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.

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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.

 

 

all the light that came after.

Shoes by the front door, a stone fireplace with stockings that looks sturdy enough to brace my shaky frame against.

I stand there half expecting myself to blurt out the words everyone keeps telling me not to say.

Because the words that pour out of the radio this time of year are, “let your heart be light” and as we know from last year, I’m a sucker for trying to figure out exactly what that means.

My eyes scan pages and pages of my textbooks for final exams and I’m trying to cram in all this information about how the first stars came to be. The authors tell me about what happened when they exploded, about all the light that came after.

I keep thinking about God and how His first words of creation were “let there be light” and I know there must be something to that.

I keep wondering if I explode or speak if some kind of light comes after.

Because maybe the magic of this whole season, the reason that we’re all obsessed with Hallmark Christmas movies is that they are scene after scene of people saying a bunch of horribly strung together sentences of things we’ve never had the nerve to say.

I’ve never felt I lacked nerve, but I’ve hoarded silence in the moments that seemed to matter. I’ve felt like a lover of lost causes in moments when it felt improper to say the thing that sits heavily on my shoulders.

Timing. Timing has never been my strong suit and it always seems that Christmas comes at precisely the time in which I have an armload of things I need to say and a crowd full of people and thoughts saying, it’s probably not the best time.

Because Christmas is cozy, quiet, a soft piano in the background of a department store. It’s chunky scarves, rosy cheeks, passing babies, wondering why everyone doesn’t get together more often. It’s silent nights, holy nights, it is good words written and stuffed inside gold foiled envelopes.

But I am the last minute shopper, donkey locked out of the stable, little off-beat drummer girl. I once demanded to be the angel in the Christmas play holding a stuffed beagle. I am the Barbara Robinson novel come to life. I am the girl who once nearly cut off her circulation and had a purple arm trying to buy Christmas presents in a Christian bookstore.

All is calm, all is bright. I am not good at calm. Sometimes I get the bright, but I rarely get the calm.

I find that I’m so occupied these days with sewing up my mouth, putting on my Christmas best, and hoping that no one notices me leaning against this fireplace holding back all the things that Ralph and Hugh (the writers of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) missed when penning that song. Like sometimes gathering faithful friends and dear ones do not make my troubles feel miles away or out of sight. Sometimes, it makes me have to bite my lower lip because I do not know how to let “the fates allow”. Who are these fates? I do not know if I want them to allow. I think maybe I want to step in and decide some things and say some things before these fates get tangled up in this whole thing.

How am I going to have myself a merry little Christmas when this whole thing is left up to these vague fates and I’m just supposed to be hanging some star and figuring out what it means to “let my heart be light”?

Let your heart be light? I keep going back to that. Is that up to me or those fates? If it’s up to me, I want to say all these things that people tell me not to say. But then again, what if that makes us all heavier?

So then I’m supposed to hang some shining star. Well, that seems possible. I read about God and how light was His first priority. My textbooks then tell me those first stars exploded into all these other stars (according to science).

Well, then I think maybe if I just start with one thing, just one bit of light, more will come.

So maybe this blog is just about hanging that one star. Maybe it’s about saying that one thing, throwing out that one light and hoping that it explodes into a thousand more little lights.

We all have heavy things weighing on us and we all want this moment, this time, this season to be magical. We want it to be healing, something that brings us hope and helps us believe in goodness again.

Maybe you’re like me and you’re a little shaky, holding some things that you wish you could say, fix, change, or make happen. Maybe you’re a little lonely, tired, terrified, broken, confused. Maybe you just wish you had more time or capacity to enjoy it and feel it all.

Whatever it is you’re holding, I’m not going to tell you that all your troubles are going to be miles away. Your troubles are where they are. I’m not going to tell you it’s “a bright time or the right time to rock the night away” (mostly because I don’t even know what that means). I’m just going to tell you that I don’t know if any light will come after we say things we wish we could say. But there was the best Light that came, that stayed, that’s still here. It was here before the first words of “let there be light” were ever even spoken. And I don’t know what fates Ralph and Hugh were talking about, but I can assure you of this, the Faithful one who gives us all this light, well He’s tangled up in all of it.

A couple thousand years ago, He hung another star and regardless of what our shoulders might hold, we have to remember all the light that came after. It allows us to all have ourselves a merry little Christmas, even in this, even now.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving + Home + Monsters

There was a time when coming home was heavy with grief. My days were spent with white knuckles, mapping out my escape route.

Every time someone asked if I was ever coming home, the knot in my stomach tightened. I faked a smile with my shrugged shoulders, but I knew the answer.

It seemed impossible to ever be here and not be miserable, not wish that here was anywhere else.

But plans change and sometimes we become the person who returns to the place we spent years running from only to realize that those monsters aren’t so scary once we turn on the light.

Thankful.

That when I look back on the last few years I did not get the things I wanted. That while I sat yelling for God to take away the monsters, He taught me instead to turn on the light. For a long time, it seemed cruel and merciless, but it turned out to be the thing that brought me to the doorstep of a place I never thought I could return to because I was no longer afraid of the dark.

Fear does not win, darkness does not get to stay, and thanksgiving becomes our song when we find ourselves trusting that there is a reason for what seems like delay, unexpected answers, silence. 

There was and has always been a reason, many reasons. That I might learn the touch of God who would lift my arms in darkness and teach me how to find the light. That I would not live believing in a distant God who simply sweeps out monsters without showing me that they are not meant to hold me down, keep me paralyzed, keep me from putting my feet in places I love and with people I’m meant to know. To take away my fear, to give me the courage to walk into rooms of darkness and turn on the light for somebody else.

Thankful.

That home does not have to be our enemy, the place of our deepest pain and disappointment. The thing that we dread, the darkness we can’t reach out in, the room in which we feel paralyzed. That home oftentimes feels like the place in which we see our prayers answered least, God’s silence most, but is the place when we learn to turn on the lights, we will see those monsters are just shadows.

Hungry, Angry, and Sitting With God

My life these days is sunshine warming my face in my childhood room, mid-morning coffee, memories of soggy streets in South America. Silence lulls me to sleep, along with the smell and burn of menthol on my back and legs. This is home, with its cold autumn air and slow traffic on the streets that never seem to change.

I tell myself that I am not angry, but I am angry.

Anger for me is like a pair of well-worn blue jeans. It fits in a comfortable but sloppy kind of way. I’ve never figured out why I keep shoving it back in my closet.

Hollow is another word that comes to mind. It sounds scary and dark, but it’s not really that. This kind of hollow is just quiet and achy.

I am fumbling for pill bottles, waking up countless times, checking my weight to make sure I’m eating enough. I sometimes lie awake and wonder if God is still around to hear the million sighs I make during the night.

“It could be worse,” is what I say through clenched teeth and a smile.

Those words are true. I am trying to be grateful. It could be worse, so much worse.

But it hurts and is painful and the thing I’m most afraid of is that one more person (including myself) will keep saying something like it’s going to get better. It doesn’t help.

Because right now, I have to sit with God in this.

I have to sit with Him. I just have to sit across this table from Him until we’ve finished this thing He’s preparing for me. I just have to sit here until we’re finished and He picks up the tab. I have to fight the urge to walk off in my impatience. I have to fight the urge to ask someone else to bring me an appetizer to fill this hunger. I have to wait on whatever it is that He says is on the way. It will get better, but I have to stay here for however long the space it between those words will get and better takes.

It aches and it carves its way through my heart in a way that I don’t always know how to talk about. I am disappointed. This place doesn’t have a menu. When I walked in, I didn’t see what I could expect posted in a bold and elegant font. I’m here and the fact that He’s brought me to this table tells me that He intends to fill me, but I can’t really give you much else. I can’t really tell you what that means or how long it’s going to take.

And sometimes my hollow hunger makes me angry, makes me frustrated, makes me wonder if I should have gone elsewhere. Sometimes I bang my fists and tell Him that I don’t even smell anything, that there’s no sign anything is even coming.

But He’s here, we are here and that has to be enough. If we finish 2017 in this booth with mediocre coffee cupped in our hands—it has to be enough. Even if Christmas lights look duller this year and my breath is still labored after simple tasks. If that fortune cookie is a liar and I cry on my twenty-sixth birthday, it has to be enough.

Breath lodged in my throat, shoulders heavy with truth, it has to be enough. Because He invited me to the table. He invites us all and somehow I saw the invitation in the middle of the darkness. Not everyone does and not everyone comes. Not everyone chooses this table and I’ve seen the pain in both His and their eyes when they sit somewhere else.

There is a table and we are here. For now, for both of us, I think it is enough.

 

 

 

Because Maybe the Other Shoe Drops, Maybe it Doesn’t

You know what I’m learning? There’s no symphony that starts playing when the good stuff shows up.

And God answers prayers that I longed for, but never even knew how to pray.

The old songs and places won’t always break your heart; and there’s no such thing as too much love.

You also don’t have to balance all the good stuff with equal amounts of hard stuff. For every good thing you see in someone, you don’t have to find something wrong. And you should really stop expecting that on the other end of every conversation. Not everyone sitting across from you is finding things to fix (if they are, you should reevaluate where you’re sitting). 

Balance is a word that sounds so noble, healthy, mature, but has been a demon that’s kept me awake at night. You said too much. You should have said more. Whatever it is, balance has always tried to replace the word enough. But enough doesn’t mean equal and/or perfect.

Enough is just enough. Enough is what we are. There is freedom in enough. Enough is the love you can rest in when you don’t have to have all the right words, fill the silence, do anything other than just exist. Find that space and fight for it, even if it scares you.

And God? Well, He is the solo occupant of the space labeled perfect. To be called enough by the One in that chair? I’ll take that. To know that He’s got people in his corner who will also believe that about me? That tells me all the fear, the worry, the demons of balance, comparison, and insecurity are a waste of my God-given time.

I’m starting to think I’ve blamed a lot of my pain and anxiety on God, when the truth is that I am the one who makes this whole thing complicated. It’s like I’ve been waiting for some symphony, some permission slip, for God to pop out from behind a door and tell me it’s finally okay to celebrate the good. The truth is that the breath in my lungs is that permission slip. But that need to be balanced tells me to wait, to hold back, to see if another shoe is going to drop and to expect pain to show up on the other end of the scale.

But then there’s hope, she’s a fierce rival of balance. She knows just how to spin you freely into placing all your bets on the good stuff.

Because maybe the other shoe drops, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you rip off the other shoe you’re wearing and just realize that being barefoot but brave was always a better way to live anyway.

That Moment Comes Back to Me a Thousand Times a Day

Five months ago, I slung back a cup of coffee in my second floor apartment that had a perfect gray and white themed aesthetic. Nothing was out of place; accents of gold were strategically arranged throughout the room. My textbook laid across my lap, I read about Colombia and took notes for the class I was enrolled in and I remember the thought as it crossed through my mind and I shifted on my dark gray couch: I will absolutely never go to Colombia.

That moment comes back to me a thousand times a day as I walk these streets and even now as I sit at a small café table that overlooks streets of Medellín. When I first agreed to lay down all my textbook reasons for not coming to Colombia, it was because of the 43 people I would be traveling with. I had fallen in love with our team and the 5 other leaders of our squad; it was those people that got me here. But it was someone else entirely that changed my view of everything once we arrived….

Read more on my World Race Blog…