What We Don’t Need

by Ashley on September 11, 2012

Somewhere in our minds, hidden away, or perhaps locked away in solitary confinement, is a voice that will admit we don’t need much of what we buy.

Hedgehog candle

How cute is this?

I don’t listen to that voice very often either.

I have few obsessions with material things, but the ones I do have are hard core. I can keep my penchant for school/office supplies under control by avoiding that aisle at Target and staying far, far away from Office Depot. Shoes are another story, but when I consider price and the available space left in my closet, I can keep the purchases relatively infrequent.

Hedgehogs, however, are in a league of their own.

They’re rare to find, but I have some sort of hedgehog-homing device built into my brain. If there’s a figurine, stuffed animal, drawing, pillow, notepad, anything hedgehog-themed in a store, I will find it. Makes no difference how big the store is.

I found a hedgehog-shaped candle a couple days ago. I texted my hubby about it, expressing my need to add it to my (vast) collection of hedgehogs. It was mostly a joke, but only mostly.

In the moment, it can feel like a need, can’t it?

When it comes to hedgehogs, yeah, it’s a need.

How to Resist the Obsession

Recently I’ve had a drastic change of perspective, and I’m doing a lot better at focusing on actual needs. By no means am I completely reformed, but I’m improving.

What’s that you say? You’re wondering what could possibly have made me reconsider buying a hedgehog candle for my collection? I’m so glad you asked! I’m still in disbelief myself, but I’ll tell you.

Serious soul searching.

Yes, I know, I’ve said many times before that I’m doing some soul searching, changing my ways, yadda yadda yadda. This time, though, it’s more like soul realization.

My realization was that I first had to determine what I want. Like, really want. Only then can I determine what I need.

Trying to determine needs first (besides basics like food, clothing, shelter, etc.) just results in confusion and a lot of junk piled up in closets and on shelves.

To uncover what I really want, I asked myself some difficult questions. What are the most important things in my life? (Hint: They’re not things.) Where do I want to be in five years in terms of family, career, finances and spiritual life? (Classic interview question, and more important than ever to give the right answer.)

When I had my answers (and don’t bother cheating because you only cheat yourself – as one of our high school teachers liked to remind us), I started planning goals. After all, if I don’t have a destination, how will I ever find the path?

Now, when a decision must be made, whether it’s a purchase or not, I consider which option will move me closer to my goals. It makes the decision-making process a lot easier, especially for someone who often agonizes over simple choices.

Actionable Changes

When I saw the hedgehog candle, I had a weak moment. My inner want-it-now voice screamed at me: You don’t have a hedgehog candle yet! It would be a great addition to the hundreds of hedgehogs you have displayed around the house!

But that other, quieter voice, laced with perspective, reminded me that there are more important things. Even if it costs only $6, that’s money I could put toward one of my goals. What if I just bought tons of things that cost only $6, I reasoned. Eventually, that will add up to thousands of dollars, a whole lot of clutter in my house, and not one step closer to where I want to be.

In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t give in. Besides the fact that I’m proud of my new mindset and my resistance, I discovered I actually do have a hedgehog candle in my collection.

Are your needs getting in the way of your wants?


How to Handle a Power Tripper

by Ashley on August 30, 2012

Here’s a baffling question: What is it about power that makes some people giddy?

“It is less mortifying to believe oneself unpopular than insignificant.”
– Edith Wharton, American author

Ms. Wharton might have something there.

According to her, it’s lack of self-worth, not authority, that affects behavior. Instead of focusing on earning respect, some people would rather exert their power. They don’t mind trading respect (popularity) for self-confidence (significance).

I’ve run into several people who need to remind those around them – frequently – about their control or position. (I almost wrote “who enjoy reminding” right there. For some it does occasionally appear to be enjoyable, but it always comes across as a need.)

When reminding others of their power (or perceived power, as the case may be), the person builds him/herself up by attempting to make the remindee feel less significant. It’s an effort to dispel their own insecurities.

Almost Just like a bully.

And just like a middle schooler doesn’t understand why he’s so mean to other kids, I think these “power trippers” don’t understand (or want to admit) why they behave this way. But more important, they don’t understand the power of choice.

Attempting the Impossible

Two truths we must recognize:

  1. It’s impossible to force loyalty on others. In fact, the stronger the attempt, the more fleeting loyalty becomes.
  2. It’s impossible to force respect from others. A person may be required to treat another with respect, but that in no way obligates that person to actually respect the other.

Figures of authority who attempt the impossible are desperate to lord it over others around them.

What’s ironic is that the LORD, the all-powerful creator, does not lord it over anyone. He gave us free will to love him or not, to respect him or not, to obey him or not. It’s our choice. He won’t force us into anything.

Know why?

Because he is all-powerful. Because he has the final say in everything. He knows his power is unsurpassed. He doesn’t lack self-worth. So there’s no need to force his authority on anyone.

Your Responsibility

Not only do we have choice when it comes to our response to God, we also have a choice in how we respond to others.

People on the receiving end of a power trip have a couple of options. They can:

  • Feel sorry for themselves
  • Feel sorry for the power tripper

Everyone must take responsibility for their own emotions. You can choose to feel sad or self-righteous, but who does that hurt? (Here’s a clue: It’s not the power tripper.)

I’ve changed my emotional response when I’m on the receiving end of a power trip. Now I feel pity, not anger, because the ’tripper feels something inside that creates the need to behave badly. My attitude has become one of embarrassment. For the other person.

As for my own behavior, I will focus my effort on earning respect rather than forcing my opinions/thoughts/feelings on someone else. I’ve been guilty of a power trip or two. But bullying other people into agreeing with me won’t make them change their minds. They might agree just to shut me up. But they’ll have no respect for me.

I’d rather earn respect than exert power. Because, ultimately, respect is power.

Which would you rather have?

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
– attributed to Margaret Thatcher


Eviction Notice: Effective Immediately

by Ashley on August 22, 2012

A quote I heard recently on a silly TV show struck me as profound, and I’ve taken it to heart. (I already know you’re embarrassed for me to be admitting this in public. Duly noted. Regardless, I’ll continue.)

Let me set the stage for you. One of the main characters on The Big Bang Theory (don’t judge) really hates one of the minor characters who pops up from time to time. I mean, he hates this other guy.

The other guy knows it. And relishes that knowledge.

The main character keeps plotting ways to outsmart his arch enemy (and of course is constantly sabotaged). During one of their face-offs, the enemy gloats about his ability to upset his adversary and says off-handedly: “I’m living, rent-free, right there” – in the main character’s head.

Ah-Ha Moment

What’s profound about this is that I realized I, too, allow people and situations to take up valuable brain-space in my waking hours. In essence, these situations have an enormous power over me. And it’s my fault because I allow it.

I’ve struggled for a long time with my tendency to dwell on negative things. I’ve tried venting, but that doesn’t work for me. It just keeps the negative thoughts fresh in my mind. Distraction works, but only for so long. Eventually those negative thoughts creep back in, with no softer impact.

So I have a new plan. I’m going to evict that freeloading tenant who’s trashing everything and allow a new occupant to move in, one that will take good care of the place.

How, you ask? I’m going to start replacing negative thoughts with something positive. Something uplifting. Something that makes me feel content, productive, and (best of all) separate from the negative thing.

Positive Solutions

There’s more in my life that’s good than there is that’s bad. So why focus on the fewer bad things rather than the many good things? That’s hugely insulting to God who gave me all the good things, as if they are less important than my struggles. Instead, I can free myself of other people’s bad attitudes and bad manners. That’s not my problem. Unless, of course, I allow it to be.

Already I have started a list of things I can do to focus on the good, the happy, the positive:

  • When someone replies with a snotty comment, a prayer of thanks that I have wonderful friends and a loving husband and family is a great quick-fix.
  • Frustrating traffic time can be spent thinking about exciting things coming up – what to pack for my vacation, for example. Along with a prayer of thanks that I have the means to take a vacation.
  • A prayer of thanks is also good for larger things that persist in my mind, and I’ve started counteracting my tendency to dwell by focusing my thoughts on developing more positive situations in my life. Instead of lamenting and rehashing things I can’t change, I’ve started brainstorming ways to create more opportunities for situations I can change. Rather than resigning myself to being miserable, I’m going to create more ways to be happy.

Those are my ideas so far. Got any more for me?


After the Sale

by Ashley on August 5, 2012

If you’ve never bought a used car before, well, let me tell you. You just don’t know what you’re missing.

Our adventures in car-buying aside, the experience got me thinking about customer service.

Customer service is ranked up there with quality and price in terms of what makes a person want to do business somewhere. While some places offer outstanding customer service, I have a problem with any salesperson who, after closing the deal, believes the job is finished. With those types, the customer is No. 1 until money changes hands. Then, you better hit the road, Jack, and dontcha come back no more.

There are several places where I’ve been treated so poorly that I won’t take my money there anymore. I realize this won’t make a dent in any business’ sales figures. (In fact, one sales representative told me her company wouldn’t care if we took our business elsewhere because it has millions of customers. She said this in the middle of the sales floor. I kid you not.) Even so, I won’t pay someone to treat me badly, and I’ll warn anyone who considers patronizing that business.

Of course, my expectation of customer service comes with some ground rules. For example, if a store’s return policy is 30 days with a receipt, I wouldn’t expect to get my money back if I decide to return my item two months later. Or if I enter a contract with a company and stop paying my bill, I don’t expect them to continue providing the service. However, the reverse is also true. If I pay my bill, I expect to get quality service. And if I don’t, I expect customer service to be impeccable, not full of excuses or, worse, blame.

I know people and businesses make mistakes. Stuff happens, products break, services lapse, whatever. It’s the customer service after the mistake that makes or breaks a business in my eyes.

If I’ve held up my end of the bargain – paid for the product/service and abided by the rules I agreed to follow – then I expect follow-through on the other end. Basically, I want a guarantee of service. All too often, those responsible for customer service find any excuse not to provide it.

But as adamantly as I’ll disparage a business that has not held up its end of the deal, I’m also a huge cheerleader for businesses and products I love. One of my very favorites is God’s gift. I have already gotten far more than I could have imagined, and I highly recommend it. (You’d think that because it’s free the customer service after you get it home would be terrible. Not so!)

Many of us come to him broken-hearted. That’s OK with him, though. He’ll take your broken pieces and give you something even better in exchange – peace. And you don’t even need a receipt. Which is good, because you never paid for it in the first place; Jesus did.

You can call him up any time of day or night (even weekends!), and you’ll never be put on hold to wait for the next available customer representative (who will be happy to assist you). In fact, you don’t have to wait at all because you get to speak directly to him, and he’s always available.

Of course, there are some ground rules:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

We are commanded to trust him and not be anxious about our problems. Easier said than done, I know. But them’s the rules.

We also must present our requests with thanksgiving to God for what he has already done. I never have a hard time coming up with a long list of blessings I’m thankful for.

So if we keep up our end of things, God offers a lifetime eternal guarantee on his gift. (I frequently fail to trust him fully, and when I break that ground rule, the peace he offers also begins to fade. Thankfully, my failure doesn’t void the agreement – I can pick up right where I left off.)

God doesn’t disappear on us after the sale. He never abandons us. We don’t have to wait in line for 45 minutes only to talk to a rude clerk about how their hands are tied and there’s nothing they can do for us. Nope. God’s there, ready to help. He really, really, really wants everything to work out after you’ve accepted his gift.

And something else earthly businesses never offer: No matter how long you’ve had it or how many times you break it, God will fix it, no questions asked. And all the repair work is free! (And let me tell you, I’ve messed up so many times that I’d be in debt up to my ears if the repair work hadn’t already been paid for 2,000 years ago. That’s a pretty sweet extended warranty if you ask me.)

He also supplied the user manual. I don’t know about you, but I never read those things for other products. They are too long and technical and boring. No thanks.

But I enjoy reading God’s user manual. There are countless testimonials from other satisfied customers, many who have broken God’s gift and gotten it fixed again. (Check out this handy-dandy User Manual Emergency Index.)

My favorite part is that it’s completely free and guaranteed. It will never wear out or be repossessed. The only way I can lose it is if I decide I don’t want it anymore.

So that’s my cheerleader’s spiel. This gift never gets discontinued, goes out of stock or ends up on back order. It’s always immediately available, so get yours today!

Hurry, because time is running out.


Hey! I resemble that remark.

by Ashley on July 1, 2012

My bathroom mirror is not a liar.

No matter how offensive I find the image it reflects, there’s no denying that it’s me. No matter how much I’d like to ignore the familiarity of the squinty zombie with a rat’s nest perched atop its half-asleep head, it’s me. Sad, but true.

Thankfully it’s only my poor husband who has to suffer through the real-life representation of that horror, bless his soul. Apparently he is immune, and I’m quite certain that anyone else, having viewed the monster directly, would be turned to stone.

Now, I’m well aware that even though people on television wake up looking beautiful (unless they don’t, in which case it is always to the infinite amusement of the live studio audience), I do not have such Hollywood privileges. I’m over it, because I know all you people look like crap in the morning too.

What really bugs me isn’t my mirror. It’s my camera that’s the liar. I just wish I had some proof.

For example, we went out for our anniversary not long ago. (Happy nine years, my love!) I wanted to wear a dress I had bought a while back that I simply adore. Black, figure flattering and subtle, but very sexy.

So I turned to my friend the mirror to finish the details. I was pleased with the outcome. Checked myself out, mentally gave myself a high-five fist-bump combo, and went to show the hubby. He liked what he saw.

We decided to take a photo before we leave. That was my mistake. I should have just stuck with my skewed mental image, but noooo, I wanted proof that I looked good.

Of course, I’m thinking I look like Jennifer Lawrence (or whoever is popular and gorgeous these days). I FEEL like I look that good in my dress and heels and makeup. Alas, my camera did not agree. Now, I’m not saying the picture was bad. It wasn’t. We make a cute couple, if I do say so myself. It just wasn’t as amazing as I was expecting. And as much as I’d like to throw that camera away and buy a more truthful one, I know it’s futile. They are all liars.

We always see what we want to see, don’t we?

Whether it’s about our looks, our attitude, or our behavior, we always think the best about ourselves. It’s only when we see things through someone else’s eyes that we might notice something, ahem, less than perfect.

Someone made a comment to me recently that I found pretty offensive. It was critical, not scathing, but painful for me to hear. How could someone think that about me, much less say it to my face?

Even when criticisms are meant to be constructive, it’s hard for me not to take them personally. I feel like they are attacking me, rather than just criticizing something I did.

But when I take that criticism home and think about it privately, occasionally there’s some truth to it. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I often find my critic has a point. And though it stings when those criticisms come from a friend, I’m often less defensive and less resistant to change. I know my loved ones have my best interests at heart, especially when they are brave enough to be painfully honest.

I need to be better about this, especially with my Christian friends. We have been called to tell our brothers and sisters when they are headed in the wrong direction. We are commanded to expose sin and call it out for what it is. None of this under-rug sweeping.

This is particularly difficult to hear because sin seems extremely personal. It’s as if my sins are part of me. But that’s Satan’s manipulation. He wants to make us feel guilty, that those sins are a part of us, that we can’t rid ourselves of them.

Thankfully, God doesn’t see things that way. He knows we sin. But he also knows that the sin doesn’t define us. It is separate, and God has this fantastic ability to love us while hating our actions. It’s because he loves us that he hates our sins. If he didn’t love us, he wouldn’t care how much we screwed up, how much we hurt ourselves or other people.

Parents probably understand this better than anyone. You love your child even when he screws up. Even when he misbehaves. Even when you’ve told him a thousand times to STOP IT and he does it again, your love never fades. You know that bad behavior is separate from the child. It’s the same with God.

But as parents, you still expect your kid to straighten up, don’t you? It’s called discipline. And though your kiddo might be upset in the moment, deep down he knows you haven’t stopped loving him. Again, it’s the same with God.

These types of criticisms, especially from our loving God, are meant to be instructive, not cruel. So when God, a friend or even an enemy offers a less-than-stellar evaluation, let’s look at our lives as they actually are, not just as we see them. Take a snapshot, then step back and really observe the details. Let’s not simply dismiss the criticism, declare the critic a liar, and continue on our way unchanged.

Though my camera may be a liar (I’m certain of it), my critics rarely are. I need to be less defensive, a little more humble and more willing to make a change.

And with those who only want to inflict pain with their assessment of me, I’m planning to become more like this:

“I don’t take criticisms personally, which must be very annoying for people who mean them personally.” – Nigelia Lawson


Crossing One Off My Bucket List

by Ashley on June 4, 2012

I went to my happy place this weekend.

Shots. Three at a time.

Three people who apparently aren't afraid of drowning in alcohol.

My first, though hopefully not last, Jimmy Buffett concert. It was incredible. There were hippies and beach bums (I fall into category No. 2) tailgating in the parking lot starting at least 12 hours before the concert started. People in coconut bras and grass skirts doing shots three at a time. When we finally got in the park, we were part of The Lawn People. Jimmy called us out several times to say hello and ask if we were having fun. From the looks (and smell) of things, yes, we were all definitely having a good time.

So we’re all out there, bouncing beach balls around. One of them had a message that its owners needed help paying for their wedding and left the address for where to send our contribution. Uh, no.

Lawn People

The Lawn People!

Some people were barely dressed; others were barely standing. One guy was passed out until midway through the show, what a waste!

JB started with One Particular Harbor. I expected to hear that one, and it was just as good as I’d hoped. Some artists don’t sound nearly as good live as they do on the CD, and that’s always disappointing, am I right? But Jimmy sounds just the same, and he’s been doing this for so long that he’s probably more comfortable on stage than off.

Weeks ago, the hubby hunted up a chart online that listed the times Jimmy had played each of his songs at past shows. A few songs were listed at 100%. There was no way he wasn’t going to play Margaritaville, A Pirate Looks at 40, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and a handful of others.

So we were browsing this list and hubby scrolled down to find the probability that we’d hear one of my very favorite songs. Scarlet Begonias is a Grateful Dead cover and (I’d venture to guess) relatively unnoticed except among the most diehard Parrotheads. But it’s on my top 10 list. I love it so much that I made it my default ringtone (so give me a call so I can hear it!)

Sadly, the likelihood that he’d play it was next to nothing. At the time we checked this list, he hadn’t played Scarlet Begonias in the past 46 shows. Disappointing, but not unexpected. I like nearly all his songs so it didn’t matter much to me what he played as long as I got to hear Come Monday (my karaoke jam), and that one had nearly 100% chance. I was a happy girl.

I’ve known all the lyrics to all the songs for years, but the hubby took a crash course and earned his swimfins in just a couple of weeks. I was so proud to hear him singing a different song every morning as we got ready for work. I’m pretty sure I fell a little bit more in love with him every time I heard him sing a new song.

Of course, he has his favorites too. As the end of the night neared, he griped that Jimmy might not play Fins. That was one of the most played songs! But I was sure he’d play it and tried to be patient. There were a couple songs played that I didn’t recognize, which surprised me. I feel like a bad Parrothead, so I have a little research to do.

The end of the regular set. Now, encore. Still hadn’t played Fins, but I wasn’t worried. Hubby was. Jimmy started again with a couple of songs that huJB souvenir t-shirtbby really likes, so he was trying to console himself with those. No matter what, it was a great show and I wouldn’t be disappointed. This night was on my bucket list, so there’s no way I could go home unhappy (unless someone stole my $35 t-shirt, and thankfully that didn’t happen, but I was a little fearful of beer spills from all the drunken passers-by.)

There’s no way I can do justice to this part of the story with mere words, so I’ll just jump right in. The third song of the encore started. I felt like I was playing Name That Tune, because about three seconds in, I knew what it was. I think it took me longer than one second only because it was so unexpected. I turned to hubby with my eyes wide, hands covering my mouth in shock. I was having trouble breathing. Because I was hearing the first notes of Scarlet Begonias.

Later hubby said that even though Jimmy didn’t play several of the songs he wanted to hear, seeing the look on my face during Scarlet Begonias was worth missing them.

As we left the venue, I was still in shock that I’d actually heard Jimmy play that song. It wasn’t impossible of course, but the improbability of it made it so hard to believe I’d just heard what I’d heard. And it made it that much better too, because it was so unlikely. This might seem like a stretch, but to me, it’s not: This is not unlike understanding grace. That God’s grace can be free makes no sense to me. That I can’t do anything to earn salvation seems so unlikely. What does make sense is that if I’m good enough, I’ll go to heaven. If I do more good than harm, help enough old ladies cross the street, I’ll get my ticket to paradise. The improbability that this logic could be wrong and that God could give salvation freely to all who believe makes the realization that much sweeter when it finally sinks in.

I was ecstatic while I was singing along with Scarlet Begonias, but it didn’t sink in until later that I’d actually heard him sing the song I’ve adored for years. I was still disbelieving the morning after the concert. I know it’s true, but it’s still sinking in. Understanding grace might take a while to sink in too. But believe it; it’s worth it and it will change your life.

So we listened to the rest of the show, an altogether amazing experience. I will never forget those first few seconds when I realized I was going to receive the most unlikely gift from my favorite artist.

Oh yea, I almost forgot. The last song of the night? Fins.


How to Decide Which Way to Go

by Ashley on May 20, 2012

I am approaching a fork in the road.

Because I tend to be a control freak, I like to consider where each path will lead me before making a decision. And because my deliberation can border on obsession at times, I debated pros and cons with a friend.

My friend’s advice: “You need to think about what you really want. What makes you happy? Do that. It might take time. It might take sacrifice. But you’ll get there.”

I have smart friends.

My problem (one of oh so many) is that I get distracted and forget to pursue what’s really important. I focus on escaping short-term irritations or chasing short-lived pleasures and forget about what I really want to achieve.

My friend is right. It takes courage, but my patience and endurance will pay off if I’m able to reach my long-term goals.

This isn’t just about “sticking it out,” though. This is about deciding – in advance – what I really want and chasing that with every ounce of energy I possess.

In my Christian walk, I frequently lose sight of the goal. I try to focus, but I get distracted. By greed. By desires. By pride. By things that make me happy in the moment.

Whatever satisfaction I receive by chasing or achieving these things is gone almost instantly. Then I have to chase them again. And again the satisfaction is lost. So I chase again. It’s a nasty cycle.

And if you’ve ever studied economics, you’ll know about this pesky thing called the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Without boring you with my limited knowledge of economics (I did get an A in college though!   /brag), here’s a quick review: Say you’re eating a Hershey Kiss. It is deliciously delicious as it melts on your tongue. (I never chew them – it’s a waste of chocolatey-flavored heaven.)

So you eat your Hershey Kiss and it was so tasty that you eat another one.

And another. And another.

You eat until most of the bag is gone, everything is smeared with chocolate and your pile of balled-up silver wrappers could possibly be mistaken for a miniature Egyptian pyramid. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Here we understand the Law of Diminishing Returns. The first Kiss was awesome. The second was awesome minus 1. The third was awesome minus 2, and so forth. At some point, the decline is so steep that it’s just easier to reverse it – gross plus 1, gross plus 2 – until we get to the point where you’re (I’m) sick to your (my) stomach and you (I) don’t want to see another Kiss for at least 24 hours. Maybe even 36.

I’m sure there’s an algebraic equation to determine when the Kisses start to be gross rather than awesome – must be what our teachers meant when they said math was relevant in real life.


Like those Kisses that grow increasingly unpleasant as you make your way through the bag, short-term pleasures work much the same way. When you satisfy an urge, you want more of that satisfaction. But the next time, it’s not quite as good, so it takes more of whatever it is to satisfy the craving. Eventually you’re so engulfed in whatever it is, you forget that there was something else you meant to pursue. The thing you chased was just a lot easier to attain in the short term.

So instead of chasing what is easy or running from what is not, I want to work on being courageous enough to pursue what will make me truly happy and completely, eternally satisfied.

Let’s not give up our dreams for a minute of fleeting happiness – or worse, only a second of relief. Enduring just a moment longer could mean the difference between basking in a dream come true and spending a life chasing nothing at all.

“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:14

What joys have you missed because you focused on the short term?


Make an Exchange, No Questions Asked

by Ashley on May 14, 2012

What I’m about to share with you is a true story. Parts of it might seem outrageous and unbelievable. I assure you, it’s all very real.

I had a little conversation with myself this weekend.

“Self,” said I, “You’re wasting too much energy on worry. It’s futile. Futile, I say! You’re squandering precious weekend time, and you don’t even know whether your fear is going to come true.”

Worry Flowchart

My self ignored me and continued to harbor a rock in my belly and a growing sense of dread. Trying to stop my self from thinking about the worry made it that much harder to forget.

So I took my complaint to my self’s manager. This was significantly more productive. He already told me he’ll deal with all my fears; I just have to bring them and leave them. Sometimes giving up the worry is difficult, which makes approximately zero sense, because I didn’t want it in the first place. But my self likes to deal with these issues. As if my self’s manager can’t handle them or can’t be bothered by these piddly matters.

“Yeah, and how’s that working out, Self?” I ask.

Obviously, skipping the middleman and going straight to the one who can actually do something about it is where I should have taken my worry in the first place. Hindsight, right?

Anyway. I petitioned my self’s manager. “So here’s the deal,” said I. “There’s this worry that won’t leave me alone. I can’t do a thing with it. I have no idea how it will turn out. And I’d really like to return it. Maybe exchange it for some peace of mind? I don’t have my receipt.”

Lo and behold, I was in luck. You do NOT need a receipt to exchange a worry. The manager can basically do whatever he wants (obv), so if you just ask, he’ll take it. My worry was in “used” condition, too. I’d been wearing it for a while. Doesn’t matter. If it’s not working for you, that manager will exchange it for something better, no questions asked.

And what’s really great is that you can make the exchange instantly. Peace of mind is never on back-order. Get it brand new, straight from the source. But it is an exchange. You can’t keep the worry and have peace of mind, too.

What baffles me is that sometimes I just don’t want to give up the worry. I’d rather have peace of mind. But giving up the worry means giving up control. I hate doing that.

But when I handed over my worry, it was such a relief. I realized I didn’t have control anyway, so why bother keeping the worry?

Now, I realize I’m going to have to make this exchange many times in my life. Sometimes I hoard a lot of worries and bring them all back at once. It makes me embarrassed though, like the old lady bringing 40 pounds of pennies to the bank and counting them out one by one. So I shy away from bringing them. But that’s what the manager wants. He wants you to keep coming back. In fact, he’d prefer if you just stay right beside him, so you don’t have to try to find him when you want to make an exchange. (And you won’t have to lug around that 40 pounds of pure embarrassment.)

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27

What do you do with your worry?


What You See Is(n’t) What You Get

by Ashley on May 7, 2012

WYSIWYG. (Pronounced “wizzy-wig.” Obviously. *eye-roll*)

If you’re familiar with content management systems, you probably recognize this acronym as “what you see is what you get.” If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s the easy way of editing websites or blog posts for non-HTML-savvy folk. (Stick with me; this isn’t about HTML, I promise.)

The Problem with WYSIWYG

When I was first learning to blog on CMS, I stuck with the WYSIWYG editor because I had no idea how to get into the HTML without breaking the website. Believe me, I could blow up a website like nobody’s business.

But as I got more technically competent with CMS, I was less afraid to make updates in the HTML code editor. I was able to make more complex changes, and I could make sure the site or blog looked exactly like I wanted. After getting more comfortable with HTML, I couldn’t trust the WYSIWYG editor anymore. Among other issues, it would screw up my spacing. (And as I’ve already established, I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I can’t stand screwed up spacing.)

Even though editing code can be maddening (like that missing quotation mark that’s throwing everything off!), it’s still less frustrating than the WYSIWYG editor because at least I can poke around and find the problem (eventually).

With what-you-see-is-what-you-get, sometimes I never can figure out what’s messing up the look of the site. It’s not until I go into the code that I discover the problem. Like that stupid missing quotation mark.

The Problem with Trusting Your Eyes

What-you-see-is-what-you-get is also a lousy way to evaluate people. Like editing a website, sometimes you have to know what’s going on behind the scenes so you can see what the real problem is. And a lot of the time, we’ll never know what’s going on in the background.

Take, for example, a stranger who is a mega-jerk for no reason. Or a co-worker who has a super-bad attitude. Maybe they had a fight with their girlfriend, or they didn’t get the job they were hoping for. But these situations are easy to relate to, and therefore easier to forgive without being too judgmental.

So what about when we’re critical of bigger things? More serious things?

Take, for example, that girl walking around the mall who looks about 14 years old and 7 months pregnant. Don’t we often stick an elbow into the person we’re with and make a disapproving assessment of her morals or upbringing?

Maybe nine times out of ten, we’d be right. But what if, one time, we were wrong. What if she was raped 7 months ago and couldn’t bring herself to have an abortion? Or what if she’s been married two years and she just looks young for her age? I was terrified of that when I was first married because I’m regularly mistaken as being anywhere between 5 and 10 years younger than I am (oh, the misfortune). As a 23-year-old bride, though, you can see why this might be a problem.

There are plenty of other examples of times we make critical assessments when we can’t understand why on earth people look/behave/respond the way they do. In grade school, this could even be deemed bullying, depending on what the reaction is.

The Fix

Ever since we were born, we’ve been seeing with our eyes. We have to learn to see with our hearts, because compassion is the only fix.

This topic is on my mind because a few times lately I’ve been on the receiving end of critical judgments. Some things I’ve said have been misunderstood, and the listener’s knee-jerk reaction was to make an embarrassing remark in return.

Part of the burden is on me because I should have chosen my words more carefully. After all, I’m a “words person” (kind of like we fall into the category of “cat person” or “dog person” or, in my husband’s case, “bacon person”).

But I was still hurt because 1. that person didn’t care that the response might embarrass me and 2. my intent was completely misunderstood, so the response was unwarranted.

Overall, though, this incident was minor compared to some of the things I’ve thought or even said about other people.

But I’m getting better at digging a little deeper. Even if I never get to ask that stranger what’s going on in her life, I’ll dig inside myself and ask why I’m judging, why criticize, why assume the worst? How can I, because I don’t have all the information.

What I see is all I’m getting, but it’s not all there is.

Have you ever assumed the worst and then found out the situation wasn’t what you thought?

The Definition of Me

by Ashley on April 30, 2012

I just spent an absurd amount of time choosing a photo to use for my Facebook Timeline cover.

Not only that, I put off updating my Facebook to Timeline mode for months (months!) because of this indecisiveness. I couldn’t decide what photo “defined” me. As if a photo could define someone. As if Facebook even matters that much.

It is disturbing, though, to think about Facebook as a catalogue of my life. This application knows my birth date, my likes and dislikes, who my friends are, and that I like to call myself a writer. It knows I like to post funny pictures of animals from around the interwebs, it knows I’m obsessed with hedgehogs, and it knows where I live.

As unsettling as that may be, I still felt that this cover image needed to illustrate something I’m passionate about. It needed to represent, at least in a small way, who I am.

So while searching for just the right photo (of the appropriate size, which is preposterously horizontal, by the way), several ideas went through my head.

I didn’t want to actually be in the photo on my cover because I didn’t want to appear self-centered. I hunted for a good photo of the beach because it’s the place I feel most at home. I considered a gorgeous image of the marsh at Pawley’s Island, but that’s more my husband’s escape than mine. Eventually I settled on a snapshot of my hedgie and one of my kitties being adorable.

Ace and Sammy

Warning: Excessive cuteness


A similar concept that started on MySpace (what’s that?) was that users could choose a song to go on their profile. Eventually the single song turned into a playlist, so I could compose a collection of explanations, moods and representations of myself.

Granted, I might be taking these selections a bit too seriously. But after I finished uploading and cropping and positioning and publishing this cover image, I realized I had chosen poorly if I were really looking for a definition of me.

Limiting myself like that, to believe that someone can understand who I am just by knowing that I like animals, the ocean and music, is doing myself a grave injustice.

Some of us define ourselves by our jobs. When you first meet someone, don’t you normally ask what they do for a living? I like to introduce myself by saying I’m a writer and editor.

Some of us define ourselves by causes we believe in. Whether it’s raising money to build water wells in Africa or raising awareness about misunderstood diseases, if someone is passionate about a particular cause, it’s likely you’ll know about it. Personally, I love seeing the look on people’s faces when I tell them I do hedgehog rescue. (There’s a whole nonprofit society dedicated to this endeavor. I kid you not.)

Some of us define ourselves by our families. When getting to know someone, you quickly learn whether they’re married and whether they have children. I tend to make a joke to explain why I don’t have kids yet.

We define ourselves by successes and failures, by social status and economic achievement, by dreams and disappointments.

All these things contribute to who we have become. They shape our personalities and attitudes. They’ve helped mold the path we’ve taken to get to our present state of affairs. But they do not define us.

We have been called to be so much more than that.

No one asks what you believe during introductions. (Weird, I know.) But I want to make sure that people know I’m a Christian. It’s not the first thing I’ll tell you because that seems too aggressive to me. Bringing up religion or politics is bound to start a fight.

But that’s not even necessary. If I’m concentrating on being a Christ-follower, people around me should be able to tell by my words and actions. By the way I treat others. By being honest even when no one is looking.

That’s how I want to define myself.

But I’m leaving my Facebook cover as the kitty/hedgie combo of cute, so don’t judge me.

What defines you?