) Choose THREE friends that you haven’t seen recently, but speak with often on social media. Write them a letter and stick it in the mail. Leave them with a call to action at the end that requires a response. You now have not one, but THREE pen pals to invest in away from screens and apps and inboxes!


6) In all the time we spend looking down, we often miss things we would have seen had we been looking up. The next time you’re out, put your phone away and pay attention to your surroundings. Is there someone eating a meal alone that you could invite to sit with you at lunch? If your widower neighbor walks alone in your neighborhood daily, as if you can join him one day. Compliment your barista at your local coffee shop, especially if it’s morning rush and she looks frazzled. Remind those around you that they are more important than your device by giving them a moment of your time via eye contact and affirmation.


7) If you get the sense that someone you know is struggling and needs you, don't ask questions...JUST GO! You will never know what it means to have a friend physically show up for you in a time of need until YOU are the person needing someone.

 I'm Nikki Santerre, owner and lead photographer of Nikki Santerre Photography. I'm a self proclaimed "Heirloom Curator," a fine art hybrid photographer who travels across the country to document and celebrate marriage and the intimacy of motherhood.  If I'm not behind my film camera, you can find me writing for some of my favorite publications, educating photographers, advocating for families struggling with fertility, or spending time with my husband and our precious miracle baby, Mason.

I'm Nikki Santerre, owner and lead photographer of Nikki Santerre Photography. I'm a self proclaimed "Heirloom Curator," a fine art hybrid photographer who travels across the country to document and celebrate marriage and the intimacy of motherhood.  If I'm not behind my film camera, you can find me writing for some of my favorite publications, educating photographers, advocating for families struggling with fertility, or spending time with my husband and our precious miracle baby, Mason.

324 love letters for Zaden!
 

Hey Letter Writers,

I honestly cannot believe we've already made it to Spring! The year is going by so fast so let's make sure to stop, suck in the good around us, and send love out into the world. I'm honored to be a part of this crew!

Today we are sharing a story from a Bundle we delivered a few months ago to Zaden:

The original request: 

“Zaden is nine years old. My sister is his third-grade teacher. A few weeks ago, Zaden and his family were involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Zaden’s seat belt snapped and he was ejected from the vehicle. He survived the accident but with four shattered vertebrae, internal bleeding, organ damage, and the muscles and tendons on his neck were all torn–meaning his head is only attached by his spine. He’s in a full body cast and he has a long road of recovery ahead. He is scared and confused as they are unsure at this time if he will ever walk again. But kids are special, and they have a way of beating the odds every day.

My sister and I would love to give Zaden (and his mother) the tangible love and support of a bundle of letters. We want to show him just how many people are in his corner cheering him on.”

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Zaden received 320+ love letters from across the world. 

"We have 324 letters (envelopes - some are from whole classes!) from 43 states and 7 countries! I’m sending the letters home with my sister today so she can pass them along! As my sister is tutoring Zaden, she is keeping a small stack so that she can begin each of their lessons with a letter! She’s also getting a map for her classroom so they (as a class) can track where all of the letters came from."

She’s also getting a map for her classroom so they (as a class) can track where all of the letters came from.
— KRISTIN

We are continually amazed by the good work you do and how you cheer others on so selflessly. Keep it up!

xoxo,

hb. + the MLL Team

get involved today:

start writing love letters

How to support a friend in grief.
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I am one of the lucky ones. I was 22 the first time I had to stare at a hole cut evenly into the ground. 22 when I was first surrounded by small piles of concrete and marble, a delicately carved angel statue stood to my left as the slowly corroding crosses and memories slept in the field to my right. Not quite the Taylor Swift song about 22. Death punched me in the face, hitting me with blow after blow of missed conversations and instantaneous crying in grocery store parking lots. My life was split into two parts; my life before my best friend died and my life after.

In the after, I found a job working for the nation’s largest bereavement camp, where I heard thousands of death stories from the thousands of children in grief that I served across the country and the volunteers that I trained. Every story was unique, but the common thread was the presence of grief and the lasting impact of loss. I was privileged to be given the opportunity to hold the grief of others, protecting their stories by providing the environment to share their feelings and experiences, as well as connect with others.

I have seen how grief can manifest on a larger scale. I have been witness to the long-term impact of grief on social interactions and education, how discomfort with loss from others can lead to isolation, and how a community can come to grieve a common loss in different ways. But there are some things we can do, as friends and lovers and peers, to support the people we love who may be hurting.

 

Short-Term: Things to do or say following a loss

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.” So simple. So small. But so important.

  • Ask the follow up questions. Right after a loss, people tend to begin conversations with, “How are you?” Oftentimes, people who are grieving will say they are fine so as not to make others feel uncomfortable. So ask the follow up: “Are you actually fine or just saying you’re fine?”

  • “I would like to bring you dinner this week. What day would work best for you?” Show your friends that you are willing to do something, but give them the choice of when they want it. If you just tell them to call if they need anything, they will be less likely to call for support because they may feel like a burden. Be open to providing company when you do a drop off, or just dropping it off and leaving, whatever works best for your friend in that moment.

  • “What is one of your most favorite/funniest/kindest/most significant memories of the person who died?” Let them tell you about the person they lost from their perspective. By asking these questions, you’re letting them know that it is ok to share stories with you. And if you have a story about the person who died, share it with them too!

  • Let your friend define what grief means. Everyone grieves differently, and everyone will grieve differently for different losses. Don’t assume that you know what is best. Ask your friend what grief looks like for them.

  • “I know you feel like you have to be strong for other people, but if you ever need to talk to someone, I’m here for you. Day or night.” Remind them that you’re there for them. Continue to remind them. Tell them over and over. And when they say that they know, tell them you know they know, but you want to keep reminding them, just in case.

  • If you can go, attend the funeral and/or memorial. Physically show up. Be there for reals.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” So simple. So small. But so important.

Long-Term: Things to do or say as time passes

  • Say the dead person’s name. Don’t let the name become taboo or the elephant in the room. Make the person a normal part of conversation. If you don’t know their name, ask.

  • Put important dates in your calendar. Birthdays, anniversaries, death anniversaries, significant holidays: all of these days will be significant to your friend. As an example, since one of my best friends lost her mom a few years ago, I have her mom’s birthday and the death anniversary in my planner so I don’t forget, because I know my friend never will. This is a reminder to me to send her a text, give her a call, or put a card in the mail letting her know I’m thinking about her and that I remember her mom too.

  • Holidays can be hard, especially the first year. Whether they had a good relationship with the person who died or a negative one, holidays still remind us of family and people who are no longer there to celebrate with us. Send them cards. Send them texts. Invite them to participate in your holiday celebrations so they don’t have to feel alone.  Don’t forget to include days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

  • Milestones can be big reminders of the people we’ve lost. As your friends approach milestones after a loss, (i.e. graduation, new jobs, weddings, babies, etc.) they may grieve in new ways. Listen to what they are feeling, what they are telling you they need, and what they are showing you they need.

  • Share resources. Support groups, books (I recommend Wild by Cheryl Strayed and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion as great starting points), coping skills, whatever you can think of.

Offer your support. Offer your love. Offer nights of wine and pizza and Pretty Little Liars marathons.

Grief is a lifelong process, not something someone can just “get over.” But also remember that your friends are not broken, they’re grieving, which means it is not something for you to try and fix. Someone with a loss will have that loss as part of their story for the rest of their life, and some days will be harder than others. Offer your support. Offer your love. Offer nights of wine and pizza and Pretty Little Liars marathons. Showing up will make all the difference.

 

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Melissa Gillespie is a high school counselor with a background in bereavement, Harry Potter marathons, and tutu dance parties, with an affinity for all things pizza and Disneyland. She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and can be found online at melissaleegillespie.wordpress.com. 

 

Hannah BrencherComment
On moving somewhere new.
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I've been living in Indianapolis since June 2016 – for about a year and a half now – and only recently has it finally started to feel like home. I didn't think that moving two hours away from my home state would be that big of a deal. I didn't think that one state line could separate from that familiar feeling of comfort.

Spoiler alert: It was a big deal. And it did separate me from comfort. Moving to Indiana was different than moving to Columbus, Ohio for college. The move and the transition seemed a little less scary because I knew I'd have Isaac here and we'd be married the following year, but I knew it would be different. There was a heavyweight of permanence that came with this move to Indiana. I think it felt so terrible to me because I didn't even want to move here in the first place. That wasn't my plan. But Isaac's job brought us here, and that became the new plan. I struggled to accept that, and I struggled to trust God with how things were playing out. I don't think I trusted him at all, actually.

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There is one thing I’ve learned about coping with moving somewhere new. You should let yourself feel your feelings.

There is one thing I've learned about coping with moving somewhere new. You should let yourself feel your feelings. I mean really lean into them. Sure, pretending to love your new life in your new city when you actually hate your new life in your new city might fool everyone else on Instagram and Facebook. But it only leaves you feeling much, much worse. For me, there came a point when pretending became too exhausting. There came a point when I finally stopped and said, "Yes, this really sucks. I don't want to be here. I don't like my job. I want my old friends back." And I realized it was okay to feel all of those things.

It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be lonely. It's okay to cry to your fiancé while he listens to you talk about how unhappy you are, how hard it is to make friends and how much you hate your hour-long commute to and from a job that you're not passionate about. Once I let myself feel the way I actually felt, then the healing process began. I felt sadness and loneliness and frustration as deeply as I could. I processed them fully and tried to understand where they were coming from. I sat in those emotions and let them run their course. Then, I could let them go.

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There are two things I've learned about moving somewhere new. Community is absolutely necessary. But community does not and will not "just happen." Real community requires real effort. If you want community, you're going to have to work for it.

When I first moved here, I knew a handful of girls who were some of Isaac’s best friends in college and were also living in Indianapolis. For reasons obviously rooted in insecurity, I didn’t want to be friends with them. But I knew I needed to be. I knew I needed to start somewhere. But as we all know, starting is always the hardest part.

Sometimes you have to be the first one to text. To make plans. To reach out. Even when the only thing you feel like doing is crawling into a hole and teleporting back to the time when your childhood best friends lived down the street from you. You have to open yourself up even when the only thing you feel like doing is shutting down. 

You have to open yourself up even when the only thing you feel like doing is shutting down. 

I had to work up the courage to reach out to these girls I barely knew and ask them to be my friend. It was uncomfortable. I felt like I was forcing my way into their friend group. I felt like I seemed desperate. But I wanted to find community more than I was afraid to seem desperate. 

And I did find it. After a few months, as with all relationships, things felt more natural once I got to know them. And then we started a tradition of meeting every Monday night to just be with each other. Sometimes we'd try to start bible studies and end up watching The Bachelorette instead. Sometimes we'd talk about Jesus and sometimes we'd talk about how shitty of a day we had at work.

For me, community was born in the commitment of investing in those Monday nights. I realized that the only way to find community is to have the courage to create it yourself – and then committing to the hard work of nurturing it, so that it grows stronger and the roots grow deeper.

 

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The funny thing about my utter distrust in God after making the move to Indiana is that, in the emotional mess of the transition, I ultimately grew closer to him. 

It's always frustrating to be stuck in a place – be it physical, mental or emotional – where you don't want to be. But I think those are the places where God works the hardest. He strips away the things that you were so dependent on – like familiarity and comfort – and he patiently waits until you figure out that you need to depend on him instead. That might be the best lesson of all.

 
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Christina is a writer and photographer living in Indiana with her husband, Isaac. She loves Jesus, brunch and nature documentaries. Be her Instagram friend here + follow her blog here

Christina Donnell Comments
Chasing Slow: a book review.
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Maybe you feel it. That tug in your heart, in your bones. Slow down, it whispers. You don’t have to try so hard.

This world tries to tell you a different story. It says you must always be doing more in an effort to be more, to be loved more. It tries to convince you who you are isn’t enough, that you have to dress yourself up in Pinterest-worthy outfits and perfectly curated social media feeds to be worth anything.

I am naturally inclined to live at breakneck speed. It’s how I lived for most of my life, until it all came to a screeching halt in 2014 and Jesus flipped everything upside down. That’s when I began to feel that tug in my own life. Slow down. You don’t have to try so hard.

Erin Loechner is a kindred spirit to those of us who’ve spent any amount of time chasing fast, chasing more, always feeling like you’ve never quite arrived.

Erin Loechner is a kindred spirit to those of us who’ve spent any amount of time chasing fast, chasing more, always feeling like you’ve never quite arrived.

In her book, Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path, Erin chronicles her personal journey of stepping away from the fast and the frenzy and leaning into the slow and the still, reframing her life on the knowledge that we already have everything we need, we have already arrived.

With nuance and care, Erin shares her triumphs and losses — from building a successful online career and giant fan base before she turned 30 to grappling with her husband’s brain tumor, bankruptcy, and public criticism — in a way that invites your soul to be at rest. She weaves a beautiful narrative filled with funny, poignant, and sad moments, all the while encouraging you to shed expectations for who you’re “supposed” to be in favor of who you already are.

Two years into my own journey toward a simpler and slower life, Erin’s story crossed my own path and in her words I found a part of myself, bits and pieces of my own story that is still working itself out. Through it all, her words gave me some important reminders:

 

1. Thinking about living isn’t the same as living.

I have spent most of my life afraid and more than anything, I have learned the most common thing fear does is convince us that inaction is better than failure.

So we think about our dream lives, with all of the details planned out in Instagram-worthy style. And we think and we think some more. And maybe we make a board on Pinterest or talk with our friends about it. We might even make some plans. But all we ever do is think and plan, because we’re afraid. Fear has convinced us it’s better to just dream about our perfect life than risk falling flat on our face while we go after it.

But Erin reminds us thinking about living is not the same as actually living. Oscar Wilde put it this way, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Living, truly living, requires action, and action always invites the possibility of failure, but it also invites the possibility of success beyond your wildest dreams.

 

2. The secret to subtraction.

Our lives are filled with excess — of physical possessions, events on the calendar, information and social media updates and news. It’s no wonder we’re overwhelmed and anxious.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve thought the key to overcoming the overwhelming nature of excess is to reduce — declutter the things, clear the schedule, purge the social media feeds. But Erin reminds us of this, “Here is the secret to subtraction. It doesn’t matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding it back.”

Here is the secret to subtraction. It doesn’t matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding it back.
— erin loechner

The American culture has trained us to think more is always best, so add and we remove and we add again and we go round and round in a circle that leaves us stressed and burnt out. So stop adding back and refuse to let anyone tell you that’s wrong.

 

3. The crowd doesn’t tell you where you are.

Social media is a wonderful thing and a horrible thing. It connects us and isolates us. It inspires and encourages us and also drives us to comparison, self-doubt, and envy.

I love social media and believe we can use it in great ways. The trouble comes when we use it as our measuring stick for how we’re doing in our own lives, when what we’re often seeing expressed by others is an edited life, devoid of any part of ourselves we don’t love.

Allowing social media to tell you how you’re measuring up is like looking to a crowd to tell you where you are — all you see is a mass of people, but that doesn’t answer the question you were asking all along.

Use social media to connect with wonderful, encouraging people, but don’t let it tell you where you are or who you are. Ground yourself in truths about who you are first and stand firm in the place you’re at, regardless of how close or far the rest of the crowd is.

 

4. Difficult and bad are not the same thing.

The last four years of my life have been hard and this last year has probably been the most difficult one yet. I’ve had many frustrated conversations with Jesus, constantly wondering what He’s doing in the middle of it all.

But when I look back, I see so much goodness, not just in individual moments, but in the growth that has happened. Erin reminds us that difficult and bad are not the same thing, and the moments that often seem the hardest or the darkest often product the most beautiful fruit.

Novelist Stewart O’Nan puts it this way, “You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole—like the world, or the person you loved.”

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Sarah Anne Hayes is a believer, writer, and unabashed bibliophile. She spends her days running her small business, sharing her love of simplicity and ethical fashion, planning out her next adventure, and belting out show tunes. Sarah believes life is a gift meant to be celebrated, Tuesday morning should be as memorable as Saturday night, and nothing boosts your confidence like the perfect red lipstick. Connect with her on instagram or her blog.

Hannah BrencherComment
When friendships shift and change.
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We were all taught how to be good friends when we were growing up.  To share our toys and take turns.  We were also taught that if we did these things, then you were able to buy the two heart necklaces with a half a heart on each chain.  One saying “BEST”, the other saying “FRIENDS”.  We would have this same friend that had the other half of our necklace forever.  

Well, I don’t know about you, but I had several “best friends” growing up and I would consider none of those people my closest friend today. What no one tells us when we are little and learning how to be good friends is that not all friendships will last forever, but even more so than that, it’s okay if we aren’t friends with the same people our entire life.  

I never had a clique or a tight circle of friends.  I kind of scooped up a friend or two as a moved along through life.  I have my childhood neighbors that I have inside jokes with from as early as 5 years old, and co-workers today that I would consider good friends I enjoy spending time with.  

When I switched to public school I floated around from group to group like any teenager, trying to figure out where I fit.  I was a cheerleader but I lived in the library.  I was friends with the popular kids that sat next to me in homeroom but always reached out to the new girl sitting alone in the chorus.  I bopped around from group to group, which made my birthday parties super confusing when it was always a group of my favorite people, yet none of them were friends with each other.  When I graduated high school, I only ended up keeping in touch with two good friends.  Everyone else faded away as if me going off to college meant I dropped off the face of the earth and technology didn’t exist.  College introduced me to a wild clique of gals. Drinking and party became a regular lifestyle and while I loved my new friends, I couldn’t keep up with that way of life.  I took a few steps back and ended up very lonely because of that.  I transitioned through new friends but still kept my distance.  Mostly a “loner”, I did my own thing and hung out with people when I felt like it.  

Post college, things changed again.  People got jobs, moved away, got busy.  Once again, friendships dropped off and I was left confused as to what happened.  

I could tell you story after a story of people who I considered a close and loyal friend, turning their back and acting as if I was a stranger.  I still to this day do not know what happened with some of those friends.  But there is something that I have realized in this past year; there are few lucky people who get to keep the same friends their entire life. Most friendships are going to change with each season of life we enter.  

There are few lucky people who get to keep the same friends their entire life.

As our friendships evolve and new ones form, I am starting to believe there is a reason.  I believe that God provides us with the people that we need during certain periods in our life, to teach us different lessons or provide support in a certain situation.  Just as God is guiding our steps and planning our path, he is also setting up our friends along the way as bummers to keep us on track.  So I write this post to tell you that you aren’t alone, that if you have lost a friendship for an unknown reason if someone walked away from you and left you feeling as if you weren’t good enough, know that you are not the only person this has happened to.  Even more so, take confidence that there is a reason that person is no longer in your life.  Think about your friendship with that person, whether a short few months or several years.  Think about the time you spent together and how you grew because of them.  You are never alone because when God takes one friend out of your life, he will replace it with someone new to teach you the next lesson you need to learn.  You will keep moving and be changing and growing and life will move on, BFF or loner, you will be okay.

 

WE LOVE HAVING WRITERS ON OUR TEAM! THEY MAKE OUR WORLD GO ROUND!

 

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Johanna writes at Johanna Documented ( http://www.johannadocumented.com ), a blog all about honest stories & honest growth, living life authentically, and collecting the little moments. When she’s not writing, she enjoy spending hours in the kitchen, watching movies with as many explosions as humanly possible, and filling her Instagram feed ( https://www.instagram.com/johannadocumented/ ) with pretty pictures.

 
Brenna GallagherComment
10 things to remember about growing up.
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1. You don't need everyone to be your friend.

I used to squander so much of my energy on people whom I didn't even particularly like, just so they wouldn't dislike me. We just have to try hard to only let the opinions of those we actually care about matter, and give your energy to those who deserve it.


2. If you feel like you're doing a good job, chances are, you're doing a good job

Most of us will work in a profession that we're qualified for or be doing our damndest to learn everything we can to be qualified. So let's kick that self-doubt to the curb. After all, no one ever moved forward by thinking they couldn't do something. 


3. People are not X-Men - you have to tell them how you feel.

Just like you wouldn't have known that bit of trivia about me if I hadn't told you, you can't expect people to magically divine how you're feeling. If you're angry, say it. If you're upset, tell the person who upset you why. If you admire something about someone, let them know. 

Sidenote: how awesome would it be if we were all X-Men?!? I'd want some combination of Wolverine claws, Gambit energy and Professor X mind-reading skills. 

If you admire something about someone, let them know. 


4. The energy you put out into the world will come back to you.

If you're always nagging or creating problems, that negativity will come back to you. So, as cliché as it sounds, try to only put out positive energy into the world, and that's what you'll receive in return. 


5. Rejection sucks, but it doesn't define you.

Some people simply won't like you, or think you're a little weird. There could be a million reasons why you didn't get that job, or a guy didn't text you back, or someone doesn't want to be your friend anymore. It hurts to feel like you aren't good enough, but we must try our hardest not to dwell on that feeling because it does not define who we are.

 

6. If you don't ask, the answer is always no.

If you want something, you have to ask. Most people are kind and like being helpful, and what's the worst that could happen? A "no" won't kill you, you simply have to start again and find a different way to achieve your goal.
 

7. The worst that could happen is not as bad as what you're imagining it to be.

If you don't email someone back or arrive ten minutes late, it is not the end of the world. Most people are very understanding of the fact that everyone has an off day. Dwelling on apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenarios doesn't do anything for you, especially when things will almost always work out for the best.


8. You're a lot harder on yourself than anyone else could ever be.

No one has noticed those extra five, or saw when you accidentally waved enthusiastically at the wrong person. We tend to forget that we are all our own harshest critic and let that influence our view of ourselves. But all your friends love you just the way you are, and we all just need to be a little kinder to ourselves.


9. Purposely sabotaging yourself is never the answer.

Whether you are sabotaging yourself by blowing your budget, having that third piece of cake, or skipping the gym again, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from actively standing in your own way. Nothing. It doesn't make you one of the cool kids, nor will it help you achieve your goals in the long run. So cut it out.


10. If you're healthy & safe, and those you love are healthy & safe, not much else matters.

Yes, being single can be hard. Yes, having a fight with a friend, or getting yelled at by your boss, or dropping one of the wine glasses isn't fun. If you look at the big picture, though, none of those things matter. You are an inherently worthy, wonderful arrangements of atoms, and you're exactly where you're meant to be. 

 

Johanna writes at Johanna Documented ( http://www.johannadocumented.com ), a blog all about honest stories & honest growth, living life authentically, and collecting the little moments. When she’s not writing, she enjoy spending hours in the kitchen, watching movies with as many explosions as humanly possible, and filling her Instagram feed ( https://www.instagram.com/johannadocumented/ ) with pretty pictures.

 
Johanna SchComment
On the 12th Day of Love Letter Writing...
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DEAR COMMUNITY,

WE made it! And we would not be here without you! Thank you so much for scripting for 12 Days. One last request to go! Need some tips on writing letters? We've got them for you

xoxox, 

MLL


12. ALICIA

Alicia’s sister shared with us that she has been walking through a difficult season + is in need of encouragement. She requested a bundle of letters by writing:

“My sister recently moved to Chicago with her boyfriend of three years. Things had been progressing in their relationship and she imagined herself marrying him. However, the relationship came to a totally unexpected and heartbreaking end.

Although my family is all within driving distance, he was all she had in her day-to-day life. She is heartbroken and can't fathom living her life without him there–her best friend. She feels immense loneliness and doesn't have a community around her to support and help carry her through.

Alicia is the most loving person I know and spends time writing letters to strangers and hanging love notes in the trees of her town on Valentines Day. She loves through her words and actions on a daily basis and I know that receiving words of encouragement from others could really lift her spirit and help her to know she isn't alone.”

Let’s offer Alicia just that, and repay her kindness with kindness! Grab your pens + write some encouragement with us.

 

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:

Alicia’s bundle

℅ Genna F.

1331 Keenland Drive

Bartlett, IL 60103

USA

USA

 




On the 11th Day of Love Letter Writing...
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DEAR COMMUNITY,

Two more days of scripting ahead! Keep spreading the love! Need some tips on writing letters? We've got them for you

xoxox, 

MLL


11. ZADEN

We received a request that tugged at our heartstrings, and it almost certainly will do the same for you.

“Zaden is nine years old. My sister is his third-grade teacher. A few weeks ago, Zaden and his family were involved in a head on collision with a drunk driver. Zaden’s seat belt snapped and he was ejected from the vehicle. He survived the accident but with four shattered vertebrae, internal bleeding, organ damage, and the muscles and tendons on his neck were all torn–meaning his head is only attached by his spine. He’s in a full body cast and he has a long road of recovery ahead. He is scared and confused as they are unsure at this time if he will ever walk again. But kids are special, and they have a way of beating the odds every day.

My sister and I would love to give Zaden (and his mother) the tangible love and support of a bundle of letters. We want to show him just how many people are in his corner cheering him on.”

Grab your pens + join us as we do just that for Zaden!

 

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:

Zaden’s bundle

℅ Persons

PO Box 751

Pleasantville, OH 43148

USA

 




A modern survival guide for long-distance love.
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I have had two long-distance relationships fail.  When I first went away to college, my first love was in his last year of high school.  We stayed together throughout my entire first year, and let me tell you, we had FUN.  It wasn’t always easy, but we were wild about each other, so the good far outweighed the few late night tears.

I can’t say I fully recommend starting college with a boyfriend (I think it can keep you from branching out as much as you would if you were single, but that’s another post!), but I don’t regret starting my four years that way at all.  We parted ways my sophomore year because we were becoming different people with busier schedules that couldn’t always include the other.  It was sad, and it took some time to get over, but looking back, I can see that I learned so much.

My second LDR (long distance relationship) ended for a whole different set of reasons.  That one taught me a lot about the kind of person who isn’t right for me and the importance of trust and loyalty in a relationship.

While that particular “love” story would be an even longer blog post, I can tell you from hindsight that it made me mature and probably prepared me for the best LDR of my life: the one I’m in now.  

Robert and I spent less than five fun, happy, can’t-stand-to-be-apart months together before my job took me 90 minutes away to Richmond, VA.  Seventy-some miles isn’t the most distance couples endure by any means (125 miles is the average distance between LDR couples), but with our jobs and side hustles keeping us busy on weekends as well as M-F, we had our work cut out for us.

We eventually closed the gap (all the praise hands), but we’ll get to that at the end!  Until then, here are some of my tried and true tips for making long-distance last:

Set Your Expectations

When you’re dating with distance, it’s so important to set your expectations for the kind of changes you’ll endure.  Personally, I believe that all tension in relationships starts with unmet expectations.  Before you commit to taking on the distance, have real conversations about what will change.

Before you commit to taking on the distance, have real conversations about what will change.

Especially if there is significant distance between you, start by setting the expectation of just how much you’ll be able to see each other.  That way, no one is disappointed because they had more visits in mind than the other.

Some other things to talk about: What kinds of things will happen when you DO visit each other?  Are you planning on overnight visits, or will you be keeping that kind of “togetherness” sacred?  Will you be spending a lot of time with each other’s friends, families, or roommates, or will you be prioritizing one-on-one time? Setting expectations are key!

 

Get Creative

When it comes to long-distance, you have to get a little more creative with your “date nights.”  It was so easy for me to get jealous of couples who could do cute couple things together like grocery shop or go to the gym or hit the local movie theater for $2 Tuesdays.  Even seeing couples having dinner together during the week made me envious.  That’s where a little creativity comes in.

Video calls or just regular phone calls can bring you closer together while doing any activity.   Call while you’re on a walk or grocery shopping, or try Skyping during dinner or your favorite TV show together.  When we still lived in the same town, Robert and I usually caught Jeopardy after dinner, so we planned nights that we could continue that tradition virtually.  Trust me, FaceTiming during Jeopardy will start some interesting conversations about how on earth you knew that answer!

 

Don’t Rely on Texts Alone

Here’s the thing about our modern, fast-paced world: it is all too easy to start having text relationships.  The problem is that so much nuance is lost in text messages.  Especially if you haven’t had the chance to spend a lot of time together yet, it’s so tough to discern harmless teasing or sarcasm from slights and condescension.  That’s why it is crucial to save your big discussions for the phone or video call.  Never, ever, ever engage in an argument via text — pick up the phone and call.

Here’s the thing about our modern, fast-paced world: it is all too easy to start having text relationships.

 

Mark that Calendar, Baby

Video dinners and sweet texts will help your relationship, but they can only take you so far.  While it may not seem ultra-romantic to sit down and coordinate your calendars, it’s crucial to surviving the distance and making time to have real face-to-face quality time.

With Robert and I working a lot of weekends, we decided to share a Google Calendar so we would always be up to date on when we could make time for each other.  When we had everything in front of us, it was easier to spot free weekends!

 

Know When Enough is Enough

And I don’t mean know when to break up!  I mean to know when you’ve had enough distance and it’s time to close the gap.  After Robert and I had been together for three years (with most of that time being long-distance), we knew we were committed enough to each other for one of us to make a change.  For us personally, it made the most sense for me to come back from the city for a lot of reasons.  For other couples though, it may be a much bigger sacrifice for one person.  Keep the lines of communication open and be honest with each other as you make this big decision together.

Sometimes relationships take work, and LDRs take a little extra.  Remember to give each other grace and room to grow!  I can’t tell you it’s easy, but I can tell you that with the right person, it is worth it.

 

Shalese Danielle is a wedding photographer and writer in Orange, Virginia.  She is a frozen mocha addict and probably has chocolate hidden somewhere in her apartment.  Connect with @sShaleseDanielle on Twitter and Instagram.

 
Hannah BrencherComment
On the 10th Day of Love Letter Writing...
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DEAR COMMUNITY,

Can you believe it's day 10 already!?! Slug some cocoa and get to scripting! Need some tips on writing letters? We've got them for you

xoxox, 

MLL


10. IRENE

Irene’s granddaughter shared her story with us. She wrote:

“Irene is the strongest woman I know. After her husband unexpectedly died after the birth of their fifth child, this young nurse did what was necessary–working long hours to support her children on her own, even at the expense of her personal life. I have never heard her complain once about her lot in life.

Irene now has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She never forgot a birthday, and holidays with her were filled with homemade cookies and cheer. In her later years, she's been happily living on her own in an independent living apartment. Recently though, she suffered a sacral fracture, sending her to the hospital. We are hopeful she can return to her apartment, however, that may realistically not happen. She's very sharp mentally, but her always able body is feeling the wear and tear of age.

This setback has understandably dimmed Irene's ever-bright light. This once positive, loving figure is now feeling the weight of not being able to live on her own. She does not want to spend her remaining time in a hospital bed or in a nursing home, but her optimism is waning.”

Let’s write to Irene and encourage + support her during this difficult season.

 

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:

Irene’s bundle

℅ Anna B.

451 Acequia Madre

Santa Fe, NM 87505

USA

 




On the 9th Day of Love Letter Writing...
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DEAR COMMUNITY,

Tis' the season to spread holiday cheer... Don't delay! Need some tips on writing letters? We've got them for you

xoxox, 

MLL


9. EMMA

A friend of Emma’s requested a bundle for her + shared with us some of her story. She wrote:

“Emma is going through some struggles. She is currently recovering from an eating disorder and has a hard time believing in herself and her abilities." As a young teenager, Emma is struggling to uncover her own worth and value. Emma's friend writes, "I've tried so much to help her and to remind her of her potential and how much I love her. I really feel like she needs some reminders from people and some encouragement. Messages of hope, encouragement, and love from strangers might be all she needs to find herself again." It's time to rally and remind Emma how beautiful, capable & strong she really is. 

Grab your pens and join us as we write some love letters to Emma!

 

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:

Emma’s bundle

℅ Natalie S.

5033 N Kilt Ave

Meridian, ID 83646

USA