To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Love Stories.

Love is not finite.

I imagine you’ve heard me say those words about a million times by now. I’ve prayed you would be knit together with that truth. I’ve determined, here and now, before you’re ever born to say those words to you often and with the strongest conviction. Because there was a time in my life when I did not know them to be true.

I’m sure you know the story. I am confident you know all about the woman who changed everything when she looked at me with wide eyes and said those four little words that cracked open my chest and caused everything to finally come spilling out.

Because I had been holding it all in. I was convinced that I had just one good love story in me and I had to save it all up for then. I thought I had to save up all my best words and fight for that day.

You’re going to have a lot of good love stories.

If life allows, I truly and sincerely hope that you only ever have one person that you marry and spend a big chunk of your life with. But before that story, before you find the story that tops all other stories, you’re going to have a lot of other really good stories. I say that carefully, but also knowing that you’re wise. I know you’re not just picking up crazies off the street. Still, they probably won’t ever go the way you planned, and if you’re anything like me, you will have some wild tales to tell.

Love is not a finite thing. Something about this freed me from the years I spent in silence so terrified that I was going to get “the” story wrong. That I was going to waste my best words and my best try on someone who didn’t deserve it.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wasted a lot of good words, good days, good tries on plenty of people who did not deserve it. Granted, I did not know this at the time, but there’s something about leaving it all on the floor and “going big” that reveals the heart of the person standing across from you in a way that I will never be able to fully express. Only experience can give you this gold.

When you give someone your heart, the way they handle it tells you everything you didn’t know but would have needed to know if it was ever going to fully be theirs. I’ve learned this the hard and best way, by being the person who speaks her mind and heart without hesitation. Because love is not a finite thing, and thankfully, we get more than one love story.

There was the manipulator, the serial dater, the sweet barista, the Chinese buffet guy, the I-am-not-called-to-ministry guy, the peanut guy, the narcissist, the sweater guy, the guy with the dog, and probably others I’m forgetting. Please know I did not do incredibly crazy things for all of these people. But some of them, and I regret none of them. Because when I finally showed up to say the things I needed to say, I ended up with a good story of what it means to let someone hold the truth of what my heart needed to say. And I walked away with one truth that never left me: love is not a finite thing. I’ve got more than one love story. That’s not to say that we fall in love with all these people the same way, but we love them, care for them, go big for them in some beautiful kind of way. 

I want you to go big. 

I want you to love people exactly as you do. Love them hard, selflessly, wildly. Be both rowdy and embarrassingly bold when the moment calls for it. I want you to say the things you need to say. If you need to chase someone through an airport, I’ll drive you there. If you need to jump on that plane, I’m not paying for it, but I’ll cheer you on from the drop-off lane.

The point is, I want you to learn how to give your heart away. Because you can get it back. You will get it back. Love is not a finite thing.

I wish I’d learned this sooner because I spent so long thinking that handing people my heart was some kind of weakness that would someday leave me empty. I held it back from some really good people. I never want that for you. Because the truth is, even if you hand it to people who crush it, you’re a smart girl and you will know and learn how to walk away. You will take it to the One who heals and makes broken things mended and right again.

Love is not a finite thing. Love is not a lost and never to be found again thing. It’s not a once it’s broken, it can never be fixed again thing. It’s a “go big”, get broken, get down on your knees, get up again kind of thing.

My words, my fight, my days are better now than they were before. The best I have to give hasn’t even shown up yet. I’ve got more love inside these bones than I did when that woman and that truth showed up and shook me and broke me. Love is not a finite thing and the more I’ve given it, the more I’ve found it knocking on my door.

There’s no doubt you know a lot of my stories, that you hear me in the kitchen often telling one of my crazy tales. I hope you someday come to me with some of your own. That you learn what it is to stand with shaky knees and say things people think only a character on screen would say. That you show up on a doorstep with a folded letter and don’t run away. I hope you take all the chances you want or need. That you know you won’t run out of love, even when you get it wrong, even when they’re not who you thought they’d turn out to be. 

Love is not a finite thing, you’ve got a lot of love stories you’re meant to live, a lot of good things you should say. How it all ends up, that part isn’t up to you, you’re only responsible for how you carry the love you have today.

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To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Grief.

It is entirely possible to have both one of the worst and best days of your life on exactly the same day. This is because grief is one of those things that frees you from all of your pride and ego while simultaneously ripping your heart out. In the midst of my grief, I’ve done some pretty liberating things. I’ve taken many spur-of-the-moment trips, written some insane letters, screamed at the top of my lungs, sang loudly without caring who was listening, moved my entire life. None of these are the things that I regret. Regret has only been something I’ve known when I let the grief silence me. 

You will do some wild and unpredictable things in your pain. Many of them truthful, some of them sincere, a few of them haphazard. But at the end of the day, heartbreak comes to us all in countless ways. I hope that in all the ways it has come and continues to come, you dance it out, shake it out, sing it out, write it out, but do not hold it in. 

However, be prepared to say you’re sorry. Never intentionally do something to hurt someone, but know that it will probably happen in the midst of your anguish and sorrow. Grief brings with it a breaking of our facades, but it also often cracks our filters. Know that you won’t get it all right and just because some things feel better in the moment, that doesn’t mean you get off scot-free in the end. Hurt people hurt people, it’s a cliche because it’s true. 

It is entirely possible to have both the worst and best day at the same time. Because suddenly, though your heart is screaming in pain, you will finally able to release it from all the other things it’s been carrying that seem so trivial. I call it an “in the grand scheme” view of things.  Grief brings with it a certain sort of “big picture” kind of reality with it that makes you drop all the little cares and worries of the previous days. It makes you start evaluating all the dumb things you threw around in your brain yesterday. It makes you start minimizing and prioritizing. Suddenly, you start saying all the things you couldn’t before, wouldn’t before, didn’t know were choking you and breaking you before. Because “in the grand scheme” of things, what does it matter now? Grief shows you what matters now.

But it is entirely possible that it is still the worst day. While you are free of all the little insecurities that you sat in yesterday, you’re in the big and grand sorrows of today. The big things matter and grief will knock on your door to remind you of that. So you’ll take trips, write letters, sing loudly, scream loudly, stay awake a little longer, because “in the grand scheme of things”– and you’ll know that these are the only things you can control. But know, even those are things you cannot control. 

Don’t try to control the pain. I hope we both learn this young. We cannot control the pain. We can evaluate all the big things, little things, figure out what matters and try to our best in the in-between, but the truth is, this isn’t up to you and me. Today, we’re both just young, wild girls who are trying to figure out how to get free. It’s okay to not have the answers, to not understand the grand scheme of all these things. 

You will do some wild things in your pain. You will say wrong things when you are down on your knees. You will ask God unimaginable questions and you stand up only to stomp your feet. You will get in the car and drive nowhere, but end up exactly where you were meant to be. You will press send on things that you mean, and realize that losing all of your pride is probably the only way you’re ever going to get free. 

You will someday have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize that God turns our pain into something that He can use. You will hate the feeling of your heart breaking as you also sigh at the relief you feel when you finally let love break through. You cannot carry grief without love, or love without grief. On this earth, they are linked, sometimes they are one and the same. Someday you will know what it means to have the worst and the best day simultaneously, and when you do you’ll know what it means to be a little more broken and somehow a little more free.

Someday you will have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize the pain and joy of loving, losing, and getting back to the grand scheme of clinging, for as long as you can, to those who have taught you the best parts about all these things.

Let Your Heart Break and Find Out Who Stays.

This restaurant, this table, knows all our worst heartbreaks.

If the walls around it could speak, they would repeat back to me some of the hardest words I’ve ever said, attached to some of the strongest love I’ve ever felt.

One day when we’re older and have maybe learned what it means to let go and let God, I hope that our daughters find a spot like this to console them. Especially on nights woven with the kind of pain that you wish a good Taylor Swift lyric and a bite of cheesecake could cure.

But pain like this—it’s not a thing we can scream out, sing out, shake out of our systems with the volume turned up and the windows rolled down, not this time. Not tonight.

Tonight we will do those things, but we will know that tomorrow it will still hurt. It’s going to hurt and the two girls who used to make plans about how long we would let heartbreaks last, tonight we lay down our pens. Because we know that tomorrow it is still going to hurt.

Let it hurt.

Because the thing about pain that I have learned from all these years back and forth at this table is that it helps you find the people who stay.

Pain breaks us, pulls out all our worst pieces. It puts our worst parts on display, drags out all the mess and presents it to whoever is standing at the door.

It also makes us, teaches us how to pick up those pieces, look at our mess, and decide what part of us isn’t something we want to keep hanging around for another rainy day.

The people who stick around through that, who are still standing by the door when you’ve finished breaking and making sense of it all, those are the people you end up back at the table with again.

Let your heart break. Learn the good things. Let it hurt and find out who stays.

Someday when we’re older and we’re happy, (I know I said that happiness isn’t the point, but I still think we will be happy) I hope that there’s still a table that can hold our heartbreak. That you will still be there to remind me of all the reasons why my heartbreaks have made me worse and made me better.

That you’ll be the friend that fights to remind me that we all are human. We all falter. I might try to have all the pretty words, but I will still get it wrong. That it is okay for me to mess up too. But grace keeps coming back to the table.

We keep coming back to the table. That’s grace. True grace says, “Even if we have to keep having this same conversation a hundred times, this seat is still open for you.”

I hope that someday when we’re older, we move to a bigger table. I hope that our little two-seater doesn’t fit all the love that we’ve been storing up. I hope that all the years of grace we’ve been learning to grow finally finds its home in people who will show up with some of their own. I know it will. I know they will.

Someday when we’re older, even though we feel old today, we’ll look back on tonight and maybe we will still cry. But I hope we cry only for tonight’s girls who didn’t know just how big Grace really is. For all the plans He has and had. That there are walls around us that speak, but not in the ways we think. They are the ones He put up to save us, to stop us, to keep us from places our grace-filled hearts thought might be our destiny.

Someday when we’re older, we’ll talk about the night that changed everything, about coming back to the table, about the grace that we didn’t see coming, but God knew we would need.

 

 

 

Lovely Letters: Stay In It

Dear Lovely One,

Yes, you. Do you know how rightly those words fit you? Like a chunky knit sweater, they were made to wrap around you and shield you from the cold.

And it gets cold, doesn’t it?

Life gets cold when loneliness comes around, after the day’s laughter has faded. We are left with our thoughts about what is, what could have been, what is likely to never be. And life gets painstakingly, teeth rattling cold.

But you, you are lovely and so worth loving and the world is better and brighter because you’re in it.

Stay in it. 

Those are the words I want to bundle you up in: stay in it.

Keep fighting. Because your bones are stronger than you give them credit for. Your heart is more durable than you’ve been made to believe. Whoever told you that you’re too weak to walk this thing out, that you don’t have any fight left in you: they lied.

Because I know that your fierce footsteps could change the world. You’ve got to keep walking.

It’s hard and we’re always bandaging scars, old ones that get re-opened and new ones that are just starting to form. It sometimes seems like we’re being put through a never-ending process of running to get bandaids and gauze: we’re looking for anything to stop the bleeding.

Let love and hope stop your bleeding.

There’s more here than what we’re seeing. There are things bigger and better than what tattered hearts and broken minds can imagine. I don’t always believe it, but in my gut, I’m certain that it’s true.

Because if things like sunsets, road trips, loud music, oceans, good friends and pints of ice cream exist, then there’s someone who made those things and He has even better up His sleeve. We haven’t seen anything yet. The best is yet to come.

But we’ve got to keep walking, keep fighting, keep grabbing for hope and love, knowing that it will all be worth it. Even on the days when we’ve hit rock bottom and are seemingly at our worst, holding onto hope and love will be worth it

You are lovely. In the simplest and truest way, you are lovely. And the world needs your light, your laughter, your dancing, for you to start dreaming again. You deserve to dream, to ask for better things for yourself.

You’re not alone. I’m here curled up on my couch with books and blankets, tear-stained face, all to tell you that we all feel the cold and that you’re not alone in that. Keep holding on. There is always light, always hope, always something beautiful to be made out of the mess. If you can’t believe that yet, then let’s make a deal: you believe for me & I’ll believe for you.

Us holding these broken hearts is not the end of the story. Maybe we’re just at the part where the sad songs are playing and it seems like everything we wanted went slipping through our hands. But stay tuned, because there’s something good coming: I can promise you that. There are good things waiting for us, this whole thing isn’t over yet.

Stay in it and watch what happens…we are not going to be disappointed.

Lovely One: that’s who you are. Wear those words and own them, they are yours on any and every cold day that comes.

These hard times are just a brief breeze that will soon pass by.

Bundle up tight in love, and don’t let the pain steal your strength. Just a little further, and you’ll see that there’s so much better ahead than anything you’ve yet to see.

Lovely Letters: Getting Out of “The Friend Zone”

He told me that he thought of me as a friend. All my friends tell me to move on and that I should just throw in the towel, but I honestly don’t think I could find a guy more perfect for me. What should I do?

Sincerely, Friend Zoned

 

Dear Friend Zoned,

It came down to me and my best friend. She and I were sitting on the cold tile floor, in front of the filing cabinets, when he said he liked us both, but he knew he had to choose.

We were seven years old. I just sat there patiently waiting.

My odds weren’t looking good. My best friend was beautiful and she knew how to color better than I did. She was nicer than me, taller than me, her hair was straight (mine was tangled, curly and tragic).

He didn’t even know all the good stuff about me.

The only things he knew were things like: I was terrible at art, I was a painfully enthusiastic evangelist and that I carried a green Tarzan lunch box. These are not cool qualities for a seven-year-old girl.

He chose me and that, dear friend, will forever be the greatest mystery of my childhood.

There was no good reason for it. It wasn’t my dazzling/witty personality, my sense of fashion (unless I missed the memo that said my best look was high water jeans and t-shirts). It was just the mystery of life, the unexplainable reasons of why we love some people and why we don’t choose others.

I don’t have all the answers about love or how this whole thing works. I know that some people stay with their high-school sweethearts, some girls marry a guy they met online, some people never find anybody and I can’t tell you why.

What I can tell you is that if you get the chance at a love story, make it a good one. Don’t choose your hero to be someone who doesn’t even own a white horse, don’t let your heart ache for a man who is looking for Cinderella in other places.

This is your story. You can make it epic, but only if you decide to use the best characters. I know he’s probably incredible, I have no doubt that this guy you’re talking about (your best friend) is likely a good fit for you.

But the reality is that he wants to be cast in a different role and he wants to be the leading man of another story. You know how I know that’s true?

Because “When a man loves a woman… can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else. He’d trade the world for a good thing he’s found.” 

Those might be cheesy lyrics that came dancing through the radio when my Mama was just six years old, but I promise you they are not just some fantasy. I know this because I have a Daddy who looked up toward God himself and said that he would never marry another woman if he didn’t marry my Mama. Once he met her, he was ruined; she was the only woman he could see. They’ve been married almost 30 years and he’s never taken his eyes off of her.

It’s out there and it’s good. I know we’ve all seen a lot of broken marriages, relationships, even friendships, but the real thing exists. Maybe I’m childish and crazy for believing it, but I promise you that I’ve lived on the hopeless side of not believing it and that didn’t make heartbreak any easier or protect me from any pain.

I’d rather live with this crazy notion that the right man is going to come knocking on my door at any minute than to sit around hoping that one day a guy I’ve been secretly pining for will finally decide, after months and years, he likes me and take me on a real date.

You deserve more. I know that as nice as those words are, they’re not always easy to hear (believe me, I’m well acquainted with that reality). I’ve been where you are and I know it’s hard to let go. I know that he probably makes you feel alive all the way to the tips of your fingers, but at the end of the day, those fingers of yours still aren’t laced with his and you can’t make that happen.

It doesn’t really matter if your hair is perfect or you are good at coloring the right one will pick you. He will choose you in a world full of a billion other possibilities. It may not even make sense, but he’ll set his sight on you and Tarzan lunch boxes and bad blue jeans won’t change his mind. But if he’s looking for another girl or telling you that you’re not the right one, you’ve got to start dreaming for better things. A good man will be up front and let you know how he feels; even seven year old boys eventually make their choice and make it known. You’ve got to start believing that it is worth waiting for someone who looks you right in your pretty little eyes and says, “This is it for me, it’s you or it’s nobody.”

I’m no expert, friend. I’m just a girl who still believes that she’ll get chosen without having to always convince him of all the good stuff. He’ll love me without me having to jump and wave my arms in front of his face, without me having to buy better blue jeans or discover hair taming products. It will be a mystery to me, but he’ll see someone worth bringing flowers to and someone worth adoring and I think I can wait a little longer for a man like that.

You’re worth that kind of love, sweet girl. I believe it is out there, but chances are you won’t find it waiting around in the friend zone.

Ashlin

Lovely Letters: There Might Be More

I feel like I’m betraying the people I love if I move far away, but at the same time I feel like I need some independence and change. I don’t want to lose them, but I think I need to see what else is out there for me.

-K

Dear K,

When I decided to move to Georgia, it was just an experiment. I figured I would stay for the summer and test the waters. I decided that if I didn’t fall completely in love with this city, I’d just move back home.

I fell in love, K.

To be honest, it wasn’t really the city that romanced me and it still doesn’t give me butterflies, but I fell absolutely head over heels with who I am while living in it.

It took walking away from everything I’ve known. It took leaving home to realize that I am more than just that twelve year old small town girl who had braces, bad hair, good grades and decent basketball skills.

I think there’s more for you, K. Oh, and trust me, the people that are sewn permanently into your heart and soul will love you no matter what you decide. It will be painful, they’ll definitely cry, but they will send you off with hugs and prayers. You’ll see that they will always have open arms when you come back to visit.

I remember being so torn about my decision to move and finally, standing in my doorway, my Dad said something that’s stayed with me every step of this journey:

“You’re thinking about what you’ll miss if you go, but you have no idea what you will miss if you stay.”

That was all I needed, those words sparked a hope in my heart that said there might be more… if you want it.

Most days, I still have no idea what I’m doing here, but you know, that wasn’t why I really came. Sure, I hoped I would have a fated collision with my destiny, but I really came just to see what it would be like to ride without my training wheels.

I’ve spent months in other places, traveled to foreign countries. Yes, I lived with my sister in Apartment G, but I needed to go beyond that.

I didn’t just need to see the world, I needed to see who I was outside of the only piece of it I had ever called home.

I think it was honestly time for me to let somewhere else and someone else see what I bring to the table. I think we’ve got a lot to offer, K. You have things to offer others besides those in just your little corner of the universe.

You’re not betraying anyone by deciding to stretch your arms further and pull more people into your embrace. It doesn’t mean you’re letting go of the ones you already love, K. You can hold more than you think, your limbs are made to stretch farther than you can imagine.

There are also other people who need to squeeze you tight and leak some love on your weary bones. It’s okay to want some new faces, to experience the rush that comes with driving down unfamiliar streets and seeing the sun setting on a different stretch of horizon.

You’re not selfish, sweet girl. You’re an adventurer and you’ve got a restless heart and that isn’t always a bad thing. There may come a day when you’re ready to go back to that place you once called home, you may buy a little house on one of those streets you’ve come to know well. But for now, it’s okay to explore and add a little more to the beautiful life you already have.

You can do this, if it’s what you really want. If you mess up and it turns out to be a horrible mistake, you’ll only grow from it. You’ll learn more than if you only play it safe (and you’ll also have some good stories to keep in your pocket).

Risk isn’t a waste, but a lifetime of asking “what if?” is.

Don’t be afraid to take some chances and to take off your training wheels. The only way you’ll ever learn is to just start pedaling.

Ashlin

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday (well, at least once a week)! I’ve gotten such an amazing e-mail response from many of my readers and I try to respond to as many as I can directly; and some of them have inspired me to share thoughts and ideas on my blog. You guys seriously inspire me and what you’re going through is universal and I think other people need to hear that they’re not alone.

So… if you’re interested in inspiring the next Lovely Letters post, send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on in your life. I absolutely love hearing from all of you!

E-mail:  ashlinkayh@gmail.com

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Lovely Letters: Hope For Your Heart

After all the pain I experienced, I feel like I have lost hope. Maybe I threw it away, maybe I let others steal it, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore either way. I guess I just want to know… how do I get it back?

-H

H,

I’m soaking in this quiet moment. The air has turned chilly, the windows and doors of our house are open, our sweet dog is stretched out on the rug and one of my housemates is playing the piano.

My heart is full and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way.

I don’t know what exactly made me get to this moment, but I think it started somewhere after I decided to be thankful.

I know where you are. A lot of things have been hard for me recently. For a really long time, they’ve just been really hard and very painful. 

But I’ve just decided to start being grateful for the good things, even if they seemed small, the moments where breathing is easy and life is quiet. I have started being grateful for coffee, sunsets, strings of lights on the porch, my favorite cereal, phone calls from friends, movie nights, laughter, flannel shirts, firm handshakes and bear hugs.

Gratitude has brought hope back to my heart. I’m not sure that there was ever another way (and trust me, I’ve tried everything else). I prayed for new things, then for old dreams, and then for absolutely anything to resurrect this heart of mine.

Nothing happened.

It was then that I decided to start being content with what I already have. Now, I’ve started noticing the beauty in the ordinary days, in the moments of laughter with my housemates, sitting around the table with friends and talking about grace and the changing of the seasons.

Hope has returned. Beauty and excitement were resurrected in my heart because I chose to see that they have always been near.

Even in the pain, the heartache, the tears and the questions, there were always things worth smiling about and worth pausing to admire. There is beauty in the place you’re in, H. If you’ll just take a minute to step back and look around, there are things that will pull on the strings of your heart and at the corners of your mouth. Your lack will start to look like abundance, if you just take a second to be grateful for the goodness in each day.

Things aren’t ever going to be perfect. You’re never going to have literally every single thing you could ever want. But you’ll realize that you have what you need, things that are beautiful and life-giving.

Hope hasn’t left you, H. It’s still there, in the beauty of orange leaves, bird lullabies, brave moments and people who make your heart skip. There may be things you don’t have, but just start taking note of all you do have and I promise the good you will see will multiply.

These words won’t make your problems disappear and they aren’t going to change the things that have happened to you, but you know what? You deserve so much more than a life spent holding a magnifying glass over the pain and the heartache. Pull your head up, H and stop staring at all the broken pieces scattered on the floor.

We both know they are there. I’m sure that when it all crashed and shattered, the sound was terrifying and the chaos was devastating. I imagine it made you feel like you could never get what it takes to sweep it all up and put it back together.

Stop trying to glue it all back together. You’re meant for more than sticky, sloppy, shabby pieces stuck together in attempts to look like what they used to be. 

You deserve new, unbroken, whole things placed in your heart. You still have plenty of good things inside and there’s more coming. Be grateful for all that remains and keep believing that more beauty is on the way.

Ashlin

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday (well, at least once a week)! I’ve gotten such an amazing e-mail response from many of my readers and I try to respond to as many as I can directly; and some of them have inspired me to share thoughts and ideas on my blog. You guys seriously inspire me and what you’re going through is universal and I think other people need to hear that they’re not alone.

So… if you’re interested in inspiring the next Lovely Letters post, send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on in your life. I absolutely love hearing from all of you!

E-mail:  ashlinkayh@gmail.com

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