I Don’t Belong Here

It took me a long time to understand why I’ve always felt like I don’t really belong in this world. I couldn’t describe it, but something was missing in my life. There was a hole, and I always expected the next “thing” to fill it: friends, experiences, a long-term relationship, pets, a baby, even church every Sunday, but I was left feeling incomplete.
In my darkest hours, I had all but lost my faith in God. It wasn’t so much that I thought He didn’t exist, but I resented Him for making me live this imperfect life. If He had the power to make it easier, why wouldn’t He? As a last ditch effort, I picked up The Purpose Driven Life: a book that I purchased years ago, intending to read, but just never got interested.
I committed to reading it daily with no belief that it would change my outlook.
But as I got further and further into it, I realized something that changed my thinking:
I’m supposed to feel like I don’t belong. Because I don’t. And you don’t.
And all of those times when I wondered why God didn’t make this world perfect, without hunger, hurt, or betrayal, I just wasn’t considering that God did not create us for this world. We are called to join him someday in heaven, in paradise, in peace. This life on earth is merely a stepping stone in God’s plan for us. 
Sometimes I think “This is such a long time to endure sorrow and struggle!”. But the years we spend on earth will be crumbs compared to eternity in heaven with God. And when I remember that, suddenly my troubles seem so small.
It’s comforting to live knowing God has bigger plans for us. This life is amazing, but this is just our trial run! 
If we look to this earth for fulfillment, we will never be satisfied. If we look to others for fulfillment, we will never be satisfied. 

Look to God. 

For anyone reading this, I’d highly recommend The Purpose Driven Life if you haven’t read it yet. It just gave me answers like no one else ever could. 

To be Free

“I just wish I could shut my brain off sometimes.” I said, sobbing in a therapy session as I recounted the recent times I had been so terrified of something, I became incapacitated.
I wanted more for myself than a longing to live in solitude, and I felt like the key was to stop overthinking every-little-thing.
My Aunt, knowing my recent struggles, pointed me toward Eckhart Tolle’s teachings and I became immersed in YouTube clips of his talks. In a matter of days, my thinking changed. I added his book, The Power of Now, to my Christmas list and Hubby came through-knowing how badly I needed a new lease on life.
Everything changed. Everything got brighter. Because through his teachings, I’ve learned that the past is truly insignificant and it’s no longer apart of me. I’ve learned that my constant concern for what other’s think of me is irrelevant, and just a product of society’s impact on my life. I’ve learned that worry for the future is just a silly projection in my mind, and has no place in the present moment. I’ve learned to be less afraid of being awkward. I’ve learned how to better communicate with my husband. I’ve learned how to let go of things. I’ve learned how to access the love in my heart and let that run my life, instead of my mind. I’ve learned to let go of my judgements on others. I’ve learned to better enjoy my days. I’ve learned how to be a better follower of Christ. 
Guys. I spent 24 years dwelling on the past. 24 years feeling like I was still that defiant child, that bad friend, that chubby bikini wearer, that girl that was obsessed with boys, that unreliable person, that high school nobody.  
And every time I thought about the past in that way, I gave power to moments LONG gone. I let the past rule over me and hold me back from a free life. My ego relied on those memories and self judgements, and told me they were my identity-all I would ever amount to be. 

But nothing could be more wrong. 
I’m defined by something much deeper: my soul. And you know what my soul is? It’s the Holy Spirit living within me. 

Beneath the confines of my mind is love and light. That is how I want to live-without restriction from the past, the future, or others. 
I am.
And that’s all I need to be. Because that’s all I need to be, I am free.
I don’t do affiliate links and I’m not trying to get ya’ll to spend your money, but consider listening to Eckhart Tolle on YouTube and maybe buying his book, The Power of Now. Amazon’s got it used for $6 and that’s a small price to pay for a tool to free you from misery. And if you do decide to try it out, get in touch! I’d love to hear your thoughts and discuss the takeaway! 

Acceptance, Then Victory

Postpartum Depression really was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to confront some issues that I didn’t realize were hindering my ability to function.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been incredibly sensitive, I’ve always worried about what people are thinking of me and trying to adjust accordingly. I’ve always had nervous habits like biting my nails or picking my skin-I used to carry a box of band aids in my purse because it was so bad. I thought these were all just quirks-just my personality-just human nature. But then sometimes I would feel so nervous or shaken by something that I’d wonder if life was really worth living. I’d drive for hours and sit on the edge of a cliff and wonder if I really had anything more to live for. Anxiety tried to kill me and it’s greatest weapon was convincing me that I was simply over-dramatic.

When I was 9, someone robbed my family’s home after a week+ of stalking us. Even after he shattered our world, he showed up in our backyard once again and sent a fear into me like I had never known. That event has haunted me since. I was scared to be home alone, terrified of people turning around in my driveway, always sure that everyone’s intent was to harm me or my family. But I wasn’t just afraid, I was acting on it. I was taking note of my self defense options and sometimes preparing to use them. I was contemplating what I would say when confronting someone out to hurt me. I did this constantly. I was always believing disaster was about to strike, and I was always thinking about what I could do to save my family. Even worse, I believed that those thoughts were some sort of sign that my brain was right. 

The hormones of giving birth really sent all of these emotions over the edge and there was no more denying that my experience was abnormal. But it turns out that all of these things I always thought were just part of my personality we’re actually holding me back from enjoying life.

Once I conquered Postpartum Depression in therapy, I realized that the things I had been dealing with were not “normal” and that a tiny chemical issue in my brain was sending me into anxiety’s grip. It turns out that even outside of Postpartum Depression, I have struggled with anxiety and ptsd for too long.

Now, I grew up believing that matters of the brain are an option, like I could just choose to enjoy life but I hadn’t chosen to do that. And I continued to believe that because there were days when I was incredibly happy. I always thought I just needed more days like that and the only reason I didn’t have them was because I was a grumpy person by nature.

I had to accept that my definition of Ashley: “generally happy person, loves deeply, feels every emotion x10, shy and reserved, socially awkward, occasionally struggles with extreme sadness” was not actually ME. And once I accepted that my lifelong understanding of myself was wrong, I actually conquered it.

I’d spent a lifetime believing I was the problem. But over the past few years, I really started to wonder if what I was feeling was a character flaw or something more. There were times when I would feel dead inside, but had the self awareness to take a picture so that later on I could look at it and remember that I REALLY was in a dark, dark place-maybe a place that was not normal. And after trying to resolve it on my own unsuccessfully, I decided to let health professionals have a shot.

 
I think society generally believes that being medicated for “mental issues” deems a person “crazy”.
You’re welcome to believe what you like, but here’s the thing:

I’m really, really happy. I’m really enjoying life instead of faking it. I’m actually able to combat daily obstacles that used to render me hopeless. I am genuinely in love with life. I’m a better Mom. I’m a better wife. I’m a better friend. I’m a better person. 
And if I need medical help to be that better person, I have no shame in it. Because I truly believe that being able to admit to having a weakness, one that developed under circumstances I could not control, proves I am incredibly strong and willing to do whatever necessary to be a better person, regardless of what that entails or how you feel about it.

But medication and counseling are not all that has contributed to changing my life. I’ve also found a new love for my faith and spent much more time focusing on personal development and being present in the moment. I’m working hard to shed the parts of me I have always identified with and embrace God within me, living with the single goal to glorify Him.

I cannot put into words what the combination of these things have done for me. Normally, I’d worry that anyone reading this would think I have “totally lost it” but the truth is, I’m just putting all of this out there hoping to help anyone else on their journey through life.

It turns out, my anxiety and tendency toward worry is probably genetic. It’s probably something that people I’m related to deal with also. I think it’s incredibly common in a lot of people but has always been explained away with the labels “bad attitude” or “pessimistic” or “over-thinking”. We have to realize that those things are only normal to a point and there are lots of options for defeating the “fear” that plagues us. 

It’s not popular to try counseling or consider medication or focus on God or shedding our human tendencies. But I’m really convinced that someday, anxiety would have ruined my life in one way or another, and I’m just hoping that an overall sense of awareness can end that stigma. 
There’s a good chance my son will have anxious tendencies and a tiny chemical imbalance, but I’ll know how to help him before it hurts him, because now I know that there is “bad attitude” and then there is “genetic chemical imbalance that results in an overactive brain”.

It’s going to end here. I won’t let anxiety and depression take control of me or my family, and I have that hope for anyone that deals with the same burden.

We scannot conquer it until we accept that it’s a real problem. We cannot experience victory before we accept that there is a war to be won. It’s hard to be in the light without admitting we’ve been in the dark.

We Are Called to be His

“When we let go of the things of this world, His light is shown through us, and unto others.”

There are people. And then there are the things that we believe define those people.For example: There is Me. But-I’ve defined myself(in accordance with society) by my history, things I treasure, morals, ideas, material possessions, plans for the future, the list goes on.

Something I’ve realized with the help of some personal development, is that I have spent a lifetime identifying with the things I just listed, but they are not who I am. I’m not my history, my treasures, my morals, my ideas, my stuff, or my plans for the future.
I’m just me.

I’ve thought about it like this:
Jesus wants to shine through me(through all of us). But-I’m focused on carrying the things of this world, blocking God’s light from shining through me and unto those I interact with. 

When I let go of those things-expectation, fear, distraction, the past, the future, and I trust God with them, there is space for the light to shine. I’m no longer a shadow, but translucent.

When I let go of those things- I am calm. I am kind and compassionate. I’m loving and honest. I’m at peace, and I try to share that peace with others.

I don’t want the worries of this world to hold me back from being “ME”. Not only am I better able to please God, but I’m overwhelmed with contentment and joy for life. I falter in that goal every. Single. Day but I’m not perfect, and I try harder the next opportunity. 

We are not called to belong to this world, we are called to be His.

This is my experience, but it’s not about me. I’m sharing what I’ve been going through in hopes that you’ll join me. Maybe you’ll be inspired to see things from a new point of view. 

I’d just encouraging anyone reading this to think-is something holding you back from being “you”? Have you defined yourself based on the things of this world? What if you defined yourself from God’s perspective? Perhaps then you would realize how loved and cherished you truly are. ❤️

I’m Not Perfect, But I’m Not Trying

I had all but lost my faith when I started making a serious effort to find it again. I quit making excuses about church, I started praying despite feeling so distant, and I started to read The Purpose Driven Life. I just wanted to feel connected again. 

And eventually, in my reading, I realized a basic truth about myself: 

God made me.

  I mean, I’m not being cocky here, but seriously. He already knew all of the details, and chose to create me-Because something about my being is necessary for this world. Despite the obstacles in my life, the mistakes I’ve made, and the people I’ve hurt: I’m still needed. I’m not useless.

Actually, I’m so far from useless, that the creator of the world declared me loved, and needed.

And the same is true for Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

But it really sank in for me. I was always trying to follow God because it was what I was supposed to do. I never realized that he chose me and that I had bigger things planned for my life than to live and die. 

I’ve definitely felt shame for who I am. I’m kind of loud, sometimes I’m really shy, I’m not skinny enough, not pretty enough. I have anxiety. I worry a lot about things that shouldn’t phase me. Sometimes I get depressed. I’m not always the best wife. I’m not always the best friend. I’m not always the best Mom, best housekeeper, best cook, the list goes ON.

I’m never perfect.

But I know God’s intention for me was never “perfection”. He did not create us to be perfect, he created us to be masterpieces, all working together for his plan. 

We can beat ourselves up all we want for not living up to our own expectations, but if we live for God, we’re serving our purpose in this crazy world. 

So I’ve been going through this phase of kinda wholeheartedly embracing the “disaster” that is me. And it is SO freeing to live for God instead of myself! 👌🏼

Toxic Thinking is the Enemy

Innocence as a child is such a gift because the more we learn about the world, the more it chips away at us until we feel like we are what’s left of the person we used to be. 

 I remember the first time I really felt personally attacked: a girl on my bus used all of her books to fill up the seats so I wouldn’t have anywhere to sit. And when I got off the bus that day, she yelled at me out the window: “BITCH!” 

Now, to be fair, she was a good friend of someone I had hurt. So I’m not saying I didn’t have it coming. But what I had done wasn’t as deliberate and personal as my new everyday reality. And that girl made me see myself so differently, as she spent years pointing out my every flaw.
I’m not throwing a pity party for myself and I don’t blame her for anything, because I’ve hurt people without good reason, too. 

The point is- eventually I started to agree with her. And I tried harder and harder to be someone she couldn’t find flaws in. I started wearing makeup, I sucked in my stomach, I stressed over what I was wearing, I tried to be clever when I spoke, I tried different hairstyles and at 12 years old, I was constantly checking a mirror to make sure nothing was out of place. 
Of course, I couldn’t please her. And my response to her criticism changed the way I thought about myself. As anyone who has been to high school knows, there were a lot of people after her to keep influencing me.
For the past several years, I haven’t needed a “bully” because I’ve done the job myself.

Fast forward to now. 
Yesterday I was at a first birthday party for a little girl born just after my son. Her mom and I have grown to be great friends so even though my husband was away and could not attend with us, I was really excited to celebrate this milestone!

I’m not really social. So I spent much of the first hour there watching my son play with a baby gate and stumble around. There were lots of people and I talked with a few but I’m not really one to put myself out there. 

(Normally, I’d feel isolated in this circumstance and cling to my phone or start to sweat or get really nervous, feeling like other people were looking at me and wondering why I was alone and so awkward. Normally, I’d use the fact that I was at that party alone to question my worth, to hate myself for being so introverted, to decide that I don’t have friends, to convince myself that I’m incapable of functioning, and turn the entire thing into a miserable experience.)

BUT, I’m practicing the joy of being in the moment, in the here and now, and not allowing thoughts to be my identity.
(I’ve been listening to a lot of talks by Eckhart Tolle that are really changing my life. If you’re interested, I’d love to send you some links.)

So instead of reacting as I normally would to the situation, I enjoyed a chance to watch my son goof around and play and I said a mental “Thank You” to God for a boy that loves to figure stuff out. 

When I got in the car to leave, I caught my reflection in the mirror and realized that my nose had been embarrassingly red from the cold I had a few days ago! I was mortified. “THAT IS WHAT I LOOKED LIKE FOR THE LAST THREE HOURS!?” I thought. Rudolph the Red Nose Ashley. (At least it was a winter themed party?)

 (And Normally, I’d use this situation to remind myself that I’m gross. I’m not pretty and people probably thought there was something wrong with me. Yadayadayada-it would go on all day. And the next time I went out, I’d be worried about my appearance.)

But I reminded myself that the moment I was so worried about(those few hours at the party) had passed. It was over. There was no going back in time to fix my makeup and redo the day. And even if there was, it wasn’t that important. Because really, who cares what I look like? 

And I know this all sounds really goofy, but these thoughts are subconscious and I think a lot of us do this to ourselves. We look back on a moment and think “stupid, stupid, stupid-Why didn’t I do that differently!?”

BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER

It’s over. It’s done. Let it go. 
Instead of spending the rest of my day playing that party over and over in my mind and hating myself for my social awkwardness and critically judging myself for the things I said in an effort to be social, and wondering if anyone realized how terrible my nose looked——-I let it go. 

I said a silent prayer to thank God for that little girl, and for a chance to get out of the house and see friends. And I enjoyed the drive home.
It doesn’t matter what’s in the past, or what anyone else thinks. Because worrying about those two things gets us nowhere, except into a pattern of self hatred.

It may sound extreme, but later I even thought to thank Him for the good skin that I do have. There are a lot of women out there with chronic acne, or burn scars, or major issues that I have never had to consider. How fortunate am I that my biggest potential concern is temporary embarrassment from overuse of tissues!?!?

The biggest thing is-thinking like this is allowing me so much freedom. I find myself able to enjoy so much more because instead of over-thinking, I am grounded in the present. I am HERE and nowhere else. It’s almost like making lemonade out of lemons but instead, I’m just thankful for these hands that work well enough to hold lemons.

Part of me wants to worry that ya’ll are going to think I’ve lost my darn mind-but, the rest of me realizes that’s the point. I have sort of lost my mind-at least the toxic part that has always fueled hate in my life. For the first time since I was 12 years old, I’m free.

Unapologetically 

Once upon a time, I existed and loved life unapologetically. 

And then I grew up.I learned to hate the things I once loved about myself. Everything about me seemed to fall short of everyone else’s expectations and soon enough, my own.

But I wanted to feel special. I needed to feel like someone cared. And in trying to fulfill that need, I did a lot of stupid, stupid things. All the while, forgetting the Creator that handcrafted me and cared more deeply for me than any person ever could.
I have never let myself forget about those times that I have fallen short.
I’ve spent entire days thinking about things that happened years ago and punishing myself for poor decision making. I’ve led myself to believe that because of my past, I’m as worthless as I felt in those moments. 
How could I ever be a good wife with skeletons like those in my closet?

How could I ever be a good mother?

Even in the moments I’ve felt “good enough”, I always remind myself that there were a lot of times in my past when I was a crappy human-when I hurt people that didn’t deserve to be hurt, when I disrespected others, and when I disrespected myself. And since I WAS a crappy human, I must just be a crappy human. 

I have let that story and my ‘shortcomings’ define me. Even in my shining moments, I’ve convinced myself that I’m faking it because, “I’m not good enough, and my past is the proof.”

I’ve always been stuck on defining myself.
But if anything is going to define me, it’s this moment I’m in right now and I’m going to make it count by simply enjoying it. 
When I spend entire days dwelling on the past, I continue to give my time and energy to the past. What a waste!
I’m still a little girl. I’m still filled with a desire to love unconditionally, to laugh happily, and live unapologetically. Deep in my bones, I want to be the very person that God created me to be-without any hesitation. Deep down, I know that I am so much more than past decisions. I know it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about me, because they’re not qualified to judge me, and I know it doesn’t matter what I think about other people, because I’m not designed to judge them either!
I’m not who I was 10 years ago, or five years ago, or yesterday-Because that girl is gone-she doesn’t exist. She’s just a memory.

In this moment, I am a lover of life. 

I’m relaxing on the couch with my dog on my lap. I can feel his deep breathing as he sleeps. I’m curling my toes because it’s a little chilly on my back porch. Occasionally, I’m pausing for a very intentional sip of coffee. I’m doing all of this generally mindless stuff, and I’m doing it with intention and thanks. I’m feeling it. I’m allowing it to consume me. All the while, I’m thanking God for life and simple moments like this. 

Normally, I’d be typing a blog as I stress over what to write, and wondering how you’ll perceive it. Will you judge me for the reasons behind my words? Will you decipher my history and think less of me? More importantly, am I thinking less of me?

I’ve carried the weight of “my story” believing that it is all that defines me, for far too long.

I am not my story, I am not my past, I’m not whatever you think I am, and I am not going to let anything but right now define me. I want to live intentionally, and unapologetically be ME.

 Because, God did not create me to be anyone else.

Paintbrush on Hold

When my husband and I found out we were expecting, my art studio was moved from the future nursery and into our basement. And despite my disdain for basements, I really enjoyed the freedom of making a huge mess and not having to worry much about cleaning up the floor. But as far as success in art goes, the more comfortable I am in a space, the better the end product and-hanging out with spiders had me a bit on edge.

On top of that, hubby and I have been talking about a “movie room” since before we were married. Our hope has always been to finish a basement and make it a comfy place for enjoying the big screen and playing video games.

We’ve been incredibly blessed with the means to make it happen much earlier than we expected thanks to the help of my Dad.

So for the past few months, my contractor Dad has given his free time to making our basement a living space, moving our laundry room, adding a bathroom, and of course, building an art room for me.

Therefore, my painting supplies have been boxed up and stuck in a crawl space until the project is finished.

I miss working with acrylics on canvas, but when it is all said and done, I’ll have the perfect room all to myself for creating and in the meantime, I’m just really thankful for a husband that understands my passion and was happy to give up some “movie room” space for my art, and a Dad who works incredibly hard every day-then comes to my house to work some more.
Stay tuned for: In the Meantime: A New Medium

You Can Find My Latest Painting…

…on the cover of Jean Claar Bassett’s latest book!
​I am so thrilled to finally share the big news- Back in August, my sister in law put me in touch with a Pittsburgh author in need of an artist to create her latest book cover for a mystery intended for kids ages 8-12.
Of course, I wanted to be able to do this, but really doubted that I would be capable of producing her vision- especially amidst pregnancy keeping me miserable and out of the art studio.

Nevertheless, I gave it my best attempt, and was virtually introduced to Jean Claar Bassett. Jean and I were complete strangers, but spent the next month in almost constant contact via email. She described the potential scenes she would like on the cover and I opted for one that I felt I could better execute(because it didn’t involve people). I sent her sketches to try to give her an idea of what I was imagining and we tweaked them until I had a clearer vision of her plans for the cover.

Ace and I up late, working on the original plan for the cover, which involved the main character and his best friend riding bikes.

The process was nearing the end when I realized that maybe I actually could create a completely different scene from the one we had been working on to give her the human impressionist-like faces she desired for the cover. So, we started over. I read the description of the scene from the book, got Jean’s input, and sent along more sketches. When it was time to paint, we spent several emails discussing color, and I went to work.

This is one of the initial sketches done for the cover.

The initial painting changed a couple of times based on Jean’s needs for the cover but eventually, we had a finished product and the painting was professionally photographed to be sent out for the cover!

Finished product in my studio waiting to become a book cover!

 The end of the journey was an exciting one for me, knowing I had actually accomplished something I was sure would end with Jean telling me my painting was not what she intended for the cover. I gave it my best and it felt good to know it worked out and it felt great to hand my parents a copy of the book with my name printed inside!

A copy of the finished product!

 I have to admit that at the time, the process was entirely new to me and trying to discuss art with a perfect stranger was challenging as this was the first time I was painting something so specific for someone. However, Jean is one of the nicest women I have ever met and was incredibly patient throughout the entire process. I was fortunate enough to finally meet up with her at her church and hand deliver the painting that we had both spent so much time working on. Jean’s personality and talents are just incredible and even more so than having my painting published in a book, I am thankful to know her. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book without artistry in mind!
If you’d like to read Jean’s latest book, it is available for purchase through Amazon: Click here to purchase Elijah Cross Mysteries by Jean Claar Bassett!

Through Her Eyes: Artist Statement

  


  I have always been inspired by the natural beauty and simplicity surrounding the small town of New Wilmington. I was moved to see this imagery hanging on the walls of my own home and, as I set out to do so, I came in touch with a local photographer whose images further inspired me to pursue landscapes. My work strives to represent the complex beauty of nature in an impressionistic manner. This painting style forced me to question, “What specific colors and textures are necessary to turn this blank canvas into a scene from nature?” These paintings allowed me to notice aspects of nature that I would not normally notice, like purple clouds in a stormy sunset, or the multitude of colors on a cow I would normally classify as ‘brown’.
  My love for painting gained momentum when I was introduced to Acrylic paints. With the motivation of a new medium and a very supportive art teacher, I fell in love with a new art style. In an effort to impress my now husband, a composer and musician that I was desperate to appeal to in a creative way, I kept up with my new hobby. His continued support and that of my friends and family has helped me to pursue my favorite means of expression. I love the way that paintings are limitless, knowing that no two are the same and that there are endless possibilities.
The colorful bird paintings that will be on display have become a favorite style of mine. I find motivation for these paintings in my marriage, using the birds’ body language to convey concepts like love, patience, understanding, and peace. The colors in the background are meant to flow and set the tone of the piece.

Perhaps my favorite painting is the impressionist-type image of a mother and child that I painted while pregnant and overcome with joy. I felt so inspired and in a single moment felt something inside me that rushed me to my desk and had me painting until the work was complete. Soon after completing the piece, I experienced a miscarriage. The piece now has a new meaning as a reminder of the love that a mother has for a child, and the connection felt even early on in a pregnancy.

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to view my work and hope that it has inspired each of you to look at the world a little differently; perhaps, seeing a sunset, but noticing the clouds that reflect it’s colors, or the blades of grass that create a contrast to the sky. Thank you, Bottlebrush Gallery for the Arts, for supporting me through all of my artistic endeavors!