Love Gets Good

It rained that morning.

You were full of excuses; forever the king of justifications, the king of reasons why.

That was the morning I stopped believing anyone who says the words “I wish I could, but…”

This week I sat at my favorite hotel restaurant, the one with the floor to ceiling windows and white linen tablecloths.

The dark clouds reminded me of that morning. I thought about how I always knew your coffee order and that I am almost certain you never knew mine.

I never showed up to you holding a vanilla latte.

That was what my coffee order back then. Sometimes caramel, but mostly vanilla. I can’t remember how many times I must have ordered one standing next to you, but I would be willing to bet¬†you never noticed.

Because there are some people that never know the coffee order of the person standing next to them. Then there are those that could list the coffee orders, birthdays, and eye colors for people they’ve¬†met only a handful of times.

As my hands wrapped around that little white mug that splashed on that white linen table cloth, I laughed that I couldn’t¬†remember the last time I had a vanilla latte.

There are also those of us who spend years being walking apologies to someone who will never know how we take our coffee. Even after we showed up at their door with their exact order more times than we could count.

There is a temptation to be bitter, but I think I just feel sad for the person¬†who may never know what it feels like to show up at someone’s door and know what they need even before they do. To have pulled yourself outside of your introspective mind long enough to hear someone say,¬†skinny vanilla latte. Just long enough to store it and to think, I care about this person enough that¬†one day,¬†I’ll use these words.

I lived inside of my head for most of my childhood.

I didn’t realize how dark and greedy it was until I realized that I didn’t know what it was to love another outside of myself. That I never valued¬†the thoughts of another, never truly treasured another’s feelings over my own.¬†I¬†lived inside a monologue with an audience of one.

That way of living and thinking never hears or cares about the coffee order of someone else, doesn’t remember birthdays, doesn’t memorize the sound of another’s laugh. It doesn’t care if someone sits alone. It never notices the pain of the person who knows your exact coffee order, who shows up on all your birthdays, who gets disappointed when you only want to converse with yourself. It only notices its own pain, its own weakness, its own feelings, its own¬†I’m-so-exhausted-and-I-don’t-feel-like-it. It only notices its own¬†I’m-just-not-good-at-remembering-things…

Get good.

Because love gets good.

Love gets good at making and ordering coffee (or tea) for others. It gets good at warm hugs, birthday cards, saying¬†I still see you, I notice you.¬†Love gets good at saying I’ll be there, gets good at getting out of bed and fighting through exhaustion to make good on that promise. Love gets good at cutting the meeting short and making it to the recital on time. Love gets good at remembering anniversaries and birthdays, because love gets good at noticing pain and wanting to avoid it¬†the few times in life when it is possible.

Love gets good. It starts to see the joy of sacrificing our own convenience to show the depth of our affection to another.

To force our brain to remember a coffee order and a birthday. To stop and to give a hug when running late, to make eye contact when you really need to be in a meeting. To stay at the dinner table a little longer, even though the game is on.

I take my coffee differently these days: this was what I thought as I took the last sip of the morning, and left the restaurant. I wondered if you still take yours the same.

 

 

 

Choosing One Another

I had a conversation earlier that stuck with me.

We were talking about relationships and¬†getting things out in the open at the very beginning.¬†How it’s better just to lay the big things out right there at the start: the important things, the maybe-even-a-little-bit-crazy things, the dreams, the parts of you that you know just aren’t going to change.

There were a million thoughts running through my head. I thought about all the times I’ve tried to balance those early conversations–what you can say, what to hold back, what to wear, how to sit. It’s like a dance of trying to figure out how to be just enough, but not too much.

The idea that first impressions are everything is so engrained in us and sometimes we take it farther than we even realize.

Believing that first impressions are everything is often a way we unintentionally tell someone (or ourselves):¬†don’t fully be yourself. Because you, the real you, might just go and ruin this whole thing. Sometimes this sticks with us and we find ourselves becoming someone who is always¬†holding back. We end up telling ourselves¬†people wouldn’t stick around if they found out¬†the truth about who we really are.

Sometimes in our fear and desire we treat the deepest parts of ourselves like an arsenal that we’re trying to strategically figure out how and when to fire.

But the deepest parts of us, the things that make us who we are, shouldn’t feel like¬†weapons. Our deepest truths¬†shouldn’t feel like things that will one day inevitably lead to the death of¬†our¬†hearts or chances for a relationship.

Believe me when I tell you, we don‚Äôt want people to fall in the love with the first impression version of us. Because most of the time we don‚Äôt even like that person. That person is fearful and insecure. They hold back or they overcompensate. They often put their value in saying or doing¬†all¬†the right things. That person is a shell that carries your face and your name. Don’t keep giving that to someone, don’t ask someone to choose that.

You are worthy of someone choosing you, and everything that comes along with that, right from the start.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission slips to let our guard down.¬†Because you’re going to waste a lot of experiences,¬†a lot of interviews, a lot of dates, a lot of years if you are always so afraid to be yourself.

Here’s the thing: I¬†am not going to go on a date and eat pizza with a fork. I will fold that pizza in half and eat it fiercely because if the man across from me is looking for a woman¬†who eats like she’s at¬†cotillion, we do not need to proceed any further.

He needs to know right up front that I cry at movies, on occasion I like ugly sweatpants, I have more crazy stories than anyone would probably ever want to hear, and that I have no plans to diminish my southern accent (I’ve tried, it’s just not going anywhere). He needs to know that I love government and I’m going to yell about the national debt and want him to vote in elections. I’m also never¬†going to own a cat. This just needs to be said on day one: there will be no cats.

There have been guys¬†that have cringed and tried to pull these things out of me. They grew annoyed at my emotions, thought my sweatpants were unacceptable, didn’t like being with the girl who sometimes told her stories to a room full of strangers, rolled their eyes at the southern phrases that come barreling out¬†in my excitement. They’ve tried to tell me to¬†tone it down during election season. They hoped my passions and personality traits were a passing phase. I wish I¬†had figured these things out¬†sooner than I did.

I¬†don’t want to get my heart in something and hope or think¬†maybe they will change.¬†I also don’t want to find out that they’re thinking the same thing about me.

We all know how that movie ends.

I am also learning that I want to sit across from people and let them know it’s okay to say the thing that keeps them awake at night, the things they can’t seem to figure out, the dreams that make them constantly contemplate dropping everything and just going. I don’t want to be asked or forced to choose mannequin versions of people that seem to have all the right words or plans.

We are human and I think we need to realize that humans choosing one another is one of the most glorious, beautiful, but fragile things we get to experience in this life. Shells, mannequins, and masks choosing one another is something far less worthy of our time. But that is what happens when fear leads us to forfeiting who we really are because of who that first impression version of us tried to promise ourselves and someone else we could be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic Plates and Celebration

I turned my head at just the right moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Say a Good Man is Hard to Find…

“I just can’t seem to pick my battles. It seems like I get upset about something every single week. I need to get my life together and handle things better. I’m so emotional.”

Knee deep in one of my final papers, I got that text. I closed my eyes and my heart went running 277 miles away to the girl who’s wondering if she’s the only one.

I’ve been there. It’s the life of many¬†women.

A¬†lot of the men in our lives, try as they might, they cannot seem to always understand where we’re coming from.

Thinking back to when they first met, it didn’t take long for me to see that they were a good match.¬†They fit, it makes sense, their relationship is wonderful in so many ways. He’s a good man.¬†But it isn’t perfect and it isn’t always easy.

It’s the age old story of a girl who has some¬†wounds and scars because she’s been down this road before. Once again, she’s given most of her heart, but if you look down deep, she’s holding back just a little. Because if he turns out to be like the rest, she can at least pride herself on not having lost it all.

That’s where the emotion and the fighting of battles comes in.

It’s the protection. It’s the need to defend ourselves. It’s the need to make sure that the person next to us has the right¬†grip on our hearts.¬†Don’t let it fall. Please, don’t let it fall.

Every battle we pick, even the smallest ones, are the ones where we’re taking our hands and trying to force others¬†to tighten or loosen their grip on our hearts.¬†We’re trying to tell them how to love us; and when they don’t hold it just right, we either fight or run.

It’s the plot of almost every movie sitting on my shelf. It’s the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan specialty.¬†

I’ve built my expectations precisely through the years. I have drawn the perfect blueprint. With the help of Hallmark movies and Nicholas Sparks novels, I’ve figured out what this whole thing should look like. So, if you follow these directions, if you put the exact pieces where I expect, and say the right thing at the right moment, you’ll heal where the others have hurt.

But men are not God.

If there’s one thing I’d like to tattoo on the arms of girls everywhere it’s that truth.¬†They will not heal you. They are not your redemption.¬†

It took God shaking me hard and staring me down for me to get this.¬†People cannot be each other’s redemption.

Men are not God, they will disappoint you. They will say the wrong thing. They will forget the thing you told them to bring. They will make a bad joke. They will be late. They won’t send flowers every week. Men are not God, they will not read your mind or hear the cry of your heart.

Men are not God, they will not make right all the things that have gone wrong.

But we think they will. Somewhere in the heart of most women is this deep rooted belief that finding “the one” is going to make¬†it all okay. We will deny it, we will say that we know better and that we’ve learned to be content on our own. We will flaunt our independence and¬†tell God that we know He’s enough.

Then we crumble when someone disappoints us, or when we find “the one” and it doesn’t entirely fulfill us. Then we run to ice cream and Ryan Gosling. We cry and ask “why is it never my turn?” or¬†“why don’t things ever work out for me?” or “why am I not happy?”

Even when we have good men in our lives, we secretly ask,¬†“why can’t he be a little better?”

Even the best of men cannot make us content.

We pick our battles all based on the little expectations we’ve built up since we were little girls. And the little disappointments become the big ones because we were taught to believe that men worth waiting for wear always wear suits, always say the right things, show up at your door at 2 am, and write you secret love notes for 365 days.

So when the goofy, tired, messy-haired men in our lives don’t call or would rather watch football than talk¬†about their feelings,¬†we come unglued.

That doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you irrational.

It makes you one of the billions of people who was lied to about what love really looks like.

And so his laundry becomes a battle.
His light-hearted, but poorly considered joke becomes a battle.
Football games become a battle.
Him forgetting your Mom’s birthday becomes a battle.
His hair in the sink becomes a battle.
His night out with the guys becomes a battle.

His humanity becomes the battle. Because you’re longing for God and¬†he can never be that for you.

I waited a few minutes before I responded to her; more or less this is what I said,

He’s going to mess up and hurt your feelings, but know when it isn’t purposeful. That’s how you pick the battles. When you love someone, and he’s a good-hearted man, you can easily forgive his¬†actions when you’ve learned to trust his¬†intentions.

They say a good man is hard to find, maybe so, but the fictional ones are impossible. Tom Hanks, Richard Gere and Ryan Gosling are not who they portray on a screen. They are scripted and their wives would live disappointed (and may actually live that way) if they expected them to be the leading men we throw our affections towards.

We throw our affection at fictional men because they portray the qualities of a non-fictional God; someone that will go to impossible lengths, impossible depths, to show you the love that you were always born to know.

I think it’s time that we choose¬†to look at people’s hearts and not at their ability to meet our lists of demands.

I think it’s time to stop loading up the shoulders of the good men in our lives, or the ones we’ve yet to meet, with expectations that only God can¬†fulfill.

Today, I Met the One

To say that yesterday was a bad day is the understatement of a lifetime.

It started with my bank account being hacked, all of my money was taken and somehow I ended up thousands of dollars in the hole.

That was bad enough. The phone calls I had to make to try and straighten things out were worse. So much waiting, so much frustration, so much of the worst of Ashlin put on display.

Finally, I decided to act like an adult and make some decisions. I decided to go and open a different account with another bank. I was going to stay calm, and move forward. Somehow, I was going to trust that it would all work out in the end.

Which was going okay until about ten minutes later when I managed to run over something and get a massive hole in my tire.

I kept telling myself to breathe,¬†it wasn’t the end of the world.

So I called my dad, and that was pretty much all it took. I heard his voice through the phone, remembered he lives 267 miles away and instantly started sobbing like a child.

I was frustrated. I felt helpless. I was angry. I was poor. I was ready to give up entirely.

When¬†that tire blew, so did everything inside of me. All the worries I’d been stewing in for the past several days came exploding out of me. I was exhausted. I just wanted to eat a milkshake, drive home to North Carolina, and cry to my parents.

But I can’t eat sugar, and had a blown tire (and¬†responsibilities),¬†so the first two things were out of the question.

So, I went with the only option I had… cry on the phone with my dad like the world was ending.

“I can’t even buy another tire because some terrible person stole all my money and put me in horrible debt. I don’t even have a dollar to my name!”

Of course, my parents told me they¬†would help me and tried to calm me down. They¬†were there, despite being hundreds of miles away. I wasn’t entirely alone. I acknowledged it and thanked God, but I was still distraught.

Friends came to my rescue. They changed my tire, loaned me tools, comforted me when I looked like a train wreck.

I kept reminding myself to be thankful.¬†I wasn’t alone. There was goodness, even in my misery.

But even so, last night, I laid down and with the last bit of strength I had, I asked God for some kind of redemption. I told him that I needed some sort of hope that I wasn’t going to feel stranded and poor for the next 7-10 business days (don’t even get me started on my reaction to that). I needed to know there was something good that could come from all of this.

Today, I went to the bank to close my previously hacked bank account.

I was fired up, ready to defend my reasons, ready to tell them that I was greatly dissatisfied with their over-the-phone customer service.

But before I had the chance to really get rolling, I was put at the desk of a well-dressed man who had the kindest smile and the most patient disposition.

I wanted to tell him of all of my troubles and how I thought their way of doing business led to nothing but¬†heaps of injustice. But I couldn’t.

I just waited patiently and responded politely to the questions he asked me. Where did I work? What was I in school for? What did I want to do longterm? 

We joked. He told me I should be a lawyer, and I told him that he’s about the 90th person to say that. He asked about my job. I asked about his kids. And then, as He always does, God found His way into the conversation.

Before I knew it, this man, his wife and his kids had found a way into my heart. I suddenly wanted to know everything, to hear more details, I wanted to meet the rest of them. I wanted them experience a lifetime of joy.

I was floored. There I was, looking lazy with my sweatpants and insane hair (please ask me to demonstrate in person how it looked because it’s absolutely laughable). My clothes and hair conveyed apathy, my shoes cheap and falling apart. My eyes were showing my body’s exhaustion, but my heart was exploding.¬†He was the one. He was the one I would meet because of it.¬†The love I would get for this¬†man and his family became the reason for it all.

The timing of it all had led me to this moment. If I had come at another day, another moment, another second, I could have been working with someone else entirely. If all of yesterday’s events had not played out the way they did, I would have probably ended up having a verbal sparring match with someone else in the bank and¬†walking out whispering prayers of repentance.

But there I was, God hitting me straight in the gut, me being totally unprepared for it. I was instantly overwhelmed by the fact that I would do the whole thing over again.

I would go through that horrible day of weeping all over again to sit across from that man and feel the kind of love that God started drowning me with.

Yesterday I kept wondering why I was the one whose money was stolen. Why was I the one with the worst bank ever? Why I was the one sitting on the side of the road sobbing? Why me? 

And today I realized that it was because I was the one whom God was preparing to meet the one: the one who needed to be loved, heard and whose family might need a few extra prayers.

Sometimes, we’re privileged to have what I’m terming¬†a great exchange.¬†My bad day for someone¬†else’s¬†good one. My present frustration for someone else’s future joy.¬†

Sometimes, it’s just not about me. I’ve got to get that through my thick head.

Because that’s the kind of thing I’ve asked God¬†for. I’ve asked Him over and over again to teach me how to love. Therefore, the thing He often teaches me is sacrifice.¬†And I’m learning that¬†I don’t want to offer God or other people something that doesn’t cost me anything.

The opportunity to love that family, to hear that man out, to be deeply challenged by the things he said, cost me some things. The price was my temporary sanity, my tire, hours of my life, my pride, my selfish desire to yell at everyone inside the bank.

I had to lay down my needs, my rights, everything I felt was owed to me. It was then that God made my heart soften so that the needs of the one in front of me became far more important to me than my own.

 

photo cred.

Mirrors, NyQuil, and Thomas Jefferson

We used to be enough.

Back when our feet were muddy, our hair was tangled and t-shirts were the uniform.

We were enough and mirrors were just decor, most days we walked right past them never thinking to ask for their opinions.

But somewhere along the way started asking questions. Now it seems that’s all we ever do.

We stand in front of reflective¬†panes, asking them to tell us what we’re worth. We swipe cards and search to find something, anything that will make it a little easier to stare at the image before us.

Back then we weren’t ashamed to speak loudly, to point, to call things like we see them.

We weren’t filtered and fearful, worried that someone might think our opinion useless or immature. We were inexperienced, but confident.

Age and experience do not make you more confident, it’s actually innocence that produces freedom.

I want to be unaffected, apathetic about what passes before mirrors. I want my voice to know volume and strength when it needs to be heard. I want to stop worrying about putting my best foot forward or dressing for success.

I don’t want to be the sort of messy that takes an hour to perfect, where¬†people will cheer for my relaxed vibe.

I never had a decent haircut as a child.

Mostly due to the fact that my unruly hair was too curly to¬†cut evenly. But Mom would always tell the hairdresser one thing:¬†as long she can pull it into a ponytail, she’s fine.

Which was true. So, even though I usually left the salon looking like some sort of manic poodle, I never worried because my hair-tie came out immediately and it all went into its typical ponytail.

Years later, that stopped being the case. I worried about having the right hair cut, the right length, the right style.

Until recently, when I barged into a Great Clips and gave a random woman the permission to do whatever she wanted to with my hair. Okay, I gave her like 2 guidelines, but I mostly just told her to do what she pleased.

While she barely obeyed my guidelines, she took me up on the offer to do whatever she wanted.

And I left with what I consider an almost-mullet. 

While I should have freaked out, cried, had a feedback talk with her about stretching the guidelines.. I didn’t. I paid her more money than I should have and got into my car.

I laughed the entire way home.

Because somewhere in the middle of getting the worst haircut of my life, I remembered those times¬†of being little and my Mom saying¬†that¬†I didn’t really care what my hair looked like.

That’s a pretty great and rare¬†quality for a little girl to be known for: not hard to please, not concerned with the outward appearance, content with what she’s given.

I’m not telling you to go and get a bad haircut.¬†I’m telling you that it matters a lot less than we think it does.

So I have an almost-mullet and the world didn’t end. I don’t hate myself. I don’t think I’m doomed to be single.

I have an almost-mullet and I’m just as valuable as I was the day before I started¬†resembling Thomas Jefferson.

We’re too concerned with things that change. Hair grows, weight changes, bank accounts fluctuate. They’re never going to sandwich you in, keep you safe, give you the confidence to stop questioning mirrors or use your voice for change.

If I’m being honest, I like myself more with this awful haircut. Mostly because I’m not relying on anything to do the talking for me. I’m not trying to craft an impression. I am a better person when I’m less impressed with myself, when my own flaws are¬†on display. I don’t get the chance to fool myself, to let that piece of glass tell me that I’ve got it together.

I’m a mess right now, and not in a cute or enviable way. I’m not the kind of mess you would photograph for Pinterest and call stylish. I’m a genuine train-wreck of a girl who let some stranger give her a mullet and went out¬†to buy NyQuil wearing men’s shorts &¬†a stained sweatshirt.¬†

But I’m content, more content with myself than I have been in a long time. Because the more I let go of the image I’ve clung so tightly to, the more I find permission to just¬†be myself.

We’ve always been enough.¬†It’s just that we’ve changed who and what defines that word.

I’m not saying that I’ve started wearing newspapers and stopped brushing my teeth. But rather that overvaluing my outward appearance created a debt in my¬†heart.

Somewhere along the way I started asking questions to something that will never have the answers.

I stopped treating mirrors like decor and started treating them like wardens, asking for their permission to walk out the door.

I’m done being hostage to a piece of glass, an image in a book, a figure on a screen. I’m just a girl with flaws who is tired of being told that it’s a dreadful thing to truly be seen.