When I Learned Not to Give Up on Growth

A tree with pink blooms covering a window

These flowers will simply not grow.

I shook my head. With one hand, I awkwardly lifted up its white vase and placed the plant by the door. I quietly planned to take it out to the brown bin. After a few minutes of Clorox wiping and rearranging, I turned back to the plant. The beautiful red blooms drooped and as if, knowing their fate, frowned at me. 

I sighed, hit with the pang of disappointment, and resolved not to buy another house plant. At the thought, I felt melancholy. Since the cancer diagnosis in September, even the smallest bits of gardening, acted as a refuge from the ache of disease. 

Even the smallest bits of gardening, acted as a refuge from the ache of disease. 

It was then my younger sister, Ava, found me with my hands on my hip. “I’m tossing the plant,” I said, not meeting her gaze. She looked at the now shiny empty table, at the poor plant, and then back at me.

“It just needs water,” she concluded with gentleness.

“You think so?” I asked, already walking back toward the group of floppy stems. I hoisted the vase back up onto the table and went to the kitchen.

Ava’s response was unsurprising as it was not the first (or the last) time she encouraged me not to give up so quickly. In between bouts of chemotherapy, we’d paint together and watch movies. More than not, I grew frustrated by my paintings. They didn’t seem to turn out like I imagined, but my sister would tell me, “Keep going.” It was her words that taught me to pick up the brush again. 

It was not the first (or the last) time she encouraged me not to give up so quickly.

When my hair fell out, she cut my hair and shaved my head. Halfway through, I heard the clip of the scissors behind me. I turned around to see Ava holding her own hair in her hands. My eyes widened in disbelief and hers brimmed with tears.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“I didn’t want you to feel alone,” she replied, still holding the chunk of her curly locks. 

When, mere days before surgery, I put together my first chapbook of poetry, “Yet, Praise,” it was her voice which kept me focused until it slowly came into fruition. 

My sister Ava is my hero. When I think of women who inspire me to be a little more kind, brave and outspoken, her name tops that list. From dog fostering to rescuing the discounted wilting plants at hardware stores, Ava consistently looks out for the ones on the margins and simply, by example, teaches others to do the same. She’s a vessel for hope and a carrier of perseverance. All of us, even our house plants, are better because of her. 

I bent down by the vase and watered the soil. Then, I lifted up the fallen stem so it leaned on the paper flower tag. I smiled. It looked better already. I dare say it smiled back at me. 

A few days later, Ava came to me excitedly, pointing at the plant, “Look at it!” We walked together toward the table and admired the resilient flowers.

They grew. And so did I.  

Has there ever been a time when you struggled with giving up? What good things have come from seasons where you chose to preserve?

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography

How Knocking Down a Mailbox Reminded Me That We’re All Human

An illustration of a woman's hand holding a letter that says "Hey you, you're loved."

There is now an infamous story in my family of how early one morning on my way to work, I hugged a curb too tight coming out of my neighborhood and scratched the side of my new car. Somehow, I left thousands of dollars of damage. Yet, the mailbox was untouched. Yes, the mailbox was just fine!

I went back after work, prepared to write a note and to pay for the mailbox. However, there it stood completely unscathed, a strange miraculous mailbox that could damage a car but still stand strong. The outrageous part of this story is that I had just gotten my car back from the repair shop the day before.

This was a low moment in my confidence in my driving skills. Most people who knew me well were a little concerned about my driving abilities at that point. To be fair, I had not had a car incident since high school. Wrecking a car twice, a brand new one at that, was embarrassing to say the least.  

Hitting a mailbox causes a lot of laughs, as it should! It is self-inflicted damage to my car. However, in the spaces between the humor, familiar narratives of shame were triggered. “What is wrong with me?” I thought as I processed this new legacy of battling mailboxes with my car. I felt bad about hitting the mailbox, and I wondered what must be wrong with me that I hit it.

I knew the road was narrow to turn on. I knew that there was always oncoming traffic. I knew that the mailbox jutted out into the street. All of these things make for a recipe for collision. However, I still hit it, and I wondered whether I was the only one who had made this mistake.

However, I still hit it, and I wondered whether I was the only one who had made this mistake.

This is a question that I hear all the time from adults: What is wrong with me? Am I the only one? Does anyone else struggle with this? 

This series of questions only doubles our pain and our struggle. It layers shame on top of pain. Whatever it is we are battling in our painful and hopeless moments, we often believe that we are the only one. It leaves us with two problems: our struggle and the notion that we are the only people messed up enough to deal with it. 

The truth is there is no struggle in this life that someone else has not also encountered. There is almost palpable pressure released in therapy rooms when someone hears for the first time that they are not the only one. There is deep comfort in knowing you are not alone.

We can call this idea  “common humanity.” It is an essential ingredient for compassion for ourselves and others. In order to extend kindness, we must understand that we are not the only ones who struggle. Common humanity helps us understand that neither our successes nor failures define us.

The truth is there is no struggle in this life that someone else has not also encountered.

Now back to the mailbox. I have had an ongoing healing relationship with this ridiculous mailbox since I first encountered it with the side of my car. Now, I always check in on it as I drive by. I don’t notice the other mailboxes so much. I should name the mailbox at this point.

The mailbox serves as a constant teacher for me. Week after week, the poor thing has been hit and knocked down. The disoriented angle and shape it is left in are almost always different, but it is clear that it has been knocked down again by another car. 

The first time I saw this pattern, I text my husband, “It wasn’t just me! Someone else hit the mailbox!” It has happened so often now that it is a family joke, and we all look for it. Each time I see the banged up mailbox, I am reminded of the truth of common humanity.

Each time I see the banged up mailbox, I am reminded of the truth of common humanity.

I am not the only human to hit this mailbox. “I am not the only one” is reemphasized in my mind. Then, I think about who might have been the most recent person to hit the mailbox, and I have compassion for them. It’s funny how I am much more apt to give compassion to others than I am to myself. But how can we truly love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t treat ourselves well? I find that it is easier to be kind when I know I am not the only one. 

Apparently, it got so bad with this mailbox that the owners eventually changed the direction of the entire thing. Now, it is parallel to the sidewalk it once hung off of. It no longer sits perpendicular and juts out into the road. Even so, tonight as I drove home, the poor mailbox was completely bent over in a way I had never seen before, practically doing a backbend.

I thought about the person who hit it, and I laughed with compassion for them. I hope they had compassion for themselves too. I hoped they would soon learn that they are not the only one.

Has there ever been a moment where you realized you were not the only one? How did that commonality make you feel?

Image via Caroline Williams

The Wisdom That Comes With Living in Multiple Zip Codes

A beach town near coves

“I have to ask you. How do you do it? All the moving around the world? The constant uprooting, leaving family and friends behind for a new country and starting all over again?”

We smiled as we received this message from the friend we were due to pick up from the airport. Leaving family back home to take up a new job or opportunity in a new country is something my fiancé and I are very familiar with. 

My postal code has ranged from six letters to eight alphanumeric characters a lot in the past six years. That is a wonderful privilege and an opportunity that has shaped who I am today.

We smiled because we knew the feeling well. Once the administrative dust settles, the bank accounts have been set up, the tickets bought and the COVID-19 tests completed, you’re a matter of hours away from boarding public transportation or a rental to your new home. There’s a magical moment when everything is ready and you begin to feel that pit in your stomach—that rising in your throat or even a faint pang in your chest as you prepare to say goodbye to one place and hello to another.

There’s a magical moment when everything is ready and you begin to feel that pit in your stomach…as you prepare to say goodbye to one place and hello to another.

There is always the glamorous, exciting side of traveling and living abroad. There is also the real and raw stuff too: the goodbyes and the moment the old adage “you don’t realize what you had until it’s gone” comes true.

If you have moved cities or countries a lot throughout the past few years, then you are well acquainted with the transition period that comes with every move. It can last for any time between a couple of weeks and a few months to perhaps even a year or two depending on your circumstance. It takes time to rebuild an authentic community (if it’s a totally new city), to set up practically, to navigate your way around and to even learn a new language. It also takes immense grace for yourself as you change from your normal routine into a totally new rhythm, without the familiar amenities or community around you.

It takes immense grace for yourself as you change from your normal routine into a totally new rhythm.

Here are a few lessons I have learned from living around the world:

1. Have less. Live lightly.

Moving has also taught me to live and tread more lightly, in every sense. Practically, my wardrobe is a third of the size it used to be. I have been learning to live with less possessions. I like to live so that if there was the opportunity to move again, it wouldn’t be difficult to pack everything up in a bag.

Sometimes, the “having less, live lightly” mantra enables you to serve and invest in a place more wholeheartedly too. I love shopping locally wherever possible, as it not only conserves our environment but it introduces me to new people in the area—the artisans, creators and entrepreneurs.

2. Take inventory of your relationships.

When moving, I try to take stock of key relationships in my life and leave each place with a clean slate. Goodbyes can feel really intense and surreal. Saying goodbye to the most special people to me has often been nothing more than a “see you soon.”

3. Don’t leave anything unresolved.

The most important thing to me when leaving somewhere is to never leave a place bitter or with anything unresolved. This can easily become the foundation that you build upon in the new place.

If you are leaving a place because of unforeseen, difficult circumstances, loss or unpredicted change, then inevitably the departure may leave a sour taste in your mouth and consequently color how you settle into the next place. However, even in those times, it is important to take stock of what you’re thankful for, what that place has meant to you and the good that could and will come from your new locale. 

4. Appreciate the good.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when moving is that every single place—whether a small mountain town or a bustling city of millions of residents—has something good to offer. Even if the choice to move wasn’t yours and life is currently going against the flow you expected, every place has something to enjoy. Part of the adventure of moving is simply finding that thing.

What have you learned about yourself from traveling to or living in different places? How does exploration and curiosity help us grow internally?

Image via Judith Pavón Sayrach

Darling Letters: Declutter Your Space, Declutter Your Mind

A woman standing on the backboard of a couch as she touches the ceiling

We are bringing “Darling Letters” from your inbox to the blog! We love the art of letter writing and believe it helps build authentic community. Our editors and contributors have thoughtfully written encouraging letters to cut through the busyness and speak straight to your heart.

Click. I hit the red X and closed my laptop after finishing my ninth video call of the day. For hours, I caught glimpses of myself in the small box at the corner of the screen.

The girl in the box was wearing a comfy looking peach sweater and holding a pencil. There was a plant to her left and a mug rested at the edge of the clean table. She looked like she was sipping something steamy and delicious and was organized and productive in her minimalistic kitchen study. I had no idea who she was. 

Unlike my coworkers, I knew the mug was empty and the plant needed water. The pencil in my hand wasn’t there because I was poised to jot down a great idea, but rather as a fidget to soothe my nerves. I was incredibly overwhelmed, frustratingly disorganized and barely keeping it together. 

While my colleagues and clients saw a bright-eyed worker, I saw nothing but clutter. The messiness of my workspace mirrored my own jumbled thoughts.

The messiness of my workspace mirrored my own jumbled thoughts.

The next day, I decided to clean. I couldn’t cancel my meetings or quit my responsibilities, so I tackled the one thing I could control: the kitchen table. When I finished clearing away its contents, I heard myself take a long, deep breath as an involuntary smile came to my face. 

Decluttering my space, quite literally, helped me to declutter my mind. I immediately felt lighter, as if a refreshing breeze blew through the window; a symbol of winter’s goodbye.

Decluttering my space, quite literally, helped me to declutter my mind.

That’s the point of spring cleaning, right? To rid ourselves of the belongings we no longer need, the objects that are weighing us down. Let’s reflect on the last season and cultivate the environments that bring us peace, in our homes and in our hearts.

With love,

Shelby Thomas, the Darling family

What is one area of your home or life that could use a spring cleaning this year? In what ways, can you declutter thoughts and feelings that are weighing you down?

Image via Ben Cope, Darling Issue No. 15

When Cultures Converge in Marriage

A man and a woman standing next to each other looking opposite directions

I’ll never forget the day I met my husband’s grandmother because it required my first formal bow. This was no polite curtsy. We’re talking full on kneel-to-the-ground reverential bow.

My husband is Korean-American, I’m caucasian. Even though we both grew up in the Midwest and met at the same school, it dawned on me in that moment that I’d married into this culture and we were now family. 

It dawned on me in that moment that I’d married into this culture and we were now family. 

Given our recent, increased focus on diversity, intermarriages are on the steady incline. According to the Pew Research Center, 39% of adults believe interracial marriage is beneficial to society, a decent jump since the early 1990s. This means lots of new marriages are navigating new cultural dynamics on top of all the personal differences we bring into relationships. While it can be a challenge, it’s totally worth it.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way of navigating cultural differences in an interracial marriage:

Curiosity is our friend.

During new experiences, we tend to compare what we don’t understand. Lay aside what feels comfortable for curiosity. Find what’s interesting or beautiful about your spouse’s culture, food and art. Let’s remind ourselves that it’s a gift to see the world from another person’s perspective. Who knows? We might even enjoy it. 

It’s a gift to see the world from another person’s perspective.

Stay connected. 

In Korea, my husband spoke on my behalf most of the time because of the language barrier. Talk about a serious trust-building exercise! The silver lining: We learned to read non-verbal cues or body language. What we say and what we feel can be totally different so learning how to read these cues can help us reconnect when we feel stuck. Another way to deepen your connection by is setting aside time during the week to touch base, problem-solve and dream together. It’s even more productive when snacks are involved. 

Find your common ground.

My husband and I were raised with different values. Western culture prioritizes individualism; Eastern culture prioritizes unity. Differences aren’t bad, but when they’re the focus, conflict comes easily.

Differences aren’t bad, but when they’re the focus, conflict comes easily.

Remind yourselves what you both love to enjoy together. Game nights, road trips, Thai food, bubble baths, beach days—find a shared interest and plan a date around it. Remember his traits and values that made you squeal “Yes!!” when he popped the question. Some days will be hard and you’ll need a reminder that love is worth every compromise because it totally is. 

Family is important.

Every household has its own rules of engagement. Take your time getting to know new people. Give others the benefit of the doubt and resist people-pleasing, especially when others share their (unsolicited) opinions.

Money, family planning, education, gender roles and religion can be sensitive topics. This is especially true if there’s a cultural gap. Find solutions together. Remember: you’re building a home with your spouse, not his entire family. 

Be an advocate.

In light of the recent attacks against the Asian American community, this could not be more timely. I’ll never forget when my husband shared some feelings about being Korean American in today’s climate, and I made it about me.

Immediately, I was filled with deep conviction. That day, I promised to advocate for him and make space for his experience. A few ways to advocate for someone you care about are to listen with compassion and give them your full attention. Ask questions: How are you feeling? How can I support you? Educate yourself about their culture and history. 

Maintain authenticity.

After three adventurous (and crazy) months in Korea as newlyweds, which I don’t recommend but we survived, it was our time to go home. Before leaving, my grandmother-in-law showed me a beautiful heirloom. I asked if it was real, and she replied in Korean, “jinjja.”

“’Jinjja’ means real, authentic,” my mother-in-law explained. 

Authentic is one of my favorite words. It is a word that I use frequently to describe myself. Since the very first bow, I’d felt like an outsider for most of our trip. However, at this moment, I saw an invitation to be a part of the family. Recognizing her attempt to connect with me by showing the heirloom, I asked if she would consider giving jinjja to me as a nickname. 

“Jinjja?” she asked. With raised eyebrows, she studied me as if she was looking through me. Her face softened to a smile, and with warm nod of approval, she said, “Jinjja.” 

In marriage, no matter where we’re from, we can all be jinjja. We can bring our full, authentic selves to the table. We can trust that two real people with real differences can become one powerful, vibrant source of love in our communities and families. Eventually, we can make space for the next generation of marriages to come and sit alongside us.

How can interracial marriages and diverse friendships help us grow and challenge us? How can we make space to learn from our differences?

Image via Prakash Shroff, Darling Issue No. 13

Letters to My Younger Self: The 15-Year-Old Who Cares Too Much

An illustration of a girl in a crop top and maxi skirt with sunglasses on

“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.

Dear 15-year-old self, 

You probably think that writing letters to yourself is “uncool” and you might be looking over your shoulder to make sure nobody sees this.

Get over yourself. 

Nobody (and I mean nobody) is paying attention to what you’re doing. You’re a sophomore in high school. Everybody is just as obsessed with their self-image as you are. Everyone is way too preoccupied with their own insecurities, triumphs, failures and perceived flaws to even see yours. 

Everyone is way too preoccupied with their own insecurities, triumphs, failures and perceived flaws to even see yours. 

I know this might come as a surprise, since you’re always worried about how you’re being perceived by your peers, but trust me. Care a little less, and you’ll be surprised how liberating it is.

I don’t blame you for over-analyzing every detail of your conversations with people, how you look as you walk down the hall or the way your braces seem to stand out in every photo you take. You’re a very anxious teenager at the ripe age of 15.

That being said, this letter isn’t meant to shame you in any way. Rather, it is meant to serve as a welcome reminder for me, your 20-year-old self, to stop caring so much.

[This letter] is meant to serve as a welcome reminder for me, your 20-year-old self, to stop caring so much.

Stop caring so much about making other people happy. Stop giving 100 percent to people who refuse to give you so much as 75 percent. These are what are called toxic relationships. The world is full of them. Spare yourself the wasted time on lack of reciprocity and adopt a new way of thinking. I’m not encouraging you to abandon people—that’s never been our style—but I am saying to rethink the way in which you practice loyalty. 

You pride yourself on your loyalty, on your ability to be there for your friends and family through absolutely anything. However, you often let this loyalty outweigh your own happiness. We deserve better.

We deserve better.

But five years later, you still struggle with this. It’s who you are, who we are. You’d much rather listen to other people talk, to let other people be the star of the show or to work through someone else’s emotions for hours instead of asking for help for yourself. You’re getting better though. That’s encouraging, right?

In a few years, you’ll move cities and completely change your life. You’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been. You’ll find out quickly that the key to being happy is simply to stop caring about what others think. It’s not worrying about the joke that may have fallen flat or how you look presenting in front of the class. It’s ultimately being friends with people you want to be friends with and being the person you want to be. 

It’s simple. However, because you’re in high school, it isn’t quite so easy right now.

Humans are egocentric creatures. Chances are your mishaps, as well as your victories get lumped together in everyone’s memories. Stop analyzing everything. Stop comparing every little detail of your life with the perceived lives of the random people passing by in the hall. 

Just live, live for yourself and for your friends. Stop losing sleep over what other people think of you. Maybe you care about them more than they care about you. And if that’s true, is caring for people really such a bad thing?

Quit second guessing yourself. Just start living.

With love,
Your older self

What advice would you give to your younger self? Have you ever strived for the approval of others?

Image via Annette Zuozo of Made By A

Darling Letters: La Belleza De Lo Ordinario

A picture of its in glassware

Darling is working to translate some of our content into Spanish. If you have edits or feedback on this translation, our team would love your input! Email blog@darlingmagazine.org and include Spanish Translation in your subject line.

For the English version, click here.

Translation via Jennifer Rodriguez

Encontré una marca de mi café escondido debajo de una pila de libros en mi mesa hoy. Un círculo de bordes borrosos dejado por mi taza de esta mañana o tal vez la anterior. La más simple de las manchas, insinuando un momento sin complicaciones en el que el café se deslizó silenciosamente por el borde de la taza y se acomodo en la superficie debajo.

La sorpresa de la marca me hizo sonreír, como si hubiera encontrado mi propia huella en la tierra de una mañana tan sencilla que pasé sola. Parecía por un momento como los anillos de un árbol, contando todos los años que el árbol ha sobrevivido y la fuerza de sus raíces profundizándose día a día en formas diminutas e imperceptibles. Fue solo un anillo de café, pero en ese momento, vi el fósil más tenue de mi hermosa vida ordinaria. 

Fue solo un anillo de café, pero en ese momento, vi el fósil más tenue de mi hermosa vida ordinaria. 

Quiero ver todo de esta manera: sostener todas las piezas familiares y poco excepcionales de mis días y verlas a la luz de una gracia asombrosamente simple. Quiero dejar de medir mi vida con viñetas cuando todo los momentos del medio tienen una mejor evidencia de su belleza.

Quiero celebrar las marcas de mi café de las mañanas tranquilas. Quiero estar agradecida por cada pequeño e imperceptible momento que profundiza mis raíces y fortalece mi alma para la supervivencia y la celebración.

Quiero estar agradecida por cada pequeño e imperceptible momento que profundiza mis raíces.

Aceptemos la belleza sutil que satura las cosas simples.

Con amor,
Bailey Price, la familia Darling

¿Qué sanación física, mental o emocional estás atravesando? ¿Cómo puedes mostrarte gracia de una manera práctica hoy?

Imagen vía Anna Williams, Darling Issue No. 13