7 Billion Reasons for Grace

I am pulling out mixing bowls and measuring cups again.

If you’ve been on this journey with me for a while, then you might remember my baking phase after Apartment G¬†.

I’m¬†back at¬†it and I find myself inviting Grace back inside my home to do her thing. She showed up a couple of weeks ago, right after a rain storm and reminded me of late nights at diners¬†and long Carolina¬†car rides.

“This ain’t us.”¬†She told me. I was shakily holding my phone and¬†Anger was fiercely holding me.¬†Grace didn’t force me to do the right thing, she just stood there, holding the door and offering¬†me a way out.

I had forgotten the rhythm that Grace and I had once gotten into, back when she showed me how to live with less. She once taught me that there’s good in everything, sometimes it just¬†takes time to find it.

And in your pain, Grace will tell you to keep going. She will ask you to choose to do the things that feel like salt on the wound; she knows that the things that hurt deeply can often times help you heal. She’ll show you how, and she¬†will pull you low, teaching you how to whisper thank-you’s for that pain.

She will pull you out of bed when your eyes sting and your head pounds. “Come on, there are people¬†waiting for you to show up.”¬†She’ll take your hand and lead you into rooms with people who are aching¬†to hear that they’re going to be alright. She’ll give you the words to say, ones that you could have never come up with on your own.

And when others cry, whether it be tears of joy, sorrow or relief, she will pull you close and hum: “Didn’t I tell you¬†there was more? Oh, don’t you know that you’ve always got 7¬†billion¬†reasons to climb out from underneath those sheets?”

Because Grace won’t make you¬†a schedule¬†that has very many spaces for yourself. She’s got some breaks for you to breathe, but she’s blocked out¬†most of the slots for people in grocery stores, strangers covered in dust and quite a few for the people who handed you back your own heart covered with¬†bruises and deep cuts.

So, when she hoists herself up on your kitchen counter and says things like,¬†I’m sticking around¬†for the long haul”¬†you’ll wonder why you ever let her go, locked her out, didn’t stay in touch. Because that’s all you’ve ever really wanted anyway, those words to be next to you when you realize you can’t do this whole living life thing on your own. We all want something and someone who stays, who doesn’t let us hide beneath those covers and forfeit the¬†places we¬†were born to stand.

“I never gave up on you, you know.”

When she tells you those words, they will carve themselves into the very marrow of your bones. So when the time comes that one of those 7 Billion Reasons stands there trying to give¬†you excuses to walk away, you’ll just pull yourself up onto their counter and say, “I’m in this for the long haul.”

I didn’t know how much I missed her until she came knocking on the door of a little room hidden in the halls of a quaint church. I met her at the door,¬†thinking that she was going to shake her head with disappointment at the time I had let¬†pass. But instead, she tackled me with laughter, steadied my weak knees and walked with me to a place I could have never found without her.

She and I bake in my kitchen, my bare feet relearning how to dance on hardwood floors. I realized that though she pulls me to painful places, pushing Grace away was what led to the most unbearable agony of all.

I moved to Georgia a year ago, lugged my bags into this old brick house, not knowing if I’d ever see her again. But she is always knocking, sometimes it’s so gentle that I’ve got to get still and quiet to hear it.

I told her that I’m planning to keep her around this time. She’s helped me see that the world is much¬†better off when I invite her to stay.

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Sunday and Not Settling

Sunday has ruined me for other days.

Sunshine, windows down, music sailing through speakers, it’s like his wind whispers: you’ll never be able to settle when you see how I’ll always come back around for you.

I’ve tried to fall in love with Mondays, Thursdays, but they can’t hold a shred of my heart once he starts knocking.

He is gentle in the way he loves me. He brings friends with fresh flowers and comes with steeples that hover over people who are also trying to learn about this thing called grace.

I love that he makes me feel comfortable to be natural, barefoot and lazy. I’m never afraid to let my hair down, to dance and twirl on hardwood floors. Together, along with caramel coffee, we don’t focus on the questions, the worry, what we don’t know. He’s¬†my day, it’s that plain and simple. Sunday has got me wrapped around his finger.

He’s painted with laugh lines and¬†leans in to remind me that even when it’s hard, i’m going to be just fine.

Sunday ruined me for settling.

God knows I’ve tried. I’ve drawn maps and written pages about how¬†maybe¬†just maybe,¬†I could try and hold hands with people and things that just weren’t ever meant to be mine.¬†But then there’s Sunday, and he starts shoveling hope back to this heart¬†like he did when I was eight, twelve and fifteen; he does it now, just weeks away from twenty-three.¬†

I’m not going to stand here and tell you that it’s easy to hold onto hope. I’m not going to grab your hands and force you to grip the end of this rope and wait for a love like Sunday. I’m just going to tell you that¬†you could. I think you could do it.

You don’t have to wait. I’m not saying that you’re doomed to loneliness unless you¬†find perfection.¬†What I am telling you is that,¬†I don’t want to be the one who settles.¬†

Not in a world where I can string together Sundays and know what it feels like to be so completely delighted in.

Not when there’s ice cream and good conversation on the front porch to be had. I can’t settle when there are backyard campfires to be around¬†while sitting¬†on blankets, roasting hotdogs and drinking root beer.

I can’t settle when I¬†really do believe that love exists, that it can be strong enough to overcome death and that I was born¬†to be fought for and absolutely adored. I can’t settle for “making something¬†work” or¬†something that’s “logical and just makes sense”.

I left social media for a while to discover how to be enchanted by the world again and I think I’m finally there. I think today, Sunday, sealed the deal for me. I’m starting to remember¬†that the world is pretty glorious, pretty breathtaking place and that hope isn’t foolish,¬†it¬†isn’t a recipe for disappointment.

Foolishness is giving up on¬†what you’ve bruised your knees in prayer for.

It”s up to you to decide if you want more. Decide if you believe that better things than what¬†you’re wanting to settle for are¬†really worth the wait.

I’m going to tell you that I want to learn to leave people feeling the way I feel about Sundays. I want to be a reason for people to think they’re made for much better than settling. ¬†

Sundays have ruined me for being disenchanted and for telling people that it’s okay to choose anything less than what makes them better, what makes them feel adored. I want them to be inspired to love with a kind of love that’s overwhelming and that sets the bar for those who’ve never known what it means to be truly, wholly and completed delighted in.

I’m ruined for anything less than life filled with love like Sundays.

Unplugging and Reinventing

I’ve forgotten how to be¬†enchanted.

We live in a world where text messages are considered pursuit, apps can act as a crystal ball for choosing your future spouse, phone calls are for old people and face to face dinners where phones stay tucked in our pockets are almost extinct.

I used to spend weekends watching movie after movie. My sister and I would curl up with cups of tea, bags of snacks and sit under piles of blankets. I never once watched a movie where people stared at their phones during dinner or sat in rooms silently scrolling through Facebook for three hours. If I had watched a movie where people paused at every meal, street corner, or flower to take a picture and Instagram it, I would have never made it to the ending.

I’ve been consumed¬†by the wrong kind of light. The glow of my computer and phone have dulled¬†my eyes to what’s truly beautiful.

I miss being inspired by grand gestures. I miss believing that¬†people¬†care enough to run through airports, that we live in a world where it’s possible for people show up on your porch.¬†I miss being the person who is willing to go to great lengths to let people know they really matter. I miss believing that other people are willing to do that for me.

I want to live in a world where girls know they’re beautiful because someone looks them right in the face and says it, not because they got 174 likes on their selfie.

I want to live¬†in a moment and not feel the need to have 844 people approve it or admire it. I want to live in a world where it’s still fun to have sweet secrets. I want to dance alone in my room like a fool if flowers are delivered to my door. I want to treasure and cherish surprises and not spoil the intimacy and thrill of a gesture that whispers, “I thought of you today.

We forget to live. It’s really that simple.¬†We forget to spend our last moments before we fall asleep thinking about the way someone made us laugh that day. Our phones are the first thing we grab in the morning, so we forget to take a second to even be thankful that we’ve got another day, another chance to show up.

The things we love in movies are the things we wish we could do, but have completely closed ourselves off to. We love the extravagant speeches,¬†when the plain-jane¬†girl finally gets asked to dance, and when the guy stands outside with a boombox over his head.¬†You actually have to¬†show up to do those things. You’ve got to get in your car and¬†go to them for that to happen.

You know, I’d weep buckets of tears if we started swooning in movie theaters as we watched George Clooney send a text that said, “What are you up to?”

All of this to say: I’m unplugging for a little while.¬†

Because I want to enjoy a sunset without grabbing my phone. I want to be forced to do something more than run my fingers over a keyboard to tell someone I really miss you.

I can’t expect this from others, without requiring it of myself. It starts with me. I have to learn how to look away from my phone, Facebook and anything else that gives me a false sense of relationship.¬†I want people to know what’s happening in my life because we sat down and had lunch. I want to be forced to remember my closest friends’ birthdays without having to be told by a screen.¬†I want to stand in front of someone and say¬†“Hey! You’re pretty awesome”¬†with a hug and a bag of their favorite chocolate.

So, I’m unplugging from social media for the next little bit. I don’t have a set time, I guess it will be however long it takes for me to feel excitement rebuilding in my bones; however long it takes for me to have made a dent in reinventing¬†the way I see the world.

But not to worry, things will be written and the blog will go on! I’m excited to see how it will refuel my passion for life and help me create new content. I’ve got a feeling that good things are on the way.

The Things That Matter

I sat down and made a list of things I know.

I made a list of things I know right in this moment, to see if they were enough to keep me moving forward.

There were nineteen bullet points on that list. I had to ask myself if that was that enough to make me move forward in things that feel pretty risky.

If I’m being honest, I feel like I need¬†at least fifty things on the list of certainties before I can take a risk. Let’s be real,¬†nineteen isn’t really in the ballpark of fifty.

I sat there, tears on my face as I realized that sandwiched there in the middle were three of the most important things I could ever write. These certainties, these things I know to be true, are all that it should take for me to take a leap.

Figure out what matters.

That’s my advice to you. In whatever situations you’re sitting with, in whatever battle you’re fighting,¬†figure out what matters and let that make your choice.

There are always going to be questions.¬†You’ll always have little doubts trying to weasel their way into your ear drums, trying to settle in there and make their voice a permanent part of your story.¬†You will always be fighting uncertainty in one way or another. You can have¬†fifty-one things on your list of reasons why you should or shouldn’t, but if you don’t have the most¬†important things covered, it was never even worth picking up the pencil.

Figure out¬†what it is you’re really looking for, who you’re trying to be, where you’re trying to go. Get those things covered and if what you are considering lines up, stop looking for more confirmation. Stop waiting for all fifty spots to be filled in.¬†If you’re staring at number eleven, twelve, and thirteen and they make you cry and say¬†to yourself,¬†that’s the heart of it, that’s what I’ve really been in search of, then you’d be crazy not to take that chance.

You would be crazy to back away in fear when your heart has a chance to see the miracles you’ve waited for.

We make things too complicated. We want all the answers when we’re too afraid to even ask the questions.

Did you ever play the foot game when you were little? The one where everyone would make their feet into a circle and someone would sing a silly song and rule everyone out and the last foot in won the game?

Your chances were better always better when both feet were in.

You’ve got to jump into this thing with both feet, kid.¬†You’ve got to stop keeping one of your feet out of the circle.¬†You’re doing it because it protects you, because it’s easier to only have one foot rejected than¬†both. You’ve got to decide here and now if you’re¬†in or out.¬†

Are you committed to this thing?

God once asked me that about a circumstance I was dancing around. Are you going to be involved or are you going to be committed?

I chose commitment.

It was one of the hardest, but most amazing things I’ve ever done.¬†The next thing I knew, I was up to my knees in a mess that seemed impossible to stand in. But I learned, I learned things that only commitment can teach you.¬†

You’ve got to decide, you know. Decide if you’re involved, if you’re committed, or if you’re bowing out.

Figure out what’s important. Figure out who you are, what you’re called to. If this is what you have¬†really been looking for, stop waiting for flashing arrows and someone to give you that fiftieth reason why you should say “yes”. If it’s just not quite right, crumple the paper and go in search of the important things.

We’re always going to want to play it safe, and¬†we’re going to always want a perfect plan.¬†Sometimes, what you really need is the moment of clarity that comes when you’re staring straight at the few, but mighty things that¬†actually matter.¬†

 


 

[photo cred]

Black Coffee & Weak People

“I’ll take a coffee.”

He begins slowly pouring it into the white paper cup. “Room for cream and sugar?”

I shake my head, “No.”

He looks slightly surprised, but says nothing as he pops the plastic top onto the cup.

If you’re going to love something, learn to love it exactly the way it is.

This is my thought about coffee, about life, about people.

We’re always trying to add things, change things, make them sweeter and easier to swallow.

I don’t want to expect anything different than what I’m being handed. This is it. This cup of coffee, this moment, this human being. This is what’s in front of me and that has to be enough, it¬†should be enough.

I want to be enough as I am.

I realized that when I was working in the living room in my pajamas the other morning. Our house is consistently knocked upon by visitors and I’m just learning how to open the door.

No running to the mirror to check my hair, no throwing the little messes into the laundry room. I want to be enough, just as I am.

When I’m angry, in denial, in my sweatpants with two day hair. When there’s just not enough energy in me to do what needs to be done. When I’m disappointing people, disappointing myself, I want to know that it’s not the end of the world.

I want you to hear that from me. I want you to know that there’s some grace for you, when you can’t stand for another second. If you just need me to grab your shoulders and say: just rest, you have the time you need to figure this out,¬†I’ll do that for you.

It’s okay that you haven’t figured it out yet. Everyone is rushing you and you’re overwhelmed with the idea of having to figure out where one more piece fits in this puzzle…but¬†you don’t have to do it¬†today. You don’t even have to do it tomorrow.

There’s going to come a day where you do have to get up, make your bed, and make a decision. You can’t stay here in your comfy chair forever.¬†But today, if you need to rest, I’m here to tell you¬†that you’re still enough.

In your weakest moment,¬†you are adequate.¬†You’re allowed to get tired and frustrated. You are allowed to take a break. You are allowed to let people down, because¬†you are not perfect.

You are still human. You are still fragile. While you are wildly adequate, stunning, worth loving you are still just made of dust.

And you can’t carry it all.¬†You can’t be everything to everybody all the time.¬†You can’t¬†be every single piece to every empty corner of a puzzle.¬†You’re just you, you’re just one person and that’s all you have to be today, just you.¬†And you can be weak if you need to be, you can cry and laugh until you can’t distinguish which is which anymore and you’re just letting out whatever it is that’s been burrowing so deep inside of you this week.

Black coffee. Frustrating days. People who are broken.¬†I’m learning to love them, hold them, take them exactly as they are, nothing added and nothing else expected.

We’re enough today, even if we’re at our weakest, we are adequate and worth love even if we still haven’t figured things out.

 

We’re all fighting battles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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