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Small Steps Out of the Darkness

Hannah BrencherBy Hannah Brencher

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I wish I could tell you there is this one sudden moment when God swoops in like a superhero and makes all the pain go away. Like a production set wrapping up after the filming of a television season, the lights go up, the director yells “Cut! That’s a wrap,” and we all go home. I want to be able to tell you that you’ll experience healing in an instant. It’s not impossible, but there is usually more trudging through the mud than that.

A lot of times, pain builds a ZIP Code™ and you live there for a while. For me, “coming out of the woods” wasn’t sudden. It was a seriously gradual process. It was a whole list of things I needed to do to get better: Take medicine. Talk to people. Go to therapy. Get out of bed. Take a shower. There were elements of my faith I needed to cultivate: Sit with the Bible. Write down Scripture. Pray. Even if I didn’t feel like it, I chose to do these things.

People’s advice to me is tired and repetitive during this time: It’s important to sit with your pain. Pain demands you learn its name. You need to shut off. Limit the distractions. Get comfortable with the waiting.

I wish I could go to the nearest McDonald’s and order a full recovery off the dollar menu. But then I remember God and how he wants us all to stop running and start living, even in the imperfect circumstances. Imperfect circumstances don’t mean your life stops. Sometimes imperfect circumstances cause your life to truly begin.

“Okay, new plan,” my friend Chrisy says to me one morning as we meet up at her home. She is one of the women dedicated to seeing me every day through this depression until it lifts. I am making traction at this point. I am starting to feel the medication working and I am getting stronger.

“Let me ask you this: When you went through depression that first time, what brought you out of it?”

The answer has always been pretty obvious to me. I did a TED talk in 2012 that went viral, and since then, I’ve never been able to separate myself from the girl who left love letters across New York City to cope with depression.

“I wrote letters to strangers,” I said. “You know this.”

“You stopped thinking about yourself,” she said.

“Yeah, and it helped.”

“So go home and write more letters,” she said to me. “This time, I want you to write letters to people you know. You don’t have to write to strangers anymore. There are so many people who have been with you in this fight. You haven’t thanked them yet.”

Chrisy told me to begin writing down all of my steps and accomplishments. She said depression was going to try to trick me into thinking I wasn’t making any improvements, but if I wrote down all the little things I did on a daily basis, I’d start to see the progress. She told me to call them my “little victories.”

“Even when you write a letter, record the task. Every letter you write is a big step toward doing something other than admitting defeat.”

This is what I needed. I didn’t need someone to stroke my head and pity me for being depressed. I needed someone to tell me to get up and do something. And then do something else. And then something else.

I stopped by Target on my way home and picked up stationery. I wrote about 30 letters that day—all to people who had been in my corner for this fight. I found myself driving down the street to the convenience store on the corner and buying a pack of black composition notebooks made of faux leather. At home, I wrote on the front of one of them the words “Fight Song 2015” in thick silver Sharpie.

I decided I wanted to write fight songs—little notes of encouragement—into this black notebook for my daughter who doesn’t exist yet. I can’t actually say I’ll ever have a daughter, but I’ve been writing these “nonexistent child” letters for years about falling in love, being brave, and going after what makes you come alive.

I started writing these notes when I was about 13 years old after I discovered my mother’s diaries in the back of our family’s bookcase. One by one, I snuck a diary out of the bookcase and brought it to my bedroom to read about my mother and a life she lived before me. Even though she didn’t write in those diaries for me, I felt like she did. I started keeping diaries religiously after that day.

I think my daughter will need something more though. On the days when she forgets how to sing, she’s going to need something more robust than a diary entry. This is where the fight songs come in.

Fight songs are a reminder to keep going. Just keep going. Keep going when the storm comes. Keep going when the night falls. Keep going when the cancer arrives. Keep going when the loved ones leave. Keep going when your heart breaks. Keep going when the bottom drops out from underneath you and you don’t know how to trust anymore. Keep going when you don’t know what you want anymore. Keep going when the sun burns you and when people burn you (because both will happen). Keep going when you crush your dreams with the weight of your own expectations. Keep going when you don’t know where to go or which place to call home anymore.

Just keep going. There’s still some fight left in you.

We need the fight songs for the days when we forget how to sing. They remind us where our strength lies. They push us to be stronger.


Come Matter HereTaken from Come Matter Here: Your Invitation to Be Here in a Getting There World by Hannah Brencher. Click here to learn more about this title.

From viral TED Talk speaker and founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, Hannah Brencher’s Come Matter Here is the power read you need to start living like you mean it here and now.

Life is scary. Adulting is hard. When faced with the challenges of building a life of your own, it’s all too easy to stake your hope and happiness in “someday.” But what if the dotted lines on the map at your feet today mattered just as much as the destination you dream of?

Hannah Brencher, TED Talk speaker and founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, thought Atlanta was her destination. Yet even after she arrived, she found herself in the same old chase for the next best thing . . . somewhere else. And it left her in a state of anxiety and deep depression.

Our hyper-connected era has led us to believe life should be a highlight reel—where what matters most is perfect beauty, instant success, and ready applause. Yet, as Hannah learned, nothing about faith, relationships, or character is instant. So she took up a new mantra: be where your feet are. Give yourself a permission slip to stop chasing the next big thing, and come matter here. Engage the process as much as you trust the God who lovingly leads you.

If you are tired of running away from your life or tired of running ragged toward the next thing you think will make you feel complete, Come Matter Here will help you do whatever it takes to show up for the life God has for you. Whether you need to make a brave U-turn, take a bold step forward, or finish the next lap with fresh courage, find fuel and inspiration for the journey right here.

Hannah Brencher is an author, blogger, TED speaker, and entrepreneur. She founded The World Needs More Love Letters, a global community dedicated to sending letter bundles to those who need encouragement. Named as one of the White House’s “Women Working to Do Good” and a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, Hannah has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Oprah, Glamour,, The Chicago Tribune, and more. Find Hannah at

Filed under Books, Guest Post, trials