dear hilary: the thinnest envelope

Dear Hilary,

I’ve been telling people for a good while now that I have plans for graduate school. You see, I’ve always had plans for graduate school. Once it was law school and once it was nursing and a few times it’s been a joint JD/PhD and always it’s been the idea that I should and can be a part of that. But lately, when I tell people, I tell them the school, the fellowship, the hope, and then I start to worry. Because what if I don’t get in? What if I get that thin envelope in the mailbox? What if I’m not one of the few who get chosen to be a part of the class of… ? What will they all think? What will I do?


Dear Nervous,

What will you do? I’ll just ask the question back at you. It isn’t for anyone else to work out or reason how you build a life after that gnawing possibility of rejection. We can give you the pep talks, pass the B&J, or the g&t, or both, tell you to stop worrying and stop feeling that prick of fear, because you have a beautiful life… but this one belongs to you and there isn’t all that much I can tell you. 

You, however. You can tell you a lot.

You can tell yourself that the meaning of the thinnest envelope is less than the meaning of the love you’ve sincerely built in the afternoons and the extra hours and the holding your palms open for another heart. You can tell yourself that if graduate school A or B  says no, it means less about who you are than the six pairs of eyes that gaze up at you during the busiest time at the prayer circle, mean less than the three year old who thanks God for you, right there in her list of horses and birthday parties.

You can approach the mirror with an open hand and whisper that you are going to hold it open and watch what is put inside it, without peering sideways at what is put in the palms of the other hands that grace your life. You can imagine yourself a seed, in a fallow field, hungry for the rain, but unafraid.

You can whisper a bit of peace, say Sarah Bessey‘s, “calm your heart” while you drive home. You can remember that not one of us came into the world stamped with a seal of graduate school approval and all of us came in with God’s image borne deep in our bones and His law written on our hearts and He is right there, engraving His name over the walls of our hearts.

You can pour the second glass of red wine. You can write yourself a letter and put it in the thinnest envelope and mail it to yourself for the same day that those other envelopes, thick or thin, arrive next year. You can write love inside that letter: love for the work that has belonged to you, love for the work that is mysterious and yet to come, love for the people, love for the places, always more love than you were able to bear but you somehow did, anyway.

That’s all you.

What people think if you don’t get in is a deep fear that lurks under the bed. Will they love me, if I’m not a ? we whisper. If I never have a – if I fail to win – if I don’t – ? And this is what will catch us slowly, the sinking feeling that perhaps what they love is only how well we’ve performed.

You work your way out by rereading the old and good and true words. You run back to the promises that we have been set free, and He who loves, He is from everlasting. His command to abide in his love. His promise to send His Spirit to be with us.

You are loved abundantly, dear one. Not because of an envelope or a graduate school or an anything. Love is just like that: overwhelming and rich and somehow, always, seeking us. Let it find you.



to the girls in my college classrooms

Dear girls who walk along the pathways and hallways at my college,

Dear women who fill these walls and ceilings with your ideas and questions,

Dear hearts that are so full they feel like bursting,

I see you. Right where you are.

I catch these glimpses of you on my way to and from the student dining hall. I see you scrunched over papers. I see you holding back tears in tight-lipped smiles to the many people who you pass on your way to chemistry. I see you stray a glance in my direction, see me in all my appearing-put-together-as-a-young-professional, and sigh a little in your shoulders. I see you blink and brush past your day, all worried, always worried that there isn’t enough of you, enough of time, enough of effort or fullness or beauty.

Right where you are? It’s all kinds of hard.

Before you tell me that if you only worked harder, if you only sucked it up more, if you only tried to be more cheerful, more in shape, less complaining. Before you tell me you need to get into the Word more, spend more quiet time or homework time or something else, or something else…

Before that – it is hard.

The hard that it is cannot be measured or calculated, cannot be judged, cannot be lined up next to everyone else and compared. It is all its own, it is aching, and it is raw, and it is real. And some days you forget that it is hard; and some days everything you do is a reminder.

If I can tell you anything, as the girl you think is put together, as the person you’re not sure even knows what you’re talking about –

oh love, I just want to wrap you up in a little extra love for yourself today.

I want to tell you that the answer is not in trying harder to be better or to be perfect or to fit into the space you worry you don’t fit into.

The answer isn’t in more activities or more to-do lists, more reprimands for yourself, more scolding. The answer isn’t in staying up later to finish that paper or study as hard as you think you should study for that test.

Can I just give you a hug? Because you, right where you are, right in the middle of the hard, you are wildly lovely and to be cherished.

Someone told me the other day that I am intimidating, because it always seems like I have it together. So here are a few confessions, from me, the girl who wants you to believe that she is perfect and the girl who knows she isn’t, the girl who deeper down than her perfect, wants you to know she is real:

I cry in my office at work when I realize there is a typo in something I just handed in.

Some days I drive into work thinking about all the mean things I want to say to people.

Sometimes I lie in bed watching Castle or Hart of Dixie instead of reading books that would make me intellectually sophisticated, because I really just want to lie in bed watching TV.

I cry in my car after a long run. I avoid mirrors because of the way I’m convinced my stomach looks. I’d rather eat a cupcake and a cheeseburger than a salad. I have gotten into trouble with boys, trouble without boys, trouble about boys. I’ve done stupid. I’ve done selfish. More than I admit.

I get mad at God. I don’t spend all that much time in the Word. I went to church last week and cried the whole way through and didn’t sing the hymns and went home and moped around.

I haven’t got it all together. I’m a mess sitting here writing this to you, but when I see you on campus, with your brightness and your beautiful heart and the way you listen and the way you love, I have to write to you. I have to tell you, dear hearts, that it is okay to be in the hard. It’s okay not to know where to go from here.

I even think it’s okay to sit down right in the middle of it, and whisper, “I have been spent.”

I’ll come sit next to you and give you a hug. And in the middle of it all, where we sit, I think God will come sit down with us.

Because He wants to be with the real us. Because He loves the real.