Little sister status


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.

This is just to say

I worked eleven hours at two different jobs today. And while I probably won’t win any contests with that number, it was enough that I desperately wanted a tiny little ball of the chocolate chip cookie dough that was in the fridge, the leftovers from pizookie on my birthday.

So I grabbed a spoon and did it. I’ll write an apology poem later. It was so sweet. And so cold.

But I probably only have to apologize to my body for eating sugar this late at night. I didn’t eat all the cookie dough. Just a little bit.

Last time we talked, I was getting my car repaired and paying lots of money for it and finding out that I really should pay more money to have more repairs done on it, and I knew something that you didn’t know.

But now you can know.

I got a job. A real, big-girl, bill-paying (eventually), eight to five, start-your-401(k), don’t-clock-hours, cubicle job.

More than that, a job that’s right smack dab in line with what I care about and what I’m good at.

All week, the people in my life at church and in my retail job and my family have been asking me, “So?”

It’s nice that I’ve been able to respond positively, and even nicer that the positivity is true.

Nicer still that they know and ask. My goodness, the tribe of people who have been (genuinely) thrilled that I got gainful employment is beyond understanding. I’m learning a lot about rejoicing with those who rejoice by the experience.

So, this is just to let you know that God provided a great job in better timing than I know with a whole host of added blessings that I never expected and am still a little in awe of. And to say thank you if you were one of those who has rejoiced with me.

Grace with effects

I’ll just say it straight. I forgot to take a shift at work yesterday.

It doesn’t sound that bad when I say I forgot, but let me put it this way. I swapped shifts with someone (so important for me, and so kind of this co-worker to swap) and told my manager I’d just come in early and pull a double with the shift I was already scheduled for. 11:00 was the appointed time for the shift covering.

As I was driving to work at 1:50 for my 2:00 shift, I realized with horror that I should have been doing that four hours beforehand.

I walked into work with my horror.

“What’s wrong?” My friend, Tracy, the shift lead asked, obviously with some idea of what was wrong.

“I was supposed to be here at 11:00,” I said, my eyes still like the deer-in-the-headlights.

“Yep,” she said.

In my head, I was saying, “You aren’t very responsible. You are letting people down. You’ve got to get yourself together. What do you have going on that you can forget stuff like this? There’s no big crisis here. You should remember things.”

And Tracy just said, “Well, we’ll make up for lost time. I had Chrissy here, so we’ve been working on shipment. I thought about texting you, but I wasn’t sure if we’d cut the shift.”

It took me a good half hour to adjust my self-talk.

“You’ve never done this before. Well, other than that time Lisa wanted you to babysit so she could go see Jane Eyre at the Guthrie and you forgot but didn’t make other plans, so it worked out. You really are dependable. You just made a mistake. You’ll be more vigilant about scheduling from now on. You can just work extra hard to make the shift productive. You’ll have to own up to it though.”

I put off texting my manager for a couple hours, mostly because I was trying to stay on task and partly because I hate having to apologize for something for which I have no excuses.

I was just at home, planning and editing and doing laundry. There were no medical emergencies or illnesses. Just a memory lapse.

Everyone was so gracious about it. Tracy gave me a long list of things to get done, but she didn’t guilt me or make me feel like I’d failed miserably. She even tried to take partial responsibility.

When I finally texted my boss, saying how it would never happen again and I was so sorry but working hard to make up for lost time, she just responded, “That’s ok! Have a great night, thank you!”

She called a little later to make sure I knew that the closing associate was switching with someone else and to see that someone else had come in to sign her timecards.

“I’m so sorry about that. I don’t know how I forgot to come in.”

“That’s okay! It actually worked out better.”

Really, it would be great if I just came in when I was supposed to.

It was one of those days where I felt God using the people in my life to remind me what grace is. Grace doesn’t say that I haven’t done anything wrong, and I still know I have. Grace says that we can get past it. Grace tells me my mistake doesn’t define me, and it tells me to get back on the horse–or back behind the cashwrap.

God isn’t afraid to show me grace. He’s not afraid that I won’t know that what I did wasn’t good. And I’m not talking about skipping shifts here. I’m talking about thoughtless words, ignoring people who could use encouragement, choosing fear over trust, being lazy, being stingy.

God gives grace so that I can try again, not kicking me for failing but reminding me that I am capable of being obedient and faithful. And his grace to me isn’t without effect. At least, some days.

It’s much harder to receive grace than we think. Not just because we don’t deserve it.  On our “good” days, we find it hard to receive grace because we know we did wrong. On our less good days, it’s hard to receive grace because it pushes us back into action and asks us to humble ourselves and try again.

It’s much easier to back off from what we’ve failed to do or done poorly than to go back to it wholeheartedly.

So I’m planning to make it to all the rest of my shifts this week on time.

And to embrace the moments where I’ve acted less than faithfully as an opportunity to try again.

Noses and little people

I have two little cuties in my life. This 2 1/2 -year-old and 4-year-old go to my church, and my mom and I often spend some time with them when their mom goes to appointments or just needs an hour to herself. Most of the time they’re pretty adorable. Sometimes they’re stinkers.

Things they’ve said recently:

4-year-old girl, E, saw my nose piercing for the first time just before Christmas.

“Ooh, what’s that?” she says in hushed tones, pointing to the spot on her own nose that mirrors the stud on mine.

“I got my nose pierced, E,” I said. She looked confused, so I continued. “You know, like an ear piercing but on your nose.”

Her face cleared, and she grinned. “That’s silly,” she said. “Noses can’t hear anything.”

A, 2 1/2-year-old boy, likes to read books, as does E. So last week we all sat on the sofa and read books together. I’ve realized as I read them aloud again that the books I read when I was young were sometimes the sweet or cute stories but most often a little sarcastic. Most of this goes right over their heads.

A likes to stop me at random points and point to someone on the page with something he’s decided about them. “That guy is mad because the bunny wouldn’t give him his toys. And he’s going to run away.”

It doesn’t usually have anything to do with the story. It must have some connection, but I’ll never know what it is. I’m not sure he actually listens to the words, but he sits still and listens. Other than when he got up in the middle of a story to take off his sweatshirt because he got “schweaty.”

My mom saw A and E at church this morning while she was helping out. They came in with their mom. E showed my mom the contents of her purse: a teacup being one of the things in there. You just never know what you’ll need.

My mom asked A what he was doing today. He looked around and said, “I’m going to church.”

Here and now. When you’re 2 1/2, here and now is important.

So we don’t know what he’s doing later. He’s not worried about it, obviously. He knows what’s obvious. “Well, I’m at church right now. I don’t really plan ahead much, if ever, and I’m pretty wrapped up in what’s going on around me, so I’m at church. That’s all you need to know. That’s all I know.”

It was a pertinent reminder. Sure, he’s not planning any big life moves, won’t be leaving his parents house for a while, doesn’t need to start making real money to support himself, and isn’t worried about maintaining friendships, but he’s focused on what he does know.

I’m here. I might do something else later, and I might need to get ready for that, but I’m here right now. This is what’s taking up my attention, my focus, my energy.

So the kiddos are giving me good reminders. Sometimes it matters more where you are than there you’re going, at least to some extent.

Also, noses can’t hear anything.

Grace abounds

My friend Rachel and I keep each other accountable for reading our Bibles everyday. Sometimes it still doesn’t happen, but there’s tomorrow to try again. That means that I have an app that sends her a text everyday at the same time, and she responds with what she read that day. Then I tell her what I read. She’s in 1 Corinthians, and I’m in 2 Kings.

Today I read the passage where some boys make fun of Elisha, and a bear comes and mauls them.

“What am I supposed to do with that?” I texted her.

This was her response.

Rachel text short

She also concluded that she should have been mauled thousands of times by now. “Grace abounds.” Me too, Rachel, me too.

And if that actually was the meaning of including that story about Elisha in the Bible–that bear mauling is the penalty for making fun of someone–then grace certainly does abound.

So, in a way, 2 Kings 2 does connect to my life today, because grace has been abounding over the past few weeks. Remember when I told you that I was ready to tell the story of how God was going to provide a job for me? I have an installment to that story today.

I expected to be waiting a while for any developments in this story, because that’s realistic. You graduate, there are no jobs available. Okay, maybe there are a few. You apply, no one gets back to you. You follow up, no one gets back to you. Two months later they’re ready to interview. This is the story of hiring in many places these days.

I was ready for that. I was ready to wait. Not necessarily excited about it, but I know that the right job will come at the right time because it always has.

It’s easy to get discouraged while you’re waiting. Because you aren’t really actively doing the waiting, you’re waiting for the action. There’s not much to waiting, except being ready for something to come along. So you wait, and the next day you get up and do your laundry and wait again.

So the days are long, and when you look back and see it’s only been three weeks of waiting, you wonder how much longer you can take it.

I’ve been amazed at the little things God has sent along to encourage me, in the truest sense of the word, ‘amaze.’

Here’s a snapshot of why:

Week 1: There was Christmas and a couple editing projects to work on, for which I would be paid.

Week 2: Followed up with an application and got an auto-response that said the person was out of office and had been for a while but would be back in two weeks. Hope rose. My computer started freaking out for real, but my friend Adam said he could help me fix it, and actually it’d be better than before. I got paid for one of those editing projects. I got another to work on.

Week 3: Adam got my computer into shipshape and for way less than the fancy Apple people would have charged me. I got a shift at my retail job, a friend asked if she could pray for me before I left her house, the next day a former supervisor from an internship emailed to say positions were opening but not posted yet and someone had asked if I would submit my resumé. Was scheduled for more hours the following week.

Then this week. I heard from my former supervisor that the hiring process was really slow, but she was hopeful for me. I’d been thinking this weekend, What if I’m still waiting in a month? Can I be okay with that? Sure. I can be okay with that. Some things are worth the wait. It’s always been worth waiting.

Last night I got to work, and my boss asked me if I would accept a temporary lead position. She thinks I’m capable. It’s a pay raise. It’s a challenge, and I didn’t even have to ask.

I didn’t even have to ask. Grace does abound. This time it’s not me not getting mauled by a bear. Maybe that’s more mercy. Maybe this is more kindness, generosity. Even though God could just make me wait for the right job in the right time without all this hand-holding and back-patting, he’s reminding me every few days that something is coming, and until then, he’ll keep providing and encouraging.

I don’t think we expect that out of God, that he’s going to be generous, maybe even coddle us a little bit. I often think of God as the tough love parent. Sometimes, he is that, letting us endure the consequences of our actions. That can be the most effective teacher. But sometimes God is the one who holds our hands when he could let us flounder a bit.

So today, I’m encouraged. God has encouraged me, knowing that in a few weeks I might be back to discouragement in spite of these incredible reasons to trust. Grace and generosity abound.

Conquering or maybe not actually finishing

Remember those Geico commercials where the money had eyes and would stare at people like, This is all the money you could have but don’t since you haven’t switched insurance providers? My unfinished projects have eyes.

They’re staring at me. My half-put-away laundry. My partially cleaned out closet. That manuscript that I’ve been slowly but surely editing for the past couple weeks. They all want to be done.

Of course, it’s going to rain, and I just bought a Kindle and have so many different ways that I could curl up with a piece of literature instead of finishing one of those.

Are you feeling the pep talk coming on? I am.

Hey you there. Yes, you. You, with the unparalleled work ethic. Well, maybe a little bit paralleled or maybe not so much of an ethic as a possible modus operandi. You’ve struck the balance between work-before-play and all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy.

You’re tenacious.

You’ve got a fire within you that cannot be doused. You just worked 8 hours, but so what? Your world may require more of your superb work. Grab a snack and get going.

You are capable.  You have blinders to distractions and naysaying.You are the kind of person who puts in her time. Then you relax for a while before sleeping – because that’s important, too. 

What a champion, a champion of getting things done. Or maybe just doing part of it. Sometimes that’s half the battle, beginning when we know we cannot immediately finish.

We may not conquer everything tonight, but let it be known that we fought for a while.

Then we paused the war for recoup. That happens sometimes.

Go forth, brave, capable doers.

On talking to yourself

Does it surprise you to learn that I talk to myself about 60% of the time? Out loud? I have mastered the barely-a-whisper level of speaking where it basically just sounds like “w-s-w-s-w-s-w-s” to whoever is within earshot. My hope is that no one is within earshot, but sometimes the words slip out in public. Sometimes louder than that barely-a-whisper level, too.

Like when I was shopping by myself the other day, saw a shirt I liked, looked at the price tag, gave a hearty, “Nope!” and laughed to myself.

Then I tried to look serious and absorbed in the clothes because I realized that all of that had been audible to the other people in the store. Oh, dear.

It’s not a new thing. I have entire conversations with myself. Well, not really with myself. I’m having conversations with people – imagined conversations where I hear their responses in my mind and carry on my side of the conversation. I’m not under the delusion that they’re present, mind you. Occasionally these turn into monologues. Often, rants.

Over the course of the nearly five years that my sister and her (now) husband were dating, I whispered my Maid of Honor speech to my imagined audience so many times that I got out all the stupid jokes and cheesy memories and could really edit down to the good stuff. I whispered it while I washed my hair, while I did the dishes, while I drove around.

Do I sound crazy to you? I hope not. I didn’t take a poll before I wrote this to see if this was abnormal behavior. It probably is. Like how I told someone over lunch today that after I deposit checks I rip them up into at least twenty different pieces and throw them away among 2-3 trash receptacles in my house. Then I realized it sounded slightly nutty and paranoid.

Oh well.

When I’m not talking to myself or my imagined companions (I’d like to take a moment and distinguish between imaginary and imagined… the people are real. They just aren’t present) there’s still an internal monologue. I’m told that males don’t have this, that there’s a dark closet of no monologue that you can go to.

I would like directions to this magical place.

I can’t really whisper to myself at work. And just to be sure you understand, it’s not like that’s a real big disappointment to me. I don’t plan to rehearse conversations to myself. It just happens sometimes when I’m alone and need to process. I don’t process as well inside my head. It’s messy in there, like a filing cabinet tipped over into a vat of Jell-O.

Anyway, at work, in the quiet of my cubicle where I am usually working on solitary projects but not in solitude, the self-talk keeps going. I think it’s human to need affirmation, but I don’t give it to myself well. And since the tasks I’m doing require more time than skill or expertise or prowess or anything like that, there’s no one standing over my shoulder patting me and admiring my use of the mouse or how efficiently I utilize the shortcuts on my keyboard.

No one tells me that my posture is superb (probably because it usually isn’t) or that I filed away the magazines really well.

Because they don’t need to. But there’s a vacuum in my head. No feedback! it cries. We must be doing something wrong! We must be very, very bad! Does that sound Gollum-esque? It’s supposed to.

You probably have this same vacuum sometimes. I’m okay with it in the objective sense because the phrase “man’s empty praise” rings true to me much of the time. I’m from that generation that got awarded just for participation, and mere effort was lauded even more greatly. But the vacuum is still there. And I’m trying to learn to replace the Gollum-voice with positive self-talk that doesn’t overinflate.

There’s a balance. It doesn’t have to make me the queen of everything. But maybe it needs to say that I’m competent.

I hope you know that you’re competent. Maybe not at my job. But at something. I hope you know that you’re valuable. Maybe not in net worth, but intrinsically. I hope I know that, too.

I also hope you talk to yourself. I can’t be the only one.

Permission to be ignorant


That’s my view right now. I’m sitting on the upper deck of my backyard and enjoying being outside after a full day inside without windows.

The soundtrack is one of my neighbors using some kind of leaf blower, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since most of the leaves are currently on the trees. Not a whole lot about this particular neighbor has ever made sense though.

All of you professionals who work 40+ hours a week will probably smile and nod as you read my thoughts about entering the full-time office work life and think awww, little intern. I wish I was through the newbie phase and into the seasoned veteran phase, but I’m not. 8 hour workdays don’t feel long to me, per se, but it’s definitely longer than I’m used to sitting at a desk and using a computer screen.

Every day when I come home, my right eye is a little bit bloodshot. It recovers pretty quickly, usually before I go to bed, but I must have that look all day. I try so desperately hard to keep good posture in my desk chair (which is not even, I’m sure of it. It’s lower on the left side) that my back is sore by the end of the day… and I thought the point of good posture was to prevent back pain?

People coddle interns a little bit. I mean, that doesn’t mean they give you all fun tasks and hold your hand while you do them (because much of my work thus far has been of the repetitive and solitary, but necessary type), but they thank you for doing them and ask you if you have a minute to talk about a project and explain things in simple terms. Rarely are you expected to know anything about the company, systems, people, or product. I have permission to be ignorant, which gives me latitude to ask all of my questions. (I have many…. so many)

Ignorance is bliss – not that I don’t wish to know things, but in being perceived as ignorant, I have a great capacity to learn from the experts. And the tasks they give me are educational in and of themselves, since they deal with the titles we publish and the people who write them and a whole bunch of other data that is starting to become familiar.

It’s great to be an intern – enough responsibility to feel productive but not too much to jam the works if I mess up, enough hours to make money but a set schedule that allows me to leave at my scheduled time and not only when I’ve finished my tasks, enough to do that I’m busy all the time but not so much that I’m overwhelmed with the weight of the world.

And Ashley surveyed her internship aside from the slight discomforts of sitting at a desk all day and saw that it was good.

The state of doing something else.

Off is an interesting word because it describes a negative state of existence. Off is not being on or being aside from. It can be the state of not doing something.

Webster’s adds a few other thoughts to the definition, including: unconsciousness, being away from a path, being divided, separated from support, discontinuance or suspension.

It’s a state of not being. Not awake, not on the path, not together, away from support.

I’ve got the summer off from school. I’m in the state of not being a student. But I’m still doing reading for school, so I guess I can still be considered a student. And I still get a student discount. Definitely still a student, but in a state of suspension between semesters.

I have the day off of my retail job and finished my other work this morning, so this afternoon I’m in the state of not working.

But I’m not in a state of not being.

Read that again slowly.

Maybe it’s specific to my situation since the jobs I’m working now are great places to learn and grow but aren’t my career goal, but being off of school and off of work feel to be like the freedom to be more in my desired state of being.

Today I’m taking my blanket and my notebooks to sit on a hill by the lake and read and write. If you don’t want to be an author, that might sound like an afternoon of leisure, but for me it’s like practicing free throws or attending a conference or testing out new software. It’s practice, honing skills.

When you picture it, me sitting outside and doing something I really enjoy, it kind of does sound like a day off, but it’s not the state of not doing something. Well, it is because I won’t be selling clothes, but it also isn’t because it’s the state of doing something else.

Most people spend their days off doing something else. Especially if you work full time because the laundry doesn’t stop piling up, and your dishes don’t do themselves, and your friends still exist, even when you don’t see them (object permanence).

I guess I’m just thinking about what place work has in our lives, if when we say we have a day off that it means we’re in limbo, just veging until we are pressed against the grindstone again. We were made to work, to have purpose and be productive, but does it define our state of being?

I probably won’t be able to actually answer that til I’m working full-time, but until then I’m setting my goals for my time away from my money-earning jobs, so as to be in the state of doing something else.

Taking credit

I don’t write my name on my schoolwork anymore, apparently. It wasn’t a conscious choice, I don’t think.

In high school, I always marveled at the students who consistently ignored the “Name: _________” line on every single sheet of paper we were handed. People would turn in assignments without names on the daily, and those sheets of paper would sit on a desk at the back of the classroom the next day with a sticky note, “whose is this?” or tacked up on the bulletin board of no-namers. I was so ashamed when I lapsed, about once a year, and my papers ended up on there. Usually, however, my teachers knew my handwriting since it was distinctive and there were only so many students it could have been.

But now I turn in poems and drafts of memoirs without my name on them. When we pass out our work on workshopping days I have to say, “Oh, yeah, mine’s the one without a name on it.”

What have I become?

Delinquent, that’s it.

A couple of my friends still have the name-writing habit so engrained in them that they write their names at the top of their notes for each day, in their own notebook. I have a friend who writes her name on every single piece of paper our professor gives us. It doesn’t hurt that she has beautiful penmanship, but it’s unnecessary.

I know this neglect stems from the writer paralysis I experience when I see a Word document with name, professor, class, and date typed, left-aligned at the top. All of a sudden, all words leave my brain, and I can only write banal, robotic words. This will not do for a creative writing major.

It also won’t do for a writer at all if I can’t manage to put my name on my work. What will a publisher do if I submit my work with no name? They don’t know me from Eve, and handwriting won’t be helpful.

All this to say that I need to remember to claim my work. This is more of a reminder for me than you, but if you have this problem, take heed!