You Won’t Outrun the Pain

The most frustrating part about my life lately is that God took running away from me.

He took the one thing that I was clinging to.

Which He should have, because I was clinging to something other than Him.

Because I swear, there were days at the gym that I’d be gritting my teeth and muffling a scream at the pain in my back and leg, but still pushing through. Just one more mile. One more. I was tough enough, I could do it.

When I finished I always felt invincible (which is just foolish to feel while limping all the way to my car). But I somehow convinced myself that I had shown the pain that it didn’t win.

That’s likely what landed me in the state I’m in.

Pain is there to warn us, to tell us when something is not as it should be.

Pain is not something to beat. It’s something to listen to. 

Tearing down the street sign doesn’t change where you are, and fighting the pain doesn’t heal you.

You won’t outrun the pain.

People are going to make it worse. They’re going to tell you fifty-million solutions for how to fix it and cure it. They are going to ask you a million questions. They’re going to tell you about their twice-removed-aunt’s-sister’s-cousin and how she miraculously recovered. And they will have the best of intentions.

But they are not you and this isn’t their pain to carry.

God didn’t cause your pain, but He allowed it. But He allowed it to be your pain, not theirs.

So while you can listen to wise advice and consider people’s opinions, you’ve got to make decisions for yourself and you’ve got to own those decisions. Then, you have to accept where God has you.

You don’t need to believe that He’s going to keep you or leave you there. But you have to accept that for whatever reason, He has you there now.

That isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t the defeat of your faith. Admitting reality isn’t lack of faith.

Faith is not denying your pain. Faith is not fighting your pain.

Faith is admitting your pain. Faith is remembering that you are not God and you cannot defeat pain. 

Faith points to the one person who did defeat pain, but did not deny its existence. If we deny pain’s existence, we deny His victory.

Pain is real, but it is temporary.

And the more miles you try to run through the pain, the longer you’re going to be sidelined when you finally break.

He took the thing I was clinging to. I’m frustrated, but I’m thankful. Because believe me when I tell you, the miles you run won’t be there for you when it all comes crumbling down.

In the end, I think I’d always rather be sidelined than clinging to anything but Him.

Plastic Plates and Celebration

I turned my head at just the right moment.

The couple next to me, maybe in their mid-sixties picked up their styrofoam cups and toasted to one another.

She called him darling and he helped her clean her plate.

A casual Thursday lunch. They were simply celebrating life and enjoying each other, as if it were the most normal way to spend your day.

My eyes stung with tears as I continued to wipe down the table next to them. I didn’t have the nerve to tell them that it was a rare kind of thing to see people who carried such a simple appreciation for the person next to them. Few people could throw an elegant celebration amongst old tile floors and dark wood paneling.

I pulled myself together and put all my feelings on the back-burner of my mind as I finished my shift.

Afterwards, the day became tangled with errands and tasks, processing life and working through my own issues that I forgot all about them.

But as I settled into my bed last night, I remembered those two cups in the air and the smile on her face and I found myself finally letting those tears finally fall down my face. I wished that I had leaned over and asked “Whats the secret? What’s the secret to having a life that leads to saying ‘cheers’ and rejoicing over hotdogs and sweet tea?”

Because I think we wait for special occasions and days circled on the calendar to really stop and say, “Life next to you is a joy and doesn’t need clanking glasses and rounds of applause. This styrofoam cup will do because your familiar laugh, the wrinkles around your eyes, and the way you’ve stuck with me through the years can make these plastic plates and ruffles potato chips look like the finest banquet.”

Life on its ordinary and unremarkable days should be celebrated. The people who show up in our lives day after day deserve more than a birthday card and occasional word of gratitude.

Maybe there’s no secret. Maybe it was right out there in the open for me to plainly see. It’s laughing in the monotony, and learning to be thankful in the midst of weekly routine. Maybe it’s looking up from our phones, our plates, and really seeing the person across from us and saying: I still like you, even after all this time.

Maybe it’s not letting the disappointment in our own lives stop us from fully and outwardly admiring the strangers who show us that even the dime-a-dozen days can remind your tired heart that the world is still full of breathtaking goodness.

Tell someone you’re thankful for them today. Make it a habit to make ordinary days full of grand and not-so-grand gestures.

The secret is simple after all: celebrate your life and the people in it.

Don’t Lose The Good Parts

If I hadn’t decided to become President of the United States, I’m quite certain I would have settled on becoming a professional boxer.

I once asked for a punching bag for Christmas. While in hindsight, that probably should have been cause for concern, it seemed perfectly normal at the time.

I’ve always been a fighter.

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fighting something: injustice, pain, grief, feelings, God, people…

Lately, I’ve been trying to put my gloves down; because it seems my fighting has sometimes caused more problems than it’s solved. Fighting is my gut reaction; it’s always been my default answer, how does a person get rid of that?

God caught me in my car today. I was tightening my fists on the steering wheel, my shoulders were tensing and I was thinking of all the things I want to say or do, the things I wish I knew how to handle right now. I tried to shove it out and down. I kept telling myself, stop fighting, you’re not allowed to be a fighter anymore.

“You’re just fighting the wrong things…” He said it so calmly.

My grip eased, “What should I be fighting?” I asked.

Fight the fear. Fight the insecurity. Fight the walls you build.

Stop fighting the people that intimidate you, tear you down. Stop fighting the people that you’re desperately seeking approval from. Stop fighting people and start fighting the problem.

Fight the need to be right. Fight the fact that you hate to be weak. Fight the laziness. Fight the apathy. Fight your perfectionist tendencies. Fight the need to prove yourself. Fight the lies that have been stuck to you since you were little.

 It seems that God hasn’t been trying to take the fighter out of me, but now He’s showing me the right things to fight.

We don’t escape who we are; we can’t run from it or push it down. I’m a fighter and I’ll always be one. And sometimes that serves the world in beautiful ways. So, I’m learning how to overcome the weaknesses that accompany that, without losing the good parts of who I really am.

Whatever those things are that often seem to weigh you down and create pain in your life are likely something that God put in you for a really good reason. Those parts of you that you can’t shake, those glaring weaknesses, maybe it’s because they also have the potential to be some of the best parts of you.

Don’t lose the good parts. I think that’s what I’m getting at. Don’t throw out the good just because everyone (including you) is so disheartened and fearful of the bad. There’s no part of your weakness where God can’t show up with His strength.

Finding Home

There’s a tiny cafe hidden in Ireland that nearly saved my life.

Desperate for a quality cup of coffee and a place to warm our hands, my sister and I wandered into an ordinary cafe that smelled like warm bread and sweet potatoes.

It became our getaway spot. It was a safe place during the weeks that held nothing but storms and the reality that our souls had long been shipwrecked.

It was the only comfort I had during that time. I was in a beautiful country where I should have been having the adventure of a lifetime, and the only thing keeping my head above water was this unextraordinary squirrel-themed cafe. For a few weeks, that cafe became home.

Find the squirrel-themed cafe.

I think if there’s anything I could tell you about hard times, it’s that. Find a place to sit down and take your coat off, a place where you can eat a good bowl of soup and tell someone that you don’t think you can go another step further.

Last weekend, I moved back to Georgia.

Which came as a surprise to a lot of people because that was not the plan at all. I had other things penciled in for the next season of my life and after erasing and re-writing things a million times over, I finally let God come in with his big permanent marker and write a solid plan.

When I got here, I thought maybe I was going to find all the adventure my heart could want and that I was going to begin the epic next season of my life.

I let myself believe that I could tie up the past six months with a little bow and forget them. I settled in to my new room and with my incredible roommates and got ready to start my new life.

Two mornings later held me crying in the kitchen floor with two friends who reminded me that life is mostly a circle and we rarely ever get clean breaks and a fresh start.

I was frustrated, once again feeling a little shipwrecked. But, I was happier than words could even express because I found my squirrel-themed cafe. Once again, I found the place where my jacket comes off, my coffee stays warm, and I can say the things that the strangers on the street probably need not hear.

After a season of incredible pain, this has been the thing I’ve been wanting all along. I haven’t really been wanting to go on adventures or live some epic life. I’ve actually just been wanting to find a place to curl up with people and say it’s really nice not to be alone anymore.

We think we want the cliffs in Ireland and we actually just want an average room on a quiet little street. We want a seat at a table with people whose eyes aren’t darkened with judgment at the hardest chapters of our stories. We want coffee on the hardwood floors; we want a place where people can remind you that God isn’t up there cringing at the sight of your broken and misguided heart.

Sometimes, I think we crave the adventures and the going our own way because it makes our coming home that much sweeter.

So, for now, I’m home. I’m back in the house that creaks with every footstep, that gets too hot in the summer and its power knocked out in the winter. I’m back where the front doors stay wide open, inviting the breeze and the neighbors to come and stay a while.

I’m in the place of not needing adventure because home, right now, seems already too sweet to swallow.

You need the epic adventures, the road trips from coast to coast, the oceans and mountains and the fun of getting lost in airports. But mostly you need them to remind you that what you really need more is home. And sometimes you can’t be thankful for home until you’ve spent a long time away.

The Freedom to Forgive Yourself

I always go back to the summer with tennis courts and milkshakes. That was years before the pride and silence broke our hearts.

I remember the day we drove to get sushi and the rhythm you nervously tapped out on the steering wheel. You said something about dogs, I pretended to laugh. My mind was blank that day. I wrung my hands and stared out the window. I didn’t have the words I needed.

All these years and I can still never find the right words and that’s coming from someone who has filled up pages and pages of journals in her lifetime.

I’ve never had the right words for you. And by now, I think I’ve apologized for that a million times.

But you can only say I’m sorry to someone so many times before you realize that what you’re actually looking for is the freedom to forgive yourself.

You think you’re looking for that person to tell you it’s okay, but even if they said it a million times over, you would never hear it. Your constant need to keep going back to say I’m sorry comes from the fact that you have not stopped punishing yourself for being human.

You’re human. You said you were sorry. You meant it. You are allowed to live. 

Stop punishing yourself.

You don’t have to sit in misery, unmoving, afraid to live, and waiting for that person to forgive you, or waiting for them to apologize for their part.

You can’t pay the debt you owe each other, so stop trying. Stop thinking that eventually you will have served your time and that’s when everyone gets to be free.

And stop making others serve time. Learn how to quickly say, “I’m choosing to let it go.”

Sometimes, saying and being sincerely sorry is all we humans have. You can’t change the past between you and that person, and you won’t make up for it by ruining your own future or asking them to postpone theirs.

You get to live. Not after everyone serves time and suffers for the hand of hurt they played. You get to live freely when you’ve offered your truest and most sincere apology, when you’ve extended your heart in all the ways you know how.

And maybe the other person isn’t willing to let go. Maybe they’ll never be sorry. Maybe they’re still trying to pull levers and cash in on the years of guilt they’ve thrown on your shoulders.

But eventually, you’ve got to stop digging in your pockets and giving them all the things you’ll ever hold. Stop handing over your present and your future to the unforgiving people of your past.

You said you were sorry and you’re released. Stop trying to pay it. You can’t change it and you can’t go back to days of tennis courts and milkshakes. The blueprints for the life you tried to build just don’t work anymore.

Stop living in the past. Pack up the memories of beach houses, early summer evenings in the kitchen, the table by the window, eating peanuts in old wooden chairs, the regret of never having the right words.

God’s not up there trying to figure out ways to make you pay it all back. Offer your apology, offer your heart, and give God the rest of the debt. He’s the only one who could ever pay it back anyways.

And whatever others may owe you, whatever you think you need from them, just know that God’s in the business of wanting to pay off their debt too.

We’re all just humans in need of a God who owns it all and is so incredibly generous.

He really is the only one who could ever make up for all the words we never got to hear and for the ones we never quite knew how to say.

A God Who Caves

When 2016 came rolling around, I had one resolution:

Fight God less.

That’s what I decided. I fought Him so much through the years of 2013 to 2015 that I was determined not to spend this entire year in the ring with Him.

I sat down with my coffee and journal and told Him I was resigned. I was waving a white flag. I was done fighting.

Then He went and let life press all of my buttons.

Every single thing that could possibly set me off happened in the span of just a few weeks. God knew that my first reaction would be to come out swinging and that’s exactly what I did.

I kicked, screamed, ate cake, blasted my radio, drove over the speed limit. I reverted back to the days of being ten years old and thinking that the I’ll-stick-my-tongue-out-and-show-you mentality would actually work on the most patient being in existence.

As you guessed, it was a total waste of time.

The harder I fought, the firmer He stood. It was just me punching the strongest and most stable thing in my life. He wasn’t going to budge. No matter how hard I hit, no matter how much I told Him I wasn’t putting up with it anymore–God wasn’t going to budge and He wasn’t going to hit back.

So in those few weeks, there I was throwing the biggest fit you’ve ever seen and I realized why He was letting it happen.

He was giving me what I asked for.

I wanted to fight Him less and so He was going to wear me out sooner. He was just going to let it all drop at once so that I’d just throw everything I had in the ring right in these first few months of the year. He was breaking me, wearing me down, exhausting me to the point that I’d have no fight left in me.

I’ve always been a little defiant, a little mouthy, always ready to take and throw a punch when necessary. It’s never been something I’m proud of and thankfully I’m learning how to mellow out as I get older.

Nevertheless, in my final moments of defeat, I spend every little inch of energy trying to come back. I’ll give it all to win what’s an impossible fight. Even if I don’t have a shot, I’ll go down swinging.

I guess you could say that I am the John Kasich of arguing.

So, in the last round of this fight I got an e-mail. It was from one of my readers and she was asking me about hurt: “I know God is there, but it’s easy to question where He is in the middle of our hurt.”

I was laying on this crummy twin mattress trying to figure out how I was going to tell this girl the truth. How to tell her the thing I love most and least about God:

He’s right in front of you.

He’s like the parent that hovers when you’re newly sixteen and trying to explore all of your newfound freedom.

He’s the clingy Dad who’s standing there and saying “I love you too much to let you have all the control.”

Because He knows I don’t want my version of freedom. I don’t want to do whatever I want. I want the freedom of living a life that is worth living–one that’s defined by pursuing the best. And only God knows what’s best.

So I wanted to find that girl, sit her down, and tell her the thing that she’s probably been told a million times: God is there.

He’s standing in your face. He is staring you down and saying, “You know it doesn’t matter how bad this gets. It doesn’t matter how much you hate me. It doesn’t matter if you threaten to run away from home, I’m going to do what’s best for you.”

I can make my choices, but my choices won’t change His. He’s going to do what’s best for me. Whatever that looks like. Whatever fight I put up.

The pain, the anger, the heartache, the moments of agony are not a product of God’s wrath or of His absence. They’re a product of us crazy humans throwing our punches and thinking that we can do this thing without Him; it’s a product of all of us thinking we know better.

We don’t want a God who gives us what we want. We don’t want a God who caves, who gets tired of hearing us cry and then shuts us up by giving us something that would ruin us.

He’s the parent who stands there, watches us with love, hates our pain, but says “I love you too much to give you the things you think you want.”

Our deepest pain comes not from circumstances, but from the frustration that comes with thinking that we could have or would have done things better if we had been God.

If we could see what He sees, if we could know what He knows, we would be so thankful; and raising our fists to fight Him would never even cross our minds.

Some Things Just Take Time

When my foot touched the top step, and I smelled that familiar scent, I went back to three years prior.

I closed my eyes and told God, before I even cracked open that door: I can’t fix it. I’m going to want to, but I can’t fix it.

I didn’t and couldn’t. But I figured out how to settle in that reality, and tried to find some kind of hope to grab ahold of. It was then I realized I have to accept that some things take more time than just a few years. Some things can’t simply be solved over a cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast.

After that, I pulled out my favorite pair of pink shorts.

I had horribly ruined them the year before by washing them with dark clothes.

I did the very thing that my Mama taught me not to do with laundry. Separate your darks, they’ll ruin everything else.

I should have believed her.

I remember disappointment grabbing me when I saw those stains. They were just a pair of shorts, but they were my favorite and I was frustrated.

They were ruined and there was no fixing it. It was plain and simple.

But I just couldn’t throw them away. I put them in a box and thought maybe God would do a miracle and I’d pull them out one day to realize none of it happened.

I was delusional….over a pair of shorts. But I guess we all have our quirks.

In the waiting for my unlikely miracle, I searched for a replacement pair and nothing fit quite the same. I browsed the internet and seriously searched every store from here to Georgia; I found nothing that even came close.

So nearly a year later, I pulled them out of the box. The stains were–as you would guess–still there.

Stubborn misfit that I am, I went against all that made sense; I scrubbed the spots and put them back in the washer.

I waited, knowing that I was probably just wasting gallons of water while simultaneously paving my life path closer to permanent insanity.

When the cycle ended, I pulled them out and I just stood there with tears. I remember so clearly feeling God’s presence and I heard Him say so loudly, almost as if it were audible:

“Some things wash out.”

My shoulders shook as I began to cry. I knew God wasn’t just talking about the shorts.

I knew that he was talking about that moment on the stairs, when I told him I can’t fix it. I knew that it was his way of saying that some things just take time, but you don’t throw them out, even if it seems like it’s all beyond repair.

This has been a month of seeing a million things I can’t fix and sometimes I still carry the disappointment of that. But God is showing me that it’s okay to believe that in a year, or two (or ten) we can pull things out, give it our best shot. Maybe the things that stained us with grief and mourning will finally start to wash out.

Sometimes, it pays to hold onto hope for something that everybody tells you to let go of. 

It doesn’t mean you sit it front and center on your shelf. It doesn’t mean you constantly walk by it and torture yourself into mourning the loss of something you loved. Sometimes, you pack it away and you wait. You wait for that moment when courage collides with grace (and is sprinkled with a miracle) and you put your hands to it again and see that there’s a reason God never let you find the replacement pair of shorts.

Because He finds a way to fix things. He finds a way.

And maybe there are some things that don’t wash out–maybe there are some things that are done and over. But I think the way we figure that out is when the replacement pair of shorts doesn’t come our way.

God doesn’t leave us empty handed.

He gives us a new thing or he makes the old thing new again and whichever He chooses is always good. The new thing isn’t a knock-off and the old thing isn’t a shell of its former self. His gifts are good and perfect, whatever their form.

My heart is thankful He finds a way. And both my heart and my wardrobe are thankful that some things really do wash out.

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.

It’s Easy to Lose Ourselves

I’ve pretty much been in a car for the last week.

I’ve done so much driving, traveling, last minute road-trips that I’ve had lot of free time to think, a lot of free time to ask myself some really hard questions. I’ve had a lot of free time to examine all the good, bad, and uncertainty that I see in myself.

So, when you’re stuck alone with yourself for several hours every day, you really start to figure out how you see yourself. What you think about yourself starts to come out in the strangest ways (especially on Valentines Day). 

One thing I’ve realized is that I wince a lot when I think about the raw truth of who I am. There are truths, ideas, desires, dreams that I’ve carried since I was a little kid and the moment they come to the surface, I notice this tight grimace come over my face and my hands tense up.

I’ve done it so many times over the last two weeks that I’ve lost count. Every time I catch myself cowering, I force myself to sit up straight and shove down whatever that shameful feeling is.

My denial was going well until God got involved.

“Stop apologizing for all the things that you love.”

I took a deep breath and whispered under my breath, “Is that what I’m doing?”

I knew the answer. I didn’t need Him to respond. I needed to admit that I already knew He was right. I had become so accustomed to being reprimanded by floods of people in my life. I was scolded for not being mild-mannered, for not being quiet, for being a little too stubborn. There were many times I was condemned for not staying silent when someone really needed to stand up.

Today, I caught myself wincing in a really passionate conversation about something that I love. I was looking carefully around the room, afraid that the scolding would soon come. When I deeply love something, I get loud and I get feisty. I go back to the eight-year-old Ashlin. But then, almost immediately, I start to cower and prepare for the punch.

It was today that I realized how easy it is to lose ourselves, to become walking apologies. We start to be so afraid of our differences that we live miserably trying replicate everyone around us.

“Well, people like her and sing her praise, so maybe I should be more quiet and reserved like she is.”

“People seem to really respect him, He seems so indifferent about everything, so maybe I just shouldn’t care so much.”

We are constantly looking around rooms and trying to figure out how to stop standing out, or how to stand out in a way that will get us applause .

But what if we just stopped looking around?

Because if we stopped looking around, we would stop noticing whether or not people clap. We wouldn’t be broken by whether or not their face has a scowl, and we wouldn’t be made prideful if they are enchanted and can’t look away.

Maybe if we stopped looking around, we would stop finding a million reasons to apologize. Maybe we would stop giving up the things that make us come alive.

Maybe we’d stop trying to fit in a suit, a sweater, a pair of shoes that we don’t even actually like.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: stop apologizing for your heart. 

Stop worrying about if everyone else approves.

Ask yourself if other people’s approval is worth a lifetime of being a watered down, cardboard-cut-out version of yourself. Ask yourself if the opinions of people are worth wearing clothes that don’t fit or having a career that steals your joy.

Stop worrying about how many likes you get on Facebook or Instagram. Stop putting it all on scales and wondering if you are too much or if you are not enough.

Start asking yourself what’s going to matter when you’re in that car alone and no one’s there to approve or disapprove. Start asking yourself if you’re okay with living a life that makes you cringe because you’re afraid someone else might be a little uncomfortable. Will it matter if everyone else likes you if you don’t like yourself?

Ask yourself what’s worth trying, what’s worth loving–even if you fail. Ask yourself if you’re willing to do those things even if God is the only one who ever approves.

You’re Not Going to Change

We settled into a booth in the back of the restaurant. We talked about work, God, love. We caught up on where old friends ended up–have you heard from her lately? How is she?

Then we talked about my move, about what life is going to look like a few weeks from now.

“Coming back home is hard” I said, taking a sip of water. “I become the worst version of myself. You think you’re a different person and then instantly you come home and you go right back to the person you used to be.”

Straightforward, confident, she looked at me in the eyes and said these words,

“People don’t change, they make different choices.”

I felt them in my gut. She’s right. At the end of the day, we are who we’ve always been. But we wait to wake up one day and be someone else, to feel different things. We think that moving away and starting over is going to instantly make us become someone new.

It doesn’t. I’m realizing that in these few weeks of being back in my hometown. I was in Georgia for a year and a half, I thought I became a different person. I thought I was better. But then, I came home and old habits came barreling in and were sitting on my chest like they never left.

It wasn’t that I changed in Georgia, it was that I made different choices. I gave myself a chance–to be who I really am, without all the baggage, without all the chapters of brokenness that were tattooed to me before I left. 

New places and blank slates don’t change us, but they are usually the only reason we give ourselves a real chance to be who we’ve always been.

We’re always trying to get to some better version of ourselves, but what if the best version of us has always been there? What if we just covered it up with all the pain, judgement, and words from the years of living we’ve had so far? 

I kept thinking about the four of us. In that group of girls, there were four of us who were always drawn to sadness, to the brokenness. You could find us listening to melancholic music and weaving ourselves in and out of those lyrics. We called it our personalities, a part of us that had always been there. 

She and I talked about that. We talked about how easy it had always been for us to see pain and how that might be something that never changes.

 There are some advantages to being able to see and feel brokenness in all its magnitude.

But then we talked about how we had to turn away from that kind of sadness, because we knew that we would never change.

We wouldn’t just wake up one day and forget how to feel pain. We wouldn’t stop loving sad songs, movies with less than happily-ever-after endings. But we knew that we had to make different choices. We had to choose not to put them on our daily playlist. We had to often pick a different genre of movie.

We had to choose not to focus on the hard things, even though the temptation would always be there.

We haven’t changed, but life is different. Life doesn’t look the way it did when we were sixteen. But we didn’t change, we just grew up and decided that we had to make better choices.

The choices bring the change, not the other way around.

You’re not going to wake up tomorrow and love working out. You won’t wake up tomorrow and have no feelings toward the person that broke your heart. You won’t magically wake up tomorrow happier, healthier, stronger, more beautiful than you are today.

The change you want to see is in your choices–it’s not in a formula of moving away, and starting over. You’ll be the same person tomorrow, even if you wake up in a different place.

I’m starting to think that there’s a part of me that will always be this girl. Some part of me knows that I’ll be the girl who gets impatient with the people of my hometown, who is drawn to days spent lying in bed and accomplishing nothing. That I’ll always be drawn to being the person who wants to throw away responsibility because I’m an all or nothing kind of girl–if I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all.

That’s not going to change. I won’t just open my eyes ten years from now and not be that girl. But the change comes in choosing patience, getting out of bed, choosing responsibility, giving myself the grace of making mistakes a long the way and not throwing it all away when I do.

Sitting in that booth, she and I were the same girls we’ve always been. We still laugh at sarcasm, can read each other’s facial expressions, still love pizza. But life is different and that’s because of the choices we’ve made. Day by day, we chose different things, places, roads to take than we used to.

I’m starting think that Robert Frost guy was on to something. It was the road that diverged in the wood, not the person.

It came down to choice–and in the end, that’s what made all the difference