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When You Stay Long Enough

Emily Dean

We sat across a small wooden table. She bravely shared the tension and wrestling in her heart. I sipped my tea and listened, knowing full well the place she stood and trying my hardest to walk back through it. I think that’s the kindest thing we can offer; full presence and a willingness to enter the places people have been, press our hands against the edges.


Even when they are places that might sting; places we’re working hard to inch further and further away from. Because to walk back through it doesn’t mean you stay forever, it just means you visit.

Hopscotch Margaret-25.jpg


I knew her feeling of restlessness, of feeling lost and confused. Of somehow believing that the life you’re building looks weak and fragile in comparison to those around you.


I remember the ache in complete exhaustion of having my heart reside in multiple places. When things became uncomfortable I’d simply quit, pack my bags, and move. Only to do it all over again a year later. It was a cycle I lived for years.


It didn’t stop until getting married.


In fact, it’s taken me two and half years not to include the word “currently” when asked where I live. Currently has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It sounds fleeting and exciting. As if in any moment I could be jet setting somewhere brand new.


I had an employer once tell me that my resume looked flaky.


“Can you explain all the gaps?”, he had asked. I felt like what he was really saying was, What’s the deal lady? Can’t you just lay your coat down and stay awhile?


The truth is, in my early twenties, I couldn’t. I still struggle to. It’s hard to hush the voices of comparison and anxiety. I hold so tightly to all the things I hope to become and feel paralyzed by fear of never becoming any of them.


I’ve carried regret and shame like a backpack full of bricks.


For a long time, I couldn’t believe this simple life was my own - the one I felt stuck inside. While everyone out there (according to social media) was thriving and building something really beautiful, I felt like I made a huge mistake. Perhaps I took a wrong turn or missed the exit. So, I’d keep my feet just above the surface, always ready to run, thinking location must be the problem.


I refused to commit and plant roots. I hesitated to invest.


I figured once I found place, my heart would finally settle and be at peace. I’d be able to unravel, let my hair down, to run wild and free. I’d be happy. I thought my own inner critic would silence itself and the constant longing to be more, do more and hustle more would finally end. 


If I could hug my twenty-two-year-old self, I would. I would hold her tight and tell her that she’s going to be okay and make it through. I’d tell her she has no idea what is waiting on the other side but it’s something really beautiful. And not at all what she has pictured.


I’d tell her she’s in the making. She’s in process. And that’s okay.


I’d remind her we’re always in process, the messy middle and in-between. And sometimes, the best thing we can do is loosen the grip and stand in one spot long enough to feel the rain on our face. Not run from it, not hide, just feel the rain.


I’d grab her hand and share how the discontent can and will subside. It might not disappear - at least not fully. I would tell her how it will often feel most intense when her heart leans into comparison over celebration, when others successes become a measuring stick for her own worth.


When we make tiny, curated squares the entirety of a person's story.


At the root of it, we’re all taking small steps, inching closer and closer to the dreams on our hearts, feeling incredibly brave and terrified at the same time. We’re all learning that community isn’t built overnight and some friendships bloom just for a season. That it takes work and opening your door and laying any striving down.


I’d remind her to keep writing… it will be her refuge and safe landing. It is a responsibility, a craft to steward.


I have so many words for that young girl and so many lessons I hope to share. Though maybe the kinder thing would simply be, to sip my tea, and nod my head. Listen with an open heart. Press my hands against the edges.


Because we need all the many, windy roads. We need each step, as painful as it is, to lead us here. The place we stand now. The place we call home.


And very soon, that girl will find something beautiful happens when she plants her feet, hangs things on the walls and makes plans a few weeks out; when she chases gratitude and trusts that something is in the works, seeds are being planted, even if she can’t taste the fruit quite yet.

We all might find the very thing we’re anxiously searching for already dwells deep within our bones. It’s been there all along, in complete abundance, ready for us to offer freely. We never had to be more or less. We just had to stay long enough to find it.


Writing by, Maeve Gerboth| Photos by, Hilary Hyland