Little sister status


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It’s just me and Brooke, Brooke and me. Ever since I’ve been alive, I’ve been lucky to be her only younger sister and best friend. (I’m just claiming this best friend status. Pinning my own badge on)

In middle school and high school, most of my teachers had her in class before they had me. Not a bad thing, since she was a good, nice student. I learned to respond to her name when they would slip up. They did their best. We really do look quite similar.

She’s three years older, but in the past ten years it’s been harder for some people to tell if we’re twins or if I’m older or if we might just be the same person? There were many times during our college years that the older folks at church would come up to me and ask me about college (Oh, I’m the one still in high school. I’m Ashley. Oh!) or my husband (I’m Ashley; Brooke’s the one who got married. I guess I don’t know how my husband is, hahahaI’meighteen.)

I’m sure she’s been mistaken for me too.

It seems like I’ve always followed in her footsteps. I didn’t know any better when I was four and decided I also wanted to take figure skating lessons. I didn’t know I should just pave my own trail so as not to accidentally end up doing EVERYTHING she did.

We weren’t really well-suited to skating. Something about having a continual growth spurt for like ten years while trying to learn to balance and throw oneself into the air off a toepick just didn’t work out. So many bruised tailbones and egos.

We learned humility and failure in figure skating. And how to get back up and try again. And continue to fall. And then to quit and try something else.

I promise you, I wanted to play volleyball before she said she did. But we ended up taking up that sport the same year. And we played play on the same team for a couple years before she graduated high school.

We learned teamwork and how to not compare yourself to others in volleyball. Well, maybe we didn’t actually learn not to compare. But we saw how much more painful and dysfunctional life is when you do.

By this point, I had learned that I needed my own identity. I needed to do something Brooke did not do. I couldn’t go to Hope College since she had gone there. I needed to create my own self, distinct and unique. I had taken a small step down my own path in fifth grade when I chose the clarinet instead of the flute and a few more when I joined the high school newspaper and started making jewelry. But now was the time to assert who Ashley was (I didn’t know yet, either).

I picked a school in Chicago, decided to major in Communications so I could be a journalist, and broke up with my boyfriend so I wouldn’t do long-distance like she had (it worked out really well for her, by the way).

By the end of my freshman year, I didn’t want to be a journalist, had gotten back together with the boyfriend (and also broken up again because it wasn’t meant to be), and decided to major in English and Philosophy. She had majored in English with the same Creative Writing emphasis, but I told myself it was different enough because I was also going to be a philosopher.

We both graduated in 3.5 years. We both wanted to write books. We both loved reading books, smelling books, shopping for books, sitting by books, talking about books. We both blogged. We both moved back to Minnesota.

We learned how to write better in college. We learned what friendship in close quarters looks like. We learned how to be long-distance sisters.

Post-college now, our lives are differentiated by suburbs and city, married and unmarried, different churches, different groups of people.

And different jobs. Well.

Sort of.

When I started looking for a new opportunity a little while ago, I looked at a bunch of places in my industry. Not much turned up. I looked at related places. Nothing quite fit. I couldn’t apply to be a VP, wasn’t well-versed in Java, or just didn’t get excited about any of the options.

So I stopped looking for a bit and told God I’d just hang out where I was until He was ready for me to move.

A sure sign that I’d better get ready to move in a way I didn’t expect.

If I’ve learned ANYTHING from following Jesus, it’s that He’ll let me think about what I want and look around, and when I get tired of not finding what I want and finally say, okay, I’m open to whatever else there is, He ushers in a new opportunity. Not always when I wanted it, never what I would have picked on my own, and always better in one way or another.

What he brought this time was a job at the same company Brooke works at.

In the same department.

Actually, the same role she started in when she first was hired.

This is the moment where we all roll our eyes and say, “Of course. This is how God does things. With great irony, He turns our plans on their heads.”

So not only will I not be taking the path opposite of what Brooke took, I will be following in her footsteps almost exactly. And will work three cubicles away. And I am thrilled to pieces over it, having finally embraced our similarities and shared strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t know what we’ll learn from this, but we’ve always learned something. And He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. So stay tuned.

balance is hard.


Every day I have opportunities to complain.  And much of the time I take the them, whether out loud or just in my head.

Often it’s out loud.

And sometimes the complaints are warranted, like really, did someone in my neighborhood really have to light a bonfire in the middle of the day on the ONLY day of summer that was nice enough to have all the windows open?  Did they not know that I’m allergic to woodsmoke and that their poor choice would make my throat hurt and my sinuses close up unless I closed my windows? And if I have to close my windows then I’ll have to miss out on the beautiful fresh air.  Really, people?  Really?  Is it too much to ask for you to simply save your fire-lighting for night when my windows will be closed?

Goodness gracious.

Yes, I realize that my complaints are 99% ridiculous.  (But really, who lights a bonfire in the early afternoon? I’m actually curious.)

I realize that my problems are pretty minute in the grand scheme of things.  I have enough food in the house to survive and to be relatively happy. I have a family that is godly and functional most of the time.  I know that most of the world lives on less than I do by a great margin.  This comparison is good, because it brings me the perspective that encourages me to live my life outside of myself, to be sacrificial, to give back, and to be content with what I have and with the small inconveniences that come my way. This comparison brings perspective.

Now when I compare my life with other people’s who live in my circle, its far easier to be discontent.  Or when I compare my spiritual life with some of the heroes of the Bible or great Christians of our time.  Often it’s inspiring, but – particularly when I compare with my peers or acquaintances who have more, do more, or are more – often it simply brings me down to a level of petty coveting.

No one wants to be petty.

This is the comparison that is dangerous.  This is the one that can lead to being less, to focusing on the minutia, to being consumed with other people instead of Jesus and what He says.  It doesn’t bring clearer perspective but rather skews the bit that I usually have.

Not that admiration is dangerous, but the step beyond can lead to a stumble.  Inspiration and admiration can bring people to be a better version of themselves, just as the realization of how much I’ve been blessed with can help me be satisfied with what I have and drive me to live compassionately.

Like a lot of circumstances, it’s the balance of the two – comparison and the perspective that comes from it – that makes for healthy, meaningful living.

And, like walking on a four-inch wide beam, balance is hard.

Ardently.


If you have not had the pleasure of perusing the pages of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, I sincerely hope you will do so soon.  I know it starts to sound like the girly-girl cliché of a novel since thousands of females over the age of 14 have swooned over it.  I was thinking about adverbs today (trust me, this was not one of my really strange thoughts as I was falling asleep…  I was in church.  I’ll explain in a minute.), and I think I have fallen even more deeply in love with the fictitious Mr. Darcy.

He said ardently.  I mean, he used some other fabulous vocabulary too.  Not that I would fall for a man just because of his vocabulary.  That would be very shallow of me.  But really, I mean “In vain I have struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed….”  Then he declares his love.

Ah.  What a lovely scene that is.

And what a lovely adverb.

Now, you might not be a fan of grammar, as about 95% of the population is not.  I, on the other hand, particularly love it.  Actually.  It’s not just one of those nerdy things that I feel like I need to say to assert my intelligence and praise for academia.  I love grammar.  And I love having correct grammar.

That being said, if you find incorrect grammar (which you probably will… I don’t do much proofreading on these posts), don’t feel like you have to point me towards the straight and narrow of grammar.

Back to adverbs.

Adverbs are quite versatile words. An adverb, defined, is “a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word-group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. (e.g., gently,quitethenthere)” (Thank you, Merriam-Webster’s)

So basically, adverbs make adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs better. More specific.  More vivid.

And I think, as Christians, we need to be more like adverbs in the way we live.

If you’re not following the whole grammar analogy, please feel free to stop reading and pick a different post.  I know we’re all wired differently.

Back to Christians and adverbs (am I getting sidetracked a lot this evening, or what?).  Adverbs: they modify verbs which is their primary purpose.  They modify other adverbs which is one of their secondary purposes.  And the modify adjectives another secondary purpose.

As Christians, our primary purpose is to serve God.  He is our verb.  We serve Him first and foremost.  Then, we have two other duties.  To serve the lost world around us, but also to serve other Christians, to build up the body of Christ.

I was sitting in church tonight, hearing a request for meals for a family in the church and wondering if we sometimes neglect to volunteer in our churches because we don’t see the need.  Or maybe the other way around, that we feel that our service is more valued if it’s done right in God’s house.  When maybe a balance between the two is what we really need, to build up the body of Christ and then use that strong Body to serve the lost world.

If you understand exactly what’s going on right now, kudos to you.  I’m not even sure I follow my thought processes sometimes.  And I often make comparisons that leave the logical and sane population of the world a little confused.

Adverbs.  Christians.  We’re all the same.

 

 

A celebration of similarities: me & t-sweezy.


You knew it was coming if you know me.  Because if you know me, the probability that you have, at one point in our relationship, told me that I look like Taylor Swift is pretty much 100%.  It might have been how we met.  Or it might have been something you realized later on when someone else pointed it out.

We’ll do a side-by-side comparison pictorially.

So, maybe you can’t see the resemblance, but I have at least 500 testimonies from random people at retail stores, 80% of my friends, coaches and players at volleyball camp, my dentist’s office, babysitting employers, small children, family members, teachers, two little girls at Mall of America, my chiropractor, and my hair stylist to confirm the similarities.

The funny thing is that I feel bonded to her because of it.  If people ever say that they don’t like Taylor Swift, I feel personally insulted.  Then I have to remind myself that though I do like most of her music, I am not her.  And even though nearly every day (not an exaggeration.  really) someone begins this sentence, “has anyone ever told you…?” and I can easily complete it in my head, I am not the country songstress.  I know this because I look in my checking account and don’t see 6 digits.

Some of her more adoring fans have let me know that I am half an inch taller than her.  And that we have the same color eyes.  And when I lead worship during chapel on my guitar, they say, “It was like Taylor Swift came for chapel!”  This may be partly because I have a sparkly guitar strap.  The even more crazy fans tell me that I resemble her in my body language, my expressions, and the way I talk, which was definitely not intentional.  I just wanna know why they study that kind of thing… obsession, anyone?

Anyways, it happened.  And now I want to meet her and see what she thinks.  I want to look her in the eye and talk to her and see if I feel like we are identical twins separated at birth (which has been suggested to me.  then I remind them that I look remarkable like the rest of my family.)  I’m sure this will never happen, but it’s been fun to dream about.

In one of these scenarios, we stand and stare at each other for a few minutes, confused and a little shocked to see someone who looks so much like us right in front of us.  Then it just gets awkward because I know all about her (mostly because people like to tell me what is current in her life, assuming that since I resemble her I need to know what she’s doing.), but she knows nothing about me.  I’ve never actually met someone famous and gotten to talk to them for an extended period of time, so I have no idea what I would say.  Hi.  I look like you.  And we’re almost the same height.  And I bet lots of short people have gotten mad at you for wearing high heels and standing next to them, too.  I like sparkly dresses, too, but I don’t have any since I dunno where I would wear that.  High school isn’t really the right occasion.  I know a lot of your songs on guitar.  I feel strangely connected to you too.  Call me crazy, but I think we should be friends.  

Anyone wanna call Ellen and set up a meeting?

 

 

missing bobby pins…. where are they now?


My mom says that I leave a trail of bobby pins around our house.  It’s a mystery to me how they could fall out of my hair so easily, but, someway or another, they leave the company of my massive hair.  Because of this, about once every year, I have to replenish my store of bobby pins at Walgreen’s.

So now, the interesting question is posed: where are they now?

Here are the suspects:

could they be in here?

or here? have fallen out in my sleep?

could they be in my closet?

in my messy bathroom?

or in my smelly gym bag?

It’s like the socks that go from hamper to washer to dryer but never come out of the dryer.  (In case you’re wondering – as I was until about 1st grade when I heard a song about it that cleared things up for me – they go to “Laundry Land”, a place for lost socks.)  I bet my poor little bobby pins get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner most of the time, or they get taken out with the trash.

Just something I was thinking about as I looked at my depleted stock of bobby pins this morning.

I woke up this morning with a full awareness of how I’d spent my weekend thus far.  The strains and soreness attributed to 6 volleyball matches over two days made me question whether it was really worth it to get up for church.

Of course, it was.  Once I got coffee and a chocolate chip waffle topped with peanut butter (such a good combination.  really.) into my system, the prospect of church seemed like a very good idea – a thought that was confirmed once I got to church.

Inevitably, the reality of taking two AP classes and a PSEO class no one’s ever taken before and also captaining the volleyball team and joining student government has set in this past week.  If I have a spare minute apart from volleyball or school,  it’s spent doing homework, eating, or sleeping.  Social life?  Well, that basically happens at school.  Resting?  7 hours of sleep a night will have to take care of that.

I’m definitely more of an 8+ hours type girl.

So, needless to say, this has all accumulated into a permanent feeling of stress.  It’s like someone has stuffed my heart and lungs into a mesh bag that’s a little too small for them – making it difficult to breathe sometimes.  And, what do you know: my pastor talked about “Avoiding Unnecessary Stress” this morning!  It’s part of a series of sermons that he calls, “PEACE UNDER PRESSURE.”  I call it the PUP series.

Funny that he didn’t mention AP classes and PSEO as “unnecessary stress”…

What he did mention was comparing yourself to other people.  I’ve done that before.  I think I did that this past week… a few too many times.

Comparison leads to conformity, he said.

True, since when I compare myself I usually decide that I want to be whatever that other person is that I am not.  Silly, because when I do that, I make a little box for myself that says that I cannot be anything more than what that other person is.  I decide that I have to be what they are because I like what they are.

Brooke and I spent a lot of time talking about that this summer.  We both have some problems with making too many commitments, saying “yes” to too many good things.  We had to remind ourselves that we don’t have to do everything that is good, because we’ll see people who spend a lot of time baking, or making handmade birthday cards, or serving at a homeless shelter, or doing children’s ministry, and we instantly think:  Look how awesome that thing is.  That person is so great for doing that.  I have to do absolutely everything that is good, so I am going to jump right on that bandwagon and make myself as stressed out as possible.  I am going to spread myself so thin that I will never be able to do anything well.  I’ll just do all these great things halfway and in a sub-par manner because it’s not at all what I’ve been called to do!  

That doesn’t sound healthy, does it?

I’ve learned about myself that I have to resist the temptation to think I have to be Gandhi and Mother Theresa and my sister and everyone else who ever helped mankind in any way because #1, I don’t have the talents and abilities that those people have, #2, I don’t have the passion about it they have, and #3, I have my own calling to attend to.  And that should consume my time. I can only answer my own call – I can’t pick up everyone’s phone and join the conversation.

And with that, I will begin to check off homework from my list.