My Birthday, Jack Bauer, and Fighting Back

My 24th year of life was somewhat similar to the tv show 24. Ironically enough, it was also the year in which I watched all eight seasons of the show and fell in love with Jack Bauer and also Tony Almeida. But not Sherry Palmer, she was legit the craziest person television has ever seen (except for Deb from One Tree Hill).

Anyway, my 24th year of life was like that show in that it was a lot of sleepless nights feeling like I had to save America. Except I am not Jack Bauer and I failed us because Marco Rubio is not President. I tried, but my methods of coercion are a lot less persuasive than Jack’s.

But as I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I’ve found that it was a year of fighting back. It was about finding some stability, standing back up and dusting myself off. It was one of letting go, grabbing back on, and letting go all over again.

Fighting back came in the form of moving to a town where no one knew my name, my face, my history. We didn’t have strings, years of history swimming between us. It came in the form of solitude, getting rid of the voices that told me who I was supposed to be. It took getting alone in a city of strangers to find out who I really am, who I always was, and who I am free to be.

I had to find my footing again. My voice. I had to hear God on my own, without the temptation of distraction. I had to find him in the silence, in the stillness between my own four walls. I had to learn how to stop being afraid of the darkness. I had to learn how to ask questions that ripped my heart to pieces. I had to weigh costs that and decisions that felt impossible to make. I had to learn how to open my doors to my home, to my heart, and risk that it may only be for a season. I had to believe it would still be worth it.

I had to learn how to make speeches that have been stirring in me for years. I was finally able to let go of the pain and regret of unsaid words. I prayed and I still pray that I learn from that pain and I don’t spend so much time in fear. I pray I’ve become the person to take chances and say the things that are worth saying to the people worth saying them to.

I had to learn to laugh. To make plans. To finally plan a birthday that didn’t make me cry, to no longer feel obligated to make that one day a day of redemption and atonement for everything that goes wrong the other 364. I had to learn that boundaries are good and beautiful, that you must embrace and often welcome pain when it comes, but you don’t necessarily have to invite it.

I had to choose to see that holding yourself and others to unrealistically high expectations is rooted in pain and a fear of disappointment. Disappointment is not nearly as bad as your fear of it. The anticipation of everything is always so much worse than the actual thing itself. Worry and dread are the enemy. The results you can live with, it’s the turmoil of inaction that will nearly kill you.

Here at the beginning of 25 I realize that there is still so much I don’t have figured out, there are so many opportunities that sit in front of me and the ever present temptation to be overwhelmed by the options and possible outcomes. But if 24 taught me anything it’s that taking chances is worth it. Nothing ever turns out the way you imagine or anticipate, but it often gives you a gift that far exceeds your expectation. Life and God have a funny way of presenting the right people and places at exactly the right time, and so when you find yourself wanting to dive in, it’s usually got something worth offering to you.

Dive in. Sit in the silence. Weigh the cost. Fight back. Say the thing you need to say. Life is a gift, the opportunities and people in front of you are the best part and every time you let yourself grab onto them, you always find something worth holding onto.


Lessons from Twenty-Three

Today I’m twenty-four years old. Time goes incredibly slow and unimaginably fast–it’s the paradox of growing up, I guess.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 365 days. It’s safe to say that I’m not spending this birthday the way I thought I would, but I guess that’s been a lot of the last year: entirely unexpected and absolutely nothing like I planned.

I’m a year older and hopefully a little wiser…so, I will give you 24 things I learned this year.

  1. You’ve spent enough time hiding the things you love. Stop waiting until you know more, get more skilled, or have a higher degree. Love what you love and share it with people; don’t steal the opportunity from others to know that side of you.

  2. People are a lot crazier than you think they are–bless their hearts and get the heck out.

  3. Write a twelve page paper over the course of 3 days, not 3 hours. Otherwise, you and everyone within a 15 block radius will hate you.

  4. Always pack snacks. Road trips, plane rides, walks to the park, journeys from the kitchen to the living room…always have snacks! (Special thank you to my roomie Tay for this one!)

  5. Don’t let your friends talk you into walking “not very far” in the rain. You will end up walking eight miles and getting soaked down to your socks.

  6. Choose people. Over and over again, even when they don’t choose you back. Choose to love them and consider them. Forgive them. Even at their worst, they are worthy of being spoken to.

  7. Tip a little extra (even if they didn’t fill your water glass often enough). It’s hard to serve people all day every day, admire and be generous to the people who do.

  8. Ask for help. Pick up the phone. Go to the support group. Drive to someone’s house and sit in their floor. Get rid of the pride. The consequences of not asking for help are never worth it.

  9. You will end up where you’re supposed to. Even if you have no idea where you are or how to get back home. You’re going to make it and you’re going to be alright.

  10. If you can’t be comfortable in your own skin, don’t fool yourself into thinking you would be comfortable in someone else’s.

  11. DO NOT, I repeat– DO NOT go to Great Clips and expect anything more than a mullet.

  12. You can’t make things happen and you can’t change what is. Change comes when it comes and it will come, enjoy what you have now because it won’t be this way forever.

  13. God is the only constant.
    People leave, die, change.
    Bodies get weak, sick, and wrinkled.
    Minds dull, wander, forget.
    God is the only thing that won’t fail you.

  14. Vacuuming is hard and if you don’t wad the cord in your hand as you go, you will trip multiple times (especially at five in the morning).

  15. Do the very things you’re afraid of. Do them over and over again, even if you’re shaking. Fear is a lie, let yourself learn that it has no power.

  16. Friendship and relationships are 10% compatibility and 90% intentionality.

  17. Say “yes” to awkward situations. Push yourself. Realize that people are worth wading through silence for, it’s not the worst thing.

  18. It’s your story–stop asking other people to write it. Counsel is good, learn from other people, but make decisions and own them. Don’t even allow yourself the temptation of later blaming others.

  19. All blue jeans are not created equal. Figure out what kind looks good on you and buy 79 pairs of them.

  20. Tell people you love them. When you leave the restaurant, when you hang up the phone, when you go to sleep, when you hug them, when they yell at you, when you don’t want to hear another word from them, when you’re scared, when you wake up. Tell people you love them. It’s the thing we need to hear most and often hear the least.

  21. Buy the plane ticket. If you have the money, buy it and go. Even if you think you should save up for “a rainy day”. The possibility of a rainy day will always be there, but the opportunity to see the world may not.

  22. Don’t pack more than you can carry–in life and in traveling. If you can’t pick it up and run, don’t put it in there. Don’t pack for comfort and security, pack the necessities.

  23. Cheap toilet paper is absolutely useless and torturous. Just pay the extra $2.00

  24. Celebrate your birthday. God spoke you into existence and the day you were born was a day that the world got to physically see God’s Word and His promise come to pass. The world needs to be reminded that His promises are true. And God deserves our gratitude for this glorious life we get to live.

“Twenty-one and strong as I can be–I know what freedom means to me.”

In one week I will turn twenty-two. I don’t really know how to feel about that.

Sometimes I wish I could write a letter to myself last year at this time. I wish I could tell newly twenty-one year old Ashlin what to expect in the year ahead. If I could buy her a latte, I would have a lot of words to wrap up for her. I would load her up with suitcases of advice for the journey of being twenty-one.

First of all– I would tell her that it will be a mistake to buy a million lotions on Black Friday. No one needs that much lotion and you don’t have enough friends to share it with. Just put the bag full of them back. Seriously, step away from the warm vanilla sugar; there’s not going to be a shortage any time soon.

Then I would tell her to be prepared to use her weep towel for the first six months of being twenty-one. Babygirl, you are going to cry all the time. Invest in some big sunglasses and a good under-eye concealer, because you are going to fill buckets with your waterworks. Then I would mention that she can throw it away after that, because the crying is over–the fat lady sings and the pity parties finally end.

I would tell her that she’s going to lose some people and things this year. There’s going to be a lot of loss, a lot of questions, a lot of darkness. I would hug her for a minute and tell her to hold tight to the still small voice. I would tell her to take more road trips, get lost in the trees and to really enjoy when the shades of orange bleed into the horizon. I would tell her that these are the things that will keep her sane in the middle of absolute uncertainty and unimaginable loss.

Then, I would tell her that she’s going to laugh more in the year of being twenty-one than all the others combined. There will be incomparable joy that will leak from unexpected places and will heal some of that pain. It’s still going to hurt, but that laughter is a medicine that Walgreens doesn’t have in stock.

I would tell her not to be afraid of anger. It’s not going to destroy you. It matters what you do with it, but it’s not wrong to have it. Be angry. Slam your fists when you’re alone and let out a yell that rattles your bones. Let it out. You’ve got reasons to be angry and God doesn’t fault you for it, in fact, sometimes He gets angry with you.

I would tell her that staying out until 3 AM on summer nights and weekends is brilliant and worth it—because staying up late with friends and laughing until your stomach hurts, sitting in diners, crying about heartache, talking about Jesus… those are things worth staying up for.

I would grab her by the face with my palms and say, You’re gonna run away sometimes and it’s perfectly alright. Do not let it gut you. You don’t have to be perfect! She really needs to hear this one, because she spent the prior twenty-years trying to be superhuman and do everything right. It’s time she learn that she’s beautifully and hilariously flawed.

Oh, then I would probably smack her and tell her to stop looking at people in the car next to her when at a stoplight. Because you know what happens when you do, and screaming “EW!” and driving off is not very Jesus-like. Even if they are creepy, that’s still not nice. Then, I would just throw out there that she needs to stop tempting her gas light. It does eventually run out–and when it does, it’s in the middle of five o’clock rush-hour traffic on the busiest road around. JUST GO GET GAS!

I would tell her that even though it’s going to be a hard year (a really hard one), that she’s going to write some of the best things she’s ever written. I would probably start to cry at this point; when I tell her that her inbox will be flooded with people who tell her that her words are changing their lives. I would tell her that it’s proof that God doesn’t waste the pain.

I would tell her that she’s going to taste fear in a way she never imagined. But I would promise her that it gets better. You won’t wake up in a cold sweat every single morning—nightmares will come and go, but you’ll push through and you’ll find a way to feel okay again. I’d comfort her by saying that there are explanations and reasons for why it’s happening—I’d tell her she’s not crazy, she hasn’t failed God, and it isn’t at all what she thinks it is.

Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I wouldn’t tell her any of this—because maybe I can somehow see how I needed to learn this. I needed to navigate the unknown territory without a map; because it would make me grow and it would push me to do bigger and better than I ever thought I could. Maybe I wouldn’t tell her because I wouldn’t want her to have done anything differently or changed any of those decisions. Maybe I can be grateful that twenty-one was beautiful in its own way, that it marched to its own beat.

Twenty-one was all about questions, wandering, and words. But it was also about joy and freedom. It was about making impulsive and irrational choices–only to learn, those don’t always turn out to be mistakes.

Twenty-one was messy and chaotic, but it was a jam. It was a mixed melody and I learned to dance.

Welcome, twenty-two! Here’s to a year of turning up the volume and changing the beat. I’m ready to dance to whatever tune you’re destined to play.