We’re all fighting battles.

I take pictures of people. Engagements, weddings, families, birthday parties…you name it and I’ll photograph it.

And whenever I sit down to edit them, the tears always come. I find myself a complete mess, grabbing tissues and trying to click my way through my usual process. It’s quite a sight to behold.

I cry because there’s a story. Sometimes I know little pieces of it, but I weep because I will never know the price they have paid to get to this point. I cannot ever understand what it took for them to get to these moments, to hold these dreams. It’s clearly beautiful, but heartbreakingly mysterious.

Dinner parties, books, letters in the mail, phone calls, coffee on a Tuesday: I hear stories in these ways, and I feel deeply about them. But I will never fully understand the load they’ve carried, what it took to carry it the way they did, how many nights they stayed awake asking God to change things.

No one can understand that for someone else and as much as I’d like them to, no one can understand those things about me.

It’s okay to cry. It’s perfectly acceptable to lay silently in the floor and refuse to move until you can breathe a little easier. It’s alright to write until your hand cramps and your head aches. It’s okay to remember the depth of your story, of how you got here.

But it’s not an excuse. It isn’t a permission slip to throw a pity party, to isolate yourself, to pat yourself on the back and say, “I don’t need anybody else.”

Your stories are a badge. They are what you can clench with your fingers when someone ignorantly says something to break your heart. When they poke at the raw places and unintentionally say, it was not enough and you don’t deserve whatever you’re waiting for or what you’ve finally found.

You can grab that medal hanging on your chest and know that they simply don’t know the blood, sweat and tears you’ve tasted. Even if they try, they cannot see every card you were dealt. That’s not license to attack them back, but rather one for freedom to let those words fall beneath your feet. 

There will be days when others will see you on a platform of victory and they’ll want your story. They will ask how you got there, for a road map on how they can come to the same place. You’ll try to tell them, only to realize they’re really just looking for a shortcut.

Don’t be angry. Remember that we all beg for them when we’re in the middle of a tough fight or when we’re trying to avoid one entirely. Remember to be grateful that you haven’t always been given the easy way out. Let it infuse your victory with an even sweeter taste. Know that you cherish it as much as you do because you fought for it. Pray for extra grace, loads of patience, handfuls of strength for that person to endure their own battles. Love them through their own wars because in some ways theirs may turn out to be tougher than yours.

We’re all fighting battles and we’ve been fighting them ever since we exhaled our first breath. I can’t know another persons and they can’t ever fully know mine. That’s painful, beautiful, mysterious and that’s what makes each of us our own kind of brave. I don’t have to tell you that you’re brave because you’re still moving, you’re still pushing through and that speaks louder than I can.

Carry your load well. Because you know it’s been said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it“.

Carry it so that other people’s words aren’t thrown on the pile. It gets heavier, it gets impossible to bear when you put offenses, discouragement, anger on top of the things you’re already fighting for. Carry it so that those things can just roll right off. Carry it not as your proof for pride, but rather a badge of honor.

You’re here and you’re doing this thing called life. Bloody knuckles and you’re still pushing and still throwing punches and you’re not alone in that. I can’t know, I can’t fully understand where you are right now, but I’m here fighting in my own ways. Words, people, pain…can’t take your victory. They can’t take who you’ve become, the character you’ve built, the strength your hands now have. From where I’m standing, these battles are making you into something fierce.

No one has to fully understand that except for you. You’re enough and it’s time you believe that for yourself. Stop letting things discredit your own struggles. And carry your own stories in a way that gives you compassion for other people in a battle of their own. It’s time you let it be what makes you both unique and strong in your own way, but that it’s also what makes you just like everyone else.  It’s time we all have a mutual understanding that you can never fully know another’s pain, but you can sit next to one another in a kind of love that doesn’t isolate, but has a mysterious knowing that being a fighter is what makes you one-of-a-kind, but not alone.

Cheat Sheets: 24 Ways To Be Happier

1. Learn to be confident. Not cocky, not in a I-think-everything-I-do-is-epic-and-incredible way. Be a humble sort of confident–the kind you can wear comfortably like an old worn out sweater, the kind that fits you just right.

2. Stop spending time with people who throw water on your fire. Stop pouring your dreams out to people who tell you they’re impossible and try to make you shove them out of sight. Walk next to people who are carrying their own torch and pushing you to keep running with yours.

3. Wear comfortable and reliable shoes. Really though, I know Target has super cute and affordable ones, but you need to invest more than $14 in something that you’ll be wearing to all the places you’re headed. Take it from me, it is really inconvenient to try and super glue the soles of your shoes back together in a foreign country.

4. Live with other people while you’re single. Laugh at each other when you’re standing in the kitchen with messy hair, make a quote wall of all the dumb/hilarious things your roommates say. Make each other dinner, fight about the dishes, share your bananas, know that this is sure to be one of the best seasons of your life.

5. Know that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Your feelings matter, but you’re not the only person who needs to be seen or heard. Sometimes, the person that just hurt you needs to be told that good things are ahead of them and to keep holding on.

6. Men and women, you need to know this: buy t-shirts, flannels and sweatshirts in the men’s section. They’re cheaper, they’re thicker, they’re longer and they don’t go all awkwardly short & wide after you put them in the wash.

7. Take people to coffee. Spend two or three hours hearing their stories. Ask questions. Don’t text other people, check your social media, or Instagram your mug. Listen. Curl up in that chair and memorize the lines and freckles on their face. Hear the way the words of their own stories tumble out of their mouth and be grateful for the gift it is to give a person the chance to be known.

8. Buy slippers for the colder months. It will save you the horrible task of trying to actually find socks and then having to wash socks and inevitably losing one of them into the sock-stealing-abyss that is the dryer.

9. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop wishing your hair was longer, your waist was thinner, your nose was smaller. You’re a straight up baller—don’t forget it!

10. Stop counting calories and make better choices. Get fruit instead of fries, buy wheat instead of white, drink 2% instead of whole. Little changes can have impressive results.

11. Cry. Cry when you need to. Don’t be ashamed of it or apologize for it, but set a timer. Cry it out, but when you’re done—be done.  Don’t keep playing sad songs or coming back to it. Stop giving that pain more attention than it deserves.

12. Be brave. That thing you want to do? Just do it. Even if it fails, you’ll learn from it. Risk isn’t a waste, but years spent wondering “what if” probably will be.

13. Fight for things. There’s a strength in walking away when the time is right, but until then—put them gloves on and put ’em up. Don’t so easily give up on something that has grabbed hold of your heart. Give it all you’ve got and if it doesn’t work out, leave it all in the ring with no regrets.

14. Dance. Sing at the top of your lungs. If you can mop an entire floor without busting a move and singing into the mop like it’s a microphone…you need more fun in your life.

15. Learn how to give a good wink, it makes people feel good. Yes, that will probably make you look crazy, but it usually makes at least 60% of people giggle. People need to giggle as much as possible.

16. Everything makes more sense when you write it out. Get a journal and write it out. Ask yourself hard questions and come back to them when you’ve had time to clear your head. Months later, go back and read how you’ve grown or how most of those really stressful situations always seem to work out.

17. Be the bigger person. If they don’t apologize or if they refuse to speak to you–love them anyway and move on. You’ve got big things to do and you don’t have time to get caught up in pointless and never-ending drama.

18. There are no shortcuts when it comes to your dream. Put in the blood, sweat and tears. Pour your heart into something only to throw it in the trash and start all over again. There is no substitute for time, it takes time to craft a skill, to build something beautiful. No matter how many books you read, there’s no Dummies Guide that’s going to instantly make you and your work unforgettable.

19. First impressions are rarely right. They might stick for a little while, but if you take time to get to know someone it’s likely they’re nothing like you assumed and their story is far different than you expected. Know this to be true about yourself too—you’re not doomed if you accidentally make a fool of yourself.

20. Learn how to brew a good pot of coffee. Invite people over. Stop spending $5 one or multiple times a day for a drink. If you’re just obsessed about looking cool—save the paper cup and put your own coffee in it, it’s not like anybody is going to know the difference.

21. Don’t be that girl who thinks a man holding the door for you means he wants to marry you. If a guy likes you, he will let you know. Don’t try to make your life a Taylor Swift song (even if she is the queen of jams).

22. Shaking hands is becoming a lost art–let’s bring it back. Have a firm grip and enough self respect to straighten your shoulders and look someone in the eye. It’s classy, attractive and will never go out of style.

23. Learn from others. People who are further along and/or who have lived longer. Learn from their wisdom, ask them questions, ask for help. Learn from their mistakes and avoid optional obstacles.

24. Be open. To laughter, to love, to spontaneous road trips and trying new things. Do things that will give you stories for years to come and tell those stories every chance you get.

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

Mondays & The Truth About You

Monday ain’t got nothing on you. She can’t dull something that shines as brightly as you.

You are gold.

That’s what all these struggles are, they’re just MondaysThey seem daunting, they threaten to take you down before you even get going. But these hard things are really just a chance to start fresh, to be better than you ever thought you could be.

You’ve got to stop selling yourself short. People need you, they need your laugh and to see you dancing in the kitchen. They need you to be yourself. I promise you that it will change things.

It will change your mailman, the girl behind the counter at the grocery store, the person across the table. I promise you, just simply being yourself will cause cracks in the concrete, because those feet of yours are heavy with purpose and with passion. Be that person. This is your invitation and your permission slip to be you and to stop apologizing for it.

And you know what? My Mama always told me to pick the very best… and you’re it. You’re the best for this, this thing called love. The thing that changes everything, it’s the thing that makes you fight for people with your knees in the carpet. It’s the thing that keeps you awake and writing down truth for people who only know a life of slow dancing with lies.

Keep sticking around, people will notice. Keep your head up, things will change.

You are gold, exactly as you are. I’m not talking about the you that you will be after a year at the gym. Not the cleaned up, pressed shirt, best foot forward version. I’m staring straight at the the imperfect, giggling, mess of hair, human that is you. You’re enough and you need to pump the brakes if you’re on a road that’s taking you to a place that would cause you to believe otherwise.

It’s time that you forgive yourself for all the times you’ve been your own greatest disappointment. You’re loved right where you are, but too much for me to let you stay there. So, come home and kick your feet up and hear me when I say that there ain’t nothing gonna make me love you less, but you’re made for more than where you’ve been sitting.

You’re it, you’re the best one and I’m picking you. I’m calling you out, calling you to this ring because you’re a fighter. So, put ’em up, because there are hands waiting and dinner tables set with an extra spot;  it’s time you find those places you belong. So fight for that, fight to sit in spots that will pull that golden light right out of you.

So these things holding you back, they’re just silly little Mondays. They attempt to haunt you, hang over your head, and always seem to come back around. But they’re really just chances for you to wake up, get in the ring and come out gripping the gold.

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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I’d Rather Be Brave

It seems like we’re always waiting for something.

Waiting for an answer, for a direction, for an open door. Waiting for the right person, the right opportunity, the right words.

I think I’m just tired of waiting, of wondering. I’m tired of thinking that one day we’re all just going to wake up and have it figured out. As if we will suddenly know who we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to do, and that we will possess the bravery to do it.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but if it’s a sign you’re in need of, consider this yours.

You’re never going to be ready. You’re never going to have the perfect answers and the color-coded map that guarantees you won’t get lost. But not making a decision is making one. I’ve learned that this year if I’ve learned nothing else. If you refuse to choose, to change, to try, to explore, you’ve made the decision to keep things exactly as they are.

Don’t let fear make your choice.

Don’t let it decide to keep you comfortably inside the lines. You’re not made for a life consisting of waiting rooms and Netflix.

Make a choice. Do whatever it is that you’re trying so carefully to weigh and plan. Let go of the questions about what if, how, and what if I look like a fool?

Well, if you end up looking insane, then you can just e-mail me and join my little club. It’s called the I-do-at-least-fifteen-things-a-week-that-make-me-shake-my-own-head-and-cringe-and-laugh-at-myself club. It’s a mouthful, but we’ve got each others backs, we go on unexpected adventures, scream loudly in the car and eat a lot of peanut butter.

Do something risky and if you fall on your face, come sit here with me and just know that you are not alone or stupid for trying. 

In fact, I’m thinking of changing our name to i’m-ridiculous-but-at-least-stuff-happens club (we accept checks, so that’s a little shorter for the pity donations that might start rolling in).

The reality is, you don’t want to spend a lifetime waiting, toiling, and wringing your hands, trying to make a decision. Decide to do the unexpected, the difficult, the crazy, the thing that will make for a good story at Thanksgiving. Be someone who has something worth saying, stories worth telling, a life that leads to having books written and songs strummed.

Just do whatever it is that seems so incredibly scary, irrational or uncertain right now. Just do it unapologetically and decide that whatever the outcome, you’re just going to laugh. That whether it’s good or awful, whether it’s what makes you famous or infamous, just decide that you’re going to take yourself out to lunch and laugh hysterically at how brave and hopeful you were. (Trust me, it’s a lot more fun and a lot less tragically pathetic than it sounds.)

We need a world full of people who celebrate hope, possibility, bravery, courage, guts. People who finally said, “I’m not made for always taking a number, standing in line, waiting for the perfect moment”.

This is your permission slip. Chin up, it’s time that you take that trip, or make that dinner reservation, or leave that voicemail with your shaky apology.

The reality is, you’re not just going to wake up with a rush of bravery. You can’t cash in all your saved cool points to ensure that everything will work out just right.

It’s going to take deciding that whatever the worst outcome, it’s not enough to break you. You’ll survive, you’ll grow. Maybe one day you’ll be courageous enough to let it be a permission slip for others to take some chances.

When people are around me, I want them to feel like they’ve been given an all-access pass to becoming fully alive and fully present. I want them to feel the permission to embrace all that the room they’re in has to offer.

So, whatever it is that’s got you so wrapped up right now, whatever decision, situation, person, opportunity, just know that it’s okay to throw your heart out there. It will be alright if you risk looking like you’ve completely lost your mind.

If it happens, I’ll be here with you. I’ll be here in this little cafe, writing stories and bleeding hope and laughing about all the times I’ve learned the benefits of choosing to be brave.

After all, people who aren’t afraid to take some chances are the reasons why we’re all still here.

I’d rather be brave than spend my days waiting for the perfect moment, waiting between white walls and hoping someone will finally call my number.

You might stumble, or get stared at, or still end up watching Netflix on Friday by yourself. But if you’re ready to take some chances, just know you won’t be alone. There’s a little club here on the other side of this screen that’s cheering you on and loves hearing your stories.

Lovely Letters: You and Your Baggage

I don’t want to live in the haunting memories. I can’t figure out if I will ever move on.  Why do we carry around this baggage?

-M

 

M,

Yesterday consisted of sifting and sorting through my inbox. Letters from others like you, filled with words of joy, pain, confusion, excitement, thankfulness, uncertainty.

While replying to some of them, I moved from the couch, to an adirondack chair, to a comfy leather chair, to a bean bag, to a lawn chair.  I kept trying all day to fill blank boxes with words. I kept hoping I could say something to load others up with something that will pour hope back into their bones. But no matter how many times I changed location or position, I couldn’t get comfortable with all the words on my screen. They were just plain heavy.

That being said, there’s one thing I learned while letting my eyes pour over all the things tossed into my mailbox.

We’ve all got some baggage.

I mean, really, we’re all lugging around clunky and bulky suitcases. Some are filled with words, some are filled with dark memories, some filled with disappointed hopes. Here we are, broken and at the core, all the same.

But just a few days ago, crying on the murky green carpet of my little house in Georgia, I learned something about traveling lighter.

When we carry around the pain, the hurt, the stings of the past as our baggage, we give ourselves all the reasons not to try again. We create walls to make us safe. But the reality is, after lugging those bags around for a while, you start realize that hurt is a lot easier to heal from than those bags are to carry.

We carry our bags to remind ourselves that people will break your heart. We keep them close and whenever we think we’re in the slightest bit of danger, we start stacking them like a fort around us. Not again, I’m never going there again. This is often the anthem of humanity.

We had some visitors in our home this week and one of them didn’t bring any clothes (seriously, this person packed almost nothing). The other two brought so little that they could easily fit it all in their arms.

It’s easier to travel without all that weight.” 

That was their motto, their anthem, their reason for walking around in the same clothes and worn out shoes. It was easier to travel that way, and that was all the reason they needed to leave their bags behind.

Because they’d rather live lightly than carry around the heavy weight of what makes them feel safe or comfortable.

They may appear poor to the rest of the world, they may appear unprepared and unwise. The reality is, they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever known. They have a posture, a strength, a fierce confidence that I’ve never seen before now. They live lightly and loudly. They climb trees, run mountains, jump cliffs and get covered in mud and dirt over and over again. They do it all, knowing they have no change of clothes, that they may have to sleep covered in today’s dust. But they’re living, and it’s a lot easier to do and a lot more fun when you’re not trying to figure where to keep all your bags.

Rip the tag off, M. Take one last look at that frumpy set of luggage that you’ve grown to know so well.  Leave them all where they are and choose to pack light. Choose to let go of whatever it is that’s weighing your heart down, whatever suitcases are packed with things that keep you from laughing loudly and playing in the mud.

Let this be the spark that starts the kind of fire it takes to be brave, to do something that absolutely terrifies you. To live in a way that makes you laugh in the mud instead of living in fear of it.

We’ve all got it, M. We are all carrying stuff around, but I’m trying to figure out how to throw things off along the way. Sometimes, I just have to muster just enough strength to drop what it will take to climb that staircase, or to get in my car, to say something scary or to do something that makes people think I’ve lost my mind.

Today, that’s enough. Tomorrow, I’ll have to throw off a little more.

There’s a reason that airlines charge extra for the more bags you bring. Oh, and the heavier they are, the higher the cost. Isn’t that just how pulling them around yourself seems to feel? Trust me, M, you don’t want to exchange your future or your joy for the currency it takes to pay the charge for lugging around the past.

It’s all a choice, M. You get to choose what you carry. I hope you’ll leave your bags behind. If you do, I think you’ll find that you’ve got what it takes to make it, even if you go with nothing more than the clothes on your back.

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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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What About Thursdays?

Saturday mornings are for cold pizza

Most Tuesdays are for dancing in the living room like a bull in a china shop. Four to Six are the hours best for reading books and drinking apple cider.

Oh, and Wednesdays are for shoving discouragement on the playground, for giving hopelessness a bloody nose.

I wish we would all realize these bullies were also the weights around the feet of the sailors who kept on going when everybody said, “The world is flat, you can’t, you can’t!”

“Oh, someday I hope that you get tired of waking up to thieves and liars”

I hope you stop listening to the voices that scream why you can’t, won’t and never could. I hope you laugh in the face of impossibility. I hope that doubt gets trapped and forced to watch your eyes sparkle as you start to realize just how much you can and you will.

I hope you make fear tremble and insecurity break out in a cold sweat.

Let’s watch cowardice wave its last goodbye. I want us to chase away timidity ’til he reaches the point of no return. May we unnerve reservation and isolation all the way to their core. 

I want to be fearless and brave. In my bones, I am made reckless and daring. Oh, I’m learning how to be downright disheartening to the enemies who have tried to keep me down.

When they turn to see us fall, I want us to be standing with heads held high and hearts intact. We’ve got the makings of a warrior and the limbs of a champion; let’s challenge rejection, manipulation and apathy. Let’s riot in the streets against hatred, abuse and criticism.

Inferiority doesn’t stand a chance when we walk in the room. Indifference is moved when we speak.

The world is full of books about people who threw off those shadows and came out of the darkness. History favors the brave, celebration and change follow the gutsy and the lionhearted.

Pity parties are for the faint of heart and procrastination is for the counterfeit. You have something to give that no one else can and you can, you can, you can.

You know all those things you want to do? You should do them; and you should laugh, dance and unabashedly revel in joy and hope as you do them.

Be outrageous and improper and grab every day by the face and sing it a song, call it sweetheart and take it to dinner. Be romanced by this abundant life that you’ve been given. Buy yourself a cup of coffee, read a good book, fly to the other side of the world, give someone a hug, decide to change the world.

Because we can, you can, I can.

It starts with deciding that passivity and halfheartedness are not welcome where we are. Detachment and comfort are not the cool kids and passion, bravery and backbone are the stuff of champs.

So, what about Thursdays?

Thursdays are for remembering that the world isn’t flat, that men can walk on the moon, and for making sure that impossibility runs home crying to its Momma.

Those Dreams

I’m not sure exactly when you decided to get a new dream.

Remember the old one? You carried it around in your back pocket for so long. Sometimes it felt like it weighed you down, but you knew in the end it would set you free. Sometimes after a high school football game, you’d go home and climb it to bed and pull that dream out. You would clench it in your fist while you waited for someday.

There wasn’t a thing wrong with that dream. In fact, I think that was your destiny.

The thing you wanted most, that you traded for what you want now? Yeah, THAT dream. Oh, that dream was gonna take you places.

You were well on your way to changing the world.

Remember all the endless conversations it created for you? Oh, how you used to fill up on ice cream, gum drops and peanut butter cups and describe all the intricate details of it all. It seemed so big. Your tiny hands could barely hold that tablespoon; how were they going to hold something as big as a dream like yours? But I knew we could do it. 

But then you grew up. We all grew up. And everybody got a new dream. We all got the white picket fence, 2.5 kid, wrap-around porch dream. So, you decided to box up the other one and put it in the attic. You couldn’t let either of them go, but your hands couldn’t hold them both at the same time. 

Because there are some dreams that just don’t have room for companions.

You really can’t have it all; at least, not right now. Let me tell you, Honey, you need to do some things before you grow a garden, buy an umbrella holder, put up a mailbox. You need to live a little. Maybe a lot. You got too discontent with waiting. God hasn’t brought the love of your life yet, so you’ve been going out to find them on your own. I wish you’d just be okay with the idea that your time hasn’t come.

There’s going to be plenty of time for wedding registries, tire swings and flower deliveries. But it seems YOU have other things to do first.

You need to follow the clouds. You need to get familiar with sprinting through the airport, spending your heart on adventure, sleeping in the desert. Get used to being broke of money and having a wealth of laughter. Be ready for coffee to fuel those late nights of painting the world. Know that when Celine Dion comes on the radio, you’ve got to blast that junk like it’s 1997. And that Ego waffles are still an acceptable dinner.

I just don’t think it’s time that we give up on those back pocket dreams. Not just yet. I think they’ve got a little life left in them. I think they can still take us places.

But I’m going to need you to trust me on this one. I’m going to need you to cut loose of the big white house, the Pinterest wedding, Scrabble in the family room. Because all of that is going to come. And some people have that life now; some people are living that dream and oh, how it is glorious. But the time for that in our lives, isn’t here yet. Before it gets here, before you begin a life that you will love, but that will bring new dreams; don’t lose hope or forget about those back pocket dreams. Oh, those dreams that followed you around in your trapper keeper and your bright green lunch box.

It’s not time to let them go… not yet.

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