I Finally Stopped Running. Then My Car Got Towed.

When I first showed up to that little town, I had handfuls of fear and a back-pocket plan of escape.

I had stubbornly decided to never hang another picture on the wall. I was terrified of ever planting my feet, of ever letting my heart get rooted again.

For those few years, the walls stayed bare. I slept on a borrowed bed. I tried to avoid anything that looked steady, shut my heart off to anything that looked stable or strong.

I remember when a set of brown eyes showed up in my driveway that summer morning, I walked outside barefoot and waited for the words that I knew were coming. I never cried. My heart didn’t break. I wondered why it didn’t hurt more when I threw away the sentimental things. I mourned nothing more than the realization I’d said a lot of things I didn’t really mean.

Honestly, I think he knew that everything in my life was temporary. When he walked away with his head hanging, he knew that I was on the run. That I was just looking for a nice guy to drive my getaway car.

“I never know where you are.”

 That’s become a sentence that hundreds of people across hundreds of miles have said to me. Mostly in a joking, but also in a curious way because the geographical location of my residence has changed so much in my twenties.

But if he could have, I think that brown-eyed guy would have used that to sum up everything and then called it a day. Because what would become geographically true was already internally true. He never knew. I never knew. No one ever knew.

As a writer, I’ve spent most of my life speaking in metaphors.

I started doing it as a teenager, in person, and in letters, and I never quite figured out how to stop. I mastered the art of never really saying what I wanted because I could spin it and hide behind an eloquent turn of phrase. And I didn’t even realize how desperately trapped in it I felt until a few weeks ago.

I stood on the sidewalk as I watched a stranger hook his tow truck to my little silver car and pull it out of the mess I’d gotten myself into. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain the feeling that overwhelmed me as I watched it come out of the place where I’d gotten it stuck.

I stifled the cry I could feel welling up in the deepest part of me. It wasn’t about the car (because again, everything is a metaphor). It was about being in my sister’s college town, the girl I’ve become over the last ten years, the past few weeks, being stuck and finally getting free.

I drove to a nearby diner and held back ten years of tears as I remembered the last time I’d been there. I remembered being sixteen years old, lying in my sister’s dorm room, pitch black, skirting around the things in my heart. We spoke in metaphor, ironically using cars. She humored me because she knew I was terrified to say what I actually wanted to say.

I realized I’d been using getaway cars in one-way or another my entire life. And when that brown-eyed guy walked away, it didn’t hurt because I’d built the whole thing out of pretty metaphors and things that sounded really nice. But there was nothing on the walls. I’d never said or done anything of substance because deep down, I knew I was never going to stay.

A few weeks ago I bought a picture to hang on the wall. I did it without hesitation.

I turned around to realize there were some other good and steady things that I once ran away from. I ran straight toward them.

I stopped solely speaking in metaphors. I no longer wonder if I’m saying things I really mean.

God knows where we are.

That’s the thing I’m figuring out. Across all the miles and after all the running. He’s always been in the getaway car, trying to let me know that I haven’t gotten all that far.

Someday I hope you get tired of waking up to blank walls. I hope that fear and pain are no longer drawing your maps. I hope you find good and steady things that make you fight the urge to run away.

That you laugh when you find out God put the GPS on His idea of home and you’ve just been going in circles all along. That He doesn’t let us get too far. That He doesn’t get mad, but He sometimes lets us run out of gas (or get towed).

That the brown-eyed guy did you a favor when he handed you back the keys.

That someday someone asks you a question that terrifies every bone in your body. But that, for a minute, you lay the metaphors down and say the least eloquent things you can possibly say.

I hope someday you rip up your best plans for escape.

I Used to Run Away

The first thing I thought was, “God, I don’t want to do this.” But then I said beneath my breath, “Yes, I want to do this. I want to do hard and holy things.”

I want to do the thing that’s kicking me in the gut right now. That is making me feel fearful and unworthy. I want to do that. I want to show up to my life—whatever it looks like. I don’t want to run from it anymore. I don’t want to wish it away, wish it was something else. I want to be in it fully and faithfully.

God, I want to know that if my heart rips out of my chest, you’re in that with me. That you know that feeling and you’re close to that kind of brokenness. That you don’t run from it, so help me not to run from it either.

I used to pray for escapes, for ways out, solely for deliverance. Now I also pray for character, for strength, for endurance, for stronger knees.

I used to want to run away. Now I want to run toward.

It reminds me again of the summer weekend we spent at the cabin in the woods of Tennessee.

The chatty woman at the Visitor’s Center warned us of bears. I knew in my gut we were going to find one waiting for us. We did, we came face to face with a black bear.

I ran away, while I watched other people run toward. They stood around him with a sense of awe. Shoulder to shoulder with something that could rip their heart out.

Sometime after that year, I became determined to start running toward. Because I hated the idea of a life that misses the awe-inspiring and wonderful because of fear.

The fear of pain is something that I’ve wrestled up and down every mountain I’ve ever climbed. The fear that the view won’t be worth the pain. That one second of beauty isn’t worth the excruciating agony it might take to get there.

But that’s where I realized I value my own life too much—my own comfort over God’s heart and beauty. Because that second of beauty reflects something that connects me to Him in a way that nothing else ever has, ever can.

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” -Psalm 84:10

Better is the one second in His risky beauty than the thousands I find in my self-preservation.

Better is the moment of colliding with awe and wonder. Of leaving the fear behind, than the long trek back down the mountain in my self-soothing fearful life of safety.

God, I want to do hard things. I want to run toward. I want to value your beauty over my best-laid plans of self-protection.

God, I want to choose the hard things, not because I think you always require it but because I know there’s something worthy in fighting the fear. Because I know what it is to walk back down the mountain having missed a chance at seeing another glimpse of you.

Lovely Letters: I Hate Vacations

A few weeks ago, I found this little line sandwiched in my e-mail. 

I hate to say that I’ve given up on love, but I’m getting close to throwing in the towel. I just don’t know what to do.

Dear Sweet B,

I hate vacations.

I don’t really know any other person on the planet that can say that. The few people who have actually heard me say these words out loud can’t ever seem to keep their jaw from hitting the floor.

But I do, I hate vacations.

There’s something about them that haunts me. Leaving my life behind—-the thing I’m working so hard at, the people I’m investing so much in. It’s like for a week (or however long I’m supposed to lay on a beach somewhere) I’m telling them that just for the next little bit, I need a break from them.

I hate that. I hate indirectly telling everything in my life that it’s just a little too much for me to handle right now.

I hate it, but just recently, I took a different kind of vacation. I tried to take a little time away from love and from my emotions.

They told me they were weakness, they told me to get a grip. People told me that to feel is to be fractured. Love comes with a whole lot of feelings, B. Sometimes, you choose it despite your feelings, but there are feelings involved just the same. Sometimes they’re wonderful, exciting or precious, other times they are painful and costly.

But you know what I discovered? It’s better to feel everything, to know the good, scary, sadness, messiness than to feel nothingWhatever you do, whatever your situation becomes, B… don’t ever choose to be numb.

Trust me on this, take these words and pin them somewhere in your heart. If you choose to be numb, you’ll spend days and hours and weeks of your life wishing that you could get back to the pain and to the frustration because at least you felt SOMETHING.

I know because for a long time, I chose to be numb. I threw in the towel and I threw it hard. I walked away and just like the country song I said, “I’m giving up on love, ’cause love’s given up on me.”

It was the worst decision I’ve ever made. Above all the dorky moments, screw-ups, saying things I wish I could take back, hurting others, the thing I regret most was the day I chose to stop feeling it. I let my heart become a switch and I became the master at turning it off. 

Imagine being twenty-two years old and unaffected by the world around you; a beautiful sunset, a hug, Christmas morning. Things that used to make me come alive had become like the credits at the end of the movie. They exist, but don’t grab my attention; they just pass right in front of my eyes, unappreciated and downright boring.

Whatever you do, don’t stop having a sense of wonder, a heart of hope. Don’t take a vacation from love. Don’t go pitch your umbrella in a place of solitude and tell her that she is just too much to handle.

Choose to stay with love, whatever that takes. Whatever it costs you, don’t walk away.

Love hasn’t given up on you, I’m quite certain of that. If you were here in this little cafe, I would just sigh and watch the way the light floods the booth we’d be here sitting in.

I would tell you that you are stronger than giving up.

If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have stayed, you wouldn’t have chosen to love as long as you have. The cowards, the weak, they never even give love a try. You are better than sitting down in your pain and choosing to never get back up.

The truth is, when it comes to love, you can’t ever really take a “vacation”. Once you do, you almost entirely forget how to come back to her again. It gets so easy to sit in your little chair by the water of apathy and self-preservation. You will continuously decide it’s not worth coming home to, you’d rather just choose what seems the easier life to lead.

But then will come a day when the chair makes you stiff, the winds get a little too cold. You will vaguely remember that there used to be a rhythm inside of your chest. You’ll miss all the times you danced to it, all the ways it brought you joy. Then you will try to pack up your little chair and go home to it again.

And you can, it’s not impossible, but it’s a long journey. It’s a hard one, it’s like learning to walk all over again. It’s like trying to remember 9th grade Algebra years after graduation.

There will be a moment when you’ll walk in the door and realize that the lights were turned off, the water doesn’t run and you have nothing in the fridge. It will be a process of having to pay what is long overdue, of having to restock the fridge. Love is still there, and she waited for you, but you didn’t take care of her while you were gone. It will take you making some steps to getting things back to where they were (and hopefully even better).

It can be done, B; but I don’t want you to leave her. Don’t run away in your little car and hope that if and when you decide to come back, you’ll pick up where you left off. She will always wait for you, but she may not be so easy to embrace when you walk back through those doors. The ruins of selfishness will be painful to look upon.

Sometimes, you’ll need a vacation, but take her with you, Sweet B. Let her heal the pain, the wounds, the scars that come from the broken trust or disappointed hopes.

B, love is your greatest friend, your most trustworthy partner. Sometimes we all need some time away, but please don’t leave love behind.

There’s not a day in your life that will be worth living without her.




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