The good, the bad, and the restored.

Life’s been strange this last year. Okay, by strange I mean difficult. It’s hard for me to say that. Life has been hard. Phew. I’m an optimist- usually I can find the positive in just about anything, but recently it’s just been tough. And it’s hard for me to admit that- to God, to myself, and to you. It may sound dramatic, but I am not used to feeling so many poopy feelings. These last couple of days have been refreshing though and as embarrassed as I am to open up about some of the things I have been feeling and what God has been revealing to me, I am going to share it. I’m going to let the (blog) world know that I don’t have it all together…and that’s okay.

This morning was the first morning in forever that I didn’t jump into my “to-do” list. I didn’t worry about the laundry, the dishes, cleaning the litter- nada. As silly as it sounds, it took a lot not to think about what I “have” to do today. But gosh darn it, I was going to have my morning! So I leashed Chloe and we went on a beautiful walk. It’s amazing how refreshed a simple walk can make you feel. I felt Him this morning. I felt him in the breeze, the flowers, the smiles from others. And man, was it good. But here’s the thing, I had to be intentional about it. I have taken that walk a handful of times since we moved to this neighborhood, and have never noticed what I did today (lesson one!).

Last night felt like an awakening for me and while I was on my walk this morning praying through my experiences last night, I had this crazy thought to blog about it.

Yesterday¬†and this morning were so refreshing for me because I took time to just ‘be”. I don’t do that anymore. Most days I jump out of bed and quickly start the day. I don’t let myself process, to pray, to listen, to learn. Instead I fill my time with silly things. Every time I just take a breathe and allow myself to stop though, I grow. I once read that when we enter God’s presence we always come out changed. Ain’t that the truth! If only I could remember to live it on a more regular basis. ūüėČ So here’s what I have been learning in this crazy journey called life…

1) I am loved despite my circumstances

This has been a tough one! As a Christian, this truth should come naturally, right? Wrong. I have battled with God so many times over the the “why” of life. This last year has been filled with a lot of physical and emotional pain, and it’s been hard to praise Him and feel loved in the midst of it. In February I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after experiencing some grueling pain and a body that wouldn’t heal. My body is not completely healed yet, but I am opening myself up to being healed emotionally and spiritually. See and that’s the thing, I have to open¬†myself¬†up. God has been here all along. This is something He was reminding me over and over again last night. He has been here, is here, and will be here no matter what happens with my body.

I had this image last night of me taking bricks and building this wall and on the other side was God taking down each brick I put up. I was frustrated that I wasn’t making progress and that my own efforts weren’t enough, but He was showing me that He wanted to break that wall down- He wants to join me on the journey. He wants me to feel cherished, valued, and loved in this. Right now. That my own efforts to overcome this are not enough. They are superficial. He wants to be on my side of the wall to help me grow in this season. To grow closer to Him and grow into who He has created me to be.

I have been reminded time and time again, that it is not the “why” but the “Who”. When I ask the why and let it settle, I feel lost, confused, and even angry. I start to build that wall up even faster and my heart becomes hard. And it’s been hard for a while. But when I turn and focus on the “Who,” I remember that God is in control, He loves me, He has a purpose in this, and that this life is temporary. The “Who” takes me outside of myself. It helps me focus on what is real and why we are here in the first place. I could feel my heart softening last night as I was relishing in the “Who”.

And lastly, I am learning vulnerability in this. Hard core. It’s tough for me to be honest with God and others. I feel like I need to have everything together and that I am wrong in thinking some of the things that I do. So this takes me back to the “why” and the “Who”. It’s okay for me to be real with God. To ask the “why”? As a matter of fact, that is how my prayers started last night. They were full of anger and hurt. And with tears steaming down my face (oh yeah, bring on the ugly cry) I asked the “why’s”. I expressed my frustration and my sadness. And you know what, He took it. He cared for me in it. There wasn’t judgement or ridicule from Him. Which I am always so fearful of. It’s funny that I’ll have these thoughts, but then not express them to God. It’s silly, but last night I started off some conversations with Him like “I know you already know this, but…” and “I know you know my thoughts, but this is hard to say out loud…”. And guess what, I felt relieved. I felt cherished in those moments and that led me to the “Who”. I think we run from being vulnerable with God so many times, but it’s when we let ourselves be authentic with Him that we come to a place of healing and revival.

2) Who are my idols

Another toughy. Oh man, I have been living this last year with so many false idols, and I didn’t even realize it! I have been so consumed in my struggles, that I did not realize that I was not putting God first. Sure, I maybe felt that at times but never took hold of it- until last night.

My first idol has been my struggle. That’s right, I have made my hardships some of my idols. I would have NEVER thought that this could become an idol. Too many days I put my struggles first. I have been letting them consume me and I have been giving way too much time and effort to them. Yeah, I need to care for my body, I need to work through some of this stuff, but I also shouldn’t let it become one of my first thoughts in the morning. I shouldn’t let it be something I think about over God. I’ve let it wreck me over and over and when something has that much power over you, it becomes an idol. I’ve let it define me this last year, but I am choosing to be defined by Him from this point forward. This struggle is not me. Yes, it is a part of me, but it does not make me. It will no longer be worshipped.

Another idol I have made is my husband. Gasp. How many of us do this? I am sure I am not alone in this- it’s hard. I want him to complete me. I want him to heal me. I want him to say just the right things when I am hurting. I want him to bring me joy. I want him to listen to my constant battles. I go to Zach with a longing to be made whole. And don’t get me wrong, my husband rocks. I couldn’t imagine going through all of this with any one else- he has been my safe place and a comforter time and time again, but he can’t complete me. I’ve put so many unrealistic expectations on him that it is not only disheartening for me, but it is for him. When we put another human as our idol, it’s not only tiring for us, but it is exhausting for them.

Zach cannot be my God, and that’s okay. Actually, that’s a good thing! I am relearning what it means to put God first- to let Him captivate and move in me, and then for¬†HIM¬†to use other people in my life- instead of me putting the pressure on others. That’s so freeing. And with that, I can start to love my husband in the way he needs to be loved. I want to pour into him and show him God. When I place him as an idol and just want and want from him, I cannot fully care for him. It gets me excited thinking about taking him down from his position as “idol” in my life and reclaiming him as my husband and friend.

I know that each of these are going to be difficult to remove, and I may have to take them down countless times in one day, but the blinders have finally been taken off- God is my redeemer and my beloved. These idols I have placed in my life give only temporary satisfaction, but His love runs deep.

3) Fear has no power

Fear, oh fear. I dislike you. A lot. Fear has crippled me time and time again this year. Many days I have let it completely consume me. This year I also found out that I have MRSA. That’s what started this whole stinking mess. Now there are a handful of people who have MRSA- they are simply carriers of it and don’t know. They never experience any symptoms or have any issues. And here’s the thing, I only had an episode with it once, so you would think it would be no big deal. But fear has really taken a tight grasp on my life. I have become a carrier of MRSA in my nose (I am taking medication now to get rid of it), and so I live everyday with fear that I am going to spread it to someone else or spread it on my body again. Let me back up- a lot of people have it but don’t even know about it, so why am I becoming so consumed by it?

If we get right down to it, it’s a control issue. I don’t trust God and what He is doing through this (you’d think I’d get this by now!). Instead, I have let fear creep in (you could even call this another idol!) and break me down. This is so embarrassing to admit but I wash my hands…a lot. I disinfect our place…a lot. I do so many odd and obsessive things that I have never done before- just so I can control my life and not get MRSA again. But I have no idea how I got it in the first place! That’s the thing that should free me- I should just know that it’s not everywhere and unlikely that I’ll break out again, but if anything, this has watered the weed. It has made me question everything and I have to challenge myself almost every second of the day not to worry about germs.

So silly, I know!

I am shameful of this and am learning once again, that it doesn’t define me. I am learning that I can’t protect myself from everything and that I need to trust God again. It’s my slap in the face to see that I need to rely on God. I need to come back to Him and trust what He is doing in this. I need to understand His protection and provision over my life. It’s tough and something I haven’t fully grasped yet, but it is something I am yearning for and making baby steps in.

And it’s something that has also taught me the importance of community. I have tried to be as open and honest with those closest to me about this and they have provided me with so much wisdom, care, and prayer in it. If I just hid this (or thought I was hiding it), I wouldn’t have felt the freedom I have from community. They have spoken these truths into my life and have challenged me to come back to God. When we struggle with something, it feels easier to keep it locked up. But I was noticing that when I tried to hide it, I got worse. I was more consumed. If you’re going through something and you’re afraid or shameful to reach out, just know there is freedom in bringing it to the surface. I have received so much love and support by being open about it.

You are not your hardships or your struggles- you are His. You are lovely and worthy.

Thank you for joining me on this crazy journey. This was a long and possibly sad read for you, so I appreciate your care and desire to learn and grow alongside me. I am excited to move forward and come back to life!

“Wow, you look so skinny.”

As I was doing my daily browse sesh on Instragram I recognized the word ‘skinny’ being thrown around. “Girl, you look so skinny there” or “Wow, those jeans make you look so skinny.” On most days, this word wouldn’t phase me, I mean it’s a pretty common word used among the circle of women. This time it got me thinking though. Here’s the thing, most of us love to be told we look skinny- you know, especially on those “I feel like poo and bloated, so I am going to wear my “fat” jeans kind of day.” I get it, trust me. There have been moments when someone has mentioned this to me and I feel like I am instantly glowing. Somehow my day becomes brighter and I walk with a new confidence. But as I was looking at these pictures and really began to chew on this word¬†skinny,¬†this big fat “WHY?” hit me in the face. Why do we consider this a compliment? Why do we even allow ourselves to receive it as a compliment?

You’re probably reading this right now and thinking “Well duh, Ashley. We all know the answer to that. Leave us and our skinny dreams and aspirations alone!” (Okay, just kidding about the last part ;)). I feel ya girl. Like I said before, until now this has been a very well received and valued compliment from my fellow ladies. And if I am honest, something I have strived for. If I am really honest though, this compliment and “new confidence” last for about…well umm…a minute or until I see a beautiful skinny (and majorly photoshopped) woman on a magazine. Then, if I allow myself, I can get caught in the downward spiral of obsessing too much over this word. I’ve even *gasp* given this compliment before…many times. And honestly meant well by it. But it’s fleeting. It’s surface level. Get down to it and it may just be one of the worst compliments you can give. Is that too far? Maybe it is. I mean this thought did just come to my mind about 30 minutes ago, but here’s the thing, I think it is a word that is worth chewing on and wrestling with. Can you do that with me? Can you just really take some time to consider how much value it is truly bringing to your friends, family, or loved one’s life before you let it roll off your tongue again?

In a culture that says beauty defines us and that we must strive for perfection, don’t you think this compliment can be damaging? You may disagree, and that is okay. But my mind is just racing on this topic right now and I keep thinking about the struggles women face each day. We are constantly seeing images and ads about how to make ourselves look thinner, but what about the beautiful depth of each of us. When we are only complimenting on how skinny each other looks, are we pushing each other to a deeper love and understanding of ourselves? Or are we adding fuel to the fire that says, “Skinny is good. Yes, stay this way because it makes you look better. Being thin is what matters.” Simply put, I am annoyed at this superficial talk and yearn for so much more for us as women.

I have mentioned this in a post before, but one of my favorite things about women is how unique each of us are. We all possess an incredible inner and outer beauty that is unlike anyone else. There are women who are naturally skinny, and I am not saying any of this to offend¬†them. That is beautiful- if that is how you were created. But for those of use who strive to be skinny- and when I mean strive I mean put ourselves on endless diets, seek for compliments, etc.- know that you are beautiful the way you are. It seems to be a reoccurring theme in my blog, but who you are is enough. Don’t let the word¬†skinny¬†poison you with an idea that you are not good enough as you are. Beautiful comes in every form and goes so much deeper than how you measure up to this world’s standard of beauty.

Here’s the other side of things too. I would be lying to you and myself if I sat here and said, “Never compliment my outer beauty again. I don’t want it.” It’s true, I like when my husband says I look beautiful. I also want to be a healthy person, but I do not want skinny to be what I strive for or obsess about. I think we should compliment each other …and do it a lot. I just believe that we need to be aware of the language we are using and the balance between outer and inner beauty compliments. How will my words affect this person? What does this compliment really mean?

So this is where I am at on this crazy thought. I am going to run with it though- wrestle with it a little more. And in the mean time, compliment you on something else. ūüôā

Pressures

My heart is heavy tonight. For some reason I cannot sleep, but instead this overwhelming sense of sadness has swept over me. A sadness for any girl who is struggling with fully loving herself..for any girl who is aching to feel cherished, loved, and beautiful. My heart yearns for you to know your value.

I am not sure why but I cannot get a story of a certain girl out of my head. When I graduated college the first place I went to work was a group home. I was only there a few short weeks, but those couple of weeks left a lasting impression on me and I wanted to share with you one of my old blog post from when I was there. It is long, but I want girls to know they aren’t alone. That there is freedom. And that we should be in prayer for this increasingly powerful spiritual battle happening to so many of our men and women today.

“When I was really having a hard time wanting to be here yesterday, God provided a crazy opportunity to be there for one of the girls. This story is long, but I wanted to give some detail so that you may able to get a glimpse of her pain and I hope this urges you to pray for her and others alike.

Usually I am not allowed to be with the girls alone right now, but they allowed me to stand by the shower as a girl occupied it. She has been sick for the last few days and has been in and out of the doctors office. I had asked her if they had figured anything out and she said she had pulled a muscle in her stomach. I asked how this happened and she said it is because she has been excessively purging.

Instantly, my heart sank.

I did not tell her much, but that I had struggled with similar thoughts and feelings as she is now. She was astonished, but continued to just talk about what she had been going through.

She confessed to feeling disgusting, controlled, and alone. Lies have captivated her.

She expressed how she desired to change, but at the same time she wanted to continue what she was doing. She sees no hope and no way out.

For over a year now she has viewed food as her enemy. Her deception has caused her to believe that the mirror reflects an unworthy and unattractive girl.

While we were talking she confessed that she had not eaten in days, and the time she at a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in that three-day span, she felt disgusted and ended up emptying it from her by purging.

She said she feels powerful and in control when she does this to herself. I expressed to her how I used to feel similar things. I told her about how I believed what I was doing to myself was a way to make me feel in control, accepted and beautiful. In reality though, I was doing the opposite to myself. When I hit the place where I knew I no longer had control, I told her how it was one of the most scary and embarrassing things I ever had to confess. I mentioned to her how my journals from that time were day and night. One day I would get a glimpse of hope and a life outside of this sick addiction, while other days I felt trapped and suffocated. However, I told her that as my journals progressed, the more I saw hope. The more I saw freedom.

She told me her desire for that, but that she did not know how to get out of it, and she said how she felt that no one there understood. She said that she felt encouraged that I could relate in some way. (Ding! Okay God, I get it! )

We talked a little more about the help she was receiving there and what needs to be done next. Her frustration was that the girls did not understand her, and as she purged, they would just tell her to stop. We talked about how she felt like noone could help her here and we agreed I would try to hold her accountable in the best way I could…even when she did not like me or want me to.

Later on I noticed that she had left, so I followed her into the bathroom. As I walked into the bathroom I made myself known and that I just wanted to speak with her…to talk with her about what she was thinking and feeling. With a trembling and desperate voice, I was asked to go away, and as I sat unnoticed in the bathroom, she began to harm herself in the ways she has become addicted to doing so.

My anger with the enemy was overwhelming, and I could not help but weep and tell her that I was so sad for her and to know she was struggling in such a way. I pleaded she let me in..not just the stall, but in her heart. I told her that I knew she did not want me there and I could not stop her at that moment, but that she is worth so much.

The bathroom has become her escape and her current comfort. A filthy and unkept stall has become a common place for this young girl. Her actions are screaming for her to be noticed, loved, accepted, and found beautiful. If only I could help her grasp that God believes each of these things in her and that His view will never change.

I was placed in her room before all this had happened, and since I went into the bathroom, we have only said goodnight. I am not sure how she is doing today, but ache for her and find reason in our meeting yesterday. Whether it was to allow her to see she is not alone or to help encourage her to find help somewhere that can truly help transform her, there was reason. Please be praying that God provides guidance and courage for her. Also, that she may see hope through Him. She needs Him and us to back her up. ”

Sadly, I am not sure where this girl is, but I know there are more of her struggling out there. ¬†I pray and hope she has found healing, and I do the same for anyone else caught in this trap. If you are struggling, please know that you are loved and you don’t have to go through anything like this alone. Please reach out- I know without talking to a trusted person about this, l may have never taken a step towards freedom and restoration.

So many girls are struggling. We feel the deep desire to be wanted, loved, and found beautiful but have become so consumed in the temporary satisfactions of the world that we are blind to the way we are viewed by the one who created us. God created such an incredible world, yet you and I are His most prized and beautiful creations. Why is this so hard to see sometimes? Yet, this is truth. He has wonderfully made each of us and we need to take hold of this, so that it can be proclaimed to all who look up to us. YOU are beautiful. Who you are is enough. He loves you just as you are. I love you just as you are.

This is my confession.

Who remembers that ridiculous Usher song “Confessions”? (OKay, I didn’t used to think it was so ridiculous…Usher songs used to be my jam back in the day. ha. I guess that could be considered my confession number one today. ;)) For those of you who don’t remember it or just want to be brought back to those good ol junior high days, here you go:

Anyways, I am in my first week of blogging and already have a confession- that is what I was trying to get at. I am nervous to actually share this blog. Whose the ridiculous one now? I feel so passionate about reaching out to women, yet I am insecure about sharing my heart with all of you. What kind of example is that anyway? What if you notice all my grammatical errors (I am sure there are already a handful you can find now), don’t agree with what I have to say, think I am lame, blah blah blah. Let’s be real, I probably will only have a couple of people who even look over this blog, I am sure there will be something profound to me that is not profound to anyone else, and there may be people who don’t enjoy this blog at all. But who cares. I am not writing this for approval or for popularity- I am writing this in hopes to love on and connect with other women. I just had to share with all of you this little insecurity of mine. So I am choosing right now to not fret about it so much. I mean I did say I was going to be transparent just two days ago. ūüôā So cheers to me being me and you being you! I hope this can be a place for honest discussion- no judgment zone. On myself or on anyone else. Let’s do this.

Plus, I could always do things much more embarrassing. Like these guys…

PS I love AFV and could watch that show for a week straight and be the happiest woman on the planet.

Women are half of women’s problems…

Sometimes being a woman is such a struggle. And I know I am not alone in thinking this. It can be tough. We are plagued with such high expectations on our image, performance, intelligence, character, and so on. This in return leaves many of us with this heavy burden of defeat. Many times we don’t feel as if we measure up to what is deemed as beautiful or successful. Average is not acceptable in our society’s eyes, and that begins to wear on any woman. Insecurities emerge. Competition takes hold and begins to control our next steps. It’s an ugly hold that grips many of us.

I’m not here to be a debbie-downer though. Being a woman is also extremely beautiful. For one, we have on going curves and breathtaking features that make us unique to any other creation in the world. Look at the shape of a woman’s body, her bone structure, her smaller features. I am speaking truth when I say that there is something physically beautiful about every woman. Not only are we the better looking sex ūüėČ but we also bring something remarkable to this Earth emotionally and spiritually. We possess this remarkable gift of nurture, love, and strength. I don’t know about you, but I think these are characteristics to rejoice in- and I only named a few!

All to often we are thrown into this downward spiral though. Sometimes it is other people who slowly break us down and plant this seed of defeat, but many times it is our battle within and we are the ones doing the watering of this weed. We blind ourselves to the truth and feed ourselves lies.¬†And this is exactly why I want to write this blog- women are half of women’s problems. My best friend text me this a couple of weeks ago (She is a brilliant being) when I was in an outrage about how women voluntarily broadcast themselves in these demoralizing music videos. Honestly, I was pissed. And I usually get upset whenever I see women in these situations. It makes me ashamed to be a woman and many times I have thought to myself “Girl, don’t you get it- you’re making it so much more difficult for all of us women out here.” But as I was thinking through all of the crazy emotions I was feeling, I had an epiphany. Why don’t I use this anger towards something positive. Why get mad at these women when I am given an incredible opportunity to encourage women and help them see their own unique beauty. Maybe I won’t ever scratch the surface of the way our world portrays women or change the way these women view themselves- but maybe just maybe- one, two, three or ten women can find encouragement. Ultimately I believe that our security and self worth need to be rooted in our Lord and that true fulfillment does not come from outside circumstances or people. But what if we could be women that loved on other women better?¬† What if we can be women that ignite that positive, inward change in a fellow woman? What if we put down our battle weapons and actually started to see the good in other women? What if we rejoiced when one of our girlfriends got a compliment and we didn’t? What if we celebrated their success in a job?…a relationship?…a hobby?…a joke?… What if…

I think that this world could be changed and there would be more confident woman allowing themselves to do bigger things in this place.

That is the goal of this blog. To unravel the tapestry of lies that has plagued us and hopefully join other women to recreate a community that empowers and loves. I hope to bring transparency to this blog- let’s laugh, cry, get angry, and get passionate together.

I hope you will join me on this crazy journey.