Love is: building a safe space

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For being a person who is pretty open about my opinions, I surprise myself by how private I am. When people ask me about Logan, I can feel all my muscles tighten. It’s like asking about intimate details of your friendship with your best friend—why is it “small talk” for so many people to ask about your significant other?—but I’m learning to roll with the punches.

There are plenty of things I will get on a soapbox for, but marriage relationships are not one of them. Maybe it’s because I’m so deeply skeptical that a one-size-fits-all exists? Maybe it’s because I don’t feel qualified because I’m not even 25 years old? But I’ve been asked by several people in the last few weeks to talk about relationships, particularly about Logan, so I’m going to do it the way I know best—a conversation. Consider this the first of many talks about love.

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I tend to think of all relationships as a literal, physical space. From the moment you become friends, you lay the cornerstone, and from there you build. Some relationships are further along in the building than others, but they’re all spaces nevertheless.

Logan and I often say to each other, “this is a safe space.” We say it to remind the other person, and sometimes to remind ourselves of what our relationship is all about: creating a space to know and be known, a space that’s ultimately bound by knowing that the other person is invested and is gonna keep showing up. That kind of safety is built over time, as the walls become more secure and the ceiling holds itself up.

Sometimes those words are a reprimand. I will never forget when, almost a year ago, I confessed to Logan that I had lied about something totally irrelevant because I worried that it would jeopardize his self-confidence. The first thing he said to me was, “I thought this was a safe space.” Those words haunt me still.

Because safe space means that lying is not allowed. Passive-aggressive behavior is childish when you could just grow up and tell the truth about how you’re feeling. Safe space means the other person’s feelings have inherent value and worth, because that person has value and worth. Safe space means practicing a teachable spirit and showing up to do the work. Safe space means that you are ultimately for the other person, their #1 fan, their teammate and coach and best friend. And safe space means that when the other person fails you, you are there to remind them that if it only took one thing to kick them out then it wasn’t a safe space to begin with.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t fight. When you have two people together as stubborn as Logan and I, fighting is going to happen. But we know that at the end of the day, we are for each other and one little fight doesn’t jeopardize that. We built a strong foundation, and we intend for it to last.

Safe space is the other person respecting you enough to call you on your bull****. (The danger of being a writer is that I don’t get called on my B.S. enough—thankfully Logan does that for me.) Safe space is telling the other person if you were hurt, and safe space is choosing to respond with “tell me more” instead of becoming defensive.

The only way to establish this kind of safety is to be willing to walk the tightrope of risk. This is what Brené Brown calls “vulnerability”. Because what if he’s not safe? What if the other shoe drops? The key here—and the key to any healthy relationship—is to love and respect yourself first. Because if you do, and the other person doesn’t prove to be safe, you’ll know that you owe it to yourself to find someone who is. You’ll know that it’s not worth the temporary (and shallow) sense of security. When it’s that early and you haven’t laid a foundation, it is good to walk away. I repeat: it is good to walk away. But if the other person proves to be trustworthy, these little risks land like bricks, building your sanctuary.

If you want a safe space, you have to be willing to go first. Be willing to be the first one to say I love you; be willing to be the first one invested in commitment. (It’s really hard to build a safe space when each person is trying to appear less interested than the other.)
Be willing to give up the façade of “chill”. I have zero chill. It’s very freeing. Be the first one to admit you’re wrong, and that you’re sorry. Remove the stigma of admitting failure: when it’s not a battle to be won, there’s no satisfaction in having the last word.

Building a safe space is hard. work. But there’s a reason why I chose “sanctuary” as a synonym: these spaces are sacred. There is a holiness to all relationships, romantic or platonic, that reflects the Trinity. Relationship should be a verb, because it is an action, not a thing. It is a practice, it is a liturgy, and it is a discipline.

Logan and I are not perfect. At my best I am inquisitive and teachable, and at my worst I am stubborn, uncooperative, and argumentative. I react much more quickly than I wish I did, and I am much more fearful than I want to be. But being honest about my flaws makes space to learn and grow. And Logan and I will always be practicing this discipline—the art of building a safe space.

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An open letter to my soapbox

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To my soapbox:

It’s not you, and it’s not me. It’s both of us.

You have become my favorite poison, my drug of choice, what I turn to when I’m angry or hurt. You cheer me on as I shout over the sound of stories and heartbeats, real people with real stories that you’ve encouraged me not to listen to.

When I’m hurt or angry because someone says something stupid (which, on the internet, happens daily), you egg me on. You tell me to monologue. You tell me to preach. And in doing so, I lose the people I want to connect with most.

I have sacrificed empathy at your altar. I have given up listening and compassion to show up at your door. You have allowed me to believe that being right is more important than being kind. And I have become exactly like those I cannot respect.

Whenever I’m with you, I forget that there are real people on the other end of my words. Real people with real stories that really shape them and their entire lives up until the moment they share with me. I don’t know what brought them there, and I can’t assume where they’ve been.

My words need to be less about me, and more about the people I am connecting with. It is less about talking and more about a two-way street. I don’t want to talk at people, I want to talk with people.

In the last few weeks I have seen several people get on their soapbox. And I wanted to criticize them for not even paying attention to who they were talking to, but I remembered: how often do I do that? How often do I just talk, no matter who I’m talking to or where we are?

I. Am. No. Better.

In this season, I am finding that being teachable means putting down my shield and really listening: I’m letting go of the fear that if I listen, I will be swayed by anyone who speaks. And I am finding that I really am capable of discerning the voices in my life – the ones that speak with truth versus the ones that speak out of bitterness. And I am realizing that being teachable is equally as valuable as being the one teaching.

So, soapbox: preaching is for the pulpit. I created you, but now it’s time for me to set you aside and choose to listen rather than rant. There are more important things than platform. Words have no meaning if they don’t have ears to listen.

I wish I was black: on racial inequality + white guilt

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Hi. My name is Hannah. I am a white, young, middle class woman living in the Midwest. And for the last 6 months I have been wishing I could be black.

Yeah, I recognize that’s a super weird thing to say. You’d think in light of Ferguson no one would envy black people. It’s a dangerous way to be born these days. But as our country becomes increasingly aware of racial tension, I’m wishing I could be black. Because as awful as they have it in our country, I am still just as lazy as ever.

A privileged white person who would rather be oppressed than do the tough work of advocating for equality.

My university hosted our National Student Leadership Conference last weekend, and Christena Cleveland came and spoke about inequality. (If you’ve never read anything by her, make sure you do because she is AMAZING.) It was moving. And even though I’ve learned so much in the last 10 months about race and what privilege is and the current state of our Western culture, I’d rather point fingers and cast blame at the general white population than recognize my own part in allowing privilege to still exist. Because every single white person who doesn’t actively try to end white privilege is participating in its existence. And that knowledge is convicting, and difficult, and HECK NO I don’t want to have to deal with that. I don’t want to be that white girl who won’t stop talking about racial inequality, because why do I even care so much? I’m not black.

But that’s the point. I’m not black. This is not just a problem for black people. Whenever a minority is oppressed, it is the responsibility of the OPPRESSORS to change – not the oppressed. So it’s not a black people problem at all – it’s a white people problem. Race is a white person’s problem, because we’re the ones responsible for changing it.

And shouldn’t we, the People of the Cross, be leading the charge?

This week I had one of the best coffee dates I’ve ever had on our college campus with one of the funniest, most genuine women I know. It’s one of those friendships that has been so long in the making that I apologized for not asking her sooner. I said it so earnestly that she laughed, but we both knew it was true. And we talked about racism and authenticity and silence and choosing to be kind over “nice”.

And I am learning every day what it means to be responsible for my place in this country, this town, among these friends and in this internet world with you, my friend, reading this.

And I hope you ask those questions too: What am I responsible for? In this town? In this community? In this country? In this world? What am I responsible for changing? What am I responsible for giving? And don’t wait until you’re older or married or wealthy to do those things.

Do them now. Because there is an urgency to equality that can’t afford to wait until your life has fallen into neat little rows. Because people will die for this while you have the privilege to wait until you can pay rent. And that’s not really a fair toss-up.

So we who fight for equality will continue to do so until we lay in our graves. And this is the work we take up, the cross we carry, for those who do not have the power that we do. That even though only 13% of the U.S. population is black, they make up 26% of people killed by police in 2014. That the city of Cleveland decided a dead 12-year-old black boy is responsible for his death because he didn’t avoid being shot, and the police force is in blind support of the officers who did it. And so many more that the list would take up an entire blog post by itself.

I hope you’ll fight with me. Thanks for doing that tough work. And I hope we’ll carry each other, when we’re weary and frustrated and discouraged. Because that’s what community is for, after all.

IFWC, Lena Dunham, and the epidemic of oversharing

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I had the privilege of attending the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference last weekend. I’ll be honest – I went into the conference expecting to get very little out of it, since I assumed the conference was for writers of fiction. It actually turned out to be a great conference and well worth my time (thank goodness!).

The very first session I went to was with Nate Pyle, a fellow blogger and thinker, and with him I found a kindred spirit. He had my attention with some of his earliest words: authenticity is the new Christian buzzword. AMEN AND AMEN. I think vulnerability and authenticity are not just Christianity’s new buzzwords, but our entire culture. Just look at Lena Dunham.

I know everyone has something to say about the chaos surrounding Lena and her story. Several bloggers have written great articles on why oversharing is so dangerous, and I don’t want to regurgitate their words to you. But I think this is a conversation we need to be having. Why is there such a pull to tell too much online?

Another thing Nate said was protect the stories of others, and I think that should be in some kind of blogger manifesto. It is our responsibility as storytellers to only tell the stories that are ours. Even if Lena got her sister’s permission, the story isn’t really Lena’s to tell. It was her sister’s. And that story should have been gently cared for and protected, not laid out under a microscope for people to analyze and evaluate.

I think Nate said it best when he said this: take where you are one step further. And that doesn’t always mean sharing more – sometimes it means being challenged to share less. We hide behind our strong opinions and make them our mask instead of saying I just don’t know; I don’t have all the answers. I might not be interesting enough for the internet if I don’t tell you about what makes me cry at night or the last date I went on, but I have to be willing to risk being boring if that means I can be a safe person and a good friend to the people I know offscreen. Because if I don’t, my online presence might flourish but my real life friends won’t.

The people you love are worth the risk. Save your stories for them. And by doing so, you invite them to love you better than any Facebook friends or Twitter followers can.

#fireworkpeople: a community for women who are already changing the world

#FIREWORKPEOPLE (2)This blog post is part of the #fireworkpeople blog tour happening from October 15-30. You can learn more about #fireworkpeople on Ashley’s blog, on twitter at #fireworkpeople, or in the #fireworkpeople facebook group.

I met Ashley Beaudin when she followed me on twitter last summer, and she invited me to join the #fireworkpeople twitter party.

I’ll be honest – I’m a bit of a skeptic. When I see a brand or motto that tells people how great they are all the time, I always raise an eyebrow a little and think to myself so you’re basically telling someone they’re awesome when you don’t even know them? How can you claim that? But then I remember that some people are genuinely nice and really want to be cheerleaders for people they don’t know, and while I don’t always get it, I do respect it.

The main draw for the people in the group was how positive and encouraging it was, but I wasn’t entirely convinced someone could authentically encourage me if they didn’t actually know me. But as the months progressed, I have been so impressed by the people who are a part of this group. They talk about their lives and their struggles and the lessons their learning, and their ability to bounce back from heartbreak and their resilience in the face of struggle truly inspires me. This is not just a group of people who want to change the world: this is a group of people who are already equipping themselves to do those things. There are real live women in the world who exist off the internet, doing and spreading good lessons with great power. And this inspires me.

If I could sum up the message of these women and their passion, I would simply say this: you are not alone. And I think this is a message we could all hear a little more often, that we are not the only ones who grieve and rage and fear. We are a part of the beautiful community that is Humanity, and if we have nothing else in common, we have our love of being a part of it.

It inspires me greatly to be a part of such an honest, wise community. And I read, and listen, and think. Women tell their stories, and I laugh and cry and feel with them, because I have been there. I have been mocked, I have been humiliated, I have been loved.

And I hope this community of compassion will spread to the edges of our worlds by the time we’re done.

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We’re gonna become friends.

The hardest part of blogging is usually that I have no idea who’s reading. Not the slightest clue. I can guess from an occasional comment, Facebook like, retweet, or pin, but generally it’s just a big fog of uncertainty.

No more, my friend. No more.

I have a solution for us:

We’re gonna become friends.

That’s right, friends. You think it’s not possible? I beg to differ. Email has this really genius way of bringing people together by sending electronic letters (and if that’s not awesome…I don’t know what is anymore), and you’re wrong if you think I’m not gonna take advantage of that. (HINT: I’m definitely planning on taking advantage of that.)

So I’ve created…

AN EMAIL LIST!

That’s right — my sporadic thoughts and anecdotes can hit up your inbox. I’m creating a VIP list for readers who want a living room exclusively for other emailers, a conversation full of people who are desperately craving to know that they’re not alone in this big world. There’s other people who wake up, groggy and with crazy bed-head, and want more than good grades or a raise.

And we’re all going to find each other.

This is not gonna be stuff you’ll find on the blog, so make sure you sign up if you want more than what you find here. This is for the dreamers who don’t know where to start.

Hats off to you friend. I’m right here with you.

Subscribe here.

-H

I learn that friendship happens offline

I haven’t been posting very much lately. I’d like to say I’m sorry about that, and I am a little, but I’m mostly not. I’m thinking just as much as ever, living just as much as ever, but differently. More quietly.

I’ve been online a lot less because I’ve been spending time with people a lot more. We have adventures, laugh hard, play cards, have “sharing circles” late into the night. And I love them for what happens off the screen, who they are behind the closed doors of their hearts. They are souls, wrapped in stories, tied with string. They are living and breathing, more than a profile picture, more than a quote or comment on a status. There is more to them than what you can see on a screen.

Friendships don’t grow when you sit next to each other in front of your laptops. You don’t learn to make eye contact when you’re looking down at your iPhone. And you’re doing something wrong if you feel like you have to update your Facebook status or post a picture every time you hang out to prove to the world that you have friends.

If they’re really your friends, you shouldn’t feel like you have to prove something.

Why do we do this? Why do we attempt to fit our 3-dimensional, incredible relationships onto a 2-dimensional screen? Why do we feel as though our only worth is determined by the impact we have online? Life is so much more than what we can fit into an 140-character tweet or a caption on an Instagram photo.

I’ve been feeling guilty as I check my blog and look at the number of weeks it’s been (yes, weeks) since the last time I posted. And then I wonder, why in the world do I feel guilty? Do I really think I’m a failure as a writer if I don’t blog more often?

It’s hard to find time in college. It’s hard to write for fun when you’ve been writing papers all day and you don’t want to look at another Word document ever again. And it’s hard to say yes to writing when you want to say yes yes yes! to other things, spending time with people you care about, taking the time to be present and sink into your real, offline life.

Abby P is so funny she makes me cry, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Austin is snarky but secretly really kind, and wonderfully strange. Abby F is clever with a little bit of sass, and can break it down on the dance floor with the best of them. Logan is sarcastic, thoughtful, and will stick with you until the end.

And the best thing about these people and what I know about them is that I didn’t learn any of it from a computer screen or a Facebook page. I learned it from their hearts.