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Chapter 1

Photo credit Gabriel Jimenez via Unsplash

        I grew up on top of a mountain in Tennessee. The twisting road peaked at our humble home. I’d sit on skinned knees and make mud pies until the sun began to nestle into the valley below. It was the two of us against the world of poverty and statistical prophecy. She was a teen mom and I was a daughter, but also like the little sister she never had. I’d gather blades of grass and meticulously decorate each pie with words like ‘love’ and ‘mom’. It was beyond my understanding at the time, but we were poor. Loose change would collect beneath the seats of our old car and I would dig coins out and count them so that we could fill the tank.

        One restless summer night the heat formed such a thick cloud around us that we couldn’t sleep. Rain began to leak through the ceiling and she lit a candle and dressed me in the dim light. Our electricity had been off for some time. We ran through the rain and got into the car. I wrestled with my seatbelt and we listened to The Beatles, Dianna Ross, and Queen on the crackling radio all the way to McDonald’s. We shared a four count order of chicken nuggets and a small Pepsi. The storm clouds cleared away and I watched the stars as we went up the winding road back home. That night I snuggled her tightly and it didn’t make a bit of difference to me that the house was hot or that I couldn’t remember what my father’s hugs felt like. The essence of him had worn off long ago.

         That summer the church we attended gave me a bicycle. There was a plastic compartment on the handlebars that I kept my rock collection in. Beneath those rocks rested little notes that Mama would write me or notes that I would write myself.

“I love you. Love, Mama”

“xoxo. Love, Mama”

            Then, small tokens from myself. “I love you.” “Mama loves you.”

            The smell of honeysuckle would gently caress my face as I rode that bicycle all day. Sunshine poured into my heart and I was not a victim of poverty, but rather a believer of hope.

           Little Hope Notes may be a small initiative, but my prayer is that you may find these notes and tuck them away safely inside of your heart. May they remind you of what you have rather than what you lack.

Nikki xx

            

          

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I Am Not Her

She places herself perfectly in the middle of the room. Everyone’s eyes are drawn to her. She’s a force of nature; a lovely exotic flower.

I am not her.

She was created somewhere far away within the galaxies above. She sparkles and she shines even with darkness around her.

I am not her.

Her life looks effortlessly attained. The perfect contouring of her face and the shimmer in her eyes. People look in at her as if she is a diamond sparkling in a display case.

I am not her.

She is vulnerable yet guarded. Her sense of humor is unmatched, but she is reserved and dignified. She is everything I didn’t know was possible. An embodiment of paradoxes and perfectly imperfect.

I am not her.

She is courageous in the midst of adversity. Her story is complicated, but beautiful beyond anything hanging in an art gallery. She is a fine art undiscovered.

I am not her.

She is the loveliest friend, most patient mother, and adored wife. Each role she plays is perfectly balanced. She is a master of all trades.

I am not her.

She is elegant, but simple. Her fears are great, but she has conquered them all.

I am not her.

She is unfiltered. She’s perfect.

I am not her.

Yet, I look harder and deeper. I pause as I scroll and look within my own heart. I am not her, but she is not who I think she is. Behind the lens, the filters, the facade–she is me and I am her.

Perfection doesn’t exist.

I am imperfect.

She is imperfect.

We are each living a story untold.

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Pouring

This little hope note was left in our local bank for a stranger to find.

This afternoon I had a teen girl reach out to me and ask for advice. She wrote, “How do you inspire people so much and still have anything left for yourself? I need to figure this out because I really think I’m being led to use my writing to help others. But, I need some advice.” I was honored that she chose to reach out to me for advice. There was so much admiration in my heart for her as well. How many of us can say we are self aware enough to evaluate the level of self-care in our lives? I sat with her message for about half an hour waiting for pearls of wisdom to string together. I quickly realized that she had asked for my honest advice and not a perfect answer.

She had shown me such vulnerability and she deserved the same from me. I’m going to share with you what I shared with her.

  1. Some of my greatest efforts to help others comes during my greatest seasons of need. There is something about experiencing your personal rock bottom that can propel you to extend kindness to those in need. Difficulty is where empathy grows and from it we can glean so much. It cannot be hoarded, but must be shared. With that being said, personal difficult seasons require us to rest, reach out, and redeem our resources.
  2. You will never be ready. People may be drawn to perfect facades, but that is not where they find comfort. Waiting for the right moment, the right level of self-proclaimed perfection, and comfort to help others only delays the growth of you and those you wait to help. Are you imperfectly human? Then you’re already “qualified” to press in and press on in helping those in need of hope.
  3. Self-Care goes beyond bubble baths and comfort food. It requires some straight-up honesty from yourself. Meditate on some tough stuff. “Am I being fulfilled by helping others more than I’m being fulfilled by being my authentic self?” “Does past trauma interfere with my willingness to help those in need?” “Do I feel confident in saying ‘no’ when I need rest most?” “Do I find my value in what I do rather than who I am?”
  4. Not only can you be imperfect, but so can your random acts of kindness! If you’re out to make a difference then the measurement of that difference is not something that you can gauge. You never know what great impact you may have in someone’s life. It is in those quiet moments that the whisper of kindness sets in. After all, that’s the beautiful thing about hope.

Nikki xx

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Painting With Words

                     I’ve always found solace in the written word. As a little girl I remember feeling my emotions so deeply, but not knowing how to best express myself. I buried feelings deeply and they sat neglected for years. When I turned 10 years old I discovered the art of creative writing. I remember reading a Dr. Seuss book and deciding to create my own poem of silliness and wonder. Within minutes I had stanzas of make-believe creatures that were other worldly. On some level I believe I wrote that poem to escape into a carefree and forgiving galaxy far beyond the world I lived in.

                    Poetry provided healing properties in seasons of pain and excitement in the daily mundane. As time passed I found that what I had been buried started rising to the surface. My writing became more of a self-guided therapy. I began sharing my writing with a select few over the years. There were occasions when I would write with such intimate detail and give it to an acquaintance in need of encouragement. I felt true empathy for that person not knowing fully what they were facing at that time. It was as if I knew the map of their heart and wrote healing words meant just for them.

                      Little Hope Notes is like an exploration of my own heart and soul. I delve into the deep parts of myself–my past pain–and write to an audience of strangers. What would I have wanted to hear when I was a lonely teenager, a discouraged new mom, a suicidal young adult, and a discouraged friend? Those are the places I write from. I hope that these canvases painted with the written word bring comfort to you. My prayer is that they meet you on the level of your need. You matter. You are worth every minute I take to write to you.

xx

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The Weary

As a child I was intimately aware of people’s tangible and emotional needs. I was raised by my Mama who was a teenager at the time I was born. We lived in a very small home on top of a mountain in East Tennessee. There were wide cracks in the floor and the old windows were paper thin. I remember snow blowing in from under the front door and wild animals getting in from between the wide floorboards. The water pipes froze each winter and the stifling heat enveloped us in the summer. Mama struggled to pay the bills which was no fault of her own. A teen mother and her child living in poverty quickly bled into the statistics in our rural hometown. I was five at the time, but I was emotionally attuned to our reality.

Something that I noticed was that the small country church that we were part of would help pay our bills, bring us food, and bless me with second hand clothing at the beginning of the school year. Those memories are so vivid in my mind that I can still recall the the way the cool black plastic of the trash bags full of clothes felt on my fingertips. My heart swells as I remember the feeling of trying on my new-to-me clothes for hours at a time. Even then I day dreamed of helping people in need when I grew up. There was something about living in need that made me empathetic at an early age.

Fast forward to right here in this moment. I have so many more stories of how I have been uplifted by being involved in a community. People have prayed with me in my weakest moments, sent me snail mail to encourage me, brought my family meals after surgeries. The love and compassion of others is one of the most beautiful things–like a living and breathing art piece. My daughter is the age I was when I saw my Mama working so hard to take care of me. Already, my little girl makes homemade cards to the helpless, hopeless, and lonely. She picks dandelions out of the yard for me daily.

I know the perils of the world so intimately. My mind is not ignorant of the suffering of others. My heart, though, knows with full assurance that there is rest for the weary.

These notes are my offering.

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Mae

Finding those notes in the shallow wooden drawer meant she was thinking of me. It meant I was loved.

I ran to her with my arms stretched out. When I got to her I buried my head in her breasts while she patted the top of my head. “Sugar, ” she said, “I knew you’d find it!” I breathed her in. She smelled like lavender detergent and the sweet citrus of her soda clung to her breath. Just as quickly as I had found shelter in her embrace I was gone. The folded note in my hand was a treasure and I held it to my heart. I bent down in front of the coffee table and began to write onto the yellow notepad. I couldn’t spell just yet, but I mimicked Granny’s words with confidence–‘I love you xoxo’. I folded my piece of art and gently placed it in the same drawer where I had found her love note to me.

Granny would leave notes for me in that drawer for years to come. Over time, grasping the pen would become a challenge and her letters would shake as if they were going to drip off of the edge of the lined paper. Every note was an affirmation that I was loved. My love for writing was born those early years of childhood and they have outlived my sweet Mae.

The beauty of encouraging words has always filled me with awestruck wonder. The power of those same words have sustained me in my darkest moments. Out of my own pain there has blossomed a desire to help encourage those that feel alone. I took that desire and have arranged it in the most simple and pretty bouquet for you to have. Fill a mason jar with cool spring water and place the fragrant blossoms where you will constantly be reminded. May you be reminded in the simplest terms ‘I love you xoxo’

In memory of my Mae.