The Church Didn’t Teach Me The Gospel

Sitting around that worn wooden table, we just glared at one another.

These glares often followed an outburst of saying some things our mothers would not have been proud of.

I never turned to see how many people were staring at us during the times when we would scream at the top of our lungs. Night after night, this happened, inside a room that often held so many people that everyone was forced to sit or stand shoulder to shoulder.

We were finally far enough away from home. Finally, we were an ocean away from the hell we had been in for the last two years. At last, we felt free to say some things we had learned to swallow and choke back down, whenever they had threatened to come spewing out.

No need to whisper anymore, it wasn’t necessary to peek over our shoulders and make sure the coast was clear. We could slam our fists, raise our voices. We could use names, dates, places. No need for discretion, no desire to filter, just brokenness laid bare on the table before us.

I was done with secrets, at least for those few weeks. The strength in my voice had finally cracked under the torturous pain that those secrets had bore into my skin. Bloody and bruised, I gave up the fight to appear brave.

For me, the last leak of light had disappeared. I stopped trying to mask the wretched smell of my own blood, my infections; the way the pain and hopelessness had cut me and left me unbandaged and left for dead. My hands clenched the dirt that my once joyful face now lay on, I knew I could hold out no longer. I knew, then and there, that I was absolutely and undeniably finished with pretending like I could crawl another inch.

These are the things I never said when I came home from that trip.

This was the story that I left at the airport before I boarded the plane to come home. I decided to live by the whole line of what happens there, stays there.

But I didn’t come home healed, clean, or pretty. I managed to bring all of the agony to the surface and then when I stepped foot back home, I felt that sense of urgency to tuck it all away again. I needed people to believe that I had done my holy duty, I had given “our kind” a good name. I wanted the church, my friends, my family to believe I had taken flight, changed the world and come home a little more cultured, a little more experienced, a little older and a little wiser.

The reality was, I’d come home a little more reckless, a lot less reserved, and panicking to pretend like I didn’t see the worst version of myself when I looked in the mirror.

Because the reality was, in the year before that trip, I had seen more death, more defeat, more bitterness, more failure, more ruin than I’ve seen in all my other years combined. There had been things done in that time that had been so hurtful, so downright selfish and toxic. I had seen certain glares of evil that my once naive heart could have never even fathomed. But rather than turning on the light and staring those monsters right in the eye, I had kept my knees to my chest and sat with eyes closed in my bed. In the middle of the darkness with all its demons, I just remember thinking to myself, daylight always comes. It won’t feel this way forever, it can’t last forever.

I would remember thinking about that verse that said, though pain comes in the night, joy will come in the morning.

But when I would wake up in the morning, it was still dark. It was still painful, I was still shaking.

These are not things you expect when reading a Christian blog. These are not the things we paint for you on our stained glass windows. These are not the things I bring up at the breakfast table, or chat about over coffee on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

But this was reality. I cannot say I reached a point of depression to which I could not function. I cannot say that I internally dealt with thoughts or ideas that many people I know have. God kept me from places of self-hatred, of losing my will to live, or of decisions that could have ruined mine or my family’s lives. I was protected from those places, I was kept safe from those corners of darkness. But nevertheless, I faced fear that the church never taught me about. I came face to face with things that no mentor, minister or televangelist had ever fully admitted to walking through.

I had heard lines like, “I’ve gone through some dark times, but the Lord brought me out.”

But no one ever told the details of that darkness. No one had been authentic enough to pour out the gory and raw specifics of what it takes to hold on when you’ve worn out all your black dresses from going to funerals. I hadn’t heard stories of how dim it could get before dawn would come. My Bible sing-a-long songs had never told me that I would feel abandoned, forgotten, paralyzed. I had no grid for what life could look like when I had “done all the right things” and “made good choices” and was still attacked and assaulted by evil.

I was in a war, they told me I had weapons. They handed me verses about armor. They said I’d be able to fight. They never prepared me for the repulsive and vile face of the enemy standing on the other side of that battlefield. They made me think he was a little cartoon with shiny red horns and a laugh like the villain of a Disney movie.

The church did me a disservice when it came to teaching me how to grip hope when darkness would steal so much of the rope that there was not enough threads left to “tie a knot and hold on”.

I finally understood why so many sanctuaries sit empty and the rate of substance abuse, suicide and war were on the rise. We disarmed our best soldiers by training them with a simulation of stories with fluffy vocabulary about “trials and storms” when the reality is they will come face to face with an enemy who doesn’t fight fair and only plays dirty. He can come with excruciating beatings, cause agony with the twisting of his knife, spin hurricanes that knock down everything they pass.

I had been trained to believe that if I read my Bible, sang my songs, quoted my memory verses; then I would “weather the storms”.

They told me God was my shield, but they never told me what I’d need him to cover me from. They said He was my strength, but they never told me how weak I could really get. They said he’d be my joy, but they never really told me how that I’d need it because I could become utterly hopeless.

They used their Christian terms, their catchy (and not so catchy) praise songs. They didn’t tell me the truth. To the ones they raise in their four walls, the sheltered ones, they shut off from the world, they never tell them what it’s really like when they push you out of the nest to “Go to the nations” or “Go make disciples”.

I write this with absolute certainty that many will judge me. I don’t care. Because there are other believers out there, sitting in their pain and believing that for some unknown reason; they are the only Christian to ever know such pain. They are not. You may lie to them, you may dress it up with pretty pictures and a Jesus with a shiny robe and silky soft hair. I will not.

The reality is, I rarely listen to “Christian songs”. Because they’re perky and make me think that I’ll just keep walking on and pumping my fist and quoting Philippians 4:13 and that that is how I will “overcome”.

They write songs about how His love is warm and cuddly and will cause me to be able to do the aforementioned things like skip through life and shine my little light.

When the reality is that His love is not a sunny day that will make all the clouds disappear. It is a fierce and devastating force to be reckoned with, it is what stands up in front of me and fights violently for me when I am face down in utter ruin. When my body and mind are so battered, bruised and broken that I cannot stand, that I can no longer cry, that a whimper would require more strength than my mouth may possess.

And His Word is not a little butter-knife that will trim off bad habits and bad behaviors. Life isn’t just as easy as writing in my prayer journal to add a warm delightful topping to my “daily bread”.

His Words are a sword that cut lies and mutilate evil and dismember the limbs of the ones who come to murder me when I sleep.

This is the Gospel and this is the God I’ve come to know this year. This is not the sing-a-long song that I carried around in my little cassette deck. This is reality, this is the truth. This is what we’re up against. This is my victory. This is what I know about this battle. This is how He won it. This is why I’m a Christian. This is why He was on a cross.

It was not so I could have little arm floats to hold “little ole sinful me” while I splashed in the kiddie pool. It was so that when I hit the bottom of the darkest, deepest nightmares of my life that I could grip an anchor that would bring me back to the place where he could breathe life back into my water-filled lungs and with his scarred hands pump a rhythm back into a heart that stopped beating.

This is the reality. This is hope. This, in all its scandal and controversy and offensive imagery is the Gospel and it is not the one I’ve heard in most churches.

But I have not given up on the church, even so. Even in her disservice to me, I love her more now than I ever have. I do not say these things to start a rebellion, to sway someone to never again darken her doors. I say this to open the platform, to pull back the curtains, to call her higher,  and to challenge her to speak truth. This is to stir up authenticity, and to apologize for her wrongdoings.

I say this to remind her and myself of our first love, of the Man and God who still pursues us. To charge us, to love him back… for who He is, not the Hallmark Movie Hero we tried to make Him out to be.

I say this to say: let’s tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth… so help us, God.

 

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

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Lovely Letters: Jesus is enough, BUT…

This Lovely Letter is coming at you early! I just needed this to be out of my hands today. It’s longer than usual, and it’s quite bold. I know that some of my readers don’t have a religion or belief in God or whatever you want to call it—I do. Whatever you believe, I still want you to read it.

“Everyone always says that loneliness is an opportunity to get closer to God—-I’m failing to see it now. Does that sound like Jesus isn’t enough? Because I know He is, but He can’t go to the beach with me.”

-S

S,

I can already say that this will be one of the toughest things I’ve ever written.  I read that line in your e-mail, but He can’t go to the beach with me. One after another, tears slid down my cheeks and I just sat slowly nodding my head because it was so in sync with the ache in my heart. He’s enough, but He can’t go to the beach with me.

He also can’t go to the doctor with me.

Today, I just sat there on that tacky mauve-colored exam table and stared at the wood paneling on the walls. When those appointments first began, I used to talk to Him. I used to have little conversations and ask Him questions while I waited for the doctor to lightly tap on the door and make an entrance.

But today I just sat there and I waited. I looked at my phone, I read a poster on the wall, I picked at the threads hanging from my shirt. I waited. 

Mostly because that’s all God has been asking me to do lately, and so I didn’t expect anything else from Him.

Then I thought about that Facebook status I posted the other week. “When you’re single, people always say “You should just let Jesus meet every need” while I know what they mean, I wish those people had been here for the last fifteen minutes I just spent praying that He would open the world’s most difficult jar of pickles.”

A lot of people liked it, a lot of people laughed. I knew they would and I meant for them to. But even though I intended to be funny, there was still a raw truth lying in those words. He is enough, but He can’t open a jar of pickles for me.

Sometimes, that makes me cry. Because I’m spending weekends at baby showers and getting bridesmaids dresses altered and beating pickle jars with knives hoping that if I just grip tighter and turn it harder it will finally open.

But sometimes the pickle jar doesn’t open.

Sometimes you go to the beach alone.

Sometimes you go to the doctor alone.

I’m not going to tell you the annoying truth (and yes, it is true) that Jesus is there even though you can’t see Him. I’m not going to throw a Psalm at you and I’m most definitely not going to tell you that you’re a bad Christian.

I’m going to just simply say that today I felt alone.

So, when the appointment was over and I got into my car, I just kind of sat looking at the passenger seat and I felt an incomparable pain at the sight of it being empty.

People offered to come to my appointment with me, and I was the one who declined. But S, even though there may have been ten people I could have called and asked to go to my appointment with me, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that none of them are who I really wanted sitting next to me.

Because when I’m sitting in an office where women are smiling with their protruding little baby bumps and their endearing husbands sitting next to them as they wait for an ultrasound, I didn’t want to be sitting there with a random friend or family member. I didn’t want to be that pathetic girl. Maybe that’s prideful, but the reality is, I would have felt just as alone if any of those people had been next to me.

So many people tell me to let Jesus “be my husband through my singleness”. He might have been sitting there, but I couldn’t see Him and He couldn’t put His hand on my back and tell me I’d be okay. S, if I’m being honest with you, in that moment, I wanted to smack those fluffy-talking Jesus nuts in the back of the head. I wanted to take all those married people (who have lost touch with the loneliness of the single life) and who have fed that line to me and give them a not-so-pretty piece of my mind.

And I don’t think Jesus was angry at me or disappointed in the fact that I just wanted a a husband next to me today.

Last I checked, Adam was only alone on this planet for about 2 seconds before God was like “Hey, no, wait a second! It isn’t good for this guy to be alone!”

S, God’s not sitting up there crafting this hard road of loneliness for you. He’s not trying to make you miserable.

Honestly, I don’t know why you’re in the state you’re in. I don’t know why it seems like He’s not helping you out with this. Because He did make us for companionship and community. I don’t know why you don’t have it. I know you’re trying and there’s not a thing in this world wrong with you. You’re worthy of love and friendship, affection at the greatest magnitude. But today you feel alone, and there’s just no good reason for it.

I’m not going to try and write this big long speech about community or the value of finding a small group or Bible Study of people to invest in. I’m just going to tell you that I felt the same thing today. That I don’t know why. Sometimes God doesn’t make sense. My heart will always know that He is good, but sometimes this human flesh of mine just isn’t going to always have a grasp on Him and why He lets us go to the beach alone.

But I can tell you that He’s not happy about it. I don’t know why He allows it, S. But it doesn’t bring God joy to watch you sit on the shore with no one to share that view with.

He is not selfish. I know that much and I am certain that He is not threatened. I don’t care what the church told you, He is not sitting up there biting His nails, worried that if you get a husband that you’ll lose focus on Him. God is not in a competition with your future spouse.

And I know that fifteen people will probably e-mail me with scripture about how God is jealous. I’ll probably delete them. Because I know that He wants my heart and my affection. I know that He wants all of me. But I also know that Adam walked in perfect unity with God and God still saw that He needed someone else.

So, let’s get real here, God’s not making you be alone because He thinks you are so immature that you will abandon Him for a spouse. His jealousy for you and me isn’t rooted in fear. Jesus isn’t intimidated when someone takes you out on a date. He doesn’t go into strategic counter mission planning. Jesus isn’t threatened by marriage, or dating, or friendships.  He can sustain his pursuit of you no matter what stage of life you are in. So, if someone made you think that He says it’s good for you to be alone, they’re preaching from the wrong Bible.

I’m not going to give you a theology about “the one” or about “true love waits” or whatever other wagons there are to jump on when we need a theology to defend his goodness in regards to our loneliness. I’m just going to tell you that it is hard, that there are no clear answers. That God didn’t have Paul write a book about dating and finding Mr. Right (though I think that may have saved God a lot of time listening to all of us whine).

He knows when you feel alone. He knows when I’m being stubborn in my silence at the doctors’ office. He knows when my flesh and faith are failing. He is not unmoved by my pain, but nor is he unnerved by my doubt. He is still there, whether I feel Him or not. Even if He isn’t physically here to take me for a milkshake and pull the car up to the door for me when it’s raining.

S, it’s hard. I wish I could come to where you are, sit on that beach with you. I wish I could wrap you up in a good conversation. I wish that I could make this all a little easier somehow. So, if I, a complete stranger, could want to do those things for you; I’m certain that a God of love longs to do them more.

That’s why He came, that’s why He isn’t finished here. Because He hates our loneliness, our lack, our pain far more than we do.

I think that’s why He told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen. That’s my proof that Jesus knew it would hurt. He knew I would cry at the frustration of not being able to have him physically hold my hand. He knows the weight of that pain. He feels it and he cares.

But there’s a timing, and a reason, and a purpose. It’s all for my good and somehow in the grand scheme of everything, it makes sense. And even though He knows the end and all the reasons, He still hates the incomplete things in our lives, the things that are not yet made right.

But they will be and He is working on it. He’s got you, in your uncertainty and in your blindness, He’s got you, S. 

You don’t have to figure it all out. You don’t have to come up with a list of ways you plan to change your loneliness. You just have to know that though I sit in my corner of the world, uncertain of how far that is from you, that I feel it too.  So let the words on your screen be tangible proof that despite it all… He’s got you. 

I may not be there to hug you, S. I can’t buy you a coffee right now. I can’t watch a good movie with you and laugh over a big bowl of popcorn…but it doesn’t mean I’m not with you.

That’s what I’m saying, and I’m pretty sure that’s what He’s saying too.

 

 Love,

Ashlin

P.S. I hope it makes you laugh that I’m adding the disclaimer that despite the fact that there were a lot of pregnant women there, my appointment was not because I’m pregnant.

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday (and apparently, on the occasional Monday)! 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: You Can Draw Lines

Let’s do this! Round of 2 of Lovely Letters is here!

The balance between wanting to completely shut down and let it all in is really really hard. How do I “guard” my heart without shutting it off completely?

                                                                         -A

Dear A,

It’s funny, just the other day I was talking about the very same thing in a little diner near my hometown. My best friend and I were about three hours deep in a long conversation and were sipping our coffee, trying to answer that very question.

Somewhere in between sips and the last few bites of omelette, I just shrugged. “Draw a line, don’t build a wall.”

I saw something in her eyes light up and I immediately knew that she understood exactly what I meant.

Don’t let your life be something that others cannot see, don’t make yourself closed off and untouchable. Put away the bricks and mortar, take a breath.

Take a look down at your feet, all around them there is sand. The reality is, this life is sand. Our moments here in this beautiful, crazy, messy world are sitting on those shifting grains. The things you’re surrounded by now will eventually wash out to shore and you’ll have to re-evaluate the world all over again. Nothing on this earth is solid, stable, certain. It all shifts…over and over again. 

The reality is, you can’t build walls on sand. They won’t stand on that kind of foundation. And unfortunately, when you build walls around yourself on sand, they always coming crashing down and usually it’s on you, not whoever you’re trying to keep yourself safe from.

But you can draw lines. You can draw them as close or as far away from yourself as you need to. And the beautiful thing about lines in the sand is that they can be erased and redrawn. There’s room for growth, change, mistakes when you draw lines in the sand. You can decide that you need a little more space and draw it a little further out, you can decide that there’s someone you’re willing to let closer and you can bring them further in.

They’re yours to draw, A. You can draw them wherever your heart needs to. Don’t be the girl who uses her pain to lock herself away, don’t become cold and unapproachable. Don’t let love leave your limbs and ligaments, hold on to every bit of affection and enchantment you have inside of you. Don’t let anything or anybody steal that from you.

You let someone too close; trust me, I’ve been there. Forget lines or walls, I made everything in my life free admission for a select group of people, and they left some serious garbage and stains, they broke a lot of what they touched. But I learned to let go of the pain and anger because the fact was, I gave them access. 

And I chose not to regret it, not to call myself a fool; because the reality is that I did it because I knew love was worth the risk. Even in my deepest hurt, I still believe it was always worth it. But I’m not saying I would do it all over again, A.  I’m saying that now I know about lines in the sand, and I’ll know how to wait, watch, wage whether or not I really should move that line to let someone have full access.  I’ve learned to be careful with this fragile, but stunning thing that beats inside my chest.

You can’t hide behind lines. People will still see you, so there’s no opportunity for you to lie about who you are or what you’re going through. Lines aren’t for people who choose to be fake. But you, Sweet Thing, are not made for being fake and that is one of your greatest qualities. You wear your heart on your sleeve, your hurts on your face… you’ll be good at drawing lines. You can let them know you’re hurt, you can cry if you need to. A, if you need to sit down at their feet and sob on the floor; don’t you for one second be ashamed of that. You are human, imperfect, breakable… but you are also fierce and powerful. Tears and pain do not make you weak. 

But what makes you relentless, strong, and a force to be reckoned with is the fact that you’re able to get up, wipe your face and even in your pain, you can draw a line. They will see your struggles, your pain, your heartbreak; but what they have to say or think about it can’t cross your linesYour line is for you; not for them. Draw that line, but not to keep yourself from loving others, rather to guard what you let in.

Don’t shut yourself off from people, A. You’re far too exquisite to be locked away somewhere; the world needs to see all that you bring. The people that have tried to break you, they need to see you too. They need to see what it looks like for someone to draw their line on the opposite side of  what they threw their way.. Draw a line where their mistakes, jabs, lies, and problems no longer affect you. What they think about you, say to you, try to take from you can only go as far as you let it. 

You’re going to be okay, A. I don’t know if anyone has said that to you yet, but you’re going to be okay. You are going to be a pro at drawing lines and breaking down walls. Today might be difficult, you might draw a few lines in the wrong places, erase and start again. But as hard as this life surrounded by sand is, there’s always room for change.

If you’ll go back and read, you’ll see that I said you’re surrounded by sand. But you, darling, are made for standing on a rock. You can’t control the fact that everything around you is sand, but you can choose what you yourself stand on. The things around you are always going to be changing, you’re always going to have to draw lines and choose not to build walls. But who you are, what you know, what you believe… those things are made for standing on the rock. Don’t let them be something that moves and shifts with the sand.

Stand firm and steady, A. People that truly love you, they’ll wait patiently for you to erase the lines you draw. When you finally do let them come close, they’ll come stand on The Rock next to you, they’ll know about standing on things like love, honor, grace, humility. Keep holding on… and know that even though it feels like it sometimes, you’re not standing here on your own.

Standing with you,

Ashlin

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a new series I’m starting that will happen every Wednesday! 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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She Actually

“She actually turned out to be pretty…”

A few years after coming out of the awkward i’m-far-too-lazy-to-wake-up-early-and-dress-like-i’m-going-to-Paris-when-i’m-actually-going-to-gym-class stage, these words were said about me.

Casually, someone told me about that conversation when we were in the car leaving Walmart and something about it dug deep into my skin. It had been a conversation between boys who apparently wrote the definition for pretty.

I had always known that braces, curly hair and untamed eyebrows were not a winning combo, but it did something to my core to hear those words actually said out loud (even years later).

“She actually…” 

As if there had been some town council meeting that had convened during the years when flannel wasn’t cool and nobody liked the messy/bed-head hair look. It was as if everyone had gathered to secretly whisper their doubt about me and my future cool status.

“Yeah, that girl? She’ll probably always be awkward, gangly and discombobulated.”

There was a fire that sat in my bones for years. “She actually…” Over and over again those words would follow me around. It took everything in me to keep blow drying my hair, or using any makeup. There was something in me that so desperately wanted to just go back to how I looked at twelve years old. I wanted to prove to them that twelve year old Ashlin? She actually had always been pretty.

Oh, and that she actually knew that people were pretty in their own way. No one person, or group of people, is superior enough to decide a universal definition.

I’ve seen so many gorgeous girls stand in front of a mirror with a look of disgust. Even if I thought them to be absolutely breathtaking, it never mattered, because they couldn’t see it in themselves.

I should have said something like this to them:

Oh, you were always beautiful, babygirl. It was never about your hair. It was never about the tag sewn into your jeans or how much mascara you could coat onto your eyelashes.

Pretty was that fierce way you stood up for truth in the lunchroom. It’s the way you love to make others laugh. It’s the way you choose to stay and hold others when they cry. 

Pretty is when you still cry at movies because you’ve got a heart beating inside of you that knows love is still worth waiting for and not so impossible to find.

You know, the world will say these words are stupid, they will roll their eyes and call this another inspirational speech or ridiculous piece of encouragement for people that I’ve never even seen.

But I hope you don’t really believe that we have to see someone to know if they’re pretty or beautiful. Those words are not lost on blind eyes, but rather on blind hearts. 

Whether we never sit across from one another, I will always believe there’s something breathtakingly beautiful about you.

Because to me, you will never be a number on a scale. You will never be just another face. You are entirely your own kind of wonderful, though some may never see what I do. How sad for them, that they’ve defined their own worth by what they see in a piece of reflective glass in the bathroom.

You were always enough. You actually were always pretty. Even in your awkward middle school years and even when you take your make-up off. You are beautiful because you are intricate and deep, and thousands and thousands of details make up the heart of who you are.

And you are worth untangling. You are pages upon pages of your own kind of story and it’s worth reading. You have value and I hope that’s what you see when you look at yourself. I hope you know that at the end of the day, it will never matter how tan you are or whether or not you ate that second serving.

You deserve to hear that you are incredible. I really know that, I really believe that. There is somebody in your corner who thinks you are worth loving.

But I hope you really believe that about yourself, too. Because no matter how many times I write it for you, it only matters what you see.

As for me, when I stumble into the bathroom to get ready, I see a collage of all the stages of the person I’ve been and the person I am. I laugh at her frumpy ponytail and oversized pajama shirt and I shove the lies from the back of my mind and think about those words said to me on that car ride and I reply,

She actually was born beautiful and lives beautifully and she actually didn’t ever really need anyone else to believe that but herself.

She actually wants the world to see the person behind the hazel eyes and tiny hands. She actually knows that there’s something put inside her that the world can be changed by.

And she actually wants to say thank you. To the girl who told me about that conversation and the two guys who never intended for me to hear that and most likely meant no harm. Because in their twisted compliment, they made me love that girl in a whole new way, the one I am and the one I’ve always been

The Tightropes of Transparency

“DON’T LET THEM PAINT YOU RED.”

She reminded me of when the cards told Alice that the white roses were a mistake. I pulled pain from the cracks of my heart as I thought about how many times I had let them make me feel that way. I let my mind replay all the times they hurried to paint me red before I caused problems.

Somewhere between buying coffee in Blacksburg and chasing the sunshine along Charlotte’s horizon, I realized that it was time to surrender.

I started to understand that it wasn’t about needing stability. What I really needed was to love some strangers and to throw tangerines at trees that stood in line along the lake. I needed to sit in a crowded parking lot, five hours from home, and tell God that I was nervous and rattled; that my hands seemed to small to hold everything He’s been handing me.

I’ve got words to say and I know that you do too. I can see it in the way you pause in conversation, it always seems like you are holding your breath and waiting for the right moment. But I wish we’d just say them. I wish we would stop being afraid of greatness and of the price you have to pay to hold it. Because we were always meant for it, but we’re all too cheap to really go after it. The price seems to high; the price to be the people that do the hard things, say the uncomfortable things, stand in the awkward gaps.

I want my hands to cramp from writing letters to strangers. I want to stay up late and fill pages with words that say you’re holding a promise that will probably change the world. I want to know what it means to be unafraid of the absurdity that comes with really living.

Because they’re trying to paint all of us red. They’re trying to change us, shame us and tell us that we were never good enough to knock knees and bump elbows with those who are believed to be the most important people in the room.

But we’re enough. We have always been enough and I want to love you enough to tell you that. I want to be foolish enough to make you look me in the eyes and hear it. I want to grab your hands when we’re face to face and soak you with the kind of affirmation that unnerves the lies you’ve believed. I want to love you enough to say the words that send your insecurities running out the door. I want to make you forget all the ways your heart has been steeped in pain and show you that there are still a few people left who aren’t afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve for you, because you’re worthy of that.

I want to love others with such force that I am out of control, reckless and downright dangerous in my prayers for them. That I’m so affected by the footprints they’re making on the world that I’ll move mountains and lead armies to see them win their wars. That I’ll find myself fighting for them on the carpet of my closet, my knees forming imprints and my tears making altars.

I really want to stop being too intimated to paint the room with the light that’s been put inside of me.

I want to stop thinking that I’m far too weak to ever really fill in the lines of future history books.

It’s going to be the irrational, senseless, outrageous way that we sing 90’s songs at the top of our lungs, and make facial expressions that cause the Starbucks barista to explode in laughter. It’s the little ways that we’ll learn to love people. It’s going to happen when we stain the the kitchen table with overflowing bowls of ice cream. It’s going to be brief moments that turn into hours that are laced with words like “you’ve got what it takes”  “i’m proud of you” and I’ve got your back.”

It’s not always going to be the big things that take us to the heights. Most of the time, it’s the smaller steps we take that are going to teach us how to trust when walking on the tightropes of transparency and relationship. We’re learning how to love and it’s going to be our love that changes things.

You Can’t Let It Take the Best of You

You’ve done everything you can.

I need you to hear me on that. If love were water, your hair would be dripping and your boots would be filled. You’d be choking on the gallons flowing out of your mouth. I’ve watched you love when it meant ripping your ribcage wide open. I’ve watched you toss out handfuls mercy like a kid on a newspaper route. You’ve thrown them time and time again, they’ve hit a lot of closed doors, but you continued to deliver. Even when they piled up on the porch and you knew no one was going to come out and get them, you kept on pedaling.

You’ve felt guilty. You have thought there MUST be more. There must be something else I can say, one more letter I could write, one more strategy I could try. There has to be something I can do to make it better.

I’m sorry. You just can’t fix it and I’m so incredibly sorry for that.

It hurts in the worst way, to stand there, knee-deep in someone else’s pain and unable to mend what’s broken. It’s hard to watch them writhe in misery. It’s hard when all you can do is stand with your hands shaking and your throat filled with questions that will have no answers. You may not get any answers, and you can’t let it take the best of you.

And I don’t say that casually or without feeling. I don’t press those keys in ignorance.

I know what that takes. I know the strength it takes to pry clamped fingers and white knuckles from something you’ve gripped so tightly.

I know they say that silence is golden, and maybe there are days when that might be true. But I think you might find treasure in giving someone else the chance to sit across from you and pour some love into the cracks of your heart. I think your heart needs to hear that you are not standing on your own, that someone’s got your back, that your words and values matter. I think hearing that makes it easier to walk away from the people and things that douse the fire you’re meant to carry.

Walk with those who will help you carry your torch. The people who will stand with you in the battle, those who will fight for you when you can’t stand. Spend your birthday weekend with people who make you wheat pancakes and let you nap on their couch. Dry your eyes and block out the sounds of the closing door. Choose to celebrate with those who will dance with you at the breakfast table and who bring you flowers and boxes of your favorite cereal.  Don’t waste your tears on something or someone who is senseless or selfish. There are certain things that are far too shallow to deserve the grief that comes from depths of your precious heart.

You’ve done absolutely everything you can, so it’s now or neverChoose now. Wipe your hands off, get up off of your knees and allow yourself to be happy, allow yourself to stop sitting in the pain. Decide to plant your feet in places that cause you to grow, not places with hands that pluck your petals. 

There are such great things out there for you, things that are going to make up for the sorrow that has dug itself into your gut. You just have to let yourself find it.

And it’s hard to find all the things you deserve if you sit around crying about the things you don’t.

Sometimes You Just Walk

“Baby, you’re going to be quite alright.”

These are the words I heard sitting in my car this morning. I was just staring at bare tree branches during the final moments of the morning’s thunderstorm.

Just seconds before, it had taken everything I could muster not to just sit down in the floor of Target’s fitting room and let my eyes pour their own kind of rain.

I’m going to Ireland. I have two (pretty much three) amazing jobs. I am living my dreams, doing all the things I love. I am exactly (well, for the most part) where I hoped I would be at twenty-one. Honestly, I’m doing better than I ever expected.

But… and isn’t there always one of those? That word, she follows me everywhere I go; her fingers are almost always laced with mine. Sometimes, she sits on my shoulders and she is forever kicking me in the gut.

The truth is, no matter how seemingly perfect it’s all going, there are always those things that can knock the wind right out of you. One minute, you’re admiring a clearance lamp shade and the next thing you know, you’re hyperventilating next to a horrid burnt-orange vase.

It hits you…you’re not perfect. You feel like a worn out puzzle and as though your pieces are scattered in a million places. Every day has been a prayer for finding the right fit for at least one of them.

Somehow, you’ve got to accept it. You have got to get over the fact that you’re going to do some things that you’ll immediately regret. You will make decisions that will forsake everything you ever stood for. You will betray yourself over and over again. You will at some point be your own greatest disappointment. You will break your own heart.

But then you’ll hear those words, “Baby, you’re going to be quite alright.”

Maybe you can’t hear Him when He says those words to you. Maybe you’ve never really known where to lean your ear to hear what your maker has to say to you. Well, I think He’d be okay with me relaying this message to you.

You’re going to be quite alright. I know there are loose ends. Oh, and there are dreams that fell off somewhere along the way. You lost some pieces of yourself, and you left behind some important stuff that you needed. You’re tired and you’re disappointed and really, you’re a little bit angry.

But you’re quite alright. You, with your bloodshot eyes and your faded sweatshirt, you are going to be just fine.

I took a walk on the edge of a busy street sidewalk today. As I balanced my weight on those strips of concrete, I decided that sometimes it’s okay to take a walk having nowhere to end up. I didn’t have a destination and sometimes, you won’t. Sometimes you just walk and you end up wherever you end up. Sometimes, it leads you somewhere else, but a lot of times you end up turning around. Yeah, sometimes you just walk.

And It’s okay to wander a little. The wanderers are the learners. They are the ones with stories and they almost always come back with a little more strength in their bones.

When I noticed the green starting to peak out from the ground, I closed my eyes and I told Him that I wish He would go ahead and tell her to wake up. I wish the hands that formed this earth would wake her up. I need to see her crawl out from under the winter covers. I think it’s time she and I both pull ourselves out from the beds we’ve made.

I know it’s not always so simple. We’re going to wander aimlessly, we are going to screw up and the winter is going to come and it’s going to feel barren and cold. At first, you might be enchanted with the change, but quickly you will remember how much you long for growth and green. When you do, and the winter has not quite passed, know that you’re doing just fine.

And you’re going to find your way. The pieces will eventually start to show up and they’ll fit where they were always meant to. 

You will disappoint yourself and then you’ll learn how to forgive your own heart.  The things you pick up and leave behind will mold who you are going to be… and as for us, we’re going to be quite alright.

Maybe G was for Grace

I have been learning how to live without.

I’ve also been baking non-stop. If you don’t know me, then let me tell you, I ain’t the kind of girl that bakes.

But this week? Brownies, muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls.

I learned a lot about loss when I lived in Apartment G.

My doctor told me I had to cut out sugar and white flour. I didn’t respond well to being told that I couldn’t have chocolate or pizza or cheesecake. It was a sad day when I was forced to break up with Ben & Jerry.

Now, here I am a year later. I’ve learned to do without it. Apparently, I learned to bake without it. I learned a lot about grace while giving up a lot of things I love.

Not just sugar or flour, I lost a lot more than food when I lived in Apartment G.

I am now seeing just how much these months have changed me. I am not even close to being the same person I was when my sister and I unpacked our lives in that little space.

In that time, grace grew me up to be steady. She taught me how to choose love when it seemed like a complete waste. She sat with me while I ate peanuts and tried to figure out how to dance through someone else’s sadness.

Her elegance and class kept me from saying all the things I held in my clenched fists. “Keep your head high, love.” Over and over she would whisper words like, “You’ve always been enough.”

She would grab my hand in critical moments, tuck my hair behind my ear and remind me,”You are better than the words you want to speak in your anger.”

Grace is the kind of girl who wears a dress to meet you at a diner. She orders coffee at 9 pm and settles in for the long haul. Grace knows how to love the bad, endure the imperfect, but grace looks for the beauty, the worth, in everything she sees.

Even after I ignored her, left her in the cracks and crevices of apartment G, she quietly followed me. She followed me back to my parents house, and hangs out with me in the kitchen while I bake.

Because that’s who she is. Grace tells you to do what seems impossible and then she teaches you how. When you can’t quite sing the words, she teaches you how to hum the tune. She teaches you how to live with less. She’s beautiful in that way.

Even in all of her elegance, grace knows about living with less. She knows how to make loss seem lighter.

Even when I was knee-deep in blame and anger, she was waiting for the day when I came back around. Always waiting with her wit, strong coffee, healthy breakfast and some endless laughter.

Grace is teaching me to do the same. She’s teaching me to be classy in my efforts, poised in my anger. She is teaching me how to stick around for the long-haul, even in the midst of terrible loss.

Grace addresses birthday cards that may never be appreciated for their sentiment and she never believes that it is a waste.

Grace knows Thursdays are for calling to say “I miss you” even if they don’t miss you back.

I’ve always known her, but we became good friends when I learned to pay bills and sweep my own kitchen. I think maybe that was fate because in these days I need her more now than ever.

Maybe G was for Grace.  Maybe those days in that tiny apartment were about learning how to stand alone when others walk away, about learning how to live without, with less and with loss.

 

Jesus Doesn’t Hate Your Make-Up

Women are praised for showing their bare faces.

No make-up, no photoshop retouches, their blemishes are put on display and they should learn to be happy about that. A confident girl can embrace all of her flaws, right?

Women are scorned for painting their face. They are condemned for putting their best foot forward. They are called down-right shallow for spending an hour on their hair.

And as a Christian, I’m supposed to condone these views and call them right and holy. I’m supposed to clap my hands for every girl who is au-natural, call her the Proverbs 31 woman and throw her a party.

For the girls who spend two hours getting ready, who decorate their appearance with clothing and make-up, I should try and convince them they are surface and that they are “really just masking their insecurity”.

The church is willing to accept that we live in a fallen world. As Christians we can easily take “we all fall short of the glory” and shout “AMEN!”

We praise the pursuit of righteousness. We tell people to strive to live in love, to treat others with kindness, to walk in humility, to give generously. We can easily admit that it’s harder than God intended. He intended us to be perfect and sometimes we feel the sting of our imperfections, our shortcomings and we seek to do better, to be better.

Well, let me break it to you, I am not as God created me to be.

I am imperfect in my appearance. I have permanent bruises from a broken nose. Right at this moment, I have acne. I have thin hair. I have lines from gaining and losing weight. I have scars from falling down. My appearance changes from week to week and month to month.

I am not as I was intended to be in heart or in body.

 I am a mess. But this is because of sin, not because of God.

I am praised for making my heart better, but doomed for doing the same to my outward appearance.

I can hear some of you and see you in my mind, shaking your head, wagging your index finger and saying “1 Peter 3:3-4”.

Forgive me for rolling my eyes at you right now. I did not say that my beauty COMES from my outward appearance. I know it comes from my heart. I know that WHO I AM is far more valuable than what I look like or what I wear. God said those things don’t define your beauty. But he wasn’t condemning women for their clothing or appearance either, because let’s be honest, that’s not his character.

He was saying, don’t neglect your heart. Don’t make the outward your priority.

But he never said you couldn’t improve it, better it, or decorate it. Oh, I can hear people shouting the “whitewashed tomb” verse at me.

Jesus said (my paraphrase), “you’re beautiful on the outside and inside you are dead bones and filth”.

Uh. If they weren’t filled with filth, I highly doubt Jesus would have cared if they were looking stylish that day. Maybe he would’ve asked to borrow their shoes sometime. If their hearts had been in the right place, He might would’ve complimented their robe and encouraged them to pair it with a fashionable belt.

Jesus doesn’t have a problem with appearance, WE DO. That’s why he told us these things. Not because he thinks you shouldn’t fix your hair, but because he didn’t want us to think that was more important than the heart.

I assure you, when you get to heaven, you are not going to be gross with wrinkled robes, greasy hair, and with dark circles under your eyes. You’re going to be absolutely flawless and radiant because we will be like Him when we see Him as He is.

If your heart is filled with life and purity, if you’re pursuing the heart of God; please don’t let the church condemn you for showering and blow drying your hair.

The truth is… they would all judge you and abandon you if you stopped wearing deodorant and brushing your teeth.

You are beautiful because of your heart. You are absolutely gorgeous in your own skin because you are a miracle made from the hands of God. Whether you wear make-up, or not… you are enough. But not wearing make-up doesn’t make you more holyTelling people to stop brushing their hair, doesn’t make you evangelist of the year.

You are broken and fallen. You are flawed. You are not as you were made to be. 

I’m not giving you permission to starve yourself and spend $17,000 on plastic surgery and clothes at Nordstrom. But you are free to be natural and you are free to be glamorous. I’m telling you that if you want to wear a cute dress and powder your nose, God’s not disappointed in you, you are not unholy and you don’t have to apologize for it.

It may not mean much, but it’s okay with me if you stick it to the state of sin we’re all living in and say “I’m going to get as close to flawless as I wanna be.”