moving on.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Ohio, February 21, 1947 | credit

On a cold New Year’s Eve a few years ago, I told myself, “No more character development!  Next year will be all about story progression!”  I don’t remember what year it was, but I know that nothing really changed over the next year.  I made the promise again the year after that… and the year after that… and the year after that.  Over and over, it felt like nothing really happened in my life – like I was stuck in the same place, year after year.

I can honestly say that so much has changed since this time last year that I’ll probably be saying this New Year’s Eve, “Let’s just chill for a minute, okay?”

I think the reason nothing really happened was because I’d always been so scared of change.  To be completely honest, I still am, in some ways.  After all, I like to be comfortable.  But I’m not quite so petrified of it as I used to be.

Maybe it’s because I’ve lost so much recently that it feels useless to try to hold onto normality, like grasping at sand when waves are pulling it back out to sea.

Last summer, I prayed for a new car, a new job, and a new place to live (not necessarily in that order).  In less than a year, it all happened.  I didn’t mind that change as much as the stuff that was outside of my control, but even the things I’ve chosen have had unexpected consequences.

It’s probably mostly because of this change that I haven’t posted recently.  I kept thinking, I’ll do it when I get past this hurdle.  When this next thing blows over, I’ll write a big post about how much I learned from it and then we’ll go on from there.

And then stuff just kept happening, guys.  Who would’ve thought.  I barely had time to “learn” from anything before the next thing happened and pushed me back down again.  (There’s that wave analogy again.)

Seriously though.  If I could’ve told myself a few years ago that sometimes character development and story progression happens at the same time and that it would all happen at the same time way faster than I wanted it to – and that some of the things that caused both would leave me on my floor too tired to cry anymore – I think Younger Me wouldn’t have been quite so eager to be in a different situation.

If I’ve learned anything from the insane events of the last six months, it would be this: Don’t be so afraid of change.  It feels overly simplistic to say that “nothing changes if nothing changes,” but it’s true.

Nowadays, nothing terrifies me more than stagnancy.  I’ve learned that moving and discomfort and learning and constantly being reshaped is all part of growth, and it’s hard to grow if you’re frozen still in a “comfortable” place.

My best friend and I talked extensively on the phone yesterday, partially about how neither of us are “there” yet and we never will be.  I’m grateful for that.  I want to be able to look back and see that I’ve made progress, even if it’s just a few steps farther from where I was.

And sometimes being shaken up and spilled out and broken is a good thing.

(PS: Thank you for reading this, whoever you are.  I’m so grateful for you.  Please know that I don’t take you for granted!  If something has happened in your life since we talked last, let me know in a comment!  How have you moved on from something and grown from it?  I’d love to talk with you about it!)

no more kool-aid.

“It’s a wonder either of us still believe in God,” I said into the phone, softly, hesitantly, as if speaking them were releasing a terrible truth.

How dare we, after all?  Yes, Jacob wrestled with God, but we weren’t allowed to.  We’d grown up in the same subculture, drinking batch after batch of Kool-Aid, trying not to let it influence us but knowing that it was slowly poisoning us anyway.

He didn’t say anything for a while.  When he did, it was soft and reluctant and surprised and awed.  “Yeah.”

I never thought the way I grew up was any different than anyone else.  Sure, I knew we wore skirts and homeschooled, but that was the majority of my friends, so I didn’t feel too much like a fish out of water.

It wasn’t until I got out, took a dozen steps back, and put my hands on my hips as I analyzed the situation that I realized… wow, that was interesting.

Over the last year, I’ve been doing a crap ton of research, studying the influences that were so prevalent during my formative years – Joshua Harris, Bill Gothard, the Botkin Sisters.  I knew them, sure, but only from years of blindly following them in a haze, too confused to question but too understanding of my place to rebel in the slightest.

It was easiest to just go with the flow.  To wear the skirts.  To go to the purity book studies.  To agree to sign the purity pact with my dad.  But I knew it wasn’t what I truly believed.  What I believed needed to make sense, and everything I’d heard made about as much sense as wearing a skirt to play football with the guys after church.  So I wore shorts under my skirt.  I questioned the courtship mindset.  I took home the paper that I was told I should sign that would essentially put my heart (my purity) into my father’s hands for safe keeping until the man I would marry would approach him for his approval… but I never signed it.

Looking back, I can see the cracks in the glass – the places where the truth was twisted so intensely that it barely resembled the original intent.

That’s the crazy thing about lies.  Cornelia Funke says in her novel Reckless that “the best lies stay close to the truth,” and I completely agree.  The poison goes down much easier with a glassful of Kool-Aid, after all.

I’m still trying to piece together that original intent, by the way.  I’d been fed so many lies over the last decade that the truth was barely visible anymore – and what I knew of the truth, I didn’t want.  If God was as vindictive and conditional and demanding as I’d always been told He was, I didn’t want anything to do with Him.  So I went back to the basics of what I knew, reading the Gospels and trying to figure out Who Jesus was completely on my own, with no outside influence.  I needed to figure out what I believed and if it looked like everything I’d always said I believed.

Instrumental in this was the fact that after my family left the church that had hurt us so badly, I spent a while just cycling through the Psalms.  I read them over and over and over until I could almost recite them.  It felt as if David’s struggle with God echoed mine, constantly asking “Why?” but always coming back to merely accepting and leaving the rest up to Him.  I also started reading through the entire Bible for the first time.  I’d read through the majority of the books before, but this was my first time going through the whole thing for myself.

Doing all of this changed my perspective completely, and I began to realize that exactly what Jesus told the Pharisees was right – it all boils down to love.  If you didn’t have love, you had nothing.  (No wonder I always felt so ostracized in my old church.)  I started trying to just love God and love people, and, so far, it’s worked pretty well.  (This song also impacted me like an anvil to the head and I might’ve played it loudly in my car towards a member of that old church in a weak attempt to get him to listen.)

All that to say, I’m working out my salvation.  I’m a bad Christian.  I cuss sometimes, I don’t go to church every week, and I’ve fallen asleep during almost every single video in a Francis Chan devotional that I’m going through.  But if God truly loves me and thinks I’m worth it, trying is the best that I can do.  And He’s okay with that.

sometimes bravery is putting on a skirt {a follow-up post}

I wrote a post a few months back about the first time I actually felt totally comfortable in a dress (gosh, it’s been a year already?!).  Since then, a lot has happened, namely that I’ve changed a ton.  Moving out of my parents’ house has forced me to take a deep look at myself and really figure out who I am.

One of the things I’ve been assessing has been my church trauma that I’ve talked about a little.  Since I’ve been thinking a lot about it and am especially heated about skirts this morning (and because my blog needs an update and the posts I’ve written since moving will likely stay in my drafts folder), I thought, “WHAT BETTER PLACE TO RANT ABOUT THIS THAN MY OLD BLOG?!”

So here I am.

A few days ago, I was talking about skirts with my best friend.  I’d remembered a skirt I’d sewn by myself (to get out of a multiple-week sewing class my mom wanted me to go to) and fished it out of my closet to show her.  It had been years since I’d tried it on, mostly because I wasn’t comfortable wearing skirts at all, and couldn’t pull the zipper up the last time I’d tried.  This time, it fit like a glove.

Looking at myself in the mirror brought back a ton of memories.  Times when I’d worn that skirt and others, little and big things happening in my life, the way I’d felt, things that were said to me.  I wouldn’t call it being triggered, but it definitely wasn’t normal.  My friend looked at a few of my other skirts, gently suggested that I start wearing them again, and then left me to have “a moment.”

The moment happened the next day, when I put on a skirt to wear for work.  Pleated and beige, with an antique print of light stripes and purplish pink flowers.  Paired with a belt, sandals I’d worn to the beach, and a dark blue top.  After that, I just stared at myself in the mirror for a while.  I’d worn skirts since, but this was the first time I did it intentionally and then just let myself sit in the feeling for a while.  I still felt wary, but I stood there and actually let myself feel everything – all of the emotions and thoughts and repressed memories that came with it.

For the first time, I realized why I was so against wearing skirts.  After so many years of wearing skirts and only skirts, actually choosing to wear one was a big deal.  But it wasn’t just that – it was also allowing myself to somewhat go back to that time.

Putting on that skirt came with a unique sense of vulnerability – as if, for the first time since those years, I had just willingly placed myself in an uniquely hard position.  To open myself up again to everything that came with those years – the things people said about me, the way I was treated, the view I had of myself.

It was like I’d found the box that people had put me in and was able to finally examine all of it’s edges and creases and dark spots in all its raw, confining, twisted form.  Feelings of being lesser, unimportant, and not valued or valid came rushing back, and the weight of them nearly crushed me, like they did back then.

To me, that skirt wasn’t “just a piece of fabric.”  It was something that, in a way, symbolized an entire almost-decade of my life.  The seven years from when my dad told my sisters and mom that we’d be wearing skirts outside of the house from now on until the day my skirt flew up (in front of three men I didn’t know) when I was nannying and I finally told myself that enough was enough – smack dab over the majority of my formative years and all of my teen years.

It brought back everything that dragged on the coattails of those years – the move that ripped my entire life and all of my friends away from me, my cult-church trauma that left me spiritually dry for the better part of about four years, the lack of friendship and sense of complete and utter disconnection with the place I’d landed after freefalling.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know it could’ve been a lot worse.  This isn’t sexual trauma.  This isn’t physical abuse.

But it’s not nothing, either.  It’s something that happened and shaped me into who I am today, and I’m still working through it.  I’m not going to play the victim and try to blow it out of proportion, but I’m also not going to try to dismiss it with a forced “It’s not as bad as it could’ve been.”

“You know it’s in the past, right?” a friend asked me when I started venting to him about it.

“I know, but it still impacts my present,” I told him.  “And I’m trying to make sure it’s worked through so it doesn’t affect my future, too.”

Moving out has impacted me a lot more than I thought it would.  Because I’m alone so much, I’ve had more time than literally ever before to focus on myself.  Sometimes this is a bad thing and I’ve spiraled a few times because I’ve gotten too deep inside my head.

But sometimes, like now, it’s a good thing.  It’s hard and it’s raw and it’s painful, but after so many years of repressing and minimizing and trying to tell myself that everything I’ve been through isn’t “that bad,” I’m tired of staying stuck in these same bad habits and mindsets.  I’m finally figuring out how to work through my issues and slowly discovering bits of myself that had been shoved aside and told were unimportant.

The best part has been picking apart those years and finding the gold in the midst of the muck.  Everything that happened in those years shaped me.  I’m not mad about or regret anything because it wouldn’t have made me into who I am today.  Because of it, I have a lower tolerance for BS, a greater appreciation for those who are stronger than me, and a deeper love for myself and my Savior.

I’m letting go of the things that harmed me in those years but still clinging to the things I still appreciate about my teenage self – her tenacity, her bravery, her clear sense of right and wrong (even if she couldn’t voice it).

Having so much time alone in my apartment has rekindled my love for reading and I’m finding myself going back to all of the old fantasy stories I fell in love with during those years.  Now that I think about it, I’m fairly certain everything I was going through caused me to become so passionate about fantasy – the idea that, despite everything the heroine was going through, she was going to be okay.

{poetry} | back burner.

I wrote some free verse during the sad boi hours yesterday. I had to wait a while to post it ’til I wasn’t feeling it quite as hard anymore.

Lately, I’ve been working on letting people in and asking for help. This has never been easy for me. (I’m my enneagram 2 self loooooves giving help but hates asking for it because I. hate. to. be. a. bother!!!) A friend called me out on it today, asking me if that’s how I like living my life. Of course it’s not, but I’m still trying to figure out how to stop waving through this window and actually asking for help. The world is so much bigger than my problems, but that doesn’t make them completely invalid. (So when do I bug others with them?)

Anyway. Here’s a peek inside my brain.

///

back burner.

i’m the girl behind the glass

watching people laugh as they skip

from stepping stone to stepping stone

myself simply standing

i’m the girl in the wings

waiting for a cue that never comes

others saying lines that elicit reactions and applause

myself simply silent

faces turned up in wonder at the

bright balloons of their aspirations

clutched tightly in their perfect fingers

mine deflated, popped at my feet

“i need them more than they need me,”

the reason i can’t just rid them of myself like

my aching, torn heart demands

i don’t know how to pour from an empty cup

and i don’t want to

but i don’t know how to ask to be filled

i have a one-way radio

that occasionally crackles to life without my doing

but mostly remains void

myself simply aching

so here i stand

on the back burner of my own life

others always before me

and i don’t know how to move

on moving out.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I’m a sentimental piece of crap. You should all know me well enough by now to have guessed that. (I mean, just look at my Year in Review posts, how many years running?)

So it figures that this week has been hard.

I’m moving out. Have I talked about that here yet? I know I’ve written two posts hinting at it that will probably stay in my drafts, but if I haven’t mentioned it yet in a post that was actually published, there you go.

It snuck up on me, to be completely honest. I said something at the beginning of the year about having no clue whatsoever about what 2019 would hold. Then, literally eleven days into the year, a Facebook post summoned a series of events that can only be God’s orchestration.

Now here we are, four days away from when I’ll leave my parents’ house. (Finally.)

To say it’s been scary is the understatement of the year. I can’t even begin to add up the amount of conversations I’ve had, articles I’ve read, and panic attacks I’ve suffered through to get here. I’ve swallowed every bit of advice from friends, mentors, and family members about how to take the plunge and what to do as I free-fall.

The thing keeping me grounded is this immense feeling of peace surrounding the whole thing (which, again, is only God). I knew from the second I stepped into the apartment that it was the right decision. I’ve totally lost it several times since then, but I keep coming back to the peace.

Maybe it’s the peace that’s gotten me through the last few weeks. The last family meals, the last hugs from my crying baby sister, the last movie nights, the last daily pre- and post-work rituals. I’m going to miss every inch of my life here in my little basement apartment in my parents’ house.

However, I keep telling my sentimental self that these aren’t true “lasts.” I’ll watch movies with my family again. I’ll have dinner with them again. We’ll set up for parties together again. It just won’t look the same. And that freaks the living daylights out of me because I’ve never been one for change. If I had my way, I’d stay here forever.

But I know that’s not healthy and I know I’ll be unhappy and I know it’s not even remotely possible. I know this is right and I know this is the next step. No matter how hard it gets or how broke I become or how quickly I ask to move back in once my lease is up, this, right now, is the right decision.

Because I’ll be moving out by myself (and my cat!!!), you may see less or you may see more of me. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like. (I’m not sure about what anything is going to look like.) All I ask is that you bear with me over the next few months as I strike out on my own and figure out what it means to be independent.

Thanks for sticking with me this far. Onward.

a short note on relationships.

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for le blog aesthetic. // {not mine}

The original title of this blog post was “Obligatory Valentine’s Day Post.”  I realized earlier this week that I always do a post on Valentine’s Day, dating back to who knows when.  (Below are the posts for your convenience – a rollercoaster of a ride for me!)

2018 – The Problem with Purity Books
2017 – Fictional Guys I’d Totally Marry
2016 – Twelve Couples I’ll Always Be In Love With (still true!)
2015 – Actively Waiting
2014 – Single and Proud of It! (warning: contains the most amount of cringe)

After looking through my blog for these posts, I’m sitting in this coffee shop on my day off, trying not to laugh as I think of how far I’ve come since writing these posts.  (I can guarantee I’ll look back at this post in a few years and cringe as well!)

I’ve come so far since writing even last year’s post.  Last year, I was in a relationship.  Last year, I had a boyfriend who surprised me at work with flowers and chocolate and then took me to get coffee and sat with me for hours as we talked about everything under the sun.

And let me tell you, being alone on Valentine’s Day after being in a very good relationship the year before is not my cup of tea.  (I just audibly sighed while staring into my coffee cup and the guy next to me won’t stop staring at me now good gosh what have I done.)

I know I’ve come far since that Valentine’s Day banquet I think I mention in every single post.  Y’know, the one that ruined me so badly because all of these couples were in fantastic relationships and I was single?  Yeah, that one.  Like, get over yourself, 2013 Ashley.  You were EIGHTEEN!  HOLY COW!  What I wouldn’t give to just smack that Ashley upside the head – and then give her a hug because honestly she had no idea what was coming for her.

So many years of feeling alone and loveless when, really, all those years of being single shaped me in ways I can’t even begin to know.  I didn’t need anyone, but I felt like I did.  I wanted what I saw in the movies when, in reality, being in a relationship is nothing like Elizabeth and Darcy, or Lydia and Stiles, or even Emma and Knightley.  Relationships, while beautiful and amazing, take so much work on both sides.  And it’s so, so easy to settle.  I can think of so many real-life relationships I know about personally right now off the top of my head, but can only count on one hand the number that I think are truly healthy and good.

It’s so easy to want what we see in the movies or on our social media feeds or with our friends.  It looks so perfect – so effortless – so easy.  The truth is, there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes.  Arguments, bitterness, jealousy, miscommunication… that’s what relationships are made out of.  Sure, there are other good things as well, but it’s not a real relationship if it doesn’t include all the hard stuff, too.  Real relationships are worth the hard stuff, but if there’s more hard than good, it’s probably not healthy.  (On second thought, maybe I am a little more cynical than I was last year.  #yikes)

While I would love to be going out with someone tonight, I can truly say that I’m grateful for where God has me.  My last relationship ended well and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve grown so much since then and learned so much about myself that I honestly don’t think I’d want to be with somebody tonight.

Instead, my plans tonight are to write a little, then put on a face mask, drink some wine, and watch About Time by myself (then make chocolate-covered strawberries with my sister and watch a little John Mulaney).

in all those days of crying myself to sleep, i felt as if i needed someone there to hold me – to help me piece myself back together.  it wasn’t until later that i realized that although the want was still there, the need was gone.  i had stitched myself back together all by myself.”

– the boy and the theatre girl

UPDATE: So, turns out my plans got changed. I wrote this post on the 13th and scheduled it for the morning of the 14th. Soon after, I smashed my phone in a car door, shattering the screen and visibly bending it (only the first in a series of very bad things that I couldn’t control and culminated in me sobbing on the phone to my mom early the next morning on my way to work). I spent the early parts of the evening getting a new phone and setting it up, but it ended up being better. My sister came home from rehearsal and told me stories of how they were blocking her show (the Little Women musical, which is FABULOUS), and one of my very best friends dropped by with flowers from my brother in college and we chatted for a while. Just goes to show that we’re never truly in charge of our lives and God can change our plans in an instant!

“i’m not like other girls.”

picI watched Bohemian Rhapsody with a good friend a few weeks ago (10/10 recommend; we stopped trying to pretend we weren’t crying halfway through).  The first chance I got to listen to the soundtrack happened a few days ago, and I finished it today on the way to work.  After it finished, it reminded me of another classic album, so I switched to Abbey Road by The Beatles.  As the first song played, I couldn’t help but smile as it reminded me of a time a few years ago where I listened to it almost obsessively.

It makes me laugh to think that the reason why I listened to it obsessively is because of a guy.  Sure, I liked the album, but I wouldn’t have listened to it half as much if this guy hadn’t raved about it.  I also knew it was a Quality album because duh.

For a while, it gave me a sort of haughty air – a snobbish attitude to accompany the ability to tell people that I’d listened to Abbey Road and knew the lyrics to such classic songs.  Sure, I listened to Taylor Swift and even some Katy Perry, but that didn’t give me as much street cred as “Octopus’s Garden” and “Oh, Darling.”

It definitely occurred to me that I was falling prey to the whole “I’m not like other girls” mentality – the idea that you should distance yourself from the stereotypical Basic White Girl.  (And I’ve already talked about this, so I won’t get into it even though I want to.)

However, I didn’t lean into this idea as much as a girl my age should’ve (and probably would have, by the time she was eighteen).  I didn’t do it because, solely due to my unique upbringing, I already knew I wasn’t like other girls.

And all I wanted was to blend in – to be like these Other Girls that girls on Tumblr try so hard to distance themselves from.

I was reminded of this again today when I read a Facebook post that was making the rounds.  (I helped it along by reposting, obviously.)  In it, the author presents a case for looking a little deeper into the church body instead of making assumptions.  She talked about girls who were held hostage at home, who taught piano lessons to contribute to the family bank account, and who were told that their feelings don’t matter, all in the name of “Biblical womanhood.”

While this wasn’t entirely my experience, it rang true enough that it got me thinking.  Thinking about those days when I went to Bible study, knowing full that I didn’t want my dad to know if a guy was interested in me before I did.  Days when I put on a skirt for church and knew I wouldn’t be able to play football with the guys afterwards.  Days when I wished I could have some semblance of a “normal” teenage life, instead of the conservative, Duggar-esque one I’d somehow stumbled into.

Of course, I couldn’t voice any of those feelings aloud.  So I kept them to myself, hoping that maybe, hopefully, someday I could figure out how to escape.

When it was all said and done, it wasn’t as much as an escape as it was a simple growing out of the mindset.  And I’m still growing, praise God.

In the years since, I’ve learned how to heal and find healthy ways to express myself without the confines of church-imposed rules and regulations while still holding to what was good about my upbringing.  Because of this, I don’t have any regrets about how I grew up.  How could I, knowing that it shaped me into who I am today and gave me the empathy to help people who are still stuck in that destructive mindset?

Today, I wore black skinny jeans and a cute business jacket to go along with my new cute, short haircut (that in and of itself being the first of my outward “rebellions” a few years ago against the cultish church that dragged me down).  I know I look more like those Other Girls than the awkward, skirt-wearing teen I was only a few years ago, and I couldn’t be happier.