To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Grief.

It is entirely possible to have both one of the worst and best days of your life on exactly the same day. This is because grief is one of those things that frees you from all of your pride and ego while simultaneously ripping your heart out. In the midst of my grief, I’ve done some pretty liberating things. I’ve taken many spur-of-the-moment trips, written some insane letters, screamed at the top of my lungs, sang loudly without caring who was listening, moved my entire life. None of these are the things that I regret. Regret has only been something I’ve known when I let the grief silence me. 

You will do some wild and unpredictable things in your pain. Many of them truthful, some of them sincere, a few of them haphazard. But at the end of the day, heartbreak comes to us all in countless ways. I hope that in all the ways it has come and continues to come, you dance it out, shake it out, sing it out, write it out, but do not hold it in. 

However, be prepared to say you’re sorry. Never intentionally do something to hurt someone, but know that it will probably happen in the midst of your anguish and sorrow. Grief brings with it a breaking of our facades, but it also often cracks our filters. Know that you won’t get it all right and just because some things feel better in the moment, that doesn’t mean you get off scot-free in the end. Hurt people hurt people, it’s a cliche because it’s true. 

It is entirely possible to have both the worst and best day at the same time. Because suddenly, though your heart is screaming in pain, you will finally able to release it from all the other things it’s been carrying that seem so trivial. I call it an “in the grand scheme” view of things.  Grief brings with it a certain sort of “big picture” kind of reality with it that makes you drop all the little cares and worries of the previous days. It makes you start evaluating all the dumb things you threw around in your brain yesterday. It makes you start minimizing and prioritizing. Suddenly, you start saying all the things you couldn’t before, wouldn’t before, didn’t know were choking you and breaking you before. Because “in the grand scheme” of things, what does it matter now? Grief shows you what matters now.

But it is entirely possible that it is still the worst day. While you are free of all the little insecurities that you sat in yesterday, you’re in the big and grand sorrows of today. The big things matter and grief will knock on your door to remind you of that. So you’ll take trips, write letters, sing loudly, scream loudly, stay awake a little longer, because “in the grand scheme of things”– and you’ll know that these are the only things you can control. But know, even those are things you cannot control. 

Don’t try to control the pain. I hope we both learn this young. We cannot control the pain. We can evaluate all the big things, little things, figure out what matters and try to our best in the in-between, but the truth is, this isn’t up to you and me. Today, we’re both just young, wild girls who are trying to figure out how to get free. It’s okay to not have the answers, to not understand the grand scheme of all these things. 

You will do some wild things in your pain. You will say wrong things when you are down on your knees. You will ask God unimaginable questions and you stand up only to stomp your feet. You will get in the car and drive nowhere, but end up exactly where you were meant to be. You will press send on things that you mean, and realize that losing all of your pride is probably the only way you’re ever going to get free. 

You will someday have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize that God turns our pain into something that He can use. You will hate the feeling of your heart breaking as you also sigh at the relief you feel when you finally let love break through. You cannot carry grief without love, or love without grief. On this earth, they are linked, sometimes they are one and the same. Someday you will know what it means to have the worst and the best day simultaneously, and when you do you’ll know what it means to be a little more broken and somehow a little more free.

Someday you will have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize the pain and joy of loving, losing, and getting back to the grand scheme of clinging, for as long as you can, to those who have taught you the best parts about all these things.

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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

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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Lovely Letters: When Your Plans Are Wrecked (& You Can’t Find a Map)

Happy Wednesday! Here’s a new Lovely Letter and a challenge. After reading this, leave a comment for the girl who sent in this e-mail with a simple sentence of advice/encouragement about what you know when it comes to plans failing and life changing.

“And while my heart has been changed to accept that the life I once planned won’t happen, it’s still hard. I appreciate this stage of growth in my life, but I also really wish I could have gotten this lesson without so much heartbreak. ”

-O

Dear O,

Something happened inside of me when I heard her say these words:

“I just feel connected to you.”

A complete stranger, working at a kiosk in the middle of the mall just stood with her dark eyes looking up at me. She leaned her head on my shoulder and it felt like a bandaid was being placed across my world.

All because I stopped (and I never ever, under any circumstance, stop at a kiosk in the mall). I am the rude person who will not even glance over at them, because I know that they’re going to harass me in attempts to sell me what is probably the last thing I’ll ever need.

But this time was very different and there was something about the way her voice sounded when she called out to me. It was like the voice of an old friend, it was as though we had been on a thousand coffee dates and grew up having movie & ice cream nights together. I knew her, I just did. Though I had never seen her face before, I knew her.

So, I just stopped.

It was never a conscious choice, I had no interest in the product she was selling, but I just stopped. I can’t even explain the reason, other than it’s just what you do when you see a familiar face, you don’t question it; you just stop to say hello.

And with an ease we just meshed into conversation. We talked about how she was from Israel, about my trip there three years ago. It was like we’d been there together. We talked about the food, the nightlife, the way people greet you on the street. We laughed, as though together, we had shared memories and jokes during our desert days.

I ended up buying something, she ended up asking for my contact information and she told me to come back. She invited me to stop by again and see her. She asked to be friends.

And in that moment, I learned something I thought I already knew.

The best things in your life are the things you didn’t plan on, the moments you can’t make sense of, the moments that simply had to be pure fate because they weren’t on the map, but they somehow changed your entire direction.

I wish I had known a year ago, that some of the best things in my life would happen in the middle of the mall or walking down hallways.

Not yet arrived to the place I’m trying to get to, I’ve stumbled into some pretty incredible moments along the way. Usually, it’s just when I’ve left a room of heartbreak and I’m trying to get to whatever room holds the next big thing. Usually, I’m in search of some kind of map while I’m in these hallways, I’m looking for some kind of sign to show me which door to walk in next.

Almost always, that’s when I collide with something that grabs at my heartstrings, something worth stopping for and suddenly, I begin to panic. In those moments, I refuse to even focus on the beautiful surprise, and rather start frantically searching for a compass, something to get me where I was supposed to go.  I tell myself, Don’t stop for this, it’s just a distraction. You don’t have time for this. You’ve got places you need to be, more important things to do.”

I wish I had known earlier how to enjoy the hallways; the people you meet, the paintings on the wall, the things that may just look like common decor, or that may seem unimportant. Usually, these are things worth giving a second glance.

You know, O,  I don’t always want to be in a hurry to find what’s next.  Sometimes, I just want to love what is.

Rather than searching for a map, I wish I had met & asked strangers for some directions along the way. I wish I had met more of the people coming in and out of the rooms around me. I wish I had known that it’s okay to walk alongside some people and go wherever they’re going. It’s not always a bad thing, you know; to trust someone new.  Even though that’s gotten you heartbroken in the past, there’s no  time limit or safety guarantee on how many people you should pass by or how long you should walk until  it’s an “appropriate time” to walk beside someone else again. Yes, they start as strangers, but seconds later they might just change your life.

That’s a lesson you can put in your back pocket today, O. Don’t let fear keep you from trying again, from making new plans, from turning the corner and starting down an entirely new hallway with a whole different set of doors. Don’t let it keep you from stopping when someone stands with their hand extended, waiting to meet you.

I know what it’s like to let go of the life you planned, the uncertainty of beginning again, or trying to figure out which direction to head in. I know what it feels like when dreams die and everything you thought you wanted starts to look colorless.

It’s okay to want new things. It’s okay to change your mind, to explore possibilities, to give yourself some room to make mistakes. Sometimes you’ll open the wrong door. Sometimes you’ll linger in the hallway too long. 

But sometimes, you’ll leave the wrong room and just realize that you’re grateful you didn’t get stuck where you weren’t ever meant to stay.

I just want you to know that you don’t have to keep waiting for the next thing. Sometimes, you can find the best things right where you’re standing, right in the middle of the uncertain hallway, where you never expected to meet someone who could make you laugh. Sometimes, you find people that change your life in the middle of the mall and you get to be enchanted by the mystery of not even knowing what made you stop.

Life is funny that way, O. You spend your days trying to find a room filled with your destiny, and most of the time you end up tripping over it in the hallway.

It never looks like you expect, but that’s the wonderful thing about surprises; they’re often much better than the things your mind could have imagined.

Life has some surprises for you, O. They may scare you, they can sometimes seem like hurdles and messes that cause a detour from the path you thought you were supposed to take.

But they’re there for you, they’re gifts if you open your heart. O, you’re going to get to where you’re supposed to go. But I don’t want you to end up there alone, exhausted, discouraged. Choose to enjoy the artwork, to peek in on others’ rooms, stop and make some friends; I promise you when you arrive at that place you’re wanting to be it will seem so much sweeter.

You’re going to get there, as will I. It may not be where we expected, the route may look nothing like we imagined. It may take longer than we thought, but we’re going to get there (whatever there looks like for our lives).

Don’t stress out about maps or compasses. Just keep walking. You are meant enjoy the walk, the process it takes for you to end up stumbling through the door of where you were always meant to be. 

You’ll get there, O; you couldn’t miss it, even if you tried.

 

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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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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