California: Letting Go of the Blueprints

California.

I thought it would be all sunshine, warmth, orange-hued days and lightweight laughter.

But the air had a chill, the clouds were heavy with rain, the days thick with prayers and an ache for something more.

From the moment the plane drifted below the clouds and I saw the sun setting over the land full of big dreams, I thought to myself, maybe this is a place I can believe for the impossible.

Tucked away in those California mountains was a cabin. For a few days, I found myself squeezed in between its walls with a group of strangers. A million times I had been in this same scenario, but with different paint colors and couches; rooms with strangers, Bibles in our laps, hoping that after a few days we would have a handful of good stories and memories to look back and remember when God sifted through some dirt in our hearts to remind us of the gold.

But something felt different. Something felt entirely offbeat inside my chest that first morning after breakfast and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I’ll never forget my feet running up the stairs, my knees hitting that carpet, my hands clenching into fists. God shook me right in those first few hours. There was a moment coming—something that was going to change everything.

That night God showed up in a way that only He could. He came barreling through that basement door, arms full of everything we were so desperately in need of.

Sometimes I think we are like children with Santa Claus, terrified that if we go He isn’t going to know where to find us. We’re so tied to plans, people, callings, dreams, years, the things we’ve spent using to build our lives that we can’t imagine what God would do if we were shoved inside of a basement somewhere unfamiliar. Because we have all these plans we’ve made and promises we are begging Him to keep.

But He did more than I expected, asked, was even prepared for. And right there, just after I let out a sigh of relief, thinking He had emptied His arms and I’d seen it all, He leaned against the wall and whispered the very thing I was least expecting. He pulled out from behind His back the best thing, the only thing that could have knocked the wind completely out me.

And all the years and months of fighting, drowning, begging, came racing across the country and crashing right there at my feet. He put the nail in the coffin of the thing that has nearly caused me to lose it all, over and over again. When I looked at it, in my tiny hands, I realized how many times I’ve gone searching for those same words in the office of principals, guidance counselors, in the arms of my parents, sister, friends. God said to me the only thing that ever really mattered to me, the thing that has driven me from birth, in every decision I’ve ever made. Its kept me from sleeping at night, made me terrified and paralyzed to make nearly every choice. In a simple little sentence, He said the thing that I’ve looked for in the voice of every other person I’ve ever known.

I realized at that moment that until God Himself spoke the words I needed to hear, and I finally heard them from Him, I would never be full, never be entirely free.

When I left for California, I figured that a southern girl out west was going to feel unknown, off-balance, a little out of place. But isn’t that just like God? To stick you in the middle of strangers and show you just how much He knows you, sees you, can say the thing you need to hear in the most unexpected and hidden place?

It was about letting go of plans, people, and the way I’ve held God to His promises. The way that I tell Him that He has to do it the way I always expected. That He has to shout those words through a certain microphone, say them through a certain mouth, in a certain place, through a set of circumstances. That He has to fulfill it how I always thought He should. Humbled and grateful, that He didn’t do it the way I demanded. That I didn’t get those words the way I expected, begged for, from the people that I argued with or demanded them from. That when I stopped fighting, clawing, stomping my feet, painting the town with instructions on how to fulfill my hopes and dreams, that God picked me up and put me on a plane and did it his way, a better way.

When I got home, slept in my bed, filled up a coffee mug, drove around this town, I heard Him whisper again: let go of the blueprints.

Because when our hands are filled with rolls of our blueprints, we can’t hold any of His. We can’t see the thing He wants to build. And what I’m starting to realize is how often His plans have elements of the things I’ve asked for, prayed for, hoped for, but His blueprints are so much bigger, more efficient, better planned than mine could ever be.

California, it was the place I thought maybe I could learn to believe for the impossible and the place where He did exactly that.

 

 

 

 

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My Problem with Perfection

As someone who has struggled with perfectionism, I started realizing about a month ago I am well on my way to ulcers and wrinkles if something doesn’t change.

I’ve been at a crossroads. I’m on the path to what could actually turn out to be my version of failure.

As someone who takes great pride in her academic career, I’ve met my match. I found a class that just might break my streak of success.

Not only that, I recently ended up at a spa with a lady who swore she understood something about skin and within a week I looked like a pepperoni pizza. I found myself bathing my face in apple cider vinegar, wondering about the meaning of life and if anyone could love someone who now smelled like rotting tree bark.

I woke up with the world’s most depressing thoughts on Valentine’s Day, which was totally abnormal for me because I love Valentine’s Day—like seriously love it.

So, I came home and put Maroon 5 on and started screaming it at the top of my lungs whilst wearing the manliest basketball shorts you’ve ever seen. Because in the interest of full disclosure, what happens when I am in the comfort of my own home is about as far away from perfection as one can get.

My struggle is that I need people (and even myself) to believe one thing—even if that one thing isn’t the biggest chunk of my reality and even if that thing isn’t my favorite part of the day. Because my actual favorite part of the day was those stupid basketball shorts and screaming in horrible harmony with Adam Levine, and eating wretched reduced fat Cheez-Its. But that’s probably not the thing I’m going to invite people into. I’m likely going to invite people into the less ridiculous, less weird, not as embarrassing version of my life because my name is Ashlin and I struggle with perfectionism.

But if I do poorly in a class, fail to eat a balanced diet, wear my dad’s clothes for pajamas, or have bad skin, I need to figure out a way to make that not the end of the world. Because making those things the beginning or end of anything makes them a level of importance they shouldn’t be. It makes them idolatry. It makes them more important than God’s heart, my vulnerability, my willingness to be honest about what my life actually is and what it isn’t.

So, I’m trying to figure out these days how not to throw out discipline, effort, excellence, while also knowing that sometimes you have just got to put on a sweatshirt that comes to your knees and have bad hair. Sometimes you’ve just got to let go of the GPA, hit submit on the assignment, and go give out-loud advice to the lady in the Hallmark movie who is about to ruin her life by chasing down that emotionally detached man in the ugly sweater vest. There’s a rhythm to this whole discipline and grace thing and I’m trying to grab the hand of God these days and ask Him to teach it to me. Step by step I am learning and perfectionism is lessening.

I Almost Took a Vow of Singleness at Starbucks But it Made My Sister Cry.

I like to be in control.

I have been told that at the age of two-years-old I marched up to my Dad and his friend Stanley and informed them I would like for them to paint my bedroom for our new house blue instead of pink. It didn’t matter that the walls were already painted, I wanted a choice. At two years old.

They found it hilarious. It was the story told over and over again.

I was never afraid to ask for what I wanted.

So, it was hard when I hit a quarter-life crisis (it’s a thing) and had a sudden collision with reality that I have very little if any, control over most of my life. I handled it so well that I had a temporary bout of insanity in the middle of a Starbucks.

My hands were flailing as I was taking my sister down one of my long-winded trails. This one was about how maybe I could choose to be one of those people who never wants to get married. You can just choose to want that, can’t you? 

I had developed this whole incredibly odd theory that I could convince God to take my desire for marriage away from me. It sounded entirely noble (at least in my head). I had laid out in this very logical argument that, for the sake of God’s Kingdom and because the Apostle Paul wrote some killer stuff on it, I could just decide that I had no desire to ever get married (even if I did). I could decide to change that.

That dear girl. My poor sister, with her sad blue eyes and her newly pregnant belly, just looked at me with such compassion. But she knew I was perfectly serious. And she knew I would be the person to stick with something until the end of time if I decided it. So she just said something along the lines of “I’m going to pray you change your mind. Not because a life of singleness is wrong, but because I don’t think that’s actually what you want.”

She’s good, that girl with the soft hair and truth-filled words. But I was determined, I was blue bedroom determined (and you can ask Stanley, I do not joke about such things).

I told her that I couldn’t make any promises to her, but I would hold off my vow of permanent singleness for a little bit longer to see if her prayers “worked”.

Because as much as I wanted to walk out of that Starbucks as the next self-proclaimed Mother Teresa, you cannot make a life-altering vow when your beautiful pregnant sister is about to weep into her Frappuccino. 

Driving in my car, it took about two minutes before I realized I had completely and utterly lost my mind. I pulled off at an exit and sat there looking at a large Target sign and told God I had no idea what was happening to me. It took only a few seconds for Him to show up.

And there it was, the ugly and raw truth:

I had just recently experienced another failed almost relationship. So, choosing permanent singleness was going to be my way of not choosing that guy back. This felt like the 487th time this century I had experienced this whole not being chosen thing. I was so tired of this repetitive cycle. I decided to make a statement to men of the earth: I was deciding to forever choose none of them.

Yes, it was slightly insane. On the crazy scale of 1-10, it falls somewhere past 12.

Because of course, this falls under the assumption that all (or any) of the men of the world actually know and/or care that I’m not choosing them.

It also assumes that all men should be blamed for my Lifetime saga story: The Girl Who Clearly Needs to Find Men at Places Other Than Christian Churches or Organizations: A Seventy-Six Part Series. 

Still working on that title.

But what was most amazing about my quarter-life crisis/temporary bout of insanity was that it took less than five minutes to have it completely dismantled.

Between the teary eyes of my sister, her prayers, and the time it took me to get to that exit, God had already convinced me to let go of what might have been the most insane idea I’ve had thus far.

Because God can dismantle our hardest heart and our biggest battle in minutes. Seconds. He can take the thing that you’re so determined is true, right, set in stone and he can rip it apart before you blink.

Because there is something inside of us that knows that the pain we sit in is not where we are meant to stay. We know when we find ourselves fighting, making excuses, pushing away, that’s not what we actually want. There is something inside all of us that knows when we go on the defense that it’s because something is not as it should be and we need someone bigger than us to step in.

So when you come to a fork in the road, where your pain gives you a choice, a choice to take control and “fix it” yourself, or to let God lead the way: I hope you realize your way to “fix it” is probably just as dumb as my idea to flippantly become a self-proclaimed nun who wanted to make her vows inside of a Starbucks.

Because your heart is worth more than the quick things you want to decide in your anger and pain. Your life is worth more than the solutions and blueprints you can draw in your minutes of venting and frustration.

If there’s one thing I have learned, it is that my worst decisions have often been made out of my deepest moments of pain. Whenever I’m about to make a choice, I have to check myself and ask, is there something below the surface here that is aching or searching for more? Do I feel lack? Am I trying to fill something on my own? Am I trying to take control? Do I think I’m better at working out my life than God?

Not just in this area of my life, but in trying to figure out the next steps, the next job, whatever it may be. I have to stop and ask myself, am I deciding from a place of pain, lack, fear?

Get someone in your corner.

That’s the other thing I would tell you. Have someone in your corner who is going to cry with you (or for you), tell you that even if you make the dumbest decision of your life they are going to stick it out with you. But pick a person who is going to tell you that you’re driving like a fool and you need to hand over that steering wheel.

Don’t try to fix it. Don’t try to plan a path around the pain. 

Every path I’ve ever tried to plan around the pain has led me somewhere even darker, harder, more disastrous.

Get people in your corner. Hand over the steering wheel. Realize that God can dismantle your heart, your head, your plans in seconds if you just hand them over. All the things that you’re confused about, the disappointment, the frustration. Let it go. Stop thinking you know better than God. Pull over the car and let the thing go.

Your life is worth more than the plans you can make. Your heart is worth more than the quick-fix solutions you will create. Mother Teresa wasn’t made in a Starbucks. God can still be trusted and he is the best driver on the path of pain.

 

Disclaimer: this story took place many moons ago, my sister is not pregnant again.