This is my first foray into the world of vlogging! Hope y'all enjoy it!
For a long time I have wanted a spinal tattoo.
I've thought about the word unconventional written vertically in my own handwriting, or a constellation of tiny stars tracing my spine's crazy curvature, or maybe a realistic tattoo of all my vertebrae. I don't know exactly. But what I do know now, is that after this past week, I can say without a shadow of doubt, with 100% assuredness, that I never ever ever want a freaking spine tattoo. Ever.
I have been sick for almost 8 weeks. I get up and go to work, nap in my car at lunch, work some more, then come straight home and crawl in my bed because I don't have the energy for anything else. I have a near-constant fever that hovers around 100 degrees, and a myriad of other symptoms that come and go. I am, quite literally, dragging my own body around. I won't sugarcoat it (because what good does that ever do?), but I am tired. So tired. Worn out. Worn down.
I spent Thanksgiving break in the hospital.
Last week was arguably one of the toughest weeks of my entire life. I left work for lunch on Tuesday and less than two hours later was in the Mission ER dehydrated, with a massive headache, a temperature of 101.5, and a resting heart rate of 140. I left the hospital Thursday night after ruining my sister's 20th birthday celebration, seeing several different doctors, having every test known to mankind ran, countless vials of blood drawn, four (yes, four – thank you crooked spine) attempts at a spinal tap, and eating hospital turkey and gravy for my Thanksgiving meal.
My sweet boyfriend drove me back to the ER Saturday morning, because my head was exploding. We say that euphemistically all the time, I know. But I mean it this time. So much spinal fluid had leaked out because of the spinal taps and there was such a significant lack of pressure surrounding my brain, that it felt exactly like my brain was going to burst through my skull into one million pieces. Literally the most debilitating pain of my entire life. And my friends, the only solution to this problem? More needles jammed in my spine. Three (yes, three – thank you crooked spine) attempts at an epidural blood patch later, my insane headache was gone and I felt like a new woman. There's nothing quite like having a ton of blood vacuum drawn out of your hand and then injected into a hole in your back via a giant needle while you're wide awake, but it was worth every single minute. But no other needle is going near my spine ever again.
And we'd better call Dr. House y'all. Because the best part about all of this? No one can tell me what it is or what's going on. Absolutely no one. Not my primary care doctor, not the ER doctor, not the hematologist/oncologist, not even the infectious disease specialists. No answers. Not a single one. If you can believe it, the only diagnosis I've been given is “a fever of unknown origin.” I'm mad, and frustrated, and sad that my body has been through literal hell and back for the past seven days and I have precious little more clarity than I did last Tuesday.
I'm really not sure why I'm writing all of this.
It's not because I want the entire world to know that my life is somewhat of a shit show right now. It's certainly not for pity. Maybe it's because I don't really know how to be any other way except brutally, unfailingly honest?
Or maybe it's just because I know the intrinsic value of a “me too” moment. I crave the “me, too” moments of connection and understanding. So, my sweet friends, if you're finding yourself feeling beaten up, beaten down, with a battle worn body, with needle marks and bruises all over your arms, and a lower back that feels like it's been beaten to hell with a sledgehammer, I feel you. If all you can do in the evenings is crawl into your bed and sleep, I feel you. If, for whatever reason, getting up in the morning and putting one of your feet in front of the other is harder than it ever should be, I feel you. I see you. I hear you. I stand with you. I'll even hug you, if you want. I will hold your hand and say, “me too, me too.” It will all be ok. Life is still beautiful and sweet and good. We will all be okay.
I see a lot of myself in Job lately.
I am being tested continually these days, there is no doubt about that. Part of me wants to bend God's ear, to lay down in the floor like a toddler and kick my feet and flail my fists. Part of me is frustrated and weary and more than a little bit mad and ready yell at God. Yell at him and say “why God? What is this? Where are the answers? Why am I always, unfailingly preparing my little body for a war?”
But the bigger part of me sees the good in all of this. In my sweet momma who slept in Tuesday's work clothes for two nights beside me in a hospital recliner. In every text message, phone call, and voice mail that has said “this sucks. I love you. I am here for you.” In my sweet daddy & the rest of our family for postponing our Thanksgiving until Sunday so I didn't completely miss out on stuffing and cranberry sauce. I see the good in my little buddy, who spent the evening of her 20th birthday holding my hand and making sure I didn't choke to death on water and McDonald's cheeseburgers while I laid flat of my back in the ER without one single complaint, and spent Friday in bed with me watching Gilmore girls. She actually threatened to punch me if I mentioned ruining her birthday one more time... And in the world's kindest and sweetest boyfriend who made a makeshift couch bed for me in the ER waiting room, ignored my feeble protests and kept showing up anyway, spent his week off sitting in too-small hospital chairs just to be with me, and still tells me I'm hot even when I'm rocking under-eye circles from hell and look like the hottest mess you've seen recently.
In this season of thanks, even though I am worn and weary, there is so much overwhelming goodness shining through in all of this mess, that my chest feels like it might actually explode with love and gratitude. I wlll be like Job. I will remain faithful. I am willing to endure the pain to get to the grace. I am willing to go through hell for the sake of refinement. It will all be worth it for the sake of refinement.
I now have three men's short sleeved work shirts in my possession. One is blush pink with a white stripe and pearl buttons. One is salmon pink with a turquoise stripe, two front pockets, and a coffee stain on the left side. One is blue and white striped, with stains on the front and a hole in the shoulder.
Until today, these were my papaw's shirts. They always hung on wire hangers in the back room near the washer, rarely ever hung up in a closet and put away in a drawer, because they were always being worn & washed. Worn & washed again. When he wore them, either buttoned up properly, or all the way unbuttoned and tied in a knot at the belly, I always made sure to tell him how handsome he looked. Even tanner and more breathtakingly blue-eyed than usual! If you knew him, you know those eyes I'm talking about.
I guess now, they are my shirts. It's been 23 days without Bruce Harris on this earth, and I am at a loss as to what to do without that little man. I can see him now, strutting around the corner at the carport at his house, loafers crunching on the gravel, dark jeans rolled up, shirt unbuttoned, hair slicked back (he was a greaser until the day he died), cigarette hanging out of his mouth, whistling a little tune.
I have lost three of my four grandparents in just under five years. I haven't yet figured out how to face the rest of life without them.
“It happened so fast,” my college roommate, Mary, told me the other weekend, “I remember when we started college, I was so jealous of you for having four adorable grandparents that were all so close by!” I guess now, I'm jealous of college freshman me, too.
They were my people, my every day cheerleaders, confidantes, and supporters who had just as much of a hand in raising me as my parents did. They were on hand for after school pick-ups, Friday night sleepovers, and Saturday morning cartoons. Just a few minutes up or down the road, always ready and willing for a trip to town, a shared meal, a game of pretend, or just a great big hug.
Lester, my big Papaw Bear, with his imposing stature, and round belly that would enter a room before he did. He loved dead deer, his family, and good food more than anything in this world. Garden vegetables were always fresh, hunting trips were always the biggest deal, road atlases were the best reading material, trips were meant to be taken and enjoyed, and every meal was ended with “a little something sweet to taper off with.” I can hear his big belly laugh still five years later, if I think hard enough.
Mary Jo, my beautiful little Nanny. What I would give for one more plate of biscuits & gravy and one more honeybun cake. I didn't have time to get ready for her to leave me, maybe that's why it was so hard. From this woman I learned that style is all about wearing what makes you happy, and that you will never, ever go wrong with pink lipstick, a red leather handbag, and a floral print. I hope she smiles knowing that most of my outfit compliments come when I am wearing something of hers. One of my favorite pastimes was begging her to take her teeth out to talk or tell me a story. I would laugh like a fool. Or pinching up the skin on the back of her hands into ridges and watching it slowly flatten out while we would sit, and talk and she would play with my hair. To me, she will always be the most beautiful woman in the world.
Bruce, I still can't even believe you're gone, my sweet, sweet little Pappie. What a tremendous man you were. I miss your sweet little chuckle and your great big hugs. You were the best, hardest working man I'll ever know. This world is sadder and dimmer without you in it. I hope Nanny and Papaw Bear are at least giving you a little peace up there in heaven. I hope you're glad to be back with your Momma, I know you've missed her for a long time. And I really hope they have coffee, vienna sausages, and circus peanuts for you to snack on.
Grief is hard. It isn't steady, it isn't relenting, and it will sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Here lately, I am feeling unmoored without them. I am minus my anchors. I am missing those three places to come home to. It's like I am less and less of myself the longer they aren't here, because they were so much a part of me.
And I'm far from the only one that feels the loss of them. They were pillars of their community. Good, salt of the earth people who loved and were loved well.
But, oh, what a joy they were. A pure, marvelous joy. They truly were the brightest spots in my life, they were my best friends. It is easy to take comfort in knowing that as long as I am living, they are too.
I have in me Lester's voracious need to tell a good story and get a good laugh. I try to be more steady like him. He lived for the “in between” days because he was wise enough to know they made just as much, if not more, of an impact than the big ones. I'm trying my best to be like him.
I have Mary Jo's face. Or at least that's what everyone tells me, and oh, what a compliment that is.
Bruce, sometimes I think I am not very much like you. I am not calm, unassuming, quiet, or often kind, and I get upset much too easily. But if your life has taught me anything, it is the utmost importance of simply being a good human being. That's what people will remember when you're gone. Nothing else much matters. So, a good human being I will try to be.
Oh, what a grand time we had. I will always be wishing I could go back, always thanking God that the three of you were mine, and always carrying your hearts in my heart for as long as it beats.
Thanks for the shirts, little Pappie. I'll probably wear one tomorrow. All three of them have two front pockets, because I know one-pocket ones were useless to you. As you would say, “how in the world are you supposed to fit a pair of glasses and a pack of cigarettes in one little ole shirt pocket?!”
I'll be the first to admit it, being single is hard. And y'all, I couldn't be more single if I tried.
Yes, my life is kick ass. Yes, I love living it. Yes, I'm having a dang good time. But that doesn't mean I don't hope and wish and pray and sometimes halfway beg God for someone to share this good time with.
Beyonce never told us that being a single lady wasn't all a fun little dance. She forgot to mention how lonely it could be, how hard it would be.
But, in fairness to Beyonce, that wouldn't have made for much of a girl power anthem.
The other day, sitting on our favorite little piece of beach, my mom and I got testy with each other. She doesn't understand why I don't go on dates, and I can't seem to get her to understand that I don't have five suitors lined up at my door, falling all over me. Believe me, I would enjoy a date these days. It's been a while.
My mom says “well, I can see I've hit a nerve since your so defensive.” I snap back, “yeah, you have.” I am defensive. What I don't know how to tell my mom, is that I'm scared. Dating is hard in 2016. It's harder to meet people. It's even harder to make a halfway decent connection. It's hard to scroll and scroll and scroll and see love everywhere but with you. We swipe left, right, left, and right again. Searching for something, searching for someone to fill our holes.
I am (ridiculously) scared that I've peaked at 24. I (even more ridiculously) worry that I will die alone with no one but my 100 cats for company. I self-diagnose this singleness when I lay down at night and the lies in my head get real loud.
You're too independent.
You're too intimidating.
Claire's right, you do suck all the air out of every room you're ever in.
Why would someone want you and all your CP mess to deal when they could be with someone "normal?" (that one hurts the most)
You're not skinny enough.
You're not pretty enough.
You're not brave enough.
You're asking for too much.
What I am scared of, is that singleness will be the only story that I get to tell.
But I know that I can't be alone in this. There have to be other somebodies out there, just like me, who worry if love will ever show up for them. And with each passing day without it, we worry a little bit more.
The other other day, someone who used to be a big part of my life, who took up a lot of my headspace one summer, and who I still care for very much, got engaged. He texted me to tell me the good news, and I told him how very very happy and excited I am that he has found someone who makes him that happy. And I meant every word.
This prompted a text from a best friend. Caitlin has known me a long time, since we thought it was chic to put butterfly clips in our hair. To say she knows me and my heart well would be an understatement. So, knowing that I was second-guessing myself that day, she gave me a little pep talk that begs to be shared:
“For the record, I am glad that you are not the one who just got engaged. You deserve a man who is dedicated your adventure and not just his own. So much love for you. He made you feel like you weren't brave because you didn't do the things he considered adventurous. But we have to find people whose adventures line up with ours. We are all adventurous in our own way, and we need people who will support us in that. Moving to Charleston on your own was pretty damn adventurous so who gives a fuck if you can't mountain bike?”
And I think she's right. I think that's the ticket, my single brothers and sisters. Find someone whose adventures compliment your own.
He found his, I will find mine, and you will find yours.
For a lot of my life (and maybe I still do this?) I have looked a singleness as a punishment. Like I'm stumbling around in a giant maze, trying to find this giant prize that God is withholding from me at the end like he's the Wizard of Oz. Like maybe if I prayed more, or had my shit together more, or “stopped looking" (ugh, I hate that), or did this differently, or did that differently, maybe then. Maybe then.
My friends, I hope you've never thought that way. Because it is complete and total bullshit. You're not doing anything wrong. There's nothing wrong with you. God isn't dangling love out in front of you like a carrot, as a prize to be won. A relationship is not a pot of gold at the end of an elusive rainbow, and it sure isn't a magic cure all. Singleness isn't a punishment, but love isn't something that you can win at either.
I know how hard it is to see love all around and everywhere you look, all over Facebook “love challenges” and Instagram hashtags. I know how easy it is to fall into the miserable trap of self-doubt, insecurity, and comparison. But if you can, fight your way out. Don't be crippled by comparison. Don't let yourself be shamed by the fear that love doesn't and won't ever belong to you.
I'm not a relationship expert, clearly. But I'd like to think, that after nearly 24 consecutive years, that I am in fact, an expert on singleness. For anyone else out there whose singleness might feel inescapable and heavy tonight, here are some things I want to tell you:
You are loved. Someone might not be “in love with you” (or maybe they are?!), but that sure as hell doesn't mean you aren't loved.
Don't underestimate online dating. But don't overestimate it either.
Singleness, I would imagine, will end pretty quickly. One day someone will show up in your life, and you'll text them, and you'll go on a date with them, and you'll tell stories, and then there will be another date, and another, and then, well, what do ya know?!
It's okay to admit that you're scared, that dating is scary. But it's not okay to use that as an excuse for not doing it.
Don't be bitter. I'll say it again: don't be bitter.
Sit in your singleness. Don't be afraid of it. Don't be ashamed of it. And don't try to make it in to something it is not.
Meaning, don't keep texting that person (you know that person) long past the time when you got the clarity that told you they weren't meant to be yours. Don't use people just to make you fee less alone.
Do ask your girlfriends to set you up with their ridiculously good-looking brother. And do keep bothering them until they do it.
Do give second chances. Don't give third chances.
Don't treat love like it's a treasure hunt or a game to be won.
Remember that people are not ideals, or fantasies, or things that you can keep. They're just people.
Don't stop living your life just because you're waiting for someone to come along and live it with you.
Do like Caitlin said. Find someone whose adventures are at home with your own. And when you do find that person? Try your hardest. Revel in them. Hold them tight.
Put yourself out there. Make yourself uncomfortable. Be vulnerable. Tell that person (you know that person) just how you feel.
Don't be like me, friends. Don't be scared. They will get here. They will show up. In the meantime, keep on loving your people with all you've got. Keep living well. In the meantime, keep looking. My friend Hannah once had a friend tell her something hopeful. And she passed it along to me. And now I want to share these words with you: They're getting to you as fast as they can.
So to all my fellow single ladies & fellas? I hear you. I see you. I feel you. You are not alone.
Take heart, my dears. They're on their way. Get ready. They will be here as fast as they can. And they will be worth it.
I just typed out the words “time is a fickle beast.” And then I deleted them letter by letter. Because time may be a beast, but it certainly isn’t fickle. In fact, in all of the uncertainty and sheer madness that makes up our world, it’s just about the steadiest thing we’ve got. I’m talking European Union steady. Wait...too soon?
For as long as I remember (I’m talking since butt-length straight hair, two missing front teeth, tiny pink high-top Reeboks, and a LOT of florals and gingham made up my signature aesthetic) I have been very, very concerned about where I am going. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how much that line of thinking has dominated the way I live my life. So I aimed to change that, and am proud to say that I have. Since I moved to Charleston nine months ago, I’ve been a lot more tuned in to the here and now. And a lot more tuned in to who I am. Moving almost five hours away from home to a city where you know next to nothing and next to no one will do that to ya.
I turn 24 years old one week from tomorrow. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so caught up lately - thinking about time, all of its intricacies, and all that it is capable of. Or maybe it’s because one year ago right now I was out in the wild, wild west - finding myself while on one of the greatest adventures of my young life.
Simultaneously it seems like that happened just last week, but also like it happened an entire lifetime ago. The person that I was a year ago, was as always, very concerned with where she was headed. She was restless and dreaming the days away. So, ready to surprise everybody (including herself) she chopped off 13 inches of her beloved hair, packed up her shit, and moved away to find out what big city independence (and she, as it turns out) where all about.
But the reason that trip still stands out so boldly in my mind, is because for 16 days, I forgot about where I was headed. And about where I had been. All I gave a rat’s fanny about was the one single day that I was living. And that, my friends, was one of the most liberating things to ever have happened to me.
That trip will forever be a hallmark time of my life. I said to hell with my comfort zone, and busted that sucker wide open. I let go a little bit, stretched myself, pushed myself, and in doing that - allowed myself to change.
I shifted my attention to today. And stopped worrying quite so much about yesterday, tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that.
Beginning on June 19th, 2015 I started the daily - and still ongoing - process of growing into a self-assured, pretty kick ass (if I do say so myself) woman that I’m learning to be proud of being.
I’ve done things in the last year, that if you had forecasted them to me one year ago, I would have cackle-laughed in your face. The aforementioned move and the aforementioned haircut (which was the more traumatic of the two - what does that say about me, I wonder?) for starters. I got brave, decided I might like to give love a shot, got myself hurt a little, and lost out; all the wiser and more confident for it. I’m not afraid to stay by myself at night anymore, and let me tell y’all - that is a BIG deal. I pay all my own bills. And they’re mostly on time. I have learned that I really, really like tequila. And that I will be really, really hungover if I drink cheap white wine. I have started taking better care of myself - stretching, swimming, and exercising fairIy often. I now own (to my great surprise) a pair of hiking shoes, an eyebrow pencil that I use regularly, and a full set of kitchenware that an actual adult might use?! I have gained 10 pounds, the best times, and greatest friends known to mankind as I have lived in and eaten my way around this crowded, crumbling, stinky, old lady of a city that I love with all of my heart.
I hope, or rather I know, that I’ll never forget about where and who I’ve been. I’ll never forget five year old Ashley and how she loved to eat grape popsicles and walked on her tippy toes with her arms stuck out by her sides for wings, doing her best to stay balanced and upright. Or ten year old Ashley who was terrified to stay the night away from home. Or 16 year old Ashley, who rocked pink high-top Converses, owned way too many graphic t-shirts that said things like “save the whales” and “pick flowers not fights,” who began wasting away in the clutches of an eating disorder, and who brought the house down playing (or dressing up in a hoop skirt and being myself?) a funny and self-absorbed antebellum southern belle in the school play. Or 20 year old Ashley whose college experience was defined by good trips, long ass political science papers, beloved student government meetings, and the irreplaceable souls who made those four years and that one stoplight town into a home. I hope I never forget her, I know I wont.
And I’m really pumped to meet the Ashley that I’ll grow into down the road. The Ashley who will be the great love of someone’s life, a mother, an author, a congresswoman, and the cutest little long-haired hippie grandma (I will NOT cut off my hair when I’m old, write it down) that anyone has ever seen.
But for now, I’m stupidly, ridiculously, happy with the Ashley that’s writing to you (whoever you are) sitting in the here and now, sweating bucket loads on my porch in the 95% humidity, curled up in a patio chair drinking a Coors Light in plaid boxer shorts and a tie dye t-shirt, who still rocks those same pink high-top Converses on occasion.
She’s pretty rad, I guess.
For the first time in a long time, I don’t worry about where she’s headed. All I’m worried about right now is getting up early enough in the morning to get to the beach before it gets too hot and too crowded. Oh, and in time to snag a primetime parking spot.
Y’all, the thing about time is: it’s gonna keep marching on and on and on some more. Let us never get so caught up in where we are going that we forget where we are at.
My roommate, Hannah, is obsessed with Game of Thrones. So as a result, we now have a subscription to HBO Now, and I have been spending too much time watching Lena Dunham's GIRLS. Which is so real and relatable and gritty and well-written.
I don't know if it's because I binge-watched seven consecutive episodes of GIRLS today (on to number eight as we speak), or if it's because my family all left at lunchtime for the mountains and Sullivan has been my only pal for the afternoon, but I have been thinking a lot about love today.
I'll just come right out and say it, I have never been in love. Nope. I thought one time that I might have been, back then I was certain of the goofy, crooked grin. Or another time, not so long ago, I thought I could be again, if we decided to give it a shot. And I still think I would choose him. Yep, I would. But, as the story has went, neither of those chances panned out.
It's not fair to say that I've just been thinking about love this afternoon because, truthfully, I wonder about it an inordinate amount of time. About why it has eluded me for 24 years. If I will ever find it. If it will ever find me.
My little Hannie sent me the greatest Cheryl Strayed (that woman just GETS it, ya know?) quote the other day:
“I can't say when you'll get love, or how you'll find it, or even promise that you will. I can only say that you are worthy of it and that its never too much to ask for it and that it's not crazy to fear you'll never have it again, even if your fears are probably wrong."
I hope Cheryl is right, and that my fears are wrong – but in case they aren't, I'm just going to keep on looking, and living. And by looking, I don't mean giving into the siren's call of Tinder, or Bumble, or any of those other dating apps that thrill us with the fleeting high of being liked and found attractive. Because other than an unlikely friend, and some unwarrented sexual advances (not on my part, you can be sure) that resulted in a cancelled first date, I haven't had much luck in that arena. Actually, I don't think I'll keep looking. I will definitely keep checking out the hotties (booties and left ring fingers) at the grocery store, and flashing a smile when somebody catches my eye, and retweeting and Insta-stalking the fellas that I think are cute. But beyond that, I'm content to just get on with the living until love decides to show up for me.
Why am I perfectly content just to get on with the living? Because I hate the notion that a young 20-something woman's life is considered by many “not to have truly began” until she has a ring on her pretty little finger. And that is plainly absurd. Would I like someone to come home to at the end of the day who will hug me and kiss me and pet my hair? And who is totally a-okay with the fact that I'm a total weirdo? Hell yes I want that.
But just because I don't have that, doesn't mean that this isn't a life I am wholeheartedly going after. I'm obsessed with my cat, okay? I am trying to keep up relationships with long-distance friends. I am enjoying every single day that I wake up in the most beautiful city known to mankind. I am writing a lot more these days, jotting down book ideas & dreaming about TED talks, and becoming more and more confident that I've got things to say that people might want to read and hear them. I am thinking about giving modeling another shot. I'm plotting my next move, and researching grad programs, and thinking if I move back to North Carolina that I might want to run for state senate at the next available opportunity. I'm realizing that I should take more chances. I'm eating cleaner, and stepping on a scale less, and trying to remember to stretch the ole' muscles and to floss. I am making the cognizant choice right now to eat two baked sweet potatoes for dinner, instead of a bowl of French Toast Crunch.
What I'm learning is that life doesn't have a timestamp on it. Even though with every engagement announcement or wedding album that is scrolled past on Facebook, the ugly comparison and insecurity come creeping in, you aren't (read, I'm not) “not enough” or “less than” if you're unmarried, single, working a less than stellar job, and not writing books or speaking or being a boss ass bitch by the time you turn 24. It's okay that I'm not Lena "the voice of generation" Dunham yet, or ever (Lena, I love you!). I am trying not to doubt every decision that I've ever made (oh, the wonders of adulthood), and wondering how to get there and working on it.
In short, am I whole. I am trying my hardest to be content, and I am happy with this little life.
And maybe, just maybe, it's that I am already loved. By a beautiful momma, and a blue-eyed daddy, and a sister, and three of the best grandparents to have ever lived, and a bunch of Baldridges, and oh, you know, just 100 or so of my closest family members. I am already loved by Rachael, and Jake, and Drew, and all the friends who chose to love me when I was five and chewed on my hair, and when I was sixteen and my favorite piece of clothing was a t-shirt that said “pick flowers not fights” in giant gold letters.
I am loved by college friends who I miss with my whole being, who I plan trips to visit, and who still loved me even in spite of the fact that my greatest life's ambition was to be President of the United States. Who walked beside me though the lazy days and late nights, who helped mold me into the woman I am, who I FaceTime, call, and Skype at all hours just so I can hear the voices that sound like home.
I am loved by a powerhouse group of women mentors – Leca, Meredith, Lisa, Hannah, and Nancy, who know to expect a phone call from me when I am faced with the most major (and the most minor) of decisions. And who have shown me, through who they are, exactly the kind of woman that I want to be. I am loved by my sweet effervescent Mary Scott, and by “momma” Katelyn, and Heather, and Anna (thanks for always driving), and Cambren – all soul sisters who have sweetened these Charleston days and helped make this big city into a home.
Yes, I want a love story. But these people are my love story. They are all the great loves of my life. And maybe someday soon a steady, handsome man will show up and want to join in and be his own part of the story.
I refuse to believe that we only get one person to love. It's more likely that we get a lot of different kindred souls during this lifetime, some that we've already met, some for different seasons, and some for a lifetime. If we're lucky, one will choose us. And we will choose them. We will choose each other every day for as long as we can. I don't know a lot about love, but I do know this - It's a choice. Single ladies (and fellas) hear me say this: Life? You've already got a kick-ass one. Don't be embarrassed of your singleness, embrace it. Don't be afraid to go to a wedding alone. Love isn't a magic cure-all, so don't treat it like one. You are worthy of love, and it's always worth asking for. I hope you find it too. But until then? Be okay with yourself. Don't forget about the thrill of just living.
My Grandma Lillian is 98 years old (but not for another 12 days – so she'll get sassy with you and tell you she is still 97, thank you very much) and she is the wisest person I know. The other Sunday I was at her house, and we were talking about life, and boys, as usual. She said, “Sugar. The right one will come along for you one of these days. I know he will. And don't get in a hurry about it, because when he gets here, you'll know. And he will be worth it.” And she held my hand and said, “But until then, you keep going. You're doing just fine. You're doing just fine.”
I have never treated my body with too much kindness.
In fact, I'd have to go so far as to say that I have pushed it to the brink of destruction many a time in my almost 24 years. I have not taken good care of it. I have starved it. I have weakened it. I have ignored its pain and its cries for help. I have pushed it beyond its limits in the name of sheer willpower and determination.
I can't do that, you say? Oh well, just watch me.
But, I guess in the spirit of honesty, my body hasn't always treated me kindly either. Most people think that having CP just means that my legs don't work like they should. And that I walk funny and fall down a lot.
I'll do my best not to bore you with all the details, but being born three months prematurely unfortunately doesn't mean that I made it out unscathed with just some funny legs as a souvenir. It means that my brain is damaged, that's what CP is, after all. It means that my quad muscles burn like hell when I drink alcohol because they're so stripped down (from being moved to other places in my legs) that they can't process the lactic acid. It means that my spine is curved, and and nearly every joint in my body feels aged by at least 50 years. It means that my legs are scarred with purple pores from poor circulation. It means, among many other things, that as I am sitting here typing this - muscle and tendon contractions are literally pulling my bones out of alignment.
It means that my heart beats like a hummingbird's - so fast and irregular sometimes that I can't even handle it. It means that because my nervous system is underdeveloped, that neurologically, I'm a mess. My body can't process adrenaline. My body temperature doesn't regulate. My body, as much as I don't like to admit it, can be fragile. Really, it just means that my body is weird. That a lot of doctors don't understand it. The people closest to me don't always understand it. Heck, I know it better than anyone, and sometimes I don't even understand it.
My friends, I'm coming to you tonight from a place a weariness. Yesterday was consumed by a muscle tension migraine (spastic muscles will do that to ya, apparently) so severe that I spent the afternoon knocked out on muscle relaxers in my bed, drugged into a stupor for five hours just so my eyes wouldn't feel like they were blowing out of my head. Today was blacked out vision, catching myself on the stall door seconds before I would have hit the bathroom floor hard. Three hours in urgent care with my great pal Mary Scott supplying humor, love, and a watchful eye. An EKG (for what feels like the 1,000,000th time), a blood pressure test, blood drawn, and no conclusive answers.
I know I'm not the only one who struggles. I know I'm not, and I also know that my struggles are pretty damn small compared to those of others. But today, on my way home from work, I was on the verge of a massive pity party and a complete meltdown. I had texted both my mom and my little Hannie (who knows this better than anyone), and said "I would love for my body to just fucking be normal. Just once even." Why? Because I am just tired. Tired of a body and a brain that I battle against day in and day out.
But before I got amped up into full blown cry-it-out-mode, I remembered February 20th.
On February 20th I, Ashley Susan Arleca Harris, hiked just a little over three miles up the side of a mountain to the top of Looking Glass Rock.
And it was, unequivocally, the absolute hardest and most rewarding thing that I have ever done.
Hiking Looking Glass has been on my bucket list for quite some time. It started as and idea of defiance to a boy that told me a long time ago that I wasn't brave. The idea was born because it was the bravest thing I could think of in that moment. But it had long since morphed into something so much bigger. So much so that the initial idea to prove him wrong was just a faint memory. It became the insatiable need to take in those vistas, and to prove to myself and everyone else that I could do the impossible. I begged Claire and Nigel to come home that weekend so we could tackle it. That morning before we left Claire stretched all my muscles for me, and I treated her and Nigel to breakfast burritos at Sunrise Cafe.
We started on our journey, Nigel carrying the bag with water and snacks, Claire backpacking the Camelback, and holding one of my hands while I used a trek pole in the other. I got tired, real fast. We took about 100 rest breaks along the way and got lapped by people so many times that I lost count. We laughed and joked and listed to old country tunes. And because Looking Glass is shaped like a giant whale, that's how we measured our progress. Ascending the tail! Ascending the butt! On the head!
A little over halfway up, my right hip began to hurt, and then hurt worse, and worse, and then all the muscles in that leg began to spasm. I begged the two of them to let us turn around, but thank God, they didn't. At times the trail was so rough and hard to negotiate that Nigel would have to pick me up. Or Claire, in her badass and ever-capable way, would walk the trail backwards, up over roots and rocks, holding my hands.
As we got to the summit, almost to the top and victory, I almost had a panic attack. I was so overwhelmed with the thought of having to do it all over again in reverse, and my body was so weak, that I just didn't know if I could physically do it. Tears welled up in my eyes and my hands started shaking when Claire took my by the shoulders and said:
"Ashley, you are the strongest, bravest, and most badass person up here on this hike today. No question. We will literally carry you down if we have to. Now, go. Let's finish this thing."
And so we did. She carried me the last 20 yards because it was wet, and slick, and my balance couldn't be trusted at that point. And in maybe the sharpest moment of clarity I have ever had, tears ran down my face when we walked out on that rock.
Tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of celebration. I have never been so in awe of myself, or of God's world, or so humbled by my small, fallible, humanness as I was in that moment.
After a 30 minute rest on the rock, as soon as I stood up, I knew my hip was seriously injured. I would try to move my right leg forward, and nothing would happen (which was slightly terrifying, I should add). It had simply said, "screw you, Ashley. I've done all I can do today. I surrender."
So, true to their word, they carried me down the mountain. All three miles. Not a grumpy or ungrateful word. Just cheers and laughs and a few falls, and telling me how proud they were of me. Talk about a humble and thankful heart, for those two beautiful humans. I know that spending their Saturday on that tedious hike with me was probably the last thing they wanted to do. I did nothing to deserve the love they showed me that day. They did it anyway. And I won't be quick to forget that.
So yeah, I think my body relishes in throwing me the occasional curve ball. And on days like today, I'm not all too fond of it. But it has been a pretty good home to me for my nearly 24 years. And it has done the impossible many many times, most recently on February 20th. It has learned to walk no less than ten times. It has bounced back from a lot of crap time and time again. My hip is still not healed, even a month later, so it has definitely faced the consequences of my actions.
Does my body let me down a lot? Yes, yes it does. But it also doesn't take any excuses. It keeps getting back up, every time. I keep getting back up. And because of that? I'm pretty proud of it. I'm pretty proud of me.
Friends? Whatever the Looking Glass Rock is in your life? Just go do it. It might be hard. It might hurt you. It might take you seven hours. You might sweat a lot. But just go do it anyway.
My name is Ashley Harris, and I do not like to lose. I do not like to fail.
In fact, I hate it so much that I may or may not have had a reputation as that kid who would change the rules to board games just so she would win. I'm not proud of it. But just ask Claire how many times she has ever been Queen Frostine in CandyLand...
I'm going to be 100% honest right now, and tell you that my heart is hurting today. And it probably will for many a day after this one. It isn't broken, goodness no, but there are a few more long cracks that weren't there yesterday morning.
There isn't a more devastating feeling than to watch and listen as something that you were willing to fight your hardest for, slips right through your fingers. And you have to let it. You have to realize that this is something that you can't win. This is something that you must gracefully lose, because you have no other option. Because the stress is too high, and the distance is too far, and the time just isn't there. As stupid as the old cliche is, it's the truest. Timing really is everything.
And most of all, because this is what is best. For you. And for them.
This morning when I woke up, for half a second, I forgot that yesterday happened. But then I remembered tears all the way home from Orangeburg, and a goodbye for now. And I seriously contemplated covering my head back up and telling today just to forget about it.
But then I rolled over and saw that little red and black icon on my iPhone screen that says Monday February 29th. Leap day. Leap days have always been like the unicorns of days to me. This mystical creature that comes around every four years and gives you another chance. 24 whole hours of more chances to do better, to be better, to redeem, and to try again.
What I keep learning as I get older, is that life is just not something that I can win. I can't be Queen Frostine all the time. Sometimes, I'm going to get hurt. Sometimes, I'm going to lose. But that doesn't mean that I get to just give up and pull the covers over my head. And that surely doesn't mean that putting my heart on the line wasn't worth it. Honesty and vulnerability will always, always be worth it. If I could preach one thing right now, that would be it. They really will.
But today - today was grace. I got up and put on gold sparkly sandals because it was nearly 70 degrees outside. I had a really good hair day. I drove to work with my windows down. I remembered that, by golly, I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And that I can go to the beach this weekend just because I want to and just because it's five minutes across a bridge. I am alive, and I am loved, and my hair is growing out (finally!), and I wiped my own butt this morning without anyone else's help. So there is plenty of cause for gladness and joy.
Today was humanness. I sent a text that said, I won't stop rooting for you. And I slouched down behind my computer screen a couple of times while my eyes filled up with those stupid tears that give away just how much I did care. I snuggled my cat while my sweet roommate cooked us dinner, and then we laughed and cringed at Fuller House and how terrible it is.
I sat under trees in the warm afternoon sun with two of the greatest women I know and best friends I have ever had. We drank wine out of water bottles and ate giant salads and they listened. They were there, and they cared, and that was enough.
So I guess the moral to this story (if there is one) is that life is not freaking CandyLand. It's going to throw some tough shit at you, on occasion. And sometimes, you and your heart are gonna get a bruise or two. But that's the thing about life: sure, you can't win at it. But as long as you're giving it a try, you can't lose at it either.
And when the extra days and the extra chances do come around? Just be gracious. Just be human. Just bring your best self to the table. Even when you are hurting and even when the days are hard, just be real. Just show up. That's all any of us can ask of ourselves and anyone else.
And what's the best part about tough days? They grow you and they refine you. Well that, and that they're usually followed by better ones.
If you don't know me already, my name is Ashley Susan Arleca Harris, and I have been a devoted and frequent wearer of the rose colored glasses.
I like the way they make things look. I like the way they blur and distort and bring longing and nostalgia to the forefront. Wearing the glasses, I have had the tendency to romanticize things, remembering them in a softer light than the brighter sharper one that surrounded them in real time. Not with 2015, though. I would like to think that in the best possible way, you, 2015, pummeled those rose colored glasses to bits.
It's a trendy thing these days, to have a "word of the year" that acts as your mantra, your battle cry of sorts. For 2015 I decided early on that "BRAVE" would be my driving force for the year. You, 2015, were to be the year of leaning in, of saying yes, of busting up my comfort zone, and of making and taking strong offers.
Right now, I'm sitting in a fuzzy green armchair, halfheartedly watching the Clemson/OSU game, drinking a Coors Light, and realizing that you, 2015, were without a doubt, my hardest, most genuine, and most vulnerable year yet.
2015, I sure did learn a lot from you. Did you see me do brave things? Hell yes you did. You taught me that if I am not growing and changing, then I am not living. You saw me travel out west to Colorado to spend 16 days riding ATVs and primitive camping. I showered three times in two weeks, I peed in the woods, I inhaled lungful after lungful of dry, dusty air. And to my greatest and best surprise, I had the time of my life. Something that I thought would make me absolutely miserable, made me live. You saw me slowly (way too slowly) realize that the boy that I could listen to talk about anything and nothing for hours on end, the boy that I thought I might could love -- that I would never be the one to make him happy. That we wanted different things out of these lifetimes of ours. So you saw me gracefully fade away and cheer him on from a distance.
You saw me pack up my little grey station wagon and move myself down to the sea-soaked, sun-drenched Charleston peninsula. I knew next to no one, I signed my own name to a lease on a little yellow condo, I pay my own bills, and figure out what "adulthood" means one decision, one failure, and one triumph at a time.
You saw me realize a dream, when I stood up and shared my story candidly with a room full of people, recognizing my passion and willing it to continue for years on down the road. You allowed me to meet the worlds greatest photographer, who made me feel like a model, and made me realize that beauty belongs to me too. You affirmed that my life is meant to be spent advocating for those of us who are different and unconventional.
2015, you also knocked me to my knees. You saw me move away from anyone and anything that I had ever known, all in the name of independence and chasing big city dreams. You made me learn my way around every single letter in the word "loneliness." You made the word "depression," for the first time ever, a heavy question on my mind. You made "anxiety," for the first time ever, someone who snuck up on me when I least expected it and moved in as a constant companion. You were dark days on autopilot, barely dragging one leg in front of the other.
You gave me opportunity to pull God out of the shoebox underneath my bed and sit with him in a valley. He used 2015 to break me down in to tiny pieces that he will slowly refine and rebuild. Thank you for thrusting me in the refining fire. Thank you for teaching me that I am stronger that I ever thought. And capable of living in a braver and more honest way that I ever knew I could.
2015, you were also so beautiful. You brought me beautiful new people to love. Mary Scott, Heather, Katelyn, Xanna, HB, Hugo, Patty, Dale, Kelli, Cambren, DeAnna, Jordan, Anna, if you're reading this, it's all you. I wrote a blog post telling anyone in the world that I would write them a love letter if they wanted one. What a joy. That one little post changed my life. Through that experience, I have reveled in the glory of humanity, met my soul sister Hannah, and have been connected to some of my greatest friends.
You showed me that my support system, those people who stand in my corner day after day, will never ever falter. They will dance with me on the happy days, and cry with me on the sad ones. Mom, Dad, Buddy, Mimi, Pappy, Meredith, Lisa, Anna, Mary, little Hannie, Rachael, Jake, Allyson, KK, Hannah, Nancy, Faith, Sarah, thank all of you for loving me so well and for carrying me on the days when I can't even carry myself. And as a pleasant surprise, you also brought me, out of the blue, an old friend. Someone I care about more and more all the time. Someone that I wouldn't mind traveling the world with. Someone with a voice that I love listening to and a smile that is unmatched. Someone that I hope to never stop getting to know.
2015, you taught me more about the world, more about humanity, and more about myself than any year that has ever came before you. You've given my driving anxiety a run for its money, and have turned me into one of those people that drives across the Ravanell and Wando bridges at 70mph like the badass that I am. You have had me learn that ridiculously high expectations for myself will do nothing but cripple me in the end.
You have taught me that that life is too short not to eat good food, and that sometimes, cheap beer is just as good as the expensive stuff. You have shown me that home, and all my people, will have a light on for me when I am ready to come back, whether it is in 8 months or 8 years. You have brought me to my beautiful city so that I can learn to be content with who I am when no one else else is around, so that I can make room for new people to know and love, and so I can know that being alone is nothing to be ashamed of, or to fear. You have taught me a lot about myself, and a lot about who God is. I can never thank you enough for that.
2015, you have shown me the value of showing up for people. And the value of leaning in to His will and His presence. And he value of knowing myself. And that I will never stop trying to leave each day soaked with honesty, love, intention, vulnerability and with a genuine spirit - there is no substitute for that. And that living 5 minutes from the beach is basically the best thing ever. You have taught me more than anything else, that even if this "right now" is nothing like I thought it would be, that it is all that it should be. That this "right now" is the best and only thing I've got. Thank you for shattering my rose colored glasses. I owe you one.
Honestly, I didn't always want to write you a love letter. You were hard. But more than that, you were growth - and that's something worth writing about.
2015, you have been one hell of a ride. I'm glad I went along.
If you see 2016 around, let it know I'm excited for it's arrival. I'm ready. It's going to be a good one, I can feel it in my bones.
"The tough stuff in life teaches us the greatest lessons." If I have said that once, I have said it a thousand times.
Two months ago today I drove my little grey station wagon 4.5 hours south on I-26 and moved myself to Charleston.
Time is a funny thing, because it feels like I just woke up from that day, and yet, my old life feels like it's light years away all at the same time.
Unrealistically, I thought that this would be easy. "I've always wanted to live in Charleston," I'd say when they asked me. In my mind, I pictured it to go a little something like this: Move to Charleston. Live in cute condo 5 minutes from the beach. Make instant friends and have tons of social functions to go to all the time. Be so social and so adjusted that this city couldn't even handle me. Go to the beach at least every other day. Go out downtown all the time. That I would LOVE the heck out of this warm weather. Rainbows and sunshine pretty much all the time, let me tell you.
Needless to say, other than the cute condo, it's went absolutely nothing like that.
A few weeks ago, on a tired Monday morning, I texted my friend Hannah,
"Choosing to stay in Charleston is the hardest thing ever. There are no hugs here. I cry all the time, and this is the loneliest I have ever been. Didn't know it was actually possible for a person to be this sad and alone. I feel like an empty fragile shell - not an actual person. But, I've loved Charleston my whole life. I thought God wanted me here, and I hope I wasn't wrong. I can't let Charleston be the place where I decided to give up on myself."
She immediately sends back the words,
"Oh girl. You're in the valley. Welcome to it."
Have there been moments of beauty and sheer joy during the last two months? Absolutely. The girls that I work with are wonderful people. I really enjoy them. One in particular, Katelyn, has invited me to things, introduced me to people, and made me feel included. I thank God for her all the time. I have spent a few lazy warm days on the beach with the fall sunshine on my face, and that has been wonderful. It's so warm that I rarely even need a light jacket, and while incredibly foreign to me, it's hard to complain about that. But it is totally weird that all the trees are still green on November 21st... I have even made a couple of trips downtown. So that I can just walk or drive around and not forget the beauty of this place. To remember that a part of it flows through my veins, and so I can try and not forget why I ever wanted to come here in the first place. Sometimes, when I'm driving across the Ravanell, or the Ashley River Bridge, or the Isle of Palms Connector, or across Shem Creek, I actually get a lump in my throat because I can't believe that I live in a place that's so beautiful. I'm learning how to be a full-fledged adult. I am more independent than I have ever been. I support myself, do my own grocery shopping, pay my own bills (mostly) on time, and believe it or not, am even to begin to dabble in that terrifying and elusive art form known as "cooking."
But in all honesty, in spite of the unexpected joy and the sunshine moments, these past two months have been overwhelmingly hard.
There is no point in sugarcoating it because I, Ashley Harris, am currently a full time resident of the valley.
It's lonely here, that's for sure. When I moved, I'm not sure that I had an accurate idea of what it meant, to actually well, you know...move. I had only ever been to Charleston on vacation, for short 1 or 2 week pieces of time. I naively thought this would be just one long extended vacation, and of course, I was wrong. There is traffic. A lot of it and it terrifies me. And on most days, the beach is the furthest thing from my mind. The best part of all of those vacations that that time spent here? My family. And without them, Charleston is just a beautiful place on a map.
I actually miss my people so much that it physically hurts. I miss their hugs and their big dinners together and all the parties we throw for no reason at all except just to be together. I miss weekend breakfasts with my dad, and porch talks with my mom, and afternoons with my grandparents, and sleepovers at the Baldridge house. Without all of them, being the big independent city girl isn't all it's cracked up to be.
I'm not eating much these days, I'll admit. And I'm probably sleeping too much, I'll admit that too. I want to have people here. But it's hard to make friends, but I beat myself up because I could try harder. There are days when I am literally overjoyed just because I have somewhere to go and someone to see. And there are days when I'm relieved just to be able to go home after work, eat dinner, lose myself in a few episodes of Gilmore girls, pull the covers up over my head, have a good cry, and be asleep by 9pm. And then there are the dark days where I put one foot in front of each other on autopilot, head down, in heavy fog. Days when I fight back tears until my lunch break, and then again until I get in my car at 5:00 to drive home. I want someone to care where I am and what I'm doing. I want someone in this city to know who I am, to ask what I'm up to, to choose me. I just want to be known. I just want to be seen. These are the days when "depression?" is a faint question in my mind and I just shrug it away and keep going.
I am not fine. I am simply making it. I am trudging through the valley.
You likely don't know this about me, but up until recently I have liked to keep God in a shoebox under my bed. I keep him under there, saving him for a rainy day. I call on him when I need him, and don't pay him much attention when I think I don't.
But that's the best thing about this valley. It's forced me to take God out of that box. I have hit my knees more in the past two months than I have in the past five years. He hasn't felt so far away lately. And it's a saving grace.
Friday was an absolutely hellish day. It was doubting everything about myself and making the decision that coming here was the absolute biggest mistake. It was shaky hands, an upset stomach, the inability to focus, and a paralyzing fear. It was crying myself to sleep that night, and having an anxiety attack when I woke up the next morning. Friday was the devil trying to win.
The devil wants to win. He relishes in your sadness and preys on your weakness. And will do everything in his power to make you fearful, to make you doubt yourself and what you are doing, and even worse, to make you doubt God and the reasons why His goodness brought you here.
But I can't let him win. I can't give in to defeat and stop fighting for all of this goodness this life has to offer. I can't let Charleston be the place where I decided to let fear pummel me to the ground. I can't let Charleston be the place where I decided to give up on myself.
I have learned, that in the valley, you will walk through the refining fire.
"When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." (Malachi 43:2)
God is refining me in this valley. He is breaking me down into pieces that He will rebuild. He is trudging with me through the loneliness, and the bright & dark days. He, for the first time in a long time, feels near. He has not forgotten me here.
I am learning that my God can't just be the God of thankful prayers that dances with me on the mountaintops. He has to be the God of questioning prayers, of pleading prayers, who matches my steps on the days when I feel invisible. On the days when I am heartsick and homesick. On the days when I am ready to let fear win.
I get this overwhelming feeling that people don't want to hear about when you're not fine. They don't want to hear about the loneliness that shatters you to pieces, and the fears and lies that whisper in your ears when you lay down at night. They want to hear about the great times you are having, the new people you are meeting, and the new life you aimed to build. I know that people expect me to be fine. They have come to expect me to be resilient, and to always have a smile on my face. And I do still smile, quite a bit. But happy moments and great big belly laughs don't mean that your insides aren't unraveling at the same time. In truth, the greatest disservice we can for ourselves and others is to not be real with one another. I refuse not to be honest. In fact, I view honesty as my only option.
Because how can people know where to find you if you won't tell them where you are?
As Hannah has told me and taught me through her example, you can't be afraid of the valley. Do not be afraid of the refining fire. I am not afraid, because I know that I will come out on the other side more full of His spirit than I have ever been. Beautiful things are to come on the other side.
I think the best thing I have ever learned, is how to sit here with God in this valley.
Because those mountaintops? They don't teach you a damn thing. But these valleys? They sure do.
Four words: I. HAVE. HAD. ENOUGH.
I think that the strangest days of our lives might be the ones where an irrevocable change happens. But nothing major occurs to incite this irrevocable change. Just something small, something seemingly meaningless. Like an link on Twitter.
Before I type any further, and before your blue and brown and green eyeballs scan any more words on this screen, I want you to know something. I don't not intend for this post to come across as angry. Or mean. Or harsh. Or preachy. Or as an overreaction. But still, that may be the perception of some - and that's the thing about perceptions, you can do not one single thing to change one that doesn't belong to you.
With that said, I also need you to know this other thing: I. Am. Upset.
This morning, before I got out of bed, and drug my sleepy, heavy-headed self into the shower, I saw a link on Twitter containing this video right here. http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhZeuJgekGk[/embed]
I'm going to go for complete candor here, and say that I angry-cried all the way through my shower after watching that video.
I know in my heart of hearts that this campaign was born out of the sincerest and best of intentions. The people at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation are not my enemies, they are on my team. But what I don't think they realize, is just what a sacharrine piece of ableism this is.
Ableism, by definition means "discrimination in favor of able-bodied people." In real life, ableism is the notion of the inferiority of the disabled. The notion that we should change and adapt to the ways of the abled, that we should change and adapt so that we do not make others uncomfortable with our differences. The notion that we do not have the same rights, hopes, dreams, and desires as does someone whose body is on their side 100% of the time. The notion that those of us who walk and talk and look and think and LIVE differently than everyone else in these precious bodies of ours are inferior or unequal or not worthy.
What I need to ask is, did the Cerebral Palsy Foundation even bother to consult a single individual with actual Cerebral Palsy before coming up with this and blasting it all over the media? They couldn't have. Because I don't think, that in my 23 years of life, that I have ever seen something so blatantly dehumanizing and patronizing. I mean, could you not just hear the condescension dripping from their voices?
In case you weren't aware, these fine folks were doing a giant favor to humanity by going out of their way to speak to some poor, sad person with a disability. Can you believe it?! I bet that person with a disability feels so much better about themselves now. We can all pat ourselves on the back for doing a good deed, have a little #blessed moment because their pitiful disabled existence has made us feel sooooo much better about ourselves. Man, I'm so proud of myself for being so kind and charitable. Congrats to me on a job well done. What a crock of crap.
Here's the thing, I'm about to get real. As if I wasn't there already. I have been on the receiving end of this bullshit. I have been stared at. Gawked at. Spoken to in a tone that is normally used for babies, puppies, and kittens - none of which possess complete cognitive faculties. Right in front of me, full grown adults have asked ludicrous and insulting questions about my disability to whomever I was with, as if I wasn't in the room or couldn't hear them. I've been asked (or rather, someone I'm with has been asked - because I'm obviously not capable of answering questions), or it has been assumed, that I have an intellectual developmental disability as well. "What's wrong with her?" "Why does she walk like that." "What happened to her?" I've been given pity gifts on the streets of cities. Respect of personal space is questionable, because I've had strangers come up to me with tears in their eyes, say nothing, and simply lay their hands on my shoulders, arms, or legs, as if I'm some sort of supernatural phenomena. Talk about making someone uncomfortable. I've had strangers approach me in restaurants and patronizingly ask if they can join hands and pray for me. Right there, in the middle of a restaurant. Because obviously, there is something wrong with me. They don't even know me. Whether I'm walking, or in a wheelchair/using another ambulatory aid, people will stare until their eyes bug out of their heads. Or better yet, avert their eyes like it hurts to look at me.
I have had it up to the top of my curly head with this nonsense. I am sitting here, right now as I type, wrapped up in a mustard yellow throw blanket bawling my eyes out. Why? Because my heart is broken. My heart is not broken because of this ignorant campaign. It's broken, because today I realized that I live in a world where a freaking social media campaign is needed to TEACH people how to talk to me. Let me repeat that: I live in a world where people must be TAUGHT how to speak to me. Because I am too foreign, scary, attention getting, and uncomfortable to naturally be approached. I am ET, an alien. I am inhuman. My very presence is so jarring to other human beings that they need a special instruction on just how to communicate with me.
I am going to be very clear about a few things right now. Absolutely nothing is WRONG with me. I am not meant to be seen as a cripple, as someone who is broken, as someone who is less than a human with two perfectly functioning legs and one perfectly functioning brain. I am not a unicorn. I am not special. I am not here to make you feel better about yourself. I am not here to make your realize how blessed you are. I am not an inspiration.
I was irrevocably changed today because a part of me broke inside, and I won't ever be the same for it. And I was affirmed in something that I have known along. I will not stop, as long as there is a breath in my little body, working to see that those of us who are different sure as hell aren't treated as such. For the rest of my life I will not stop trying to make this world a better and more hospitable place for anyone who has a body or a mind that they fight against on a daily basis. I will never, ever, stop fighting for the unconventional peoples of this lifetime and all the ones that come after it.
And to anyone who is reading these words, don't you ever dare to "just say hi" to me. You want to talk to me? Ask me about my dreams, ask me how I like my tea. Ask me about my cat Sullivan, or tell me that I have beautiful hair. Ask me about what I hope to change in this world, about my favorite movie or book, about the two degrees I earned. Tell me you like my dress, or my shoes. Ask me about the kind of change I want to make in this world. Ask me about the people I love. About what I want to fix that is broken, about how I want to leave this life better than I found it. Kindly ask me, if you are curious, why my funny little legs work the way that they do. I will be the happiest to answer that question. But you'd better not "just say hi" to me. I am not here to make you feel better about yourself. I am not here to be your good deed for the day. I am a human being. Get to know me and all my glorious imperfect mess if you want, or don't - that's okay too.
But don't you dare "just say hi" to me. Don't you dare.
There are four things that you should know about me.
1. My parents have always called me Peter Pan.
I have never been interested in growing up. I was never the kid who wanted to be a grown up so they could stay up late, do what ever they wanted, and make their own rules. Nope. My 8:30pm bedtime suited me just fine, thank you very much. Still, to this day, if I could find a magic potion that would allow me to instantly be that tiny five year old with bangs, who walked on her tiptoes all the time, and had two missing front teeth, I would drink it up in a heartbeat. What I wouldn't give to be that little version of me again for a little while, the tiny one whose only worry was learning how to jump rope, and whose biggest responsibility was to not eat too many grape popsicles before dinner.
But, I haven't gotten my way. Neverland hasn't worked out for me. Here I am at 23, with tough conversations to have, bills to pay, long-distance friendships to maintain, and adulting to do. I don't know who found me qualified for adulthood, but some fool did - and all of a sudden, here I am. I'm lost and haven't the faintest clue what I'm doing - but am somehow pleasantly surprised that it's actually quite nice, and I don't understand a thing about taxes, and I still don't know how to cook anything that is too sophisticated for a microwave. But here I am. I'm laying it all out on the line. I'm trying.
2. I'm a planner
This might come as a shock from the girl who bounded into this lifetime three months ahead of schedule and raring to go (who needs due dates anyway?). But from the girl who from the time she was 5, announced to every person she knew (and a lot of strangers she didn't) "I'm going to be the President one day," this should come as no surprise at all. I don't throw caution to the wind, I don't do things impulsively, or even quickly. I like plans. I like for people to keep them, and hate for people to break them. And I LOVE nothing more than to get my way.
A wise lady that I love very much said to me a little over a year ago, "Ashley, you say you trust God. You say that you want his plan for you. But you don't - you want your plan for you. It's time to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk." That's tough love, but it's the solid truth. I want God to light my path, tend to my heart, and fight my battles.
That is what I want, and yet I can't seem to forfeit an ounce of my control and fall at his feet.
I had it all planned out. I would stay here in Brevard working at TVS until Nancy, my precious boss, retired in about six months. And then, I would move to Charleston. That was my plan, and that was how it was going to go.
Then, on the night of Monday August 3rd, I couldn't sleep. I was restless. So I got down on my knees on the cold tile floor of our beach condo on Isle of Palms and whispered aloud:
"God, my whole life I've felt like I belong here. Like you want me here. But I'm tired of feeling so torn up and conflicted. If this is where you want me, if this is what you want for me, then please make that clear. Please. Show me what you want for me"
Tuesday August 4th, at 1:53PM, I get a text message from Meredith that said "what is your email? My friend Katie that you met at my party who lives in Charleston and works for a publishing company has some openings at her firm. I want to send you the email so you can get in touch with her."
I spend part of the day Tuesday and Wednesday sending my poor sad excuse for a resume through three rounds of Sargent Lisa Yerrick's resume boot camp.
Thursday morning I submit my resume and cover letter and head on down to the beach. Thursday afternoon, I get a call for an interview.
Friday afternoon, wearing a dress that is all too casual, and with hair full of sand, I have a job interview at Arcadia Publishing in Mt. Pleasant.
On Monday August 10th at 11:43AM, I ignore a call from a strange number, and find a voicemail on my phone with a conditional offer of employment.
In a matter of seven days, my life went from hypothetically changing, to actually changing. And it was the craziest, scariest, most awesome thing that has ever happened to me.
My friends, I think the lesson in all of this is, be careful what you pray for.
3. I am a crier.
I have realized recently that I have lied to myself (and the rest of the world) over and over again for the last 20 or so odd years with these five words: I. am. not. a crier. Because, as boldly as I want to proclaim that, as badly as I want to be tough, the truth of the matter is that, I cry all the time. I cry when I'm sad. I cry when I'm mad. I cry when I'm happy. I even cry when I laugh.
I have cried multiple times a day since August 10th. I sobbed in Nancy's arms saying "I'm not ready to leave you" for nearly 30 minutes after I received the job offer, smearing mascara all over her cardigan sleeve. Truthfully, I am scared. And I am sad. Because my heart is made up of tiny little people shaped pieces. A piece that is shaped like my momma, with her soft hands and her funny laugh, who for some crazy reason, has all the faith in the world in my ability to be an adult. I don't know how to leave her. A piece shaped like my blue-eyed daddy, the hardest working man I know, who bought me a recliner that matches his, and who would gladly want for me to live at home until I'm 50. I don't know how to leave him either. A piece shaped like my little Buddy, whose first question was, if I would buy her a surfboard and keep it at my new house? She left me first, and now, with this, I know our childhood is ending. There is a piece shaped like my Meme, and my Pappy, and a five person piece shaped like a bunch of freckled-faced crazy Baldridges. There is a huge giant piece shaped like my family, the ones who pile in on our back porch on a random Tuesday night just to celebrate living life together, and a piece shaped like weekly dinners at Heather & Daniel's, reliving my childhood with Ella Grace and Denver. I know how to leave none of them. They are my world, and I just can't figure out how to leave them.
And damn my tear ducts, they keep betraying me every day.
4. I am going on a grand adventure.
I think, that ever since I arrived unexpectedly in Charleston on July 2nd 1992, that it has always been in His plan for me to return there. I took my first breaths in that beautiful city, and since then, it has always ran through my veins. I am a mountain girl at heart and soul, and always will be. But I have also always been a Charlestonian by birth. And now, my heart gets to belong to the Holy City for a while.
As scared and teary as I am, I have decided that this is going to be a magnificent life.
I have an incredible job, a stellar roommate, and I will be surrounded by some of the most incredible beauty in the known world - every single day.
I am not losing any people shaped pieces of my heart. I will simply learn to make room, and tack on some new ones. There will be new people to meet and to love, and beaches to lay on, and oceans to play in, and all the shrimp to eat that my little heart desires. I will learn so much about who I am and what I want to make out of my one gift of a beautiful lifetime. I will fall in love, with people, and with the Ravenel Bridge lights at nighttime, and with the smell of the salt marsh, and with the food & the beer, and with the cobblestone streets (and maybe even all the uneven sidewalks), and with the sunrises on Sullivan's Island.
Everyone needs someone who will be there to leave a light on for them when they are ready to come home. I know, without a doubt that there will always be a light on for me on Wolf Den Road. And on Reidsiding Road. And on Windover Drive. And on Reid Road. And on Old Rosman Highway. And a lot of other places, too.
The lights aren't going to stop burning for me. They will always be there, and be on. The people won't stop loving me. They aren't going anywhere. They always will be there to welcome me home.
I am forever blown away by the attention that God gives to this little life of mine. It is a funny thing. It is beautiful, crazy, breathtaking, and oh, how it is fleeting. And I always carry at the back of my mind, the reminder of how hard I had to fight for my chance at all of it. But oh, what a chance it has been.
It's time to go back where I started from. It's time for a great adventure. Look out Charleston, I'm coming for ya!!
If I know one thing about myself, it is that I am a hypocrite. Two weeks ago, in Greenville SC, I met a former fashion photographer named Rick Guidotti. Rick has worked in Paris, Milan, New York, and all over the world. He has taken pictures of beauty icons like Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford. In 1998 Rick quit the fashion industry and started Positive Exposure. He travels the world documenting the beauty of humanity with physical differences. I’m probably going to write a lot more about this awesomeness on down the line. He is doing the world So. Much. Good.
But for now, just know that Rick and I are going to be great friends. And that he took about 1000 pictures of me. Even though I didn’t know he was going to. Believe me, had I known, I would have at least put on a little makeup and attempted to tame my hair. And my friends, in what was probably one of the greatest surprises of my life, this former fashion photographer said “Has anyone ever told you that you should model? Because you should.”
Let me repeat: a kind, gracious, and genuine man, who knows both the fashion industry and the beauty of the unconventional like the back of his hand; told me, Ashley Susan Arleca Harris, that I should be a model. And I am ashamed to admit that the words I immediately blurted out were neither kind, nor gracious.
“Well no. There aren’t exactly any models out there with CP are there?”
So sassy. The words felt ugly and hung in the the air as soon as they came out of my mouth. I was embarrassed, and I was ashamed. But because Rick Guidotti is a far kinder and more gracious human than I will ever hope to be, and because I think he could see the flush of embarrassment in my cheeks, and the hurt in my eyes, he said loudly while waving his hands “well there should be, and you should be!!” And then we laughed it off. In my life I have come to accept that I am many things. I am Redeemed. I am loved. I am blunt. I am fierce. I am strong. I am funny.
But I am not beautiful.
I have never allowed beauty to belong to me. Beauty doesn’t belong to this girl that is different. If you are like me, you are an expert in your flaws. You wrote the heading, the subtitle, the body text, the fine print, and the footnotes on those flaws. You can stand in front of a mirror, look yourself square in the eyes the color of dark chocolate, and rip yourself to shreds with an imaginary razor in two seconds flat.
Your hair is too frizzy.
Your eyebrows are awful. They don’t even grow evenly. Your eyes are two different sizes.
Your right eye is lazy.
Your under-eye circles make you look like a hag. Your pores are huge.
God. Get a pore strip. Those blackheads are out of control.
Your teeth are too yellow.Your front teeth are crooked. Your breasts are too small.
You have an ugly birthmark on your right arm.
Your once-prominent sixpack is currently covered in a thin layer of fat. Your ribcage is too wide and is crooked.
Actually, damn you, Cerebral Palsy. Because your whole damn body is crooked. Your hips are too wide. You have stretch marks on your ass.
Your knee caps turn in.
You have weird muscle pockets on your inner thighs. Your legs are too thin.
Your ankles are marred with permanently purple pores from poor circulation.
There are brown circular scars. The product of cast and leg immobilizer sores, they look like burns.
Your legs are too bent. And not even symmetrically so.
Those ten thin white scars that on some days you wear like a badge of honor? Some days you wish there was make up that would just cover them right up and you could forget about them forever.
There. You see? I am a hypocrite. Because I have written a lot of words and told a lot of stories and shared a lot of tears and lot of laughs all in the name of of acceptance. And in loving yourself. And in finding your greatest strength in what should have been your greatest weakness. And in finding joy in what should have broken you.
And I meant every word of it. I promise I did. But I have never allowed beauty to belong to me.
Beauty has never belonged to the girl with the crooked body.
Beauty has never belonged to the girl who can count on one hand the number of men who have ever spoken the word “beautiful” to her.
Beauty has never belonged to the girl who has a love / hate relationship with her body. Who has been proud of it. Who has scrutinized it. Who in high school, starved it.Who has strengthened it. Who has neglected & weakened it. Who has even sometimes been in the mood to celebrate it.
Beauty has never belonged to the girl who kept her Barbie’s knees in the bent position so that they would look like her.
Beauty has never belonged to the girl who when men look at her on the street or across a crowded room assumes they are gawking at her for the attention-getting way she moves, never once considering that they might find her attractive.
This isn’t conscious. I don’t lay down to sleep at night and tell say to myself, “Ashley. Don’t forget. Beauty doesn’t belong to you.”
Even worse, it’s just never even been on the table. I’ve really just now realized this ugly truth about myself in the past few weeks. It’s like an unconscious stack of suitcases that have lived at the back of my mind since I was old enough to realize something was different about me.
Suitcases with luggage tags that read “You can be Redeemed. You can be brilliant. You can be loved. You can be strong. You can be funny. But beautiful? Nope. You are not beautiful.” And I’ve been okay with it.
And those suitcases? They’ve just hung out there in the back of my mind like a squatter, never leaving.
Here is what I have always known: Beauty belongs to the other girls who are different. It always has. Beauty belongs to you. It always has.
Beauty belongs to my treasure of a momma, when she stands in front of the mirror in her slip and high heels each morning doing her makeup.
Beauty belongs to my sister, it’s there in those perfect teeth that she thinks are too small, and in those strong, muscular, legs that carry her confidently everywhere she goes.
Beauty belongs to my KK, who carries metal in her spine everywhere she goes, standing straight as a ramrod.
Beauty belongs to my Maddy, and my Mackensie, and my Morgan, with their freckled faces and sparkling eyes, whose fearless spirits and empathetic hearts will surely grow them into the most incredible of women.
Beauty belongs to my Anna Grace, with her fiery red hair.
Beauty belongs to my Rooms, the truest human Barbie on the outside, and nothing like a Barbie on the inside. Beauty belongs to my little Hannie, the original gangster.
Beauty belongs to my Mama Kellie, the truest story of resilience and grace that I have ever known. Beauty belongs to MG, the tiniest girl with the biggest spirit.
Here is what I know now: Beauty belongs to the girls like me, whose brains use time to contort their backs into a bow, and whose feet turn violent shades of purple when they sit down.
Please know that I would never trade my brain for an undamaged one. Or my legs for Claire's beautiful perfect ones. I wouldn't. I've said it before and I meant it every time. I wouldn't want to play the game of life with a different hand of cards than the ones I've been dealt. I wouldn't know how to.
But it’s time I realized that beauty belongs to me too.
I’ve always said that I wanted to pave ways and blaze trails for the unconventional people of this lifetime and all the ones that come after it. It’s time I practiced what I preached.Today, I did a little something crazy. I filled out an application with Ford Models. Photos will be taken next week, and it will be submitted.
Sure, I’m only 5’6’’. And I have a back shaped like an end-of-sentence parentheses. And bent legs that are covered in scars. And I walk funny. And nothing may ever come of it. But I have to try. I want all the little girls wearing tiny leg braces with butterflies on them tucked inside saddle oxfords that are two sizes too big to not wait until they are 23 to know that the world thinks they are beautiful too.
Do me a favor and imagine me singing that in my very best Aretha Franklin Impression. And please pay no mind to the fact that even my very best Aretha Franklin impression will be terribly off-key and very likely to hurt your ears.
Respect. Seven letters. Seven letters that are just so dang important and life-giving. Friends, if I could sit down with each and everyone of you today over a table of waffles and hot apple cider and all of the other cozy things life has to offer on this rainy & dreary day, this is what I would do. First, I would give you the worlds biggest bear hug. Then, I would take your hands into my always-too-hot hands , I would look you straight in the eyeballs, and I would say: "respect the place between who you were and who you will be. Please."
Here are a few things that I know. Number one: I have been alive on this earth for 8,326 days. Number two: Betweens are hard. Real hard. But they are so full of life if only you'll let them be. But here's the thing. I'm not the girl I was on day 8,325. And I'm not the girl I will be on day 8,327. And that's okay.
And you know what, y'all? Learning to be content with the girl that is living day 8,326 is the best dang thing that has ever happened to me.
I'm no longer Ashley Harris, Student Body President. I'm not yet Ashley Harris, President of the United States. Maybe it's okay that I'm just Ashley that reluctantly has a Hillary 2016 button, but isn't so sure if any of them are any good and worth believing in anymore.
I'm not a student anymore. I don't live in a dorm anymore. I'm not a professional yet. I don't have my own apartment yet. Maybe it's okay that I work an entry level job that I love and my parents still pay for my car insurance and my dinners when we go out to eat. It's okay that I live at home and my mom packs my lunch for work. And I love it.
I haven't written any books yet. I've haven't spoken in front of groups of hundreds or thousands yet. But, more importantly, I'm not the girl who doesn't believe she has anything important to say anymore. Maybe it's okay that even though I'm not there yet, I've figured out that I just might be good enough to give this writing and speaking thing a try. Maybe, just maybe, I can make it my life. And you better believe that I'm gonna bust my butt to get there too.
(Thankfully) I'm not still the girl who wears lots of fringe, and lots of graphic tees, knee-high moccasins, and flowers in her hair everyday to match the multicolored braces on her teeth. (Thankfully) I don't yet have to be the woman who wears power suits and power pearls every day, because how boring would that be? Right now, I'm just glad to be the girl who gets away with wearing skinny stretchy "dress" pants to work, and loves high waisted jeans, and who never shies away from the chance to rock a good jumpsuit.
I'm not the girl who beats herself up over why a certain boy decided that she would never be brave enough for him. Not anymore. But I'm not yet the one who any man has decided to choose. I'm still the girl who wonders if she will ever, ever be chosen. And for now--the wondering--it's okay with me.
My friends, the space between who you were and who you will be is so important. Why? Because it's where you are. It's who you are.
Take it from the girl who has promised everything to this in between of hers.
Take it from the girl who lives for standing Tuesday night trivia dates with her friends.
Take it from the girl who loves afternoon chats with her grandparents and nights watching Gossip Girl and talking hopes & dreams with her little sister.
Take if from the girl who writes love letters because she believes in the magic they carry with them.
Take it from the girl who doubts herself. Who every once in a while breaks down and needs her mom, or her dad, or her Buddy, or her Mimi, or her Pappy, or her Ma'am, or her Jake, or her Rooms to tell her that it's gonna be okay. That's she's good. That's she's gonna be okay.
Take it from the girl who Skypes her far away best friends late at night just so they can remind her of who she is and she can hear the voices that sound like home.
Take if from the girl who prays everyday that one day, despite all her mess and her imperfections, somebody will choose her.
Take it from the girl who is obsessively looking for low-profile hiking shoes online so she can say Cerebral Palsy be damned, and force her funny legs to take her to the top of Looking Glass Rock.
Take it from the girl who might be finally brave enough to soon begin to take the baby steps towards moving 4 hours down I-26 to a cobblestone-streeted peninsula to try and give being a "big girl" a real shot.
Take it from the girl who just wants to spend everyday of this perpetual space between giving all the glory back to Him.
Take it from the girl sitting here in her pink polka dot pajama pants, with colored ink all over her hands, laying her heart on the line for you on day 8,326.
Take it from the girl who still burns toast, and doesn't wear her retainer every night like she should, and cries too much, and loves too damn hard. You aren't who you were anymore. You aren't yet who you will be. This space between will never end. It will always be here. It is the best thing you've got. Hug it tight. Respect it. Live it.
Confession: I have always felt guilty for wanting so much. I'm pretty sure I came out of the womb as a big dreamer. (Tiny babies with funny ears and no eyelashes or eyebrows can be big dreamers, too, okay?) I like to think that I know myself pretty well. I know that I've always wanted so much out of life. Too much maybe. There lies within me an insatiable need to do something big. To do something with my life. To change the world. To pursue life radically and unapologetically. But I struggle with the how.
Side note: Claire gives incredible pep talks. She will be the first to admit to you that, as a cactus-like individual, she does not like pep talks and does not wish to receive them. But....she will also be the fist to brag on her pep-talk giving skills. I'm probably the most frequent recipient of these little golden truth nuggets that she gives out. Yesterday, we were in the car and I said without being brave enough to look her in the eye, "Sheeby, I want to do good work. I want to do something that matters. I'm afraid that I'm not doing something good. I want to matter."
It felt weird to say it out loud, but I want to matter...
She was quick to remind me that I go to work and do good everyday. My job may not always be hands-on, and may not always directly make a difference, but I'm lucky to work for a place that is unabashedly and to it's core, a force for good. She said, "Ashley. I'm gonna lay this out for you. Here is what you do. You stay in your job and learn from Nancy every last minute that you can. If you need more money, get a second job on the weekends. Then, when your time at TVS is up, you pack your little Vera Bradley bags and move yourself to Charleston. You go adventure. And then when you're ready, you move back home, beg TVS to take you back, you buckle down and get to work doing more good."
Since Friday I have been reading an incredible book called "If You Find This Letter" by the incomparable Hannah Brencher. This book is Hannah's memoir, about how she found hope and purpose during her first year out of college living in NYC, by writing love letters. This book is incredible and has made me laugh, cry, and has shook me to my core. Probably because I am in my first year of post-grad, struggling with the same things she was during her year in NYC. It's a grand comfort to know that I have not been alone. That I'm not the only one that has traveled this road, searching for something that I can't even name. Searching for something bigger than me. This book has been a serious piece of inspiration. You. Need. To. Go. Read. It. Right. Now. Follow this incredible lady and the More Love Letters project at hannahbrencher.com and moreloveletters.com. You won't regret it.
In the 24 hours since my Claire Pep Talk (she should trademark them, really) I have come to the bold realization of something. Yes, it's true that I don't feel like I'm doing something with my life that matters. But WHY? The why is this: I have been going about it all the wrong way. I have been focusing on me me me. What I can do. What I can change. How I can make things better. Where do I go next? But I've realized that in order to soak up alllllll of the goodness of life, I've got to shift the focus. I've got to shift the focus to others. Life can't and won't matter when it's all about you. Life can and will matter when it's about what you can do for those around you.
Now, two more things before I tie this big ole ramble all together. If you've stuck with me this far, I applaud you. Please keep sticking around. I promise it will be worth it.
#1: I LOVE PEOPLE. I mean, I really really really really really love people. Is there such a thing as loving people too much? I would like to think not. When I was thinking yesterday about ways to make my life matter, I realized that will only happen when I tap into, aside from Jesus, what gives me the most joy and the most hope. And that always has been and always will be: people.
#2: I have always been amazed by the power of words. Amazed at how effortlessly I can string them together to tell a story or share a truth or (shamefully) hurt someone or make someone laugh until tears roll down their face--there is nothing that gives me more joy than that. I can use them to tear someone down or to lift someone up. But unquestionably, the times when words amaze me the most are when they let someone know just how much I love them. But--I'm afraid that I don't always use words the best I can. I don't always tell people how much they mean to me. I don't always tell them how much they matter.
I woke up this morning at 5:03 am. At 5:03am I was convicted with the words "write the letters, Ashley." So, not wanting to scoff in the face of conviction, that is what I'm going to do. My friends, I hope that this does not sound crazy, but I want to write you a love letter.
I realize now that life will never ever mean something unless you make sure others know how much they matter. I know that I will spend all my life trying to do just that. With time, this will undoubtedly take on different shapes and look different.
But right now--right now it looks like letters.
Please go on this journey with me. All of you. Family, friends, acquaintances, everyone. I don't care if you're my best friend, or my cousin, or someone I took one college class with, or went to elementary school with, or someone I met at a weekend retreat four summers ago. Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Send me a Facebook message. Tweet me. Send me a text message. Send me your addresses. I want to write you a letter.
Friends, I beg of you, share these words. Send me your addresses. I bought stationery today. I want to write you love letters. Please let me.
PS: Hannah Brencher deserves every bit of the credit for the letter writing idea. She rocks and I hope to one day be half the writer she is.
For some people, the day of the year that whispers promises of redemption and new hopes is January 1st. For me, ever since I was a little girl, the first truly (and often abnormally) warm day of the year is the one that does it for me. I don't know what it is about days like today that make me giddy with anticipation for all that life has to offer us here on this big floating green and blue ball.
Maybe it's being able to finally free my toes from their tiny shoe prisons. Maybe it's a pineapple milkshake from Cardinal Drive In. Maybe it's driving home from work with the windows down, not caring that my mane is becoming a giant auburn wind-thrashed mess. (Also ignoring that I'll have 100 dreads to pick out later). Maybe it's because the ushering in of warm days rings true with the the promise of new things to come.
If I'm being honest, lately I've been struggling a bit. Struggling with myself. Struggling with conflicting feelings that squeeze me tight like a vice grip until tears well up in my eyes. This may sound so stupid, but I'm so torn between the need for new things and new adventures, and the want to stay right where I am that I (quite literally) don't know what to do with myself.
This probably deserves a blog post all on it's on, but for today lets just say that as a general rule, I LOVE life. I love it with every bit of my curly-haired, skinny-legged, laugh-till-she cries and cries-till-she laughs, being.
I am so blessed to get up everyday and go to a job that I love. To have a mom and dad to come home to, two people that love me, and laugh and cry with me, and pet my hair, any buy me candy, and give great hugs. To have family dinners and sleepovers at the Baldridge house, and to spend lazy afternoons with my grandparents -- talking about nothing and everything all at once. To have opportunities to try new things like learning German, and finally having the guts to plan a hike for this spring (who am I, by the way?). To go to Dugan's on Tuesday nights with new friends and old friends to talk and laugh and play trivia just for fun (and in full disclosure: also for cheap beer, and also to win). To sit with Claire on my bed at night before we go to sleep and listen to her giggle like Ron Swanson and tell me about all her plans and and dreams and what she hopes for the world. In short, life is sweet. Freaking sweet.
But I can't shake this feeling deep down in my gut that there is SO much out there for me to see. So many names to take, ladders to climb and dreams (specifically ones that involve a certain large white house) to chase. The are new places to explore, new faces to recognize, and new people to love.
But what to do? Do I go, or do I stay? Seven definitive little words that keep me up at night.
Long story short, I've been feeling a little conflicted and angsty lately, please forgive me. But today, oh today. What a glorious, glorious day. It's beautiful to feel like God reaches, down, picks you up, and whispers through the warm wind, and the sandal-clad feet, and the pineapple milkshake, "It's ok little one. I've got you. Do you hear that? I said I've got you?"
Every year, I love the first warm day. But this year I am oh so grateful for it. I'm grateful for the overwhelming combination of peace and joy and unbridled hope and excitement that it brings. No shame, but I teared up during my drive home from work today. It just felt so good to feel the sun on my face, and for the first time in a long time, it felt good to be okay with the complicated winds of change blowing all around me.
Here's to 72° days that allow us to press the reset button on our lives.
And to my friends who might find themselves in a place in life similar to mine, I urge you to rejoice. It's ok to be conflicted and it's ok to keep trying to figure out your place. Ponder your next move. Just don't you dare forget to live. Go get yourself a pineapple milkshake. There are warmer days ahead.
Sometimes life is funny and it will surprise you. Friday night, when Mr. Jacob Christian Crabtree texted me and said, "I've got a bottle of red wine and I'm coming over. I've got a surprise for you," I didn't really know what to expect.
I'm guessing that most of you who have ever had any sort of personal interaction with me before know that Jake is my best friend. Not my "we talk everyday about everything" best friend, or my "we have everything in common" best friend, and definitely not my "we stay up all night and giggle about boys best friend." He's so much more than that.
He's my "I know him as well as I know myself" best friend. My skinny, curly red headed, tattooed, Jesus loving, wine drinking, Mustang driving, piano playing best friend. He makes me laugh unlike anybody else in this world.
In college I studied communications. And in my final communications class, which was a theory class, we learned about Hub Symbols. Hub Symbols are fascinating, and are in essence, highly emotional driven symbols that are sacred to an individual. These are your values, what you will fight for or defend no matter what. Hub symbols for each individual person are unique, and each person holds them at the core of their being.
I won't go on and on about hub symbols. I think they're the coolest, but I know it's unlikely that you all feel the same way. Point of the story is that I had to write a paper about some of my hub symbols. And Jake is for sure one for me. This is some of what I said:
He’s a hub symbol because he has shared my 21 years of life with me, literally every step of the way. He symbolizes fun, innocence, childhood, recklessness, and love. Because he’s a hub symbol and he means so much to me, he has been responsible for my emotions running the entire gamut. I have been so proud of him that I could bust, like when he got accepted into WCU’s competitive fine arts program, or asked to play a tribute to my grandfather at his funeral. I have been angry with him for making poor decisions, smoking too many cigarettes, and making irresponsible choices. I have fought him with my fists and my words, laughed with him, and cried with him. But even when I am angry with him or disappointed with him, I will unfailingly defend him. I am as much his biggest fan when he is in the valleys as I am when he is on the mountaintops. We root for each other and we believe in each other.
I have no doubts that I'll always feel this way about him. Even after we each grow up some more, get married to some brave souls (he'll stand up there next to me as my Man of Honor, if he agrees), and even when life gets hard and life gets in the way. I'll think that the sun rises and sets in him when we're 40, when we're 60, and when we're 80 and a retired old president and composer hanging out in the same retirement home because we're the only ones that can stand our little old people selves.
As we have grown up, so has our relationship. I try not to boss him around anymore, but I do check in from time to time and try to keep him in line. We don't talk everyday, or every week, or even every month. I make most of the effort in our friendship, and he'll be the first to admit that.
Friday night was the best surprise. Jake came over, hung out, and we talked about life for more than four hours. Spent the evening just being in each other's company, talking about the future, doing impressions, and laughing until our sides hurt. It had seemed like we were growing further and further apart. And it was great to be reminded that even when our lives float in completely different orbits, it's so easy to get back right where we belong.
Best part was, he brought me a CD of six songs that he wrote, sang, and performed the music for that served as his Senior project of Western's fine arts program. He is SO talented. And plays the piano unlike anyone I have ever heard-it's brought me to tears a time or two (no shame). I really want you all to hear his genius, but I'm not sure he'd be alright with that, and he's on a cruise so I can't even ask him. If you know him, ask for a listen yourself. And if I get permission--you bet your bottom dollar that I'll post the songs here. I'm so dang proud of him that I could bust. Who knew the boy could sing????
As Leca has so accurately observed time and time again, there is nothing in the world that this fella could do that would make me stop loving him. I'll always be his biggest fan, even when I'm the President and he's the next Hans Zimmer or Alan Menken.
Good luck in Nashville, Jakester. I'll be watching to see what big things you do. And like always, I'll be here waiting when you need somebody and some steady ground to come back to.
You know folks, I realize how lucky I am to have this unconditional love in my lifetime. Some blogs are deep, and some are funny, and some drive home a big point.
But sometimes you just need to blog about your best friend so you can tell the world about what cool kid he is and how freaking talented he is. This is one of those times.
I think that it is human nature to want to avoid things that we’re not good at, to avoid things that cause us to struggle, and to avoid things that make us hurt. We box these things up, shove them in a dark corner, and turn and walk away.I know I’m guilty.
Switching gears for a sec: I doubt that many (or any) of you know that I have what I have dubbed “church anxiety” (and I don't know if that's a real thing...). This probably deserves a blog post all to itself later on down the road, but in short, for a very long time churches (and the idea of attending the same one on a regular basis) has for some reason, made me feel very uncomfortable and nervous. It’s ridiculous, I know. But I’ve let it have a hold on my life for far too long. That is, until this August, when I stumbled upon Brevard Community Church. I feel more at home there that I have felt at any one place in a very long time. It is a glorious feeling.
Bringing it back around: Brevard Community Church as been the breath of fresh air that my stagnant & stifled faith has craved for such a long. time. Each sermon that I have heard so far in these last few months has been top-notch. But do you ever have those Sundays where you feel like the message is being preached right at you?? Well boy has that been a reoccurring theme in my life lately. For the past 2 out of 3 Sundays Todd Alewine has been boring some well-need holes straight through my soul with his words.
We’re right in the middle of a series called “God of the Underdogs,” and Sunday’s sermon was all about insecurities. At the beginning of the sermon Pastor Todd asked us to write down what we are most insecure about. Now, I probably could have filled up the entirety of the little notes section of my bulletin with words that would fit that bill. And as candid, honest, and real that I have been with you all so far--I can’t quite bring myself to share the first one yet. Maybe someday.
Any guesses as to what the second thing I wrote down was? Two letters, and to some of you they might come as a bit of a shock. If you guessed CP then you should go buy yourselves a lottery ticket.
For those of you who are thinking, “What? Ashley. Get a grip and quit fishing for sympathy or compliments or something. You’re the least insecure person that I know”, just hear me out for a minute.
--Are there things about the way my CP manifests physically that make me insecure? You betcha. I cringe every time I have to watch myself walk on camera, because it takes me by surprise that it doesn’t look as “normal” as it does in my head.
--Do I let insecurity about what my future will look like with CP overrule my mind sometimes? You betcha. Will I ever get married? If I have kids, how will I carry them around? What if I fell and hurt one of them?
And as much as I hate to admit it, my rock hard “I have CP but I’m a badass” armor gets dents in it sometimes too. Ugly dents made of self-doubt that cause me to ask irrational questions like “Do these people staring at me in public think that I have an intellectual disability too? What do they think about me? Do people feel sorry for me? Has and does my CP make life hard(er) on my parents, sister, grandparents, friends? Do they ever resent me for it? Would my life be so much better and easier if I didn’t have CP?
I hate myself for even having to admit that these thoughts have ever crossed my mind. But I’m weak, and sometimes, I break down and let the negativity and self-doubt creep in.
But what insecurity broke me down on Sunday? I have not done my best with this CP. I have not done my best with the hand that I have been dealt.
Back to that earlier blog post I wrote about insanity, I have not done my best. I have not exercised, I have not stretched, and I have let CP beat me down. Because you know why? As lame as it sounds, I think I got tired of fighting. It’s hard to fight your own body and your own brain. So I gave up and let it win.
So I’m standing in church, singing at the top of my lungs. And we get to the lyrics “My flesh may fail, but my God, you never will.” As the words form on my lips, tears roll down my face. Because I realize just how true it is.
My flesh fails me every day. Those legs hurt, those joints crack, and I fall down.
My damaged brain fails me every day. It tells those muscles to contract, those tendons to tighten, those joints to stiffen, and pulls those bones out of alignment.
I fail me everyday. I don’t do my best. I don’t stretch. I ignore the consequences. I let the damaged brain win.
But you know what? God will never fail me. Lets read that one more time: GOD WILL NEVER FAIL ME. Nor, you. And why? Because we are His. Because he loves us. And because he is bigger than any battle he allows us to face and fight.
As I said, it’s human nature to avoid the places where we struggle and hurt. We shut them down, we run. I’m not going to run anymore. I can’t run anymore. I put on my big girl panties, and made a phone call. Physical Therapy starts a week from today.
I will struggle. I will hurt. My joints will crack, my feet will swell, and my muscles will scream. I will probably cry because it will hurt so bad. But I will work so hard. And it will be oh, so worth it. From pain comes joy, and I’m ready for a fresh start, a new beginning. I’m ready to know that I’ve done my best. I’m ready to fight the good fight.
And the best part of all of this? God will be there.
He will be there when those tight muscles are stretched so tight that they fell like they’ll snap. He will be there through every weight that is lifted, through every step that is taken with a gait belt around my waist (google gait belts, and I dare you not to laugh). He will be there through the tears. And he will be there in the sweet, sweet triumph when the muscles begin to loosen.
He’s there in the nitty gritty, he's there when it's ugly, he's down there in the trenches of battle with you. He is there when you are broken down. People will fail you. You will fail you. You will be weak. You will be riddled with self-doubt and insecurity. But if you’re like me, he will use those raw moments to draw you closer to him.
My friends, I urge you to embrace the hurt, embrace the discomfort, and embrace the struggle. He’ll meet you there.
And he will never fail you. And folks, what a marvelous hope that is.
What do tough conversations, meltdowns, rollercoasters, Dolly Parton, nervous systems, and fainting goats all have in common?? Read on to find out... So a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of a very necessary conversation that was raw and stung like a new blister, that still weighs heavy on my heart, only like the upheaval of someone walking out of your life (when you so desperately don't want them to), can...
I sat on the couch in my living room running my hands through my frizzy hair in frustration, with mascara smudges under my eyes, as someone that I care a lot about made a harsh assessment of my life and who I am with the words You're not adventurous enough. You have a fear of the unknown.
Although I'm not exactly proud of it, immediately I was defensive. "Bullshit. You don't know me." My lips protested with hurt, astonishment, and anger. A couple of hours later, with my mind going a million miles a minute, I defiantly and angrily ran through scenarios in my mind that illustrated just exactly how adventurous I actually am.
But the more and more I have thought about those words over the last two weeks, I began to realize that there might be a kernel of truth there.
Sure, I have been brave. Given the nature of life, and walking through it on the legs that I have been given, I have had no choice but to be brave. But if I'm being completely honest with myself, I am not always the first person to take a running start, and jump hard and fast out of her comfort zone with both feet. I am not a fearless person. But to give myself credit, I am not a fearful person either.
Granted, there are a few things in life that I am genuinely afraid of.
-- Being alone. -- Fire. -- Getting to the end of my life, and looking back not feeling like I haven't done enough, or haven't loved enough. Looking back with regrets. -- The dark. -- Something happening to my parents or my sister. -- Snakes. -- Rollercoasters.
So, given the fact that since that raw night in my living room, I've been thinking a lot about fears and comfort zones, when my mom asked me last Thursday if I wanted to go to Dollywood (the land where the magical Queen Dolly Parton reigns supreme) with her, Claire, and Ken yesterday, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I decided that letting a fear of rollercoasters have any sort of grip on my life was nothing short of ridiculous.
Besides, I told myself and my friends, I haven't ridden one of these things in ten years. The reasons why I'm afraid of riding the coasters, with time, were distorted with the kind of haziness that memories are made of. And in my excitement, I began to wonder if I hadn't just convinced myself for the past ten years that I was afraid. I said to myself: "Self, It's time to awkwardly leap out of the comfort zone, throw your hands up in the air (literally) and enjoy the heck out of these things just like everyone else does."
Well I rode the first (and tamest) coaster in the park. Totally fine. Admittedly, a little jostled, but fine. Rode the second coaster. Didn't love it, didn't totally hate it. Legs were shaky and heart was pounding when I got off. (Maybe should've noticed the signs--oh, well. Hindsight is 20/20). Rode the third coaster: COMPLETE AND TOTAL MELTDOWN.
I know those of you reading are probably very confused. I can hear your inner voices now. "What?" "I don't get it?" "Wait a minute Ashley, you allowed a rollercoaster to give you a meltdown? What are you, two years old?"
Well, no. But my momma has always said that I'm a fainting goat.
Allow me to explain. Myotonic goats (also and more popularly known as fainting goats), are a particular species of goat, that when they become startled or over-stimulated, can't cope with life, and just sort of awkwardly freak out and fall down (go ahead, google fainting goats. I dare you not to laugh). And well, the fainting goat is my spirt animal, because this is sort of what happens to me.
I'm sure the all the confusion is cleared up now. Hahahahahaha.
Fun fact about me: I was born three months early. This has defined my life to a degree in a lot of ways. It means that when I was born I had no hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, butt cheeks, or cartilage in my ears. I was hooked up to one billion tubes, and for a good while doctors were uncertain if I would even live. I looked like an alien in my earliest baby pictures and don't allow many people to look at them, because they aren't all happy and congenial like most people's. There is an air of fear and uncertainty there.
As most of you very well know, this also means that I have Cerebral Palsy, and that has made for one hell of a ride. Most relevant to this story....it also means that I have an underdeveloped nervous system. Because of this, my body temperature doesn't regulate well at all. My hands are almost always hot, and my feet are almost always cold. I have poor circulation, and positively wilt (like the true southern lady that I am) if I get too overheated.
It also means that I don't process adrenaline very well. I have always known this, because in situations where I am excited or stressed, or my body is stressed, my legs will jerk uncontrollably. It's happened in great moments (like when I won Ms. Bengal in high school), and in bad moments (like when I'm trying to pass a kidney stone and my body is almost in shock). Basically, if I am startled or overstimulated, I go into fainting goat mode. Though, unlike the goats, I don't always fall down. :)
That third rollercoaster was the worst 2.5 minutes I've had in recent memory. It was rough, I was jerked around a lot, had a hard time sitting up straight, and at one point my vision went black and I literally almost passed out. Passing out on a rollercoaster, that would've caused a great scene wouldn't it?
At the end, I got off of the ride, weak, covered in sweat, legs jerking and my heart is pounding a thousand miles a minute. I get into the elevator with my mom, Claire, and Ken, and to my dismay I burst into tears. Not because I'm frightened or scared of the ride, but because my body is literally going haywire and there isn't a thing I can do about it.
I wish y'all could have seen me walking out of that ride. I'm sure the strangers around me thought I was a complete and total lunatic. My heart is beating so hard in my chest that I literally think I might have a heart attack. I'm weak as water, crying with mascara running down my face, jerking, and laughing like a hyena at how ridiculous my life is. And none of this is in my control at all-and I'm that's what I'm scared of. Not the rollercoaster.
I really can't believe that I'm telling the whole world this. But I promised y'all realness, so candid I'll be.
Y'all probably still don't understand. But that's ok.
But you know what folks, I learned a lot about myself yesterday. A lot.
I went in to yesterday thinking that I would get over this 10-year fear, and by the end of the day, I might even enjoy myself. I thought that I would stare down my fears, one rollercoaster at time, just like the badass that I am.
Well that didn't happen. I learned that adrenaline, and my underdeveloped nervous system don't really mix. I learned that as badly as I want to be a fearless girl who rides rollercoasters all day long everyday, that really is not in the cards for me. But that's ok.
Because even though life pulled the proverbial rug out from under me yesterday; I learned even more about what my weird little body is and isn't capable of.
And yesterday reinforced a resounding lesson that I've had to learn over and over in my life. That lesson is that everyone (and I mean everyone) has limitations and boundaries that we must live within. They are all different, but they are all there. My limitations are different than my sisters, my best friends, or anyone else's. And theirs are different than mine. Folks, that's beautiful. The inexhaustible variety of life and the souls that inhabit it are just plain beautiful.
Even though yesterday didn't go at all like I planned, I'm still proud of myself. I'm proud of myself for having the courage to face my fears and hop on the ride. I'm proud of myself for not loving it the first go around, and being brave (or crazy) enough to give it another shot. And I'm proud of myself for knowing who I am well enough to say, "enough is enough. I can't do this to myself anymore."
It's okay that my body goes unexplainabley haywire when adrenaline is present.
Yeah, someone judged me for a lack of adventure and a fear of the unknown. So what? I did some healthy soul searching and moved on.
It's okay that I have limitations and that I live within them.
It's okay that I'm a fainting goat. Because you know what? I'm still a badass.
I promise that I'm usually not a sickly person. But here lately, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe me.
Friday was an interesting day. That morning I fell in the grass leaving out Meredith’s front door. Again. (I had this great epiphany the last time this happened, but now I’m starting to think that door and I are just plain incompatible.) Next time I believe I’ll try my luck with leaving out another door. Maybe the back porch...
Friday, I also had surgery to remove a kidney stone. Small potatoes compared to the surgeries that I’m used to, but still not a whole lot of fun. Turns out that the pesky stone that they were after had vanished, but that didn’t stop the surgeon from thoroughly investigating everything up in there. So, needless to say, I’m rather sore, have some gnarly IV bruises, and am very very tired. Four days later, and I'm not a whole lot better. I'm a tough cookie, but in the words of my precious boss, Nancy, I'm "sick and tired of being sick and tired."
But folks, you know what’s wonderful about being forced to sit still and rest (not that anyone ever has to twist my arm to do that anyhow)? What’s wonderful about it, is that you are made to think. Sure, I have been sleeping a lot over the past several days. Sure, I also have watched an inordinate amount of Friends (I own the whole series on DVD--thanks Leca!!). But I have also thought a lot about my life, where I’m at with it, what I want to do with it, what I certainly don’t want to do with it, and where I’m going from here.
Oddly enough, over the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about my life in terms of a series of questions. Some questions that I now finally have some answers to, and some that I don’t.
What started this train of thought was a pre-op conversation that I had last Tuesday afternoon over the phone with a very nice (yet very uninformed) lady from St. Josephs. For your amusement, here is just a smattering of that most lovely an entertaining exchange.
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: So, what surgeries have you had prior to this one?
Oh joy. My favorite question ever. Usually you can pacify them with your standard-issue reply of “I’ve had 5 orthopedic surgeries due to Cerebral Palsy.” Oh no, not Nice Yet Uninformed Lady. She could not be deterred with such a simple answer. So much to my dismay, I had to further explain.
Me: Well I have had muscles moved around, tendons cut, stretched, and re-tied, and part of my left foot rebuilt, as well as a rota....
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: (Interrupting) Do you remember what muscle groups and tendons?
Me: No ma’am, I was six. So I don’t really remember. Now like I was saying, I have also had 3 rotational osteotomies, the last one in 2007.
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: Oh, so what is that.
Sassy Me: A bone rotation. Hence the name.
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: So do you have any neurological conditions?
Sassy Me: Yes, refer back to the Cerebral Palsy that we were talking about.
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: So do you use any sort of ambulatory aids to walk?
Me: No ma’am, I walk on my own.
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: What about crutches?
Sassy Me: Are crutches not ambulatory aides?
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: So do you have muscle weakness?
Sassier Me: Again, Cerebral Palsy??
Nice Yet Uninformed Lady: Ok, so could you push a lawnmower?
Sassiest Me: Wellll, I guess it would depend on how big the Lawnmower is????
Wait...excuse me, but what kind of question is that??
Hope you all at least got a laugh out of that. I know the people around me in the hospital waiting room who only heard one half of my conversation sure did. These questions sort of snowballed into a whole bunch of more serious questions that I began to ask myself about my life. Some of them, I have answers too, others I don’t. These are a couple that I’ve been asked lately:
So, are you going to Law School? Well folks, I’ve thought a lot about this one for a long time. I’ve prayed about it, and I have sought out the counsel of people far wiser than me, whose opinions I value a great deal. And the answer is NO. I know that for some of the people in my life, those five words will be a big disappointment. A disappointment because I’ve talked about it for so long, I bought prep books, I studied, I knew I could do it. And then I couldn’t bring myself to take the LSAT on September 27th, the thought of it (and really the thought of what would follow) began to make my feel physically ill. But I kept on according to plan, because I felt like law school would be a safe and secure way to make a good living for myself and my future family, and really, I didn’t know what else I should do.
But I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what else I should do--because that is in no way, a valid reason to put myself through the three years of sheer, unadulterated hell that is law school. For those of you who know my dad, you know that he is, for the most part, a man of very few words. With that said, most of the time when he has something important to say, you should probably listen up, because it will definitely be worth your while.
The other day we were riding around in the jeep, windows down and blaring George Strait. I brought up the subject of law school, and specifically asked if he’d be disappointed in me if I didn’t go.
(This is a man who just recently said: “An ole Yale sheepskin would look pretty good hanging up on the wall in the oval office, Monk.”) He dreams big. :)
But in true greatest-dad-ever fashion, he looked me square in the eye and said:
“You know Monk, you are very smart, you are very witty, you are very capable, and you could argue the ears off of a brick wall. I have no doubt that you can be a fantastic lawyer. But here’s the thing, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. If being an attorney isn’t what makes you feel alive or what will make you happy to get out of bed every morning and go to work, then you better not do it.”
Folks, that little pep talk gave me more clarity about this particular area of my life that I have had in a very long time. The bottom line is this, I can’t commit my life to something that I’m not passionate about. I know myself, and I can’t commit my life to something that doesn’t make me want to stand up on a table in the midst of a crowded room and declare at the top of my lungs how awesome it is.
So, long story short: I’m not going to law school. I know that this will disappoint some people probably--but the ones at the heart of my life, I know I’m not letting them down. I’m a fortunate fortunate lady, because they don’t expect Duke or Yale law. They just expect me to be happy.
OK, so you’re not going to law school, what are you going to do then?
Well, as I’ve said, I know for a fact one thing that I don’t want to do with this life of mine. But I’m not necessarily any closer to figuring out what it is I do want to do with it.
But, I do have a few ideas.
I am planning to take the GRE in November and apply to Masters of Public Administration Programs. An MPA is a terminal professional degree, that is essentially the MBA of the public sector world. This degree would allow me to work for a municipality in a management position, or to work in the non-profit management world. As many of you may or may not know, I have fallen in love with my job at TVS. More specifically, I have fallen in love with the beautiful, happy, souls that have made just as much of a difference in my life just by knowing them, than being at TVS has made in theirs. I know that advocating for people with disabilities is quite possibly one of the greatest callings on my life. And I know that I would be very very content with managing a non-profit with a mission like that of TVS. Without a doubt, I would stand on a mountaintop if I had to-in order to declare how important it is that people with disabilities are given the same opportunities as anyone else in this life. And I’ll do my part to make sure that happens.
While this is my main plan, I’m also keeping my options. Without opening the door for any sort of political discussion, if Hilary Clinton announces her candidacy for President in 2016, I will try my damnedest to get a job working for her campaign. Opportunities like that come knocking once in a lifetime, and I don’t intend to miss out.
Also, as many of you know, one of my greatest dreams in life is to be a motivational speaker. To use words and humor and stories from my life, to let people see that we serve a powerful, sovereign, and gracious God who makes no mistakes. To let people see just how sweet life is.
I want to speak, and travel, write books, and tell stories that will make people feel a lightness inside them, that will make them laugh great big belly laughs until their sides hurt and tears run down their faces. But here’s the thing....
I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because I know, in my heart of hearts, that this is what I’m supposed to do with my life. More that getting involved with politics, even more than managing a kick-butt non-profit that blazes trails for folks with disabilities.
I’m frustrated because this is what I’m supposed to do---but I have no earthly idea how to get there.
So if any of you reading this happen to have any ideas, experiences, constructive criticism, or connections, I welcome them. Leave me a comment, send me a Facebook message, send me a text, invite me out for a cup of coffee. I promise I’ll listen.
And before I wear out my welcome, I have a few more questions that I want to ask you all.
I have made the decision to go full speed ahead with writing my book. It may not get anywhere, and no one may ever read it, but I sure am going to try. As a place to start, I’m going to begin posting short stories from my collection here on my blog. But here is where y’all come in....
Would you read my book?
What kinds of stories would you want to hear?
Those of you who know me best, what are some of your specific favorites that I can start with?
And, lastly, do you think I can do it? Do you think I can use my stories to make a difference?
Sound off in the comments. Let me know what you think. I love you all.