The Slow Seasons

So I’m trying, along with countless other young women, to address the “why” and the “how” and the hurt accompanying singleness. And maybe this is just my opinion (I’m about to state is as fact; argue with me later): Our culture is twisted. We flaunt feminism, claiming that women are absolutely equal (if not superior) to men. And then we wonder why they are no men. I have news for you, single ladies: the median age for marriage is 35. Just half of U.S. adults are married.

I’m done throwing pity parties, so buckle up. The truth is that I’m 22 and  regrettably without a significant other, and although this is not at all what I expected from my 22nd trip around the sun, it’s actually been an incredible teacher.

But I’m not here to mope about being single or tell you it gets any easier with each passing day. I’m here to tell you that our story, your story, started long before that of creation and we’d better start living like it. Today — today — is ripe with blessing. That doesn’t mean we can’t wait for something, hope for something, have deep and often overwhelming desires. I get it; I feel all of those things with you. But waiting is not the equivalent of standing around with hands in our pockets. It’s about action. Focused, intentional action to a specific end.

Learning to wait well is a little bit like being on a train. You’re going somewhere, moving forward. Some hours are spent speeding past the green-brown-blue blur of the countryside with only splashes of pink for rose gardens and sketched outlines for buildings. And then the train slows to round a bend or pull into a station and you can see a boy walking his dog. You can see expressions on faces, the 2-for-1 deal at a local bakery, the tangle of ivy and honeysuckle in a backyard. It’s beauty on a new level, a detail-rich, enhanced level.

That’s waiting. It’s about absorbing the world around you in a way you can’t when you’re going a hundred miles an hour. Either way, you’re alive and moving forward, but one way allows you to savor the world more fully.

Ladies, it’s time to stop wallowing. This, too, is a season. The train will pick up speed again and you’ll wonder where the past few weeks have gone and how you could have missed them. But now, right now, be content to notice the freckles on their faces. Enjoy the next challenging assignment at work, or a home-cooked meal and a sunset. Absorb the soft drumming of the rain. Take pleasure in being alone or surrounded by people.

Waiting gives you the opportunity to invest in individual lives and to take up new (or old) hobbies. It’s all about leisurely walks after dinner, or arriving early at the office, or reading stacks of good books. Your mind isn’t pulled in 20 different directions because it only needs to focus on a single direction.

Bonus: This season of slowness leads to gradual life change on deeper levels, to lasting transformation. It holds its own sort of lovely for people who are willing to notice it. Start today; savor it with me.

New Year, New Website

Things look a little different (and hopefully better) around here! My old site felt as clunky as the old habits I rid myself of in 2018. With the start of 2019, a fresh look was in order.

This streamlined site puts more emphasis on words. But don’t worry, I’ll continue sharing pictures, too.

Take a look around. See what you think. Thanks for sticking with me all this time.

Gratitude for the Ordinary

Daily magic.

Steam unfurling from a mug. Shadows and silhouettes and people edged in light. Plastic forks and paper plates. Drippy leftover ice. Powdered sugar snow. Apple crisp in a mug. Red noses, thawing fingers. Boxy scarves. Those eyes, hers and his, and their hands. Gold streaks in chestnut hair. Freckles. Books with underlines and dog-eared pages. Ripe bananas. Cluttered cabinets. Plaster walls, chipping.

I could be grateful for all of these things, and I am. I could write whole poems on each of those items; sometimes I try. It’s daily magic, it’s the details that layer and envelop and define and it’s all good. It’s all stuff to be thankful for.

But if that’s it, if our gratitude is based solely on what we’ve been given, then we will never be truly grateful.

Eternal thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving isn’t about what we’ve been given, it’s about the all-powerful, all-wise Savior who does the giving. If I choose to be grateful for His unchanging nature, first and foremost, physical health and possessions will matter less. So when I don’t have them — when I catch the flu, when my laptop’s hard drive dies or when a relationship doesn’t work out — my level of gratitude remains *mostly* unchanged. (Frustration and disappointment are inevitable; how long those emotions have to linger, less so.)

I’ll be honest: to look at my life, you’d find nothing wrong. A great job, great friends, great apartment in a great location. It’s all great. And I’m grateful… except when I’m not. Except when a relationship swerves unexpectedly or when I’m wrestling with a project at work or when the weather refuses to cooperate with my mood. Then I’m suddenly unhappy and having a bad day.

The truth is that my bad days aren’t really all that bad; my gratitude is just misplaced.

It’s not so revolutionary. It’s nothing you and I haven’t heard in church a thousand times. There’s still a subtle mindset shift, though, one that can lead to a huge amount of change. This Thanksgiving, you’ll find me choosing to rejoice in what lasts, those things that carry eternal weight and purpose — they will create a permanent state of gratitude in my heart. And then, of course, I’ll rejoice in daily magic; it’s there for our delight.

And this, the foundational building blocks of all lasting thanksgiving:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:9-12

Note to self: Stop beating yourself up

Lots of thoughts ahead. If you’re into the Enneagram (and especially if you’re a Four) or if you battle self-worth, this post is for you. Be encouraged, friend. You aren’t alone.

Hello, my name is Abby and I’m a Jesus-lover — and a sinner.

Being an Enneagram Four, I never lose an opportunity to do one of three things: beat myself up over the smallest mistakes; transform an ugly experience into a beautiful one; give myself (scars and all) wholly to others for their examination, no matter the consequences. In most situations, I simply don’t know how to go halfway in any of those areas.

Endearing… and pretty darn stupid, right?

Here’s the other thing about being a Four: We learn an awful lot from our mistakes because we walk through and not around them. Pain is never something to avoid. It’s very easy for Fours to take this too far. We’ll willingly inflict pain on ourselves emotionally, mentally and physically, anything to help explain the loss we’re feeling. That’s why no one else needs to punish us; we’re already kicking ourselves. Hard.

There’s a lot of good, too. Fours have a unique ability to meet people in their pain and offer empathy. We understand loneliness and disappointment. To me, at least, those dark times make light all the more welcome. Even when a relationship or situation would be beyond repair for others, Fours will transform it into something truly beautiful. Where there is deep sadness there is also overwhelming joy — the two go hand-in-hand. For a healthy Four, that joy is paramount. It is characterized by expansive, unconditional grace, creativity and understanding. It voids the impact of smaller injuries and leaves plenty of room for forgiveness and selflessness.

The constant battle for truth

Everyone battles something. Pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, addictions of all kinds. Along with countless others, I’m in a constant battle for self-worth. I have a very low opinion of myself; I was born believing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me. That belief is never more than one thought away and it tends to creep in when I least expect it, even when things are going well. Especially when it comes to dating relationships (but really relationships of all kinds) I expect the other person to finally “see me for how I truly am” and reject me.

Here’s the problem: I don’t know what I expect them to see and subsequently reject. I didn’t smoke marijuana in high school. I don’t sleep around or drink anything more exciting than sparkling grape juice. I don’t have tattoos or piercings to mark less-mature versions of myself. No bizarre habits or deep emotional scars from my childhood. I didn’t even start listening to pop music until college… and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an R-rated movie besides The Passion of the Christ.

So what do I expect people to reject? I don’t know, my internal voice whispers, but there’s definitely something wrong with you so buckle up. If you sign up to love someone, anyone, expect to have a broken heart. Expect them to give up on you.

As a result, I write that narrative into almost all intentional relationships, the ones that go deeper than surface-level pleasantries. When the person gets preoccupied with other people and responsibilities, when they take six hours to respond to a text, when they brush past me at the office or a restaurant, I instinctively make assumptions. I knew it, that little voice says, I knew it all along. This was inevitable.

I’m not a clingy person, but in those uncertain moments, I’ll trade good sense for panic. I’ll send frantic texts as I try to sort out what exactly I did wrong and how I can fix things. And I’ll let in you in on a secret: it rarely works out.

That uninformed narrative does two things. It perpetuates a lie I believe about myself; it also gives the other person zero grace to be human, too.

These are the lies I’ve told myself and patterns I’ve lived for so long… maybe you’re there, too. We can’t just snap our fingers and break the cycle. What it comes down to is this: We need to be tired of lying. I even know that they’re lies, and I’m fully aware of the truth. So what needs to change for us to experience the freedom we’re intended for?

Creating space for transformation

Probably the best part about being a Four is our ability to transform terrible experiences into breathtaking ones. No darkness is too dark, no frustration too absolute. There is always and forever a glimmer, and more often a buttery golden ray, of unadulterated hope.

When it comes to self-worth, the worst thing is to allow our worth to depend on anyone other than God. People are great; I love my people. But like me, they are changeable and moody and have bad days. Unlike me, God never changes. He proclaims that everything He makes is good… including yours truly. Aside from allowing others to define our worth, the second worst thing we can do is listen to our own thoughts. Replace lies with the truth; put Scripture and the thoughts of older, wiser humans in your mind, instead:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? – Matthew 6:25-27

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:3-8

And truth like this:

I am doing my best and it is enough. – @allyfallon

Most of us don’t even really change over the years. But some of us, a few of us, we show up and breathe and we get the littlest bit better at grace. Enduring the unendurable. Making space for blessings as they come. And eventually we are soft but also strong. When someone comes at us, we don’t cut them. When we fall, we do not shatter into a million pieces. – @allyfallon

Your body was carefully created. Stop criticizing it. Start caring for it. – @shepodcast

Belonging and choosing; nearness with each other is valuable because it’s not immediate, but created by honesty and time. – @emilynystrom

You don’t come to understand pain or difficulties by painting over them and pretending they aren’t there. You come to understand them by admitting they are real and writing them on the page or into the script. @andrealucado

And so we choose to dwell on all this good, solid gold stuff as much as we can. @imkristen_

The last action step we can take is, perhaps, the hardest one. The present (how things are right now, good or bad) must be enough. No fantasizing about what might be, no trying to explain the past or find answers in the future. Just live now and be still. Let silence and distance work to your advantage.

And then let the experience, the relationship be transformed. There’s no quick-fix here, though. It’s a day-by-day process that takes intentional (and hard) work.

As a Four, I can’t ignore my problems. I have to tackle them head-on, every single one. What I can learn to do, though, is confront myself with grace. And declare that I will build my life upon His love; it is a firm foundation. That I will put my trust in Him alone, and not be shaken. Declare those truths every 60 seconds, if I must, until they become my first thought in the morning and last thought at night.

The Mikel Family

I was greeted first by the littlest one. He spotted me, grinned, and hurried to wrap his arms around my knees. What an innocent, pure soul! Children are masters at breaking down walls and showing affection. His easy joy set the tone for our whole photo shoot… and despite the humidity, the Mikel family nailed it.

I can’t say enough good about the Mikels. Hard-working, grounded, wise, and crazy about each other. Betsy has been my friend since day one of college, too. I love her; I love them all!

People & Their Sandwiches

This post is an open letter written for a few specific people; you know who you are. Thank you for entering and changing my world, for helping me laugh and learn and grow. I’m so grateful.

You wonderful human. You best-thing-that’s-happened. You people-loving, arms-wide soul. I see you, and I see all your layers. The depth, scars, mysteries, triumphs and addictions. I see you.

I’m sitting here trying to break through some sort of ceiling. It might be glass… but it’s probably acrylic. Three inches of bullet-proof acrylic, the kind that scratches easily. There are words just bottled up inside me, things I want to tell you that maybe you haven’t heard before, at least not sincerely. But I mean every word. I want you to hear me.

“And the more I learn about what it feels like to stay in love, the more surprised I am, and the more I realize why for so long I have been missing it. It doesn’t feel exactly like I thought it would feel. I’m finding it in the strangest places, in the most unexpected ways. It is easier than I ever thought it could be and also harder and softer and stronger and takes more of my heart than anyone ever told me it would.” – Ally Fallon

I’ve felt this so deeply, it has become ingrained in my soul. Finally embedded here, written on the walls of this heart. Like hearing an old, familiar song, it’s more real and beautiful this time than it was before.

Together, we’ve experienced a level of transparency and humanity that only comes through physical proximity five (and often more) days every week for months. We could be alright forever, this way, but schedules and seasons have to change. If our togetherness can’t last forever, I’m so glad it has lasted this long.

What I want you to believe

Here’s what I want you to know: Nothing you do could make you any less valuable. Failure, hard days, when you give up or give in… these things don’t define you. They sculpt your soul, rub off the rough edges, fill in the empty places. When I see you, I’ll always think, “Wow, what a human. What a very wonderful person.” And I hope you’ll begin to believe it for yourself.

Eat red meat or don’t. Recycle plastic when you can, binge-watch a show, listen to music too loudly in your car, windows rolled down. Read your books, fix your hair, go to work and to class and to your friend’s dorm. Use all the hand gestures you can, and play until your muscles ache. Go to musicals, have the numbers of everyone or no one on campus, own your own strengths and refine your weaknesses. Know the souls around you, pour into them. Seek peace and pursue it. Be a leader.

Friendship, forever

This summer, I’ve fallen in love with you in C.S. Lewis’s “friendship” way. You’re one of the dearest people I know; I love your present and future self. And I’ll always be watching from over here, cheering you on.

But Like Going Back

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.

C. S. Lewis

There’s something extraordinary about 25 percent-less oxygen. The air might not actually be cleaner, scientifically speaking, but it seems to take up so much less space in my body. The way it pierces my lungs as I climb in elevation, the way it turns the sky into jewel-toned blue.

The mountains feel like home even though I only visit once every couple years. “For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back,” as though I was meant to be there all along.

Weekend Blips + Session Favorites

Just a couple new corners of the internet for you to explore today…

Daily DishonestyIf you enjoy hand lettering, Lauren’s page is a honeypot for inspiration!

The Ultimate Blog Checklist My favorite tip from this list is something I often remind myself of: “It’s overwhelming to think about everything that comes after the writing part. But I promise the hardest part is getting ideas out of your brain. So just sit down and write. Don’t worry about anything else until you have a draft you’re happy with.”

Bonus Blip: Dear Evan Hansen –  Do yourself a favor. Listen to the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack and prepare to tap your toes, drum your fingers for days.

The pictures I take sometimes just gather dust in my hard drive. But these are too good not to share! Here are my favorites from the past few days…

My lovely roommate found a job and doesn’t have to move away. HALLELUJAH.

Oh just my not-so-little brother, being awesome as per usual. How did he grow up so fast???

My newest coworker/ friend/ fellow book-reader and game-player is also a model. I’m surrounded by the loveliest people, inside and out.

Sugar cone and a scoop of strawberry, please.

Aaannd blueberries. Sun-warmed, on the edge of ripeness. Just 2 minutes from my house. Perfection.

The Hard Thing About Being Human

“What a hard thing it is to be human. ”

Ally Fallon

The acrid smell of burnt popcorn wafted through our apartment last night. A good idea gone bad, something enjoyable snuffed out as quickly as you can snap your fingers. And I was left smelling like smoke wondering which emotion (the high-high or the low-low) was real. I think I knew full well, even in the moment; once again, I’d succumbed to unmet expectations.

So I ate handfuls of a fresh bag of popcorn. Tried to swallow my pride along with the puffed kernels, thoughts racing ahead.

Ex·pec·ta·tion | ekspekˈtāSH(ə)n/ | Noun

Synonyms: supposition, assumption, presumption, conjecture, surmise, calculation, prediction, hope

A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

“Reality had not lived up to expectations”

A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Well, there you have it. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. A belief that someone will or should achieve something in the future. I guess that’s one reason I’ve never doubted God or “lost” my faith. My expectations are decided; my aim is true. In that case, I know I have no cause to ever, ever doubt.

Expectations are the antagonist for every relationship I’ve ever had, every argument I’ve ever fought. I’m too darn sure of everything. Expectations are set in my own mind before they leave my mouth, and at that point, it’s usually too late.

It’s a dumb word, really… and it’s been chasing me around for years. Tailing me better than any policeman could, turning up at every inconvenient juncture. I like to be right, but who doesn’t? I hate to wrestle with the unknown (and hate to be wrong) but again, who doesn’t? And yet, the expectations I set for myself, for other people, for situations… they’re unrealistic. They’re the reasons my days occasionally backslide from excellent to miserable.

Here’s what I know: Really good intentions don’t guarantee a certain outcome. In fact, they can quickly wander into resentment. What I do, I have to do without expectations. In the words of Annie. F. Downs (see here and here), the things that make me most upset are my unmet expectations. The broken relationship, the disappointing situation, that all makes sense, ultimately. It’s my sterile, colorless expectations that produce the most frustration.

I’m finally realizing that I interpret everything according to what I expect. That drives me to make decisions that don’t align with who I am, set goals that aren’t realistic. I can’t be “in control and in love.” Not with a person or my own life, and certainly not with God.

That’s the heart of it, right? I want to stay in control because I’m afraid to let go. But I can let go and still be okay. I’m financially secure, surrounded by beautiful people and a strong family. I just can’t have all my ducks in a row. Instead, I need to look at my life with compassion. Look at myself with compassion. Look at this moment with compassion. And accept the fact that I’m absolutely human.

Does this resonate with you? Listen to Annie’s conversation with Ally to inject your soul with hope.