If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm on sabbatical for the month of May, but I have guest posts scheduled in my absence. Enjoy them and hope you'll check out the archives as well!

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Leigh writes about all sorts of things, from singleness, to starting over, to grieving, to baseball, and does it with an engaging presence and a hope-filled voice. I hope you enjoy what she has to say here today and that you'll visit her blog! Oh, she's in the process of finishing her first book, so that should be fun! 

Hope is breaking: My Hope bracelet, to be specific. After four months of daily wear, the leather cracks and stretches and begs for mercy. But I won't take it off. It will stay on until it falls off. Until Hope reaches its limit and I must find a new way to carry the symbol with me.

The parallels did not escape me. I noticed a particularly worrisome crack in the bracelet the same day I sobbed over reading a friend's pregnancy announcement on Facebook. I had reached my capacity when it came to rejoicing for others.

It wasn't just that day. That whole week pummeled me. I couldn't sleep, I canceled plans, I cried copiously. I avoided friends because it's too hard to explain the swirl of emotions and because sometimes we need to deal with the root on our own.

Nothing triggered this dark period. Perhaps a pile of mini-triggers but there was no specific moment breaking the camel's back. Every year or so I find myself in this Black Cave of Emotion. I've read this is common for my personality type (INFJ), which makes me feel only slightly better about my annual dark night of the soul.

I never know when it will happen until I'm in the middle of it. It's not depression. More like a pervading sadness. It's best to hunker down and see what my subconscious is trying to teach me. What are the lessons I need to learn? I am so used to listening to others that I sometimes forget to listen to myself. And eventually it all must be processed. This is how my body says when.

Of all that I face during these times, the hardest is residual self-esteem issues I'd thought long since resolved.

The lies astound me. They tap into whatever my current insecurities may be and because I'm depleted, I have little left to fight them. I resign myself to listening to the lies, to see if there's a shred of truth. And in doing so, I remove their power over me. It's no easy feat but I'm an old pro at these dark nights of the soul now. I know the storms will come and I've learned to ride the waves until they carry me.

It's not pretty. I cannot romanticize this. It's hard and I generally want it over yesterday so I can feel normal again. But that would be ignoring the gift of these dark periods- and there are gifts.

I emerge with a clearer sense of who I am and where I'm going. I realize which relationships require work, which might be time to let go, and which deserve a little more nurturing and care. I also carry myself more confidently because I've faced the lies and found them lacking.

Greatest of all, counter-intuitive though it may seem, the darkness teaches me to hope. Because through the tears and frustration, pinpricks of light accompanied me. I did not have to face any of this alone.

God spoke to me through song lyrics and book passages, TV shows and pictures, ever ready to counteract the abyss. I'd struggle with a friendship in one moment and then read a passage from Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines that perfectly spoke to the situation. A lie would arise and an unprompted memory would surface, revealing truth.

And in those moments when I couldn't do anything but cry or rage, I'd glance down at the bracelet on my wrist and remember. Hope. This dark night of the soul would not be the end of me. There's purpose to our pain and disappointments, if we allow ourselves to see it.

No matter how tenuous my hope, it was there all the same. I may not know the outcome of certain situations or how my dreams will unfold. But I could not give up then and I won't give up now.

This hard, hard thing reminds how tenacious I am when it comes to my dreams. I may have needed to curl up for awhile and regroup but I've come out of it stronger and more certain that life and adventure are there for the taking.

I'll let my bracelet continue to stretch, just as I've been stretched the last few weeks. Though it will eventually break, I won't.

No matter what comes next, Hope will carry me through. It can't be broken. Not really.