Stay with me.

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“I know how hard this year must have been with you going to college and being away from home and all,” he said as I tried to fight back the inevitable tears coming to my eyes.

He told me about his new home 300 miles away and plans to go away for a semester and trips planned with new friends to pretty places far away & right there, under the familiar glow of the same streetlights I had played tag under as a child, I realized he was completely wrong. This year was not hard because I had gone away to anywhere. It was hard because I stayed.

I am utterly convinced that the most difficult command is never to “go.” Going implies moving, being away, change. “Go” is new, fresh, exciting, unknown. Scary and thrilling. It implies somewhere else, somewhere besides here, in the same sleepy old town you’ve always lived in where you carved your name into the big oak in the park one July afternoon as a child. Somewhere besides the rut you fell into when life became a routine and everything felt so familiar.

As hard as I fought, as much as prayed, as big as I dreamed, my command was never to go. My command has been to stay. Stay in the city you swore you’d leave for college. Stay involved with the high school you grew weary of after four years of turbulent friendships and always being The Different One. Stay in the place where broken memories and Promises Of No More still haunt pieces of your heart. Stay and watch as others go.

He was wrong. Going wasn’t the hard part, staying was. And as he told me about his “going,” I felt the sting that the open wounds of “stay” held, leaving me bound by chains of stagnancy.

“Sit here and don’t move. Don’t go. You’re not leaving. He isn’t changing his mind. Don’t move, just be.”

Overwhelmed with envy as my peers get clean slates, perfectly white canvases to paint as they wish, I dream of new people, new cities, a new me. Why was school in Colorado or California or New York never an option? Why here? Why staying?

I dare you to try to recreate yourself in the city you’ve lived in for nineteen years. I dare you to grow and be different. It’s hard. So, so hard.

But even as I write, I know that going could never produce healing for me. Going could only ever act as a band-aid, as temporary relief to deep pain. Staying means I cannot run from the pain. Staying means sitting with the sources of my injury… my pain… my stinging wounds…right in front of me, head-on. It means heartache and digging up the gray parts… the parts I’ve tried so hard to numb and ignore.

Staying is the hardest command, but staying means healing. Others must go. I will stay.

Daring to Give the Gift of Presence

“What did you do for your birthday weekend?”

I grin and recount how I celebrated my nineteenth birthday with pina coladas, a trip to Spokane, and cake covered in sprinkles. I tell her about how I drove five hours across the state with my three best friends  to spend the weekend drinking great coffee, walking 7.3 miles (oh man), and spending quality time together before heading back to school for finals (oh man).

Sounds pretty wonderful, huh?

When people ask me what I did for my birthday, I make sure to tell them all about my time spent in Spokane, but I leave out my time spent in Cyberspace, agonizing over how many of my 528 Instagram acquaintances would decide that I was [pretty, witty, worthy] enough to deserve a “like” for my birthday.

There, okay? I said it. I spent part of my weekend…a big part….too big of a part… lost in the tangled web of the Internet waiting for people to show me I mattered.

& I wasn’t the only one who sought validation through social media on the trip…

Though one would think that our car ride home was loud and filled with goofy shenanigans by the looks of the 100-second-long snapchat stories that my friends and I posted, a large portion of our trip was inevitably spent in silence on Sunday afternoon while the three of us hunted for acceptance in the blue glow of our iPhone screens.

I don’t want to be honest about this. I want to pretend like Instagram likes and Facebook posts and Twitter favorites don’t hold an ounce of value in my heart, but as I posted pictures and statuses over the weekend, I couldn’t help but feel more loved and accepted as my phone screen continually lit up with promises of ever-climbing likes and notifications.

I sat in the car on Sunday and desperately wished for more and more of my Facebook “friends” to aimlessly wander through their newsfeeds and happen upon the notification identifying May 3rd as Alyson VanCleave’s birthday. My heart bursted with joy each time a person I hadn’t talked to in years would take 3 seconds to carelessly type out a 2 word, not-so-heartfelt “Happy birthday” message on my wall. I smiled as I reached 173 likes on a birthday Instagram post…a personal record. Some extra-sweet souls even devoted 140 characters just to telling me happy birthday…a serious act of love, clearly.

Meanwhile, reality passed by, as well as countless opportunities to love and care for the friends who have served me in real-life, tangible ways over the past year.

The fact that my friends and I are looking for ways to determine our worth is normal. Since the beginning of time, young girls have wanted to know that they are skinny, pretty, clever, and good enough, but social media has served as a dangerous platform to decrease feelings of “enough” and increase feelings of unworthiness among young women of the world.

We live in a culture where we are looking far past ourselves and those who care about us… to high school acquaintances, ex-boyfriends, and strangers…to dictate our worth on any given day through social media while simultaneously ignoring the real-life human beings-with beating hearts and caring souls- that are right in front of us.

The result? We are subconsciously portraying to the people that actually care about us that they are not worthy of our time, undivided attention, words or advice because empty sentiments and careless double-taps from strangers are more meaningful than those who validate our existence each and every day with steadfast love and patience.

The ironic cycle is harmful by nature. In the process of trying to feel worthy, we subconsciously tell others that they are unworthy.

We must be aware of the power that being present holds.

Even more so, we must be aware of the immense power that not being present holds.

A study done by Glamour magazine found that women, on average, have about 13 negative thoughts about themselves each day, equating to almost one negative thought for every waking hour. Every day unsuspecting, adolescent girls are subject to images in mainstream media that tell them they aren’t enough and we fuel that lack of self-esteem each time we choose social media feeds over friends.

So, what if we were a culture that built each other up and ensured that each and every young beauty in the world was aware that she is worth attention and time and the opportunity to live a life where every sweet moment could be savored and cherished and stored deep into hearts and memories instead of social media feeds?

Our job… as human beings, as best friends and individuals who know the sting of “not good enough” all too well, is to grant each other the gift of presence. To have the courage to Put. The. Phone. Down. To spend less time choosing perfect filters and writing clever captions and more time living life.

Dare to be present. Dare to show others their worth.