I Will Remember This Christmas

The snow crunched beneath our boots, my nephew was born, I decorated my tree, found the perfect gold ribbon for wrapping gifts, went to parties. I’ve done everything the holiday season calls for.

I know I’ll remember this Christmas. This one. 

Sometimes we don’t get to prepare for the pain we know is coming, sometimes we do. 

But pain always comes and it makes me wonder why I don’t often stop and look at my life when it’s good and say, “Just stay here a little longer.”

My life this year doesn’t look like a lot of the people around me. The magic of Christmas has somewhat waned. I’m old enough to know the tragedy of materialism, the pain of singleness at the holidays, the drudgery of exams, the unfortunate weight of grief. I watch my parents grow older, grow softer, grow closer. I hold tight and pray to remember these moments. I rock my newest nephew and memorize his little face. I teach the oldest to say new words and hum Christmas tunes. I try to remember to take more pictures, file away more memories. 

I am blessed. I have more than some, but somehow I am grieved because I feel that I have less than others. Christmas—all is said to be calm, why doesn’t all feel bright? They tell me to let my heart be light and yet, there is heaviness. But there is also thankfulness. Every night I hear familiar, nostalgic songs and watch classic movies and I remember that God came and still comes. Christmas brings with it the tension and the pressure to hold on to what is good because it all just goes so fast and I don’t stop enough to notice sometimes.

I want to be grateful, I will be thankful, but I do not want to be fake. Because the truth is that I will remember this Christmas, for good reasons, for hard reasons. For reasons that I will look back and laugh on. For memories of going to the airport and laughing in the grocery store. For riding in the car by myself and singing loudly. For these days without so much responsibility, for the in-between, for knowing it will not always be this way. For knowing it is good, even though it is so hard. For knowing some years will be harder. We do not know which years will be good, which years will be harder—so when you can stop and see the good, that’s worth the time you can give it.

The tension of Christmas, of looking around and knowing we are so blessed, but of knowing that sometimes that blessing highlights all the ways we were blessed differently years before and might be blessed differently in years to come. That blessing sometimes hurts. 

I’ll remember this Christmas. This one. The one in the in-between. The tension of life looking nothing like it once did, or how I wanted or hoped it would. But it is now one that is blessed, beautiful, full of tension and even grief. Sometimes it’s calm and bright, sometimes it’s crying, questions, waiting, tension, and misunderstanding. But there’s a lot of good and I’m learning to slow down to try and see it more. I am trying to see just how good it is right here and right now. This year we will gather around and raise toasts to years gone by, to those empty chairs, to ones that might be emptier sooner than we hope. I’ll remember this Christmas. This one. The one with goodness, grief, babies being born on snowy mornings. We are blessed, will be blessed, but maybe next year we will be blessed differently. But I’ll remember this Christmas. This one. And how I’m praying we can stop to sit long enough to see the goodness and remember His coming and the coming yet to be.

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eat the cake and be thankful

My sister got married.

Which most days still seems like a sentence of fiction. It feels like this story that I’ve crafted in my mind about a day filled with coffee, flowers, shades of green, and warm hugs from the people who know me best.

The rhythm of the entire thing was joy and nostalgia, it was just the stuff Gary Marshall movies are made of.

Every time I think about that day, I stop breathing for just a second. It was the day I went from having my life and its people memorized, to seeing change come right before my eyes.

I don’t think I blinked the entire weekend of that wedding.

I kept telling myself to be present, put down the phone, take note of the perfect weather, laugh with my relatives, squeeze my out-of-town friends.

Because the story was happening. And I’ve always been one who doesn’t fully appreciate the story while I’m in it. But something about the wedding of the most important person in the world to you will shake you. It will make you stop dead in your tracks and think: don’t miss this moment.

Here’s what I learned: Eat the cake. Reach for the hug. Make eye contact. Make a toast full of words that you’ve held in too long. Pray. Sit up the night before, wrapped in a blanket, telling God that this was everything and nothing that you expected to feel.

Be prepared to literally feel the page of your life turn when you change out of that bridesmaid’s dress into your jeans and flannel.

But know that it shouldn’t just be weddings or noteworthy events that shake us. It should be the simple moments of our lives, the coffee dates with old friends, sitting alone on the porch, waiting in line for your morning bagel. Life, abundant life, is supposed to be this enthralling and enchanting thing that stirs you every single day. Days should not pass by in bundles without us having said, “Thank you God that I’m here and I’m alive. Thank you that I have a heart that fought to stay vulnerable, and still can’t make it through a wedding without crying. Thank you for this heart that begs to know more about love, forgiveness, and how to do things that matter.”

The days since the wedding have been filled with exams, my ceiling (literally) caving in, getting sick, trying to figure out a laundry schedule, battling a large insect in my bathroom at 2 am. Life hasn’t slowed, it hasn’t allowed me much time to really stop and be thankful for the goodness that comes in-between and in the middle of the mess.

So, maybe the point of this blog is to say, stop and enjoy the moment and realize that you have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also to say that you’re meant to live fully and abundantly. You’re supposed to be captivated and romanced by the reality that you have breath and a heart. Use them. Use them to appreciate your life and to live it abundantly.

Life is messy and hard. Sometimes you find yourself curled up on the couch crying from pain, right in the middle of one of the happiest times in your life. Sometimes you find that you still feel a coat of grief hanging from your shoulders, and it’s always reminding you of what could have been.

But stop in the middle of the mess, the grief, the questions, the celebrations, the busy schedule. Stop when you’re falling into bed, and can barely keep your eyes open.  Stop and say thank you. Stop and think about how good it feels to just be here. Stop. Eat the cake, say the things you need to say, and remind your heart not to miss being thankful for the biggest and even the smallest of life’s moments.

Lovely Letters: This Burden Will Be a Blessing

They’re back! Here’s the newest Lovely Letter!

I broke up with my fiance. We’ve been together for almost 5 years and were planning to get married this coming December. I feel so empty, I’ve just tried to keep myself busy.

 

-L

Dear L,

Sometimes, choosing the hard thing can result in our biggest blessings, but before that it often feels like our heaviest burden.

You want to feel loved. You want to be respected. You want someone who fights as much for your heart as you fight for his. I think, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all really hoping for.

Your heart wanted something different and it took letting go of something you thought you could learn to be content with, in order to open your hands for what’s better.

You made a decision and it was a hard one. You decided that even though you invested so much time, energy, laughter, memories, and heart with one person, that you wanted something different than what you were holding. That’s brave, but it’s painful and heart-wrenching. It’s going to take time for that one to heal, L. You cut out a big piece of your world and the sting can stay around for quite some time.

I know you feel empty, that you’re trying to fill that with work and hobbies. My best advice, the thing I can tell you will help the most, is to fill up your time with people.

Choose to let others see your heart during this time. Yes, I realize it’s bruised and broken. You may cry, or scream, or feel completely depressed, but whatever you do, don’t let yourself believe that you are alone.

We’ve all been there, in some way or another. Your situation is different than any I’ve had, but I know the pain of walking away from something that became a part of who you are and the future you saw for yourself. I know the weight of that stone that sits on your chest when you wake up and realize that this isn’t where you thought you’d end up.

But it’s a blessing, L. Right now, it feels like you’re being torn beyond repair, but I promise that it’s better to feel this pain now than to wake up in ten years and wish you had walked away.

You already know what your life would have been if you would have married him. You spent five years learning what your world wrapped around him would turn out to be. You realized it wasn’t the world you wanted, don’t waste another second wondering if you should regret desiring something different for your life.

You know what I think? Sometimes, we willingly choose the hard things because we can’t stand the idea of things staying the way they are. And you know what? Sometimes, doing those things that scare you, that seem to leave you empty handed, lead to the best surprises.

So, you have no idea what your life is going to look like without him. I get that, L. I know that you’re not only walking through the sadness of losing something you loved, but you’re now stuck in the worry of wondering if the future before you is really going to be better than what you had.

So, are you willing to walk away from a life you thought you wanted, in order to see something amazing happen? 

You said yes to that question; now things can change and I think they will.

You knew in your heart that it wasn’t right, and you chose to follow that despite how much it hurts. That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me.

This is your life, L. This is your shot and it’s your choice who walks next to you along this crazy journey you’re living. You chose to unlace your fingers with someone who wasn’t right for you. I’m proud of you, for all the times you forgave him, for all the times you apologized, for all the times you were willing to try and work it out. But mostly, I’m just proud of you for realizing that it’s not your responsibility to change someone, and that as much as you wanted to make things work, the only choices you can make are for yourself.

Just breathe, sweet friend. Know that you are not alone, surround yourself with people who will soothe your heart during this seemingly unbearable time. Be grateful that you had the strength to take a stand and that you realized the choice is yours. What now seems like a burden, you will one day see as the biggest blessing. Take a breath of relief that you were finally able to let go of what you were gripping so tightly, and that you now know it was never really yours to hold.

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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