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.

 

 

 

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The Miracle of Staying

I used to think miracles were only instantaneous, a supernatural phenomenon that God performed in a split second.

I believe in those kinds of miracles, but this morning as I drove home, I whispered prayers of gratitude for a different kind. I gave thanks for the miracles that come only with time, process, and things that seem perfectly ordinary.

I cried as the state lines of Virginia kissed North Carolina and the road led into my hometown. My heart aches because home now feels scattered across continents and states. The girl who grew up in a small town, who thought she’d never leave and never know another world, fell in love with a group of a people in a small house in Georgia and saw God do a miracle.

In the ordinary, everyday routine of life, He used a wild group of girls and some guys down the street to unfurl her fists and teach her how to hope and laugh again.

This weekend, my roommate who always packs the snacks, loves a spontaneous trip, taught me how to shout for joy, and is always up for splitting an ice cream cake got married.

As we all parted ways this morning, nothing in me wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to go back. I wanted my house with the swing back, our nights on the kitchen floor, our Sunday mornings in the living room.

I wanted Christmas parties and late night dancing in our pajamas. I wanted breakfast with the guys, locking each other in the pantry for laughs.

But something inside of me also knew that God made this moment for something else.

We can’t go back.

Because the miracle of what God did was strengthen our knees to help us stand in other places.

And God knows that I couldn’t stand anywhere else if not for that house of girls and the guys down the street. Through them, He gave me the miracle of learning how to stay, how to yell prayers on Saturday mornings. How to keep waking up in the same place and make strong coffee with people who also didn’t know why seasons of loneliness sometimes feel so long.

Someday, you might show up to grassy fields and flower covered gardens to celebrate the season’s change. And if so, you will find out that the one that was labeled “single” might have been the one when you met the people who taught you how to stand and how to stay. That it was actually the season that brought you people who would later celebrate you best, shout with you when God would bring you something new.

I think sometimes my favorite miracles are ones that look like God spitting in the dirt, over and over again, making mud to wipe on your eyes and asking “Can you see yet?”  (Mark 8, John 9).

I think some of my favorite miracles are the ones that take years, miles, pain, and ordinary things to usher in the sacred and Holy moment where I finally open my eyes and say “I see it! It took some time, but I finally see!”

These things and people taught me how to stay, how to plant, how to enjoy and savor coffee in the kitchen. It was there I learned that lingering at the breakfast table teaches you to love in a way that few other things can. They taught me how to cry, how to laugh, how to dance (how to laugh at your own bad dancing). They taught me miracles are big and small, they’re instantaneous and also process. They taught me that it’s worth giving up the sleep to show up, to cry on the porch together, to say prayers around the coffee table late again because it’s going to matter. God knows, this weekend we saw how much it mattered.

Here’s to all the coffee table prayers we prayed, and the years I didn’t know were being made into miracles. To the miles driven and flown, the phone calls we still make. To the truth that God loves the process, uses mud, is okay with trying things out a few times. To weddings and dancing, for shouting and coffee. To breakfast and ice cream on the kitchen floor.

Here’s to the miracle of a house on a little street in Georgia and a God who whispered our names and invited us in.

To the reality that miracles don’t have to always look the way we hoped, expected, begged. Sometimes you just have to keep showing up and the miracle is in that. Here’s to seeing that the miracle is in finding people who learn how to choose to stay, and in the miracle of learning the same.

 

 

 

Show Up at the Doors of Good Men

I wrote out that I was sorry in a McDonald’s parking lot.

He said he didn’t need it, but I knew I had to give it. Because at the end of the day, he taught me how to give and take apologies. He taught me how to show up quietly with grace and say, “What did I leave that might have been heavy?” Even if they didn’t demand that I do better, love learns to look for the opportunity to weigh out what someone else might need.

He is, was, and has always been one of the good ones. And I think if there’s one thing I need to show up here and say, it’s that there are some good ones left. We live a world that’s throwing a lot of men under the bus (and maybe some of them are throwing themselves under there). I want to tell you there are good men left in this world.

I recently, unintentionally, crashed into some wisdom that changed my life. Show up at the doors of good men, whose love will make you better, even if it’s not the kind of love you want it to be. 

From the girl who went around the world begging you not to be someone’s backup plan, I still believe there are good reasons to ask you that. 

There are good men left and I’ve spent enough time complaining that there aren’t or showing up at doors where I knew I was going to leave angry and confused.

I think it’s about time we start showing up at the doors of the men who live in the arena of good character and whose love isn’t the stuff of storybooks but is the stuff of the Story Writer himself.

But no matter how good the man, they don’t have to choose you. You will learn to be better and love more deeply when you let God have all the frustration that you might feel about that. There are good men left in this world, but even when you’re a good woman, sometimes you might still look or feel alone.

There is a temptation to become bitter, but the way we become better is to show up at the doors of the good ones. To allow the love they carry, in whatever form (friendship or more), to help make us better.

I told him I was sorry in a McDonald’s parking lot and because he’s a good man, he told me maybe the other words I wrote were worth saying to a few more people. So I will leave some of those words here.

“I think all we can ever ask for in a bittersweet pain is that we become better. I can honestly say I am becoming better, and yes, more whole. It’s funny how something I never intended to happen could become something that God could so easily crack open and use to break my heart and teach me more than I ever anticipated. If anything, it has given me an incredible amount of relief to know the access He has to my heart, to use it and move it at His will. The beauty of life and loving people is choice and what an incredible thing it is to find ourselves grateful at His feet when He teaches us how to choose Him, over and over. Even when people can’t choose us, or we can’t choose people, or all our other choices don’t turn out the way we expected. No matter how many times I’ve learned it, no matter how many ways this heart has broken, I find that I see Him there letting me choose Him and choosing me still. I truly do become more whole in a deeper way and somehow I end up thanking Him for the heartbreak. It’s the greatest miracle—every single time: to thank God for heartbreak, for pain. It turns all the bitter into sweet. It makes me realize how thankful I am to keep running into human beings who give me the opportunity to learn God’s heart in a new way, even if it wasn’t what I ever “intended” to happen. I’m grateful. It is worth it to know Him more fully and to see just a little greater glimpse of how He chooses me. So while the sting of the temporary might have been less than fun, it led to the glorious truth of the eternal. You don’t have to be sorry for any of your choices, but thank you for offering the comfort.”

There are good men left and they know the One truly good man who came into this world. The love they carry, in whatever form, if we let it can make us better.

Thank God for the heartbreak that has made me better. Thank God for the good men, with genuine love, who have made me better.

Plan B Girl: Five Years of Strange Fame

I once wrote a blog post that was read around the world and I secretly spent my early twenties hating that it will likely be the most popular thing I’ll ever write.

I wanted the most impactful article sitting next to my name to be something meaningful like my thoughts on God, war, history, poverty, politics. Not why you should refuse to spend your life waiting around for some guy who doesn’t want you.

But alas, here we are, that’s what I’m known for: the girl who told everyone that they’re not “Plan B”, not second best.

And to this day I still get e-mails from girls saying that those words sat with them and taught them to walk away.

I often find myself transported back to that young girl fiercely typing those words in ignorant bliss that anyone would ever find them, soak them in, bookmark them, print them, tape them to their wall.

I continuously ask myself why, of all the things I’ve ever written, those were the words. They were certainly not my most eloquent or well crafted. They were not planned or edited well, definitely not crafted to perfection. But at the time, they were heartfelt, sincere, relatable. They were words to a handful of friends who were standing in those shoes; and words to myself, words that I wanted to say but that my mouth had been afraid to speak out loud.

They were words I wanted someone to say to me because they were ones that I needed to be true. They were a permission slip that I needed to fight back, to claw at the hands gripping my neck.

The world is full of people who are afraid that they’re going to end up alone. The world is full of people whose greatest fear is that loneliness.

It’s scary what kind of life you’ll let yourself get trapped inside of when loneliness stares you down on the other side of walking away.

And that’s why I wrote the words: “Better to be alone than taken for granted. Better to be alone than to be a placeholder.”

And those words followed me for years and tested me. Did I believe them? Was I willing to see that through?

That kind of loneliness is not the scariest thing you’ll ever face.

Hands gripped around your neck, in a life that you can’t escape, in a facade masquerading as love, that’s a fate far worse than loneliness ever could be.

I was once ashamed that I wrote a piece on not being second best. That I’m the one who told every girl she’s not a backup plan kind-of-girl. But now I’ve come to see that’s not exactly all it was.

I am someone who sat down and wrote herself a permission slip to stop fearing loneliness and a bunch of other women came to the table over the years and said, “I think that’s me, I think I need that too.”

So, here’s to five years and the thousands of you who also needed that permission slip.

You do not have to fear loneliness. The truth is you are never alone. You are worthy of more than an illusion of love that’s built on excuses. Knowing your worth, that’s just as important as war, history, and politics. You are worthy of good love. You are not a backup plan. And someday I hope that we can all write more permission slips and be unashamed to hold them up in the air and wave them with joy and say, “Look at that, I’m learning how to fight fear and I’m inviting everyone along!”

These days, I’m trying to write more of them for myself. Today, my new one starts something like this:

“I hope you know that your bones were built for bravery and that your heart is crafted with courage. You don’t ever have to be ashamed of the weight with which you carry people and the intensity of how you love them. What a shame it would be to have been given a heart and only use it partially. Not you, that’s not the kind of love you’ve prayed to know. Use it. Use it and wring it out because there’s always going to be more where that came from. ‘Love is not a finite thing’ always remember what it has taken for you to learn that truth…”

Make Better Plans + Forgive Yourself

Not once in my childhood did I ever daydream of running away and joining the circus.

But when I reached the shoreline, felt the burning heat of summer, the sticky sand and salt clinging to my skin, I started to long for a haphazard kind of life.

Because I realized I still don’t know how to stand steady in front of eyes and a mouth that don’t speak the same thing.

Sometimes in the mirror, I realize those eyes and that mouth belong to me.

Tattered denim and golden hour covering our shoulders, someone recently told me that my face often betrays me first. It always has.

No one sets out to be a liar. Little girls don’t daydream of becoming personified apologies.

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. This becomes the constant word of someone who makes plans and breaks them. Because good intentions don’t make for worthy plans or promises. And poetic sentiments are sometimes better left on the movie screen. But if and when you put all your best words on the table, that doesn’t mean you have to sit with them forever. Sometimes you leave them there. End scene. Cue credits. Go home.

I wish I’d learned this sooner.

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. It’s time to sit in the word that you must finally say to yourself. Apologize to the one person you have not. For the fact that you did not believe you are beautiful. That you pulled and tamed your curls. That you covered your face. That you bit your tongue. That you hid your tears. That you let the mark of a red pen define you. That you do all of these things still.

It’s time to say “I’m sorry” to the one person you haven’t forgiven. For never getting it quite right. You. For being too much, too little—or some combination that jammed the lock. That kept you from the places your biggest dreams planned you would go.

If you want, you can finally make better plans, worthy promises. You can walk away from the table of good intentions, poetic sentiment, the plans that turned you into a personified apology. Plans change and you didn’t always know who you were and who you would become when you made them.

I’m sorry to the girl who is still trying to show up for old plans and the promises she had to break. The circus probably won’t take you and running away has yet to save you. You’re the most beautiful you’ve ever been and it’s okay to hold the brokenness in your hands and not try to fix it. I’m sorry that you’ve apologized around the world, but never where it started. That your good intentions and broken plans were all because your mouth betrayed your eyes. Your head betrayed your heart. You did not believe that you were the right combination and that you could go where that little girl dreamed of.

You’re the most beautiful you’ve ever been and it’s okay to hold the brokenness in your hands and not try to fix it.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.