Valentine's Day by Liz Brown

Dear you,

Honestly Valentine’s Day has never been my fave. I’ve felt everything from apathetic to angsty to sad. I get it.

Last Valentine’s Day I was on tour so this is my and Blake’s first real holiday. I’m tempted to say it’s my first Valentine’s Day not alone but the truth is I previously spent it with the Aces and with my mom and sister and with gal pals. Just because you don’t have that one person doesn’t mean you’ve got to be alone.

And even if you have someone it doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Blake and I are very different people and it’s been an incredibly good and hard and challenging year—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Being in a relationship didn’t make me stop changing and crying and losing people and feeling lonely and anxious and insecure and self-conscious and jealous and all the same yucky things I felt before. If anything, being in a relationship has shined a light on my inadequacies and torn down the ways I’ve been proud and wrong.

We are constantly growing and demolishing and reclaiming and rebuilding ourselves and our relationships. Perhaps this is what it means to grow, to be human.

I’ve changed so much internally this year, demolishing thoughts about myself, relationships, and the world. I’m working to rebuild my insides. It’s long work and painful work and I’m still not done, but I’m hopeful and I’m determine to keep growing.

I am so so thankful for Blake and how he’s loved me through anxiety, sadness, joy, peace, and growth. But at the end of the day, I’m still me. And I still have to do the hard work of changing my insides and my circumstances. Blake can support me, love me, and challenge me—but that hard internal work has to be done by me. 

On days like today, drinking a cinnamon shortbread iced latte and wearing a Miranda Lambert shirt, and driving with the windows down—I’m starting to feel like myself again. Like the growth and hard work and hard days are paying off. 

I do love Blake and he’s my best person and that’s just as true on Valentine’s Day as any other day. But I remember being single and feeling so sad after scrolling through gross sappy “everything is perfect now” photos on Instagram and I don’t want to write a sappy post, not because I don’t love him, but because of how those posts made me feel. 

So this is me telling you a different story today: you’re okay. We’re figuring it out and we’re all doing our best. You’ve got this. Maybe you’ve got a hand to hold while you’re doing it and maybe you don’t, but that’s not always the point. The point is I believe in you. I’m going through hard things, too. Being in a relationship didn’t fix me. It helped me grow, but I still had to do the work. We still all have to do the work. It’s brave and it’s hard, but the beautiful thing is that you can do that brave work of growth whether or not you’re in a relationship. You can do it with your friends, your family, whatever community you find yourself in. You don’t have to do this alone. That’s the point, too, I suppose. The point is you’re doing the damn thing and you don’t have to do it alone. Every season—single or in a relationship—will be both hard and good, but if you lean in, I believe you can grow. I believe you WILL grow. I believe you are growing even if you don’t see it yet. Demolish, rebuild, grow—you’ve got this. WE’ve got this.

Much love, 

Liz 

Open Hands by Liz Brown

Every year I pick a word. 

Usually it’s a word I want to grow into, kind of like optimistically buying one size too small of your dream pants, hoping you’ll hit the goal by the end of the year. By picking the word, I will be challenged in the mental/emotional gym: it’s inevitable. Picking a word means I will be required to lean into circumstances which cause internal muscles of that word to grow. Picking a word means choosing a battle, choosing a muscle, choosing growth and pain.

Last year my word was trust. 

I recently heard Brené Brown’s definition of trust and I love it: what’s important to me is safe with you. In the same way, she explains, distrust says: what’s important to me is not safe with you. 

I picked the word trust because don’t trust others with myself. I don’t trust that God knows what’s best for me and I don’t trust that other people do either. Yes, it’s isolating. Yes, it’s prideful. But, yes, it’s also how I’ve operated my life.

It wasn’t always this way, or at least this bad. Over the past two years, I lost relationships to distance and deception of varying degrees. My own insecurity and desire for acceptance had led to two results: choosing unhealthy relationships and not being my best self in those relationships. While I’m perhaps wiser now, I lost something beautiful in the process: my ability to quickly, honestly, simply trust people. And honestly to trust the God who allowed me to feel this pain.

I wanted to get better. (Cue Bleachers.)

I wanted to be open again, to trust again, to not be afraid. The way I’d been operating was “gather all the facts, try to predict the future, and guess who won’t leave.” I loved the freedom of choosing my outcomes and I loved things being fair and “right.” I wanted to know which choices would have the best outcome and which friendships would stick—before I made the decision. I began to overthink and anxiously project the past onto the future. I made guesses, predictions, decisions—all trying to self-protect. Instead of giving me confidence and peace, these actions deprived me of enjoying the present and pushed me further into anxiety and distrust. Through growing self-awareness and kind friends, I learned that the root of this problem: I love being in control.

I want to grab onto opportunities and hold tightly to relationships—and I want them to be opportunities that work out and people that choose to stay. If the outcomes turn unfavorable, I mentally berate myself, overthink my choices (again), and wonder how my well-thought (overthought) choice could’ve been so wrong. I was so careful. I was did my research. I picked the best choice. How did it end so poorly? How did it all spin so far out of my control?

What I missed was that none of it was ever in my control to begin with.

This year so many things have happened beyond my control. People left and people changed. Job opportunities came and left. Hundreds of teary moments left me with the decision to quit wearing eyeliner—and also feelings of helplessness and, one worse days, hopelessness. I could barely keep my own heart or emotions together, let alone hold onto anything else. Everything hurt: my eyes, my heart—and my anxious knuckles from still holding on so tightly.

If I open my hands, can I trust that what will fill and refill them will be good? Can I trust that what will leave is necessary and what stays will grow me? Can I be both wise and hopeful? Could there be a different story for me, beyond and apart from anxiety and pain and control?

Through pain, my hands were torn open. Through pain, I was forced to admit there was so much I could not control. There is so much I still cannot control.

Through pain, I am learning that I must hold everything with open hands.

I used to think that trust was learning the right things to close my hands around. But I now believe that trust is choosing to hold things with open hands. 

Yes, choose wisely. Yes, don’t give up easily. 

But just as importantly, hold your life and your opportunities and your relationships with open hands. 

Maybe this is trust. 

Maybe all we can ask is for the wisdom to decide which people and which opportunities to open ourselves up to. Maybe all we can ask is for the grace to keep them in open palms, letting them go if they choose to leave. This open-handed living is incredibly scary and vulnerable, with the potential of pain and hurt, disappointment and rejection. 

But my old way of living—overthinking and anxiety—inevitably damage even the best things. Living open-handed leaves me open to the possibility of a less painful ending, a life of gratefulness and joy and trust. There’s suddenly hope. Because what if I hold the gifts in open palms—and they stay? What if the ending is much better than I anticipated? What if good things are ahead, too?

I still cannot control who will love and who will leave. It’s terrifying. I still can not control which opportunities stick and which will pass me by. It’s scary. I never let go until the anxiety and pain of trying to hold uncontrollable things together forced me to open my hands. And I’m still learning to pray and pry my hands open every day. Maybe prayer is less about folding my hands together and more about holding them open and trusting that God will demolish and rebuild me into something better than I’d anticipated or projected or anxiously hoped.

Maybe prayer is trusting that if God removes something from my hands, it’s to rebuild me, not to deprive me.

I have learned that both God and those people close to me do want my good. I have learned that I can still trust their intentions. They want to love me and treat me with gentleness and kindness and respect. They want my good, even when it’s hard. And sometimes it will still be hard.

Trust is a choice. Assuming the best in people and in God is a choice. Opening your hands is a choice. And even it’s it’s still painful sometimes, it’s how I want to live now. Because it’s also hopeful. And freeing. 

My new mantra for my life is that I want to live optimistically with open hands.

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I used to think that trust was learning the right things to close my hands around. But I now believe that trust is choosing to hold things with open hands. 

Years and Years: Minneapolis by Liz Brown

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My shutter exploded halfway through Years and Years’ set, so I’m particularly proud of these photos. After shooting, I was afraid I barely had gotten anything good, but as I hesitantly looked through the gallery at my hotel at 2am, I found some shots I am honestly proud of. I often get asked what camera I use, as if having the right gear can make or break your career. I always say the same thing: use what you have, what you can afford, and practice and practice and practice. I hope this gallery and the story of my broken shutter helps illustrate that point: it doesn’t matter so much your gear, but your eye and your willingness to keep going despite difficulties.

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The photos after this text section are ones that were affected by the broken shutter. They aren’t the same photos I would’ve gotten otherwise and there were definitely moments I missed as a result of my equipment failure. However, they are presentable and much better than I ever guessed, and I am proud of them.

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Getaway Car by Liz Brown

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Nothing good starts in a getaway car...
My friend Evan approached me a while ago about doing a shoot prior to the Taylor Swift concert he was going to. He custom-printed a jacket, we picked out a time, and he found a car. Maybe we didn't really run away, but with one of the first chilly days flooding cool air through the alley, it felt like maybe we could.

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Phantogram : 80/35 by Liz Brown

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A few years ago, with my brother and his friend Shaun, I drove to Ames and saw Phantogram. During that time, I was carrying my camera with me everywhere, so I naturally shot a few photos from the crowd. This time I was official and in the pit--and obsessed with that sparkly cape. If only I could wear something like that literally every single day. Right? Anyways, thanks to LTP for the experience and Phantogram for the great show! 

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The Aces : LA by Liz Brown

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I joined the Aces' (COIN's headling) tour again in LA a few weeks ago, for easily one of my favourite dates of the whole run. The Fonda was beautiful, dreamy Riah opened, and the night ended on a sparkling rooftop. Life seems surreal sometimes--that I'm invited into these places. Thank you to anyone who's taken a chance on me. Love, a grateful girl.

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