I have one less pair of pants and I now need to hide underground, but it will all be okay.

The ceiling literally caved in. I came home a few weeks ago to big chunks of my ceiling laying in the floor.

Then came final exams, a crazy list of things to-do at work, a roach in my bathroom, getting incredibly sick, and then accidentally and unintentionally stalking an old(ish) man.

Then came the world’s worst migraine that lasted for a week, which led me to an allergic reaction, which then led to me throwing my pants away (of which I have no recollection of).

Needless to say, my life over the last several weeks could have been a sitcom. I seriously think television networks could benefit from following me around.

In the middle of all of it, I found myself exhausted, terrified, frustrated, mortified, and amused.

But I also came to find out that the world didn’t end.

Somehow all the assignments that needed to be finished were completed, the speeches that had to be composed were written. The designs, deadlines, and e-mails were all taken care of.  I woke up this morning to realize that though I have one less pair of pants, and I now need to hide underground for a few years after the stalking mishap, that it is all going to be ok.

I think sometimes I forget that God works things out. He makes a way. Granted, I have to do my part sometimes, I have to be responsible with my time and my energy. I have to cooperate with wisdom, but it always gets done and works out. And even when I screw it up, His grace can and does still meet me.

I so easily take that for granted. I have a crazy and stressful week, I survive and then I just move on. I don’t always stop to mark the moment and say, the next time everything explodes and I’m a wreck of a human being who is staggering into doctor’s offices and beating a roach with a broom at 2 am, I should remember that God was with me this time and it all worked out.

I guess what I’m saying is that you’re going to be okay. Whatever the weeks and months look like for you right now, you’re going to make it and you’ll make it through the next time after that as well.

Think about all the times that you swore it wasn’t going to work out, you wouldn’t finish it all, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t be okay. You’re here, you’re breathing, you made it. Maybe it didn’t all turn out the way you thought it would, but the world didn’t end and you’re still moving.

Take a minute, just stop and remember that you can’t control it all and that you don’t have to. He’s got this. The one who is in control of everything has always and will always have you, and He will work it out. 

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On becoming a cheerleader for the people who broke your heart.

My knees sunk into the carpet and I found myself crouching down in the tiny space between my couch and coffee table.

I broke in a way that life had not allowed until that moment. I broke for the younger version of myself, the one who became numb in order to survive the pain. I wept for my present self, for the person who was now overcome with years of emotion that she had hoped somehow vanished over time.

I was angry. I was relieved. I was a combination of every emotion imaginable and none of them felt acceptable. It seemed too late to feel it all; it seemed somewhat irrelevant to my life now.

But the initial pain had been so daunting and threatening when it first arrived. It had all come on so quickly and so strongly that I felt myself falling into a hole. Back then, I feared that I would never survive if I allowed myself to feel it all.

So now, years removed, there is safety to let myself grieve those painful conversations, lost years, absent friends, and dead dreams.

But when it all surfaced, I needed to know that it wasn’t going to kill me. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to drown like I once feared.

I needed to feel it in a healthy and productive way. I needed a way to let myself process years of pain without becoming so overwhelmed that I laid down and never got up again.

I decided to process all the emotions in a way that produced something.

Because pain is a shovel and you can let it be used to bury you, or you can grab hold of it and break new ground.

So I went to Walgreens and printed pictures of the people and memories that are painful. I grabbed a pack of magnets and proceeded to hang them on my refrigerator. Around them I’ve begun to post prayers and promises. I pray for God to fill their hands with good and enduring things.

And what I’ve quickly learned is that real forgiveness looks like becoming a cheerleader for the people who broke your heart. 

It doesn’t look like sweeping things under the rug or tucking them in drawers. It looks like not being afraid to look at the hard things, but teaching yourself to pair them with good and kind thoughts. Forgiveness means choosing to fight for truth over the current facts.

I’m not going to pretend that that first week wasn’t torturous. I woke up with an aching heart; the last thing I wanted to see through my bloodshot eyes was a reminder of what I had lost.

But little by little, looking at those photos has gotten easier. And now each morning as I brew my coffee, I am slowly creating a pattern of no longer associating those names and faces with pain.

Because people are not the pain they’ve caused you. They’re worth more than that.

Believe me when I tell you that it’s becoming incredibly hard to hold back forgiveness. When every day you see someone’s bright blue eyes surrounded by words of forgiveness and grace, it’s hard to stay angry. Something in you starts to change when you’re constantly saying good things about them over and over again.

Sometimes we think forgiveness is just this intangible process that happens over time. But forgiveness requires participation and action; it requires doing something productive and positive with your pain.

Print the pictures. Post them with notes with prayers of grace. Wake up, brew some coffee, and say a prayer. Then, please come back here in a little while and tell me about all the ways you’re learning to love again.

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.

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.

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.

God, My Questions, and a Stranger

I stared at the foam of my cappuccino as her words broke through the thick fog I’d been walking through since we first landed in Israel. This woman, who just an hour before had been a total stranger to me, was telling me her story and showing me some pretty raw places of her past.

She sighed, but sat with such peace. “I was struggling so much. I was believing so many lies… but God still used me, you know?”

I leaned in and watched the corners of her mouth turn upwards in a smile,

“God is so big, He doesn’t mind.”

As soon as they hit my heart, I knew those were the words I’ve been waiting years to hear.

It took me back to a few years ago, to a day that I’ve heavily carried. My face was soaking wet, my eyes were bloodshot; I was angry, I was afraid, I was barely breathing. I was five bodies deep in grief, and the sixth was being prepared to be put in the ground. I remember standing in that church building with clenched fists and shouting to the top of my lungs, “If God is so big, He can handle my questions!”

As soon as those words left my mouth, I broke. I fell straight to my knees and sobbed on the floor. Countless people passed by me, but I didn’t care how it looked. This was me and God on the battlefield and this was me slinging every last shot I had. I was firing all of my ammunition, this was my win or lose moment. This was the moment when God would either walk off and leave me or lean in and grab me tighter. I was giving Him every reason to finally turn around and walk away, I was pushing Him with every bit of force my tiny fists could muster. I thought for sure that He’d leave, if He hadn’t already.

So flash forward, years later, sitting in Israel across from this stranger. She whispered those words with such peace, such certainty: God is so big, He doesn’t mind.

It felt like I was finally hearing Him respond to that moment, “You were right, I could handle it. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that you were weak. It didn’t change anything.”

He’s that big. He isn’t the least bit altered by my anger, weakness, frustration or questions. I’m not a big enough bully that I could make Him walk away.

I think that was Israel for me. All throughout the Bible we see that Israel rejected God, gave Him a million reasons to leave. They hated Him, they pushed Him away, but He stayed and He still stays. He’s there and He has such mercy, even in the war and chaos, even in the grief and in the misunderstanding.

Everywhere I stepped it was a reminder of Him saying, I don’t leave my people. 

I think most people were expecting some kind of post about adventure, climbing mountains, walking on water, exploring ruins of an ancient city. Maybe you thought I’d have some kind of life lesson about enjoying every moment, about living an exciting and free life.

What this post is about is God pressing the play button, after feeling like I’ve been on pause for a really long time. It was His reply to the banging of my fists all those years ago. It was the moment of me finally looking up from weeping on the floor and seeing that even though so many people left, He stayed.

I walked down the Via Dolorosa last week (the road Jesus walked to the cross). I thought a lot about the men who were beating Him, swinging over and over again while watching His body crack and tear. Later I realized that some of the swings they made were for the day I fell screaming in that church floor.

He handled my questions, then. It was finished on that day. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t yet rammed my fists into the floor or shouted furiously, He handled my questions long before that day. God is big enough, that He didn’t mind. He didn’t mind my questions, because He died to give me the answer.

He doesn’t leave, that’s really what Israel gave to me. The reminder that we all have years spent in the desert, years of giving Him a million reasons to go. No matter how long we spend wandering around and walking in circles, He’s big enough, He can handle it, He stays.

When My Neck Is Sore and My Feet Are Tired

The whole thing started on a blue piece of construction paper. I was sitting in the lobby of one of my favorite places and furiously scribbling for my next blog post.

I kept getting distracted. Something that has been grabbing at my heart lately kept pulling on me. I would write a sentence, pause and let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was playing a long and tiring round of “what if?”

Suddenly, I would remember that I was supposed to be focusing.

I leaned my head back against the wall, “Did they look down, God?”

I was thinking about The Wise Men. The ones who had direction, but no details. They knew what they were headed toward, but they didn’t know what it would take to get there. Follow the star and you’ll find the one who will save your life, that’s all they’d really been given.

Did they look down? I wondered if they ever got tired of holding their heads up and looking at that star.

“Did you use it, God?” That was my next question to Him.

“When their heads got tired of looking up and they felt the need to make a plan, to figure out places to rest, to find food. When they stopped trusting and tried to figure it out, did you use it?” 

When trying to figure out the timing of their journey and when they would arrive, did God factor in all the stops along the way? Did he plan for all the moments they’d get in an argument about whose turn it was to feed the camels?

My mind was all over the place and and I was feeling really guilty because I knew that if I had been on that journey, I would have tried to make maps and schedules. 

I would have tried to make sure all our needs were met, the camels were rested and fed, the path was safe, the other guys did their share of helping out.

I wouldn’t have always believed the star was enough. I would have looked away to draw my maps and make my plans. I get so easily distracted because I so desperately want details.

“Do you use it, God?”

Do you use the moments that I think your guidance seems vague and distant? The moments where I’m just stumbling around out in the desert and trying to figure out if I’m actually any closer than I was yesterday?

“I knew the men I had chosen.”

Suddenly, I felt really free. I didn’t feel Him scold me to rip up all my plans and maps. I just felt Him smile and let me in on an ancient little secret. Yes, He uses it. He uses even my distractions, my moments of distrust, the days that I get tired of looking up at the star and complain that my neck is sore and my feet are tired.

Though wise, those men were not perfect and God had always known that. He didn’t choose the The Perfect Men. He chose the worshippers, the ones who were willing to seek Him out, those willing to offer Him something they valued.

And when they left, God made sure He told them which way to go. He gave them a dream, He made sure they heard Him.

He knew the men He had chosen.

The Wise Men weren’t just wise because of their title, or even because they perfectly followed the star. They were ultimately wise because when God needed them to change the path, they were flexible to change their plans, they were ready and listening. They didn’t just trust the star, they trusted the One who put it up there in the first place.

He chose you and He knows you.

Just come, exactly as you are.

With your arms full of maps, schedules, poorly wrapped gifts. Just come. With your holiday frustration, your to-do list, the feelings that the star isn’t enough and that you’d like a few more details. Come, just as you are and bringing whatever you have.

Just come looking for Him. Keep coming, even if you yelled at Balthazar this morning for not brushing the camels.

Keep walking even without all the answers, and know that the proof of your trust is not in your perfection, but in the way you keep coming.