Thursday, March 13, 2014

the stairs of the white house

as we drive we pass a white house
I don't know who lives inside
what they do or what their names are
what the walls might have to hide

but my hand is out the window
it rides the wind along my view
a light shines on the narrow stairs
I don't know why I think of you

I think because it's perfect
I think because it's night
I almost see your freckles
but I know that can't be right

I know that you can't live there
you simply never will
its halls won't ever have your voice
I somehow feel you still

I wonder what you'd look like
I wonder what you'd say
it's the type of country house
I always saw you in one day

your children would be loving
I know they'd have your eyes
generations sleep in coffins
when someone like you dies

this is where I see you
this is the life I'll save
you'll grow old in this white house
and we won't need your grave

so leave the light on for me
don't forget to sweep the stairs
we can laugh for hours
about our worries and our cares

I see you now, it's morning
you hair still tangled in the sun
I'm silent, drinking coffee
but your smile helps me run

miles fly beneath us
pain is nothing next to you
the outline of your nose, your lips
it's all a dream, it's true

quiet things remembered
the joy of things so small
weekdays passing aimlessly
the comfort when you call

when I leave it's simple
no goodbye, just see you soon
eternity is still a distant thought
from your front room

the room where I should meet you
the room where we should stay
the room that doesn't have
an empty seat for you that day

the white house, as we pass it
only lives in my rear view
but now I have an image
that I think is straight from you

on the stairs of the white house
a girl, she sits and waits
she watches all the pieces of her heart
approach the gates

when my piece is ready
when you get to call my name
know that every day without you
hasn't ever been the same

with trembling I will climb them
up the stairs, I'll see your face
the only reason I can find
He made the human race

if there are really many rooms
and I can earn a key
this suffering is nothing
if forever you're with me

flesh and blood, I feel you
your cheeks so rosy red
on the stairs of our white house 
no one here is dead

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Abiding Things

When I walk in my school, there's a sign that reads,"Discamus Permanentia: Let us Learn the Abiding Things."

Abiding. Enduring. Long-lasting. Eternal. Let us learn the eternal things.

Sometimes, the last thing you think will make you happy turns out to fill your soul in ways you didn't know were possible.

I don't have much time to share this with ya'll, because I'm grading grammar tests instead of watching the super bowl or swooning over my favorite British TV show- but I have to tell you this. When you find something that brings you joy- real, every day, thick and thin joy- pinpoint what that is and fight for it.

I think about that quote every day. It gives me so much hope. 

All the hard things about teaching- and there are hard things- are not abiding. The blood, vomit, snot, and tears pass. The crying over giving out detentions or having to raise your voice to a room full of screaming children also passes. You learn to smile when you answer the same question a thousand times. You rediscover your love of chocolate milk. You shout for joy over rescuing tiny mittens from an icy playground. You stop and realize you've been more alive in the past five months than you thought you could be again. 

Yes, the hard things pass. You sleep less, you work more. Their failure is your failure. Their success is your success.

And something beautiful happens every day. Every single day...and those things are abiding.

The first time a student understands a concept they've been struggling with.
When a student tries again even though they're beat down and exhausted.
When they learn to help each other.
The look on their faces when they're dying to learn.
The hundreds of times they choose the right thing outweighs the one time they choose the wrong thing.

I didn't know teaching would be so hard. So fun. So heart-breakingly beautiful.

I didn't know it would change me. I sure didn't know I was dying to change.

The abiding things. I ache for them. They pound in my chest like blood runs through my veins.
God's mercy.
His protection and timing.
My family's love. 
The loyalty of my friends; the death of our pride to love one another.
The look of trust in children's eyes when they look at me- and the fullness of responsibility and protection I feel for them that grows stronger every day.

I pray, even in a small measure, I can teach them the abiding things.

I hope I recognize the passing things in my own life.

Failure. Shame. Apathy. These are not eternal. It is a lie to believe our existence is measured in some cosmic list of our rights and wrongs.  It will only be measured in love- in sacrifice- in genuine pursuit of truth. If nothing else, His love is abiding- and believing that changes everything.

"Miss Hamilton, I can't do it."
"Maybe not today- but that won't be forever. Let's look at it again."

This joy- such a gift I did not expect to find again- this is truly abiding, and I think it will change everything if I give it the chance. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 5 Best Lessons I learned from My Mother

My mother is an incredible woman. I don't tell her that enough.

In fact, I'll probably spend more time writing this post than I have actually spoken to her in the past few days....because I am selfish, tired and full of twenty-something year old angst.

But she will forgive me, because that's what moms do. She will smile and tell me to stop wasting time talking and just write. She will tell me to travel in my heart to wherever I need to go because she will always be here when I get back.

"I'm sorry I'm such a brat, " I will say. "Yes, but you're my brat," she says in return.

So I've been writing a lot the past few days, and each time I do that, I remember three things a little more clearly:

Who I am. Who I've been. Who I want to be.

And when the dust settles she helps me remember it's okay if these three things don't match at all.

But no matter what, one thing is always true: when I imagine the woman I strive to be, each image looks more and more like her.

She says I'm stronger and smarter than she is. I think that's silly, because she taught me everything I know. I wish with all my heart that each person on Earth knows someone like my mother.

I'd love to share her with you. Our house is like a hotel, that's true, but for now....settle for some of my favorite lessons. I would not be me without them or without her.

1.  Learn How to Read a Map

Literally, go buy an atlas and keep it in the back of your car.  There is no excuse to not make it exactly where you want to go. Do not settle for technology holding your hand. When there's traffic, you'll be long gone off-roading it on an alternate route because you can read a real ancient map.

Some of my earliest memories are driving in the car with my mom. Strong women can drive anywhere, anytime. Get your sleep, map, coffee, and music. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. Every state on the East Coast is dog-eared in my weathered atlas because my mother raised me to do anything.

On a life scale, she taught me I would never be lost if I knew where I came from. She taught me to use my resources. There is rarely one route to a destination; the trick is being open to changing your plan. The more maps you read, the more likely you are to know where you're going.

There are maps everywhere. In people's eyes. In your gut feeling. In common sense. Read them. You don't have to wait in the traffic of life. Use your brain and find another way.

2.  Aim High in Steering

It seems like I spend all my time with her in the car. What can I say, we're women on the go.

When she was teaching me to drive, she would say, "aim high in steering," which meant...anticipate that stop light a hundred feet away and break accordingly.  I'm still terrible at breaking smoothly.

This translates so perfectly because it means more than look ahead, it means see the big picture in front of you. It means raise your perspective to the horizon. Shoot, PAST the horizon.

I get caught up in the future so often. I worry. Looking ahead has never been my problem. But seeing more...this is such an important lesson.

When I aim high, I can see so much more than what's right in front of me. Any conflict, any heartache, any crossroad- there is always more.  The world is such a lovely and enormous place.

Sometimes there's a semi in front of you and it's hard to aim high. So slow down. Take a breath. Everything will be clear soon.

"In the big scheme of your life, is this really going to matter?" she asks me. Only you will know the answer to that question.

3. Adopt Family Members

I'm confident I could be just about anywhere on this planet (except perhaps the Arctic) and be in range of SOMEONE with deep loyalty to my mother who would come for me if I needed them.

I grew up with more aunts and uncles than humanly possible to have. Why? Because my mother's heart is very large and blood is not a family requirement. There are people of all ages, religions, races, and creeds in my phone that I call family because of her. Some people might think this is strange; I think it's the way life is supposed to be.

Aunt. Cousin. Friend.  I am (or will be) honored to have those names. I hope it means the person saying them knows they could find me, day or night, and I will do anything I can to help them. I hope I never keep score. I hope there is no limit to my generosity or faith in people. I hope I never stop saying I love you. I hope I care for people half as well as she does.

4. Fear Nothing, Least of all Greatness

Some of you might be laughing because you know I am, in fact, afraid of many things.  I am the token 'safety nut' in my group of friends and the word paranoid is not a far stretch. I like to think of myself as a worst-case scenario optimist.

Growing up near DC with my father in law enforcement provided an interesting childhood. We were taught to lock our doors, scan our surroundings, and be very careful with our trust. My mother is an extremely safe person, in many ways. I used to think this made me afraid of everything- but lately I've realized it only helped me face my fears.

Whether you're afraid or not- the world (though lovely) is a scary place. The choice is how we live with that fear. Ignore it, or worse, pretend the threat is not real- and you're likely to get hurt. The alternative? "You don't get scared, you get mad." If only I had a dollar for every time my parents said this. Things are less scary when you talk about them and have a plan.

So who cares if they did background checks before sleepovers and didn't let us wander too far from the block as kids? We sure as hell weren't talking to strangers. I could use more wilderness skills but I have a plan for most emergency scenarios and I'm proud to say that.

My mother, with her passwords and "parking lot safety," didn't teach me to be afraid; she taught me the value of life. And boy does she like living. She's one of the most fun and spontaneous people I've ever met.

She had me swimming at six months old. We bike, we run, we play laser tag in the dark. We love snorkeling and fishing on boats in the Florida keys. I've slept with her under the stars of mine fields in Germany and rocky fields of Spain. We dove in caves, zip lined and kayaked in Mexico. We've walked the streets of Italy, drank water from the depths of France, sunk to our knees and wept in Portugal. We've skipped school for midnight premieres, drove across the country with an hour's notice, and waited in many emergency rooms.

She helps me pack my bags to visit a new city. She googles directions from Maryland when I make a wrong turn in Florida. She helps me pick up the pieces when my heart is broken and try again. She likes to sing with the windows down. We can never see too many beaches. She is a problem solver, make it happen kind of woman.

She taught me what on Earth is worth dying for- so that pain and suffering seemed less terrifying if death was just the beginning.  God willing I never have to prove it- but she raised me to be a fighter.

I think that's why most of all my mother hates when I make myself small.  Not the small we all actually are- in comparison to the universe- but the inadequate small.

It's true we are imperfect. There is freedom in accepting we will never earn our existence. In this way, we are small but it is beautiful. Similar to the feeling I get when I look out a plane window at the clouds or get swept into the ocean.

The lie is to believe those who are small can not also be great. Greatness, for her, is more than success. It is being the best version of yourself. Sometimes this is scary.

The fear of failure is paralyzing. The sting of hypocrisy chips away at my hope. I often feel like I take one step forward and two steps back.

"Oh well," I hear her say. "Your failures do not define you. You have right now. Try it again."

Do not be afraid of greatness. There is only one you.

5. Pray So Much It's like Breathing

My grandma Clem, when she wasn't singing in Italian, prayed the rosary all day long. She had those beads wrapped around her fingers so tight I thought they might break.

It's a habit she passed down to my mother, and I'm grateful for my mother's prayers. She prays for me, for all of you. She humbles me with her strong belief in the power of prayer. It's something I wish I had more of.

I'm most grateful for her example of constant, everyday, informal prayer. She talks to God a lot. She speaks to her mother, her siblings, and her friends who have gone home before us. There will be a line to greet her in heaven.

From an early age, she helped me see God in everything. She helped me begin to speak to Him. She prays like she breathes- it just happens without trying.

She also instilled in us a deep respect for religion and tradition, two things that are so often mocked today. Whether we were at mass, a church service with our cousins, or the temple with our uncle- we were respectful. We were honored to be in the presence of Buddhist Monks and admire the shrines of our Hindu friends.  We thanked the Mayan priest for his blessings in a cloud of smoke before we climbed into a cave. She taught us there were no limits to God's love. No human beings without His image.

I don't really care if people call us holy rollers. This is America and we'll beg for mercy all we can.

I hope when I have children I am as faithful as my mother and can pass down her wise words.

Mom, I'm scared.
Then pray the Rosary as you fall asleep and Mary will protect you.

Mom, I really messed up.
Good thing Jesus makes all things new.

Mom, I don't know what the right thing is.
Ask God and He will help you decide.

Mom, I'm worried.
Trust Him.

Mom, I don't feel anything.
Be still, and know that He is God.

Mom, sometimes I don't believe in God. Sometimes I don't believe He cares.
You know what I'm going to say. Our favorite saying. He still believes in you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

When the Gopsel Punches You in the Face

So it's my last week teaching 7th grade.

I was very fortunate to pick up a long-term sub position at an excellent Catholic Academy just outside of Washington, DC.  Over the past 8 weeks, I've been dying to write, but have scarcely had the time.

Teaching boot camp, as I've fondly been calling it, has been a wonderful experience. I will tell you all about it another time and how much it has changed me, stretched me, awakened me.

I mention it now to explain my lack of blogs. I feel certain you can smell the chalk all over me and might realize I've forgotten my name is Amanda, after being called Miss Hamilton a million times.

But this week. This Sunday. My gosh. I have to share this. It's burning in my heart and I can't sleep.

I've spoken to a few friends about how deeply the Gospel struck me in mass this past Sunday.  I felt as if I'd been sleeping for a long time, and woke up hanging from the reins of a horse off the top of a sky scraper (yes, just like in the movie "true lies"). It was a wake-up call; one that I hope to experience every day for the rest of my life.

We read the contrasting story of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. It's short so I will post it here:

Luke 18:9-14

9 He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else,
10 'Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, "I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.
12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get."
13 The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
14 This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself upwill be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.'

I stood there as it was read.
I listened intently.
I felt blood rush to my cheeks.
My stomach dropped.
I felt ashamed.

I am like the Pharisee.


I am so often like the Pharisee in this parable.

It humbled me to reflect on how many times I had prayed the same words: "Thank you, God, that I am not like those people."

I know. I'm embarrassed. I should be.

Those with poor educations. Those with addictions. Those with low self esteems or terrible friends. The list could go on.

Somehow I had slipped into the disorder of affirming my own life by pitying the misfortunes of others. This is not sanctified. This is not loving. I doubt God is pleased to hear any sentiment that begins with, "At least I am not blah blah blah."

As I sat down mortified, I thought of the tax collector. He did not even dare to raise his eyes to Heaven.

I believe we are all the Pharisee; I believe we are all the tax collector.

As often as I am prideful, hypocritical and selfish.... I am also my harshest critic. I'm keenly aware of my faults. We all are.

It is a genuine desire for God that brings us to this place in the middle. Walking the line between confidence and pride, for me, is like a tight rope.

There is nothing wrong with thanking God for our lives.  I doubt I will ever look upon someone less fortunate without a deeper appreciation for my own life welling up inside me.  Deep gratitude for our existence is essential for joy to conquer.

But to judge ourselves compared to other people; to see others as less holy; as less deserving of God's love, or even our own time or attention...this is unacceptable.

May I never use the phrase, "At least I am this," or "at least I am not that," ever again.

That attitude sells me short. It sells humanity short. Most of all, it puts some sort of measurement on God's grace, which has no limit.

I don't want the "least" of anything. Not in friendship, not in my career, not in love.

I don't want to offer God enough to feel good; to feel like it's enough.

I want Him to take everything I have. Take my best. Take my most.

He will show me the woman I can be when I let Him in.

The Priest summed it up well. Sinners go to Church. Our presence there is no great token to God.

May our hearts always be honest before Him. May our prayers only be, "God, I beg for your mercy, " instead of, "God, I'm awesome and I showed up so everyone else can see."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Anesthesia of the Heart"

Every day in the ten minutes it takes to walk from the metro to my building, I see at least twenty homeless people.  Men, women, children. They are hungry; hot; dehydrated; dirty; poorly clothed. Sometimes I give them change; sometimes if I have food to spare I'll leave it; most times I can only leave a smile and nod.

So let me be honest. I start to get numb. When you see them everyday, it's so easy to walk past them without even noticing.  Human beings fade into the scenery and it seems normal. 

I look around in the twilight zone and buses are zooming by, people are walking briskly like robots, everyone is screaming over traffic on their cell phones, crying kids are being dragged down the street, bikers are ringing bells, construction workers are drilling...and everyone is afraid to make eye contact...with anyone else.

In the chaos, sometimes I just stop and look. 

This might sound strange, but it's painful. 

When I look at other people, I see joy, but mostly I just see suffering. Real, tangible, difficult suffering. It just feels so heavy and I can never wrap my head around it. It seems like no one cares. Most of the time, I don't even care. We're too tired. It's not our concern. We're just trying to get by.

Then it's hard for me to grasp how God can love so many people; how He loves us all the same no matter what we do or who we are. I spend hours thinking about it but I'll never understand.

Things I fail to understand amaze me; they're the only things worth living for and the only things that can really make me mad.

On one hand, God's unconditional love for us is perfect. It feels like home. It's literally heaven.

On the other hand, in my weakness, as if we can compare ourselves to Him, I'm so frustrated by all the ways we fail to love...all the conditions I put on my love, even when I'm dying not to. Sometimes trying to care for people feels like climbing Mount Everest barefoot. Why is it so hard to do?

This brings me to two places. 

A, a dear friend sent me a homily Pope Francis gave that affirmed I - and the many of you I'm sure  have similar notions that trouble you- are not alone in our concern for humanity's depart from union with each other.

And B, another dear friend gave me a gem the other day I'd like to share that I think goes hand in hand with this topic. I was complaining about something or other being hard and she replied, "What is easy?"

Pope Francis visited an Italian island called Lampedusa earlier this month to say a memorial mass for the African immigrants who died trying to reach Europe. The full link to his homily is here. In it he said:

"The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference."

Globalization of indifference. Yikes. I've never been able to put my finger on it, but that rings a bell. He goes on:

"We ask forgiveness for the indifference towards so many brothers and sisters, we ask forgiveness for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anesthesia of the heart."

That last part really got me, and reminded me of my friend's advice. She asked me what was easy. 

It's easy to anesthetize our hearts. 

In fact, it's the normal reaction to fear. Maybe if we don't feel as much, it won't hurt as much when something painful happens. Like when a loved one dies; or the person you love doesn't love you back; or you have to confront the real presence of evil in the world and the swings it will take at your faith.

But life is not a procedure we need anesthesia to pull through.

Life is this stunning, messy, unpredictable precious gift; and our hearts can weather many storms.

The numbness used to comfort me.  If you're still in that place, I promise you, it will pass. If you ask, He will lead you out of any darkness. And if you're kicking and screaming, trust me, He is patient. He will awaken your soul gently and you will feel the blood run through your veins with joy again.

"The easy path is not worth walking." I saw that engraved on an antique wedding ring a few weeks ago. (Which is awesome.)

It's funny. Lately is the first time I've considered "the easy path" is not just a cop-out, it's a burden. It doesn't even pull its own weight. You don't break even. 

A numb heart does not pull its own weight. I would rather bleed out every last drop, loving with all my heart, than retreat to its shallow beating. I have never regretted feeling too much; only when I stopped myself from feeling at all.

I want to take the hard path. Every day. In all ways. Because we can. We can help each other do it. 

Difficulty is real. Every person struggles with different things- that's what makes it beautiful and worth it. 
For me, it is hard to maintain kindness to others; hard to keep applying for other jobs; hard to eat healthy and exercise; hard to keep hope in my dreams when they seem so far; hard to pray...the hardest to trust God.

But difficulty is not an excuse, it's the gift of motivation. 

Let's keep fighting for friendships  Let's keep protecting our families and holding them close. Let's keep doing our parts to build an American culture worth dying for.

Most of the time we won't be moving mountains. I have to remind myself, since I am not God, I can not love everyone at all times. So start with yourself. Start with the person in front of you. That homeless man on the street; your chatty neighbor; your unruly co-worker; your tired spouse; the new girl in class.

May God call us out of ourselves and keep our hearts awake. 
May He protect us from this plague of indifference.

(And as a tiny favor, may He take some of my personal maddening jealousy for all the pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio. Honestly, I can't even talk about it. First born child watch out, your name will probably be Francis.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Letter to My 18 Year Old Self

Hey woman.

So you just turned eighteen. I'm super proud the only thing you wanted to do was go to an amusement park and ride roller coasters all day with your buds. It will be a few more months before your first smoke and the real shenanigans start, but don't tell mom. Those lotto tickets you bought are cute, but're not a millionaire.

Since you're pretty sure you know everything...imagine 5 more years of knowing everything and that's where you are now.


Each year will pass and as the world gets bigger, you will feel smaller, in the most magnificent way. You'll realize there's SO MUCH you just don't know, and that will be okay. You will be okay.

I know this year was tough in a lot of ways, but you survived high school with flying colors. Don't be mad you got 2's on the AP Calculus and Spanish tests. You passed a bunch of other ones, and you gave it your all. So stop kicking yourself and conclude that flirting with boys was definitely more important. You'll test out of math in September and you'll speak Italian instead. I would tell you to study a little more, but you won't and you'll still make the dean's list. You will miss field hockey and swimming; getting away with everything because you're so good; and the sheer joy of being a big fish in small pond. You won't miss the drama. Don't ever look back.

Now, that smile of yours is pretty convincing. That contagious laugh really fools people, too. But I don't have much time, so let me get straight to the point. I'm so sorry you're in pain.  I'm sorry that boys let you down; that friends betrayed your trust; that death broke your heart. I'm sorry you were forced to grow up in an instant when they said your sweet friend was dead. I wish I could tell you it gets better; but first, it will get much, much worse. You've just started to fall asleep without crying. You let your anger push aside the pain.

But soon you will start to forget her voice. You will struggle to see the color of her eyes and shape of her lips. Changing without her will feel strange. Birthdays and graduations will pass. Your life will keep going; she will be frozen to you...a child, forever.

I know you feel overwhelmed with mortality.  You feel like death follows you around, mocking you, instilling fear, ruining everything. I know you're so angry with God it makes you feel sick. You simply can't accept the waste. Everyone says time will make it easier and you think that must be a lie. In five years, it will sometimes still feel like yesterday. So remember her well each morning, and let yourself feel whatever comes...but know that one day He will turn your despair into the strongest kind of hope.

Now you spend your last days at home by the pool, dreaming of Florida. Soon you will leave Maryland and move to Tallahassee all by yourself. You're scared of so many things, but not this. You ache for freedom. You can't wait to start over. You can't wait to run away.

Choosing Florida State was one excellent decision. You're debt free baby, with two bachelors degrees in tow. Yes, two... listen to Blake, he's always right and you CAN squeeze in 150 hours. You're Amanda freaking Hamilton. College is easy; it's the no sleeping, drowning your liver, working too hard, and eating crap that will slow you down.

Now I can't give away all the good stuff, and most lessons you'll learn the hard way because're really stubborn. But in these precious lines I have left, let me give you a few pointers.

You're not away at camp. Your life is there now for the next four years. You are not a rolling stone, sweetheart, as much as you wish you were. You like having roots. So let them grow. As soon as Mom drives away you will wonder if this was a mistake. It will not be the last time you feel alone. So cry with her on the phone; scream and complain about all the things you ache to understand. She can take it. She will offer to drive down immediately, pack up your crap and jump ship. You can live at home forever as a stay at home daughter. This thought will comfort and terrify you will suck it up, dig deeper and write your papers.

You will love deeply and often. Don't smirk at me, kid, it's true. I know you have resolved to never love anyone again. The thought of losing them, too, is unbearable. But your little act will last about a minute, until the two women you'll live with all four years camp out across the bathroom and in your heart. Fight for them; they make you better and keep you in line. They are jewels.

You will make friends with many amazing and unique people. Some friendships will last; some will stretch you and change you; some others are not worth the time it took to write this. Remember that first impressions are not set in stone. Be yourself and you will find your people. When you do, their love will be as sure and constant as the rising sun. You will learn the definition of loyalty, forgiveness, and companionship. Keep an eye out for a little red Kia; a sassy musician; a few blondes down the hall; the month of May by the pool; and especially a Jewish mother. Melbourne. Tampa. Jersey. You'll get it.

You have and will always have a healthy admiration for the gentleman. Buckle up, because your heart will make room for men, both in friendship and in love. Good men will call you up to be a good woman. They will show you respect, care, and protection that is different from any woman's. They will show you the love of God in beautiful ways. Cherish every second.

That being said...accept you will make some very wise and very poor decisions.  It's simple're growing up. You will make mistakes and feel like you failed to love them well. Sometimes they will fail to love you well...they are only human. You never liked robots or prince charming anyway. 

When your heart is hurting, let the ocean heal you with its might.  Cry when you want to cry; write down every word. Then when you're ready, opt in for heavy metal and burning calories instead of burning through ice cream buckets with Taylor Swift. Nothing says brighter future like taking care of yourself.

You will learn to love men for who they are instead of what they can do for you. You will learn your only weapon is insincerity, and its cruelest form is use. You will learn that men make things happen while boys make excuses. You will learn when to fight and when to walk away; when to forgive and when to apologize. You will learn not to second guess men who don't want you- their freedom is essential and your time is too precious.

Do not say anything with your body you don't mean with your heart (...but that doesn't mean everything in your heart needs saying with your body, ma'am.) Do not let fear of pain enslave you.  A little heartbreak never killed you- learn the lessons and move on, trusting in God's faithfulness instead of your failures. 

Trust your instincts and HAVE FUN.. you're still in one piece when it's all said and done, and they don't belong to you anyway. So hold hands under the stars; dance in the kitchen; wait for trains to come; get lost on some back roads; savor each glance across a crowded room; enjoy each kiss, each laugh. You're still a free bird that's just spreading her wings. You have no regrets; only strengthened confidence that waiting is worth every breath and every second of longing. 

Your faith will be tested. Daily. By the minute, in fact. You will ask the same questions a thousand times. You will question if you're literally insane. But when you're done screaming, in the precious moments you are ever calm, He will come to you in ways you won't be able to explain or grasp at all. You won't always feel Him, so don't expect to.  But truth will always bring you light in darkness; love will always cast away your fears.

You will have to face your biggest fear: yourself. Ask Him who you are. Ask Him who He is. Listen with your mind, heart, and soul. Seek the true definition of holiness and always think for yourself. Think logically; it will always lead you back to God. And above all, Amanda, do not let anything separate you from the Eucharist. You will look in many other places, but nothing else will satisfy you but the love found on the cross. Time is only wasted in sin.

Great hope will come when you get over yourself and let it. You never doubt the existence of a just wonder if He really gives a crap about you. But the lover does not keep score. His mercy is beyond comprehension and beyond your perception of yourself and the world. 

That same world will call you many names. Decide which ones you want to be true and never stop working to be a better person. You may be unsure of many things: your career, your location, even your hopes and dreams. The uncertainty of life is one of your favorite things; but remember you are certain of things that matter. Your family's love; your genuine desire to do what's right; your ability to do whatever you choose. Choosing is the hard part. You will always work hard for what you believe in; so for the love...block out all the noise. Hold your ground; be stubborn as hell and make your own path, even if you're the only one on it. 

You will travel the world and sleep under the stars.  You will discover a whole new meaning of adventure and fun. You will learn the difference between happiness and joy. You will break bones; chairs; bottles; plates; maybe crack a few other hearts. There will be a few nights in the ER and a few more crying on the floor. (You always were expressive. Okay, a little dramatic.) You will gain weight, lose weight, cut your hair, change your clothes, change your hobbies. You will still be you.

Soak up the Florida sun. Spend weekends at the beach with your cousins. Go kayaking when your paper is due the next day. Let your friends make you dinner. Save all your weight watchers points for chik-fil-a. Learn to kickbox and pay bills. Try to keep your car in one piece. Float down rivers and sing about the beauty of the earth. Fall in love every day and let other people actually see you.

Don't concern yourself with all the things you can't do. Be thankful  for the things you can do, and try to make each day count. I can't tell you where you'll be in another five years. Shoot, girl, we're still working on like...tomorrow. So here's to endless discovery and change. Enjoy the ride babe, it's not slowing down.

One thing will always be true. You are an ordinary woman, but He made you capable of extraordinary love.

Pray your ass off. Stick with Russian literature. Keep your clothes on. I love you.

Cling a ling,
Amanda, approaching 23

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

5 Secrets to Unwavering Kick-A$$ Friendships

What a thing friendship is, world without end! 
Robert Browning

1.   No one will like you if you don’t like yourself
Seriously. The first step in loving others is loving that wonderful person in the mirror. How are you going to stick up for your friends if you can’t stick up for yourself? The level of respect and care you have for your own life, feelings and mind will 100% influence the respect and care you have for others. Start here. If you don’t have self confidence…get some. Independent of everyone but YOU and God.

(If you need a pep talk, call me any time. I bet I can rattle off a hundred good things about you, plus a thousand things you have that other people never will. Starting with the computer you’re using and the healthy eyes you’re reading with. Go outside. Remember you’re a human being with dignity and deserve great love.)

2. Choose your friends carefully
Most friendships that end badly only result in chaos because those people should never have tried to be friends in the first place. Ya’ll…we’re not in high school any more. We can choose our friends selectively from a larger pool than the people we happen to see every day. 

This is a very important step…deliberately choosing your friends. If you genuinely take time to get to know yourself, and like who you are….you will naturally want to surround yourself with compatible personalities. It doesn’t make you mean…or snobby…or manipulative in any way; it makes you wise and thoughtful. Friendship should flow naturally. Everyone deserves to have friendships where you actually like each other.

Surround yourself with people you admire, people who build you up and make you better. Good friends allow you to be more yourself while simultaneously bringing you closer to your other friends, family and God.

Only you will know your likes and dislikes,interests, hobbies, goals, lifestyle- and if your friends are on the opposite spectrums completely- is that really going to last? I’m not saying opposites don’t attract…believe me, sometimes they do… but if the basic expectations are off, your friendships will be off.

For example.

Real problems:
You don’t do drugs, but your friends do. 
Your friends often lie but you prefer honesty.
You value family time but your friends disregard its importance.

Not real problems:
You like cats and your friends want to murder them.
Your friends think the movie “Hot Rod” is stupid but you keep it under your pillow.
All your friends laugh at you when you scream out, “parking lot safety!”
These are silly examples. But see how incompatibility causes unnecessary drama? Do yourself a favor and only become close friends with people you really connect with. It may be few people. In fact, you’re lucky if you can find a hand full of these people throughout life.

You can be a friendly face to many people; you can have a thousand acquaintances; but you don’t HAVE to be friends with everyone. It’s unhealthy. Observe people. Get to know them. Fall in mutual friend love with each other and consciously choose to keep them or not.

3. Communicate like you’re freaking dating
Once you’ve chosen your select group of friends that form your circle of trust, you need to get that communication flowing like a good bottle of red wine.  A friendship is a relationship after all, and it takes two to make it work. Establish what you expect from one another. Set boundaries. Navigate how you best understand each other. When you stop communicating, life turns into a blindfolded polo match. It’s not pretty.

This looks different for men and women.Chicks talk things out like we’re curing cancer and bringing about world peace. Men sometimes just need a text message. “Hey man, sorry got caught up with a project, gonna miss dinner.” Boom. Look at that thoughtful and sweet communication.

Like in any romantic relationship, don’t be afraid of confrontation. You’re going to disagree. You don’t have to be mean to say how you’re feeling. Here are some real life examples of things I have said or have had said to me:

“It hurts my feelings when we automatically do what you want to do” 
“Why can’t we watch the movie at my house for once?”
“I’m frustrated because I listen to you and you haven’t asked about me in a while”
“I feel like I’m always doing the dishwasher and that annoys me”
“I don’t want you to fix this, I just want you to listen”
“I do want to hang out, I just can’t be spending so much money”
“I want your advice, but not when you’re patronizing me”
“I’m not mad at you, I’ve just had a long day”
“I’m just a little jealous you’re not making time for me”

Entrust your friendships to honesty. Avoid passive aggression like the black plague. Handle little disagreements quickly and don’t take it personally. Handle large disagreements seriously; make time to talk about it until it’s resolved; preface the conversation with something like, “I want us to come out of this conversation as friends with a solution,”instead of, “I’m so mad I could just punch you in the face, I don’t even want to listen to your explanations.” Real love forms great bonds of loyalty. Affirm each other; trust that your friends will not abandon you.

4. Expect your friendships to change…A LOT
If I thought my friendships from college would go on exactly as they were when I moved fourteen hours north, that would have been a nightmare. Life is always changing. It’s unrealistic to think your relationships will not follow suit.

My mom always says God puts people in our lives as we need each other. Some are transition friends. Some are good time, let’s have fun friends. Some are school friends, sports friends, church friends. Few are forever friends…and that’s okay. There is plenty of room in each of our hearts.

Just because your buds aren’t calling three times a week doesn’t mean they stopped loving you. Just because your shenanigans are every few months instead of every Friday night down at the pub doesn’t undo all your memories and bonds of unity. Time and space may separate you. Jobs. Love. Marriage. Kids. Accidents. Travel. Fights. Missing each other so much it’s desperately physically painful. But life will not stop, so give them and yourself some slack.

Friendships that never change, never challenge you to grow and come outside of yourself are not really friendships anyway- those are needful, useful transactions. Those are not worth hanging onto or looking back for.

5. Lastly, Prepare Yourself for Death
Out of everyone on earth, these are the people you want in your heart. You’ve really seen them as individuals, loved them and chosen to keep them in your life. So buckle up, get ready for the long haul and prepare yourself for death.

What do I mean? Real friendship is hard,aching, blood and guts sacrifice. It’s the acceptance they are human and will let you down. The humble fact that try as you might, you’re going to let them down. It is the deliberate choice to die to yourself in order to love them more.  It is the death of everything petty,shallow and material to protect their trust. It’s the death of your selfishness and your pride, because they deserve all of you. And most of all, it is accepting that at some time in your lives together, one of you is going to die first.

So apologize when you’re wrong. Don’t waste time berating each other, plenty of other jerks will do that. Block kicks for them when they’re down; pull each other up when you’re high. Let their success be your success; their grief your grief. Never stop laughing. Beg God for mercy. Find adventures and think for yourselves. Fill your lives with beauty and gratitude. We’re so lucky to take every breath.

It’s a scary thing to love other human beings. It will stretch you in ways you didn’t know were possible. It opens us up to death in the most vulnerable way. But we were made for communion with each other. We were made to be comrades on this journey, and I’ll be damned if I don’t have the back of the person next to me.

Love so deeply and so well that at any moment, were you to die, your friends’ hearts would swell with joy, knowing you are home and remembering them. Then they will move on with courage that life is worth living to share it with people like you.