The Fabulous Familiar

Taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Vow

This might possibly be in the running for the strangest thing I have ever written, more or less published on my blog. But I was inspired today. I sat through the wedding ceremony of my friends Maleah and Nathan and heard them recite the vows they wrote for each other to each other. While it's easy to disregard emotions when hearing traditional wedding vows, there is something so pure, so touching about vows that are written personally; it's like a story they started and have the rest of their lives to finish.

My eyes became a bit misty as I watched the groom tearfully describe how he has been inspired to be a better person since the day he met her; how he will never leave her and care for her when she is sick. I have and forever will be a huge, sobbing sap-- but I think the reason weddings and stories of long-lasting love have currently been heavy on my heart is because there are days that I honestly feel like that's not going to be me. I know that within every strong woman there is still a flickering light that causes you to press on after every horrible date or relationship experience, but every strong woman also has that lingering fear that happily ever after was somehow absent from her life's book.

Through all the put-downs and the discouragement and the break-ups and the complete absence of thoughtfulness, I still have maintained the ever-growing fire in my belly and stirring in my soul that tells me I am good enough; that I am beautiful; that I have so much to give; and so much to receive. And that one day someone will notice me; and will treat me with kindness and respect; and that I don't have to keep going back to revisit old wounds that are never going to heal.

I say all this to say that I have decided to write my own vows. These vows are to someone I don't even know; maybe I haven't even met them yet. Perhaps they are halfway across the world or a few streets down. This is my promise to you that I will not quit searching; that I will not let the others before you break my spirit of love and peace; that one day you will get the whole Ashton, not pieces and parts that have been left from the damage done before your presence. This is for you.

I don't know who you are; I don't even know your name. You could be short (I'm still wearing my heels, mind you) or you could be as tall as a professional basketball player (If you could make this happen, that would be great-- but I'm willing to reconsider). I don't know how you laugh yet, but I know I will make you do it. Whether it's a boisterous guffaw or a Santa Claus belly laugh, I will no doubt find it adorable and I will do everything in my power, every day, to make sure I hear you let one fly.

I promise to bring joy to you through song and dance. I know you don't know this yet, but you are going to love to hear me sing karaoke and your requests will be endless. I don't care if you have two left feet-- we are going to dance together. I think you are beginning to see my somewhat pushy nature, but you will one day find that it is only a result of my deep love for you and my constant desire to inspire you to greatness. I will not let my own crushed dreams prematurely end the dreams that will one day come true for us.

You have my solemn oath that I will not lash out in anger; I will simply engage in blog therapy. You will one day come to find it endearing that I can be bawling my eyes out one minute and be perfectly fine the next after I hit the "Publish Post" button. I know that after about 5 years of marriage you will learn to buy stock in the Kleenex company, but that my soft heart and compassion is what drew you to me in the first place. I vow not to let the years before you guard my heart and hide this compassion behind locked doors.

I can't promise to have the house spotless and a gourmet meal on the table every night, but I can promise you hilarious entertainment as you watch me attempt to cook. I constantly try to better myself and end up rolling on the floor laughing in the process. I know that one day you will be front row center laughing with me. I am a klutz, but you will pick me up. I say the most ridiculous things, but you will always understand my logic. I have dreams and goals, and you will be my biggest fan. My love for God and the church will be exemplified through your love and patience with me.

So this vow is to you, wherever you are. I am tired of letting life get me down; I'm tired of hurt stripping away the fullness of spirit I long to present to you. You're getting the whole girl; the messy, mixed up, not always rational, passionate, crazy girl. She's yours.

So hurry up. (Ok, so that's the pushy part again. Sorry!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Light the Fire

I decided, in my effort to be more spontaneous, I should take hold of the last minute opportunity to travel to Pennsylvania with my friend Tina to visit her church camp and her family. I basically transferred all of my California luggage over to another bag and headed to the other side of the United States. Not many people can say they went to California one weekend and Pennsylvania the next. It was a wild ride, but I loved every minute of it.

One of our first stops was at her childhood church camp, tucked amidst one of the tallest mountains in Pennsylvania. She has often talked about how this camp was the highlight of her summer and how it was a huge part of who she was as a person. Upon arrival, it became very apparent to me that this was indeed a facet of her soul; and the people who made it up were practically family. Though it may have appeared that I was the strange girl following her around, I was taking it all in; noticing the relationships and the love as she caught up with those around her.

It made me quite homesick for my home away from home: Crowley's Ridge Youth Camp.

I don't know what it is about church camp that soothes the broken heart and lights the candle of rejuvenation in the lives of those who attend. It's like you go the other 360 days of the year blindly bumping into walls and hurdles that seem to pop up, but for that one week, you are able to clearly peer into your own heart and see the lighthouse in the distance.

I assumed that, since this wasn't my own camp, I would be detached from emotion. Wrong. One of the first singing sessions, a song that always gets me choked up was led. In the devotional song "Every Time," the chorus breaks into "I don't know why so many things seem to get in the way; of knowing my God's glory..."

It's not just the beautiful melody that gets me; it's those words. Because the truth is, outside of camp, it is easy for me to let things get in the way. Work. School. Boys. Stress. Homework. Complacency. Each small distraction combines to create a puff of air that distinguishes my light; my fire.

It is under the stars and by the campfire that my passion for life and love was always restored. I never felt more beautiful in God's eyes than when I had five children hanging off of me, their sticky fingers pulling at my arms and legs. I often wonder why slopping macaroni and cheese on a paper plate has always brought me more joy than getting praise at work; how hearing "Ashton, you're the best counselor EV-ER!" far exceeds a compliment of outer beauty.

I feel like church camp is this for a lot of people; it's a recharge; an escape; an accurate mirror through which to view yourself. Camp, both figuratively and literally, strips away the make-up, the material things, the electronic distractions from your life and makes you momentarily see the world and nature as God sees it, instead of through the lens of the world.

I challenge those of you who have a special place for camp in your heart to, like me, carry it around in a special place in your life. When I'm in church and someone happens to lead "Light the Fire," I often picture myself sitting on the logs around the campfire. Listening closely, I could almost swear I hear Danny Smith blowing the whistle in the background; and my father singing "Little Cabin in the Woods." Kids shriek after the water balloon fight and Gary Cupp is making everyone laugh with his "Lobster" song. Paige and I are choreographing (not dancing, mind you) in the kitchen and Ms. Christi is planning some amazing prank to pull on the boys.

I always know that there is one place that will always bring me back to the Ashton I want to be; it continually takes me for who I am, no matter how far I have strayed away.

Camp is one place that I can always see God's glory. Every time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mother Knows Best

I just came across an article on that both frightened me and brought me incredible joy.

Matchmaking mom Geri Brin has been on the lookout for a perfect match for her son. While most mothers may nag and suggest countless women, Brin took it a step further. Quite a few steps further to be exact.

She launched her own web site,, to advertise her son's bachelor status and to allow other mothers to do the same. There is now a link that allows mothers to post particulars about their sons, daughters, grandkids, nieces and nephews in hopes of finding a true love connection for them.

The web site has been an unbelievable hit and has even been featured on shows like "The Today Show."

I can't quite decide if the notion of my parents or grandparents doing this terrifies me or sounds like a fun social experiment. I always get a kick out of who they notice in a crowd and who they comment "is a nice boy." Usually, poor mother is deflated after I say, "Well, nice boy has continually stalked me since 6th grade. He picks his boogers in class and speaks in abstract thoughts."

She usually hangs her head slightly and says, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know."

Pawpaw Reely continually sent me campus mail, signing off as a boy he thought would complete me. Let's just say that after 5 minutes of conversation, I could quickly begin to hear blades of grass move.

Because I am so close to my family, it has been a struggle to find someone who clicks with them. I am realizing, however, that no human being can meet every facet of my family's needs and that all they really care about is that I am happy and treated right.

Contrary to previous beliefs, I am realizing I can't date a carbon copy of my relatives. That is, unless there is some military doctor who loves to read constantly while simultaneously working out, downing protein shakes and watching TBS comedy marathons.

What matters is that he clicks with me. If the right spirit is there, he will be open to learning and appreciating the quirks that make us the Reely crew. Find someone that can be added to the mix, not molded to fit the gelatin shape of familial bliss.

Brin's idea is humorous and could even be effective, but I can also see how it could be detrimental. Singles just have to be careful to date who they want, not what they feel is expected for them.

That's a lesson I am learning as I go along; and until the man listed above comes along, I just need to make sure he's the perfect fit for me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Man of Love

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." -Ronald Reagan

Though I don't remember this exact quote being stated at this weekend's "Advancing Freedom" seminar, it was definitely a theme that ran throughout the whole event; this idea that it's time for our generation to take the baton and run with it.

I learned so much this weekend; about a man, about a dream; about his love for America; his passion for the people who make up the country he cared so deeply for. He didn't apologize or try to completely level the playing field; he knew that what we had was in fact special and that it was worth preserving. His pride for his nation was shown for everyone to see, but was done with such humility that it didn't exude hubris.

Perhaps his love for those close to him best exemplified for me his ability to extend that same passion to America; because, to him, the United States was made up of a million people who could have easily sat down with him for a drink at his wicker chair table outside his ranch house.

When we visited his ranch in Santa Barbara, his life came alive right before my eyes. We saw the hitching post, where he and Nancy would tie up their horses for dinner. The giant bell that hung outside the front door was there as a call to Ronald that dinner was ready; a dinner that usually consisted of his favorite--macaroni and cheese.

Our tour guide recounted a time when, upon becoming President-elect, one of his Secret Service men tried to help Nancy off of her horse. Reagan carefully made his way over and said, "Sir, the honor and the privilege of getting this lady off of her horse is completely mine." The man immediately stepped aside and from that moment on everyone watched as he helped her down and kissed her-- sometimes overdoing it to the embarrassment of the spectators around.

Their house was quaint and personal; a fence made of telephone poles lined the long drive, and we were told that Reagan built this with his own two hands. My roommate, a farm girl herself, was in awe that he could do this because of the hard work and time it would take to accomplish. But most of the projects and landscaping at the ranch were done by Reagan himself; and the love he had for his ranch was evident as you beheld its beauty. It goes without saying that the President who received the most gifts in history unwrapped several chainsaws.

As we toured the house, you began the introduction to the man who spent many hours within its walls. From the Montgomery Ward catalog lying on the table to remind him of his childhood dream to be the sports manager there to the Freedom bell that served as his shower head, it became clear that this was a man that you couldn't help but like. You'd think being the President of the United States would have afforded him the biggest bed you could imagine, but the Reagans were just fine with their two twin-sized beds tied together and a footstool on the end of his side for extra leg room.

The stories that humored me most revealed his wit and his down-to-earth demeanor. Like the time he shot numerous times at a bird, scaring the Secret Service people to death. When they tried to take away his guns, he kept hiding them. "Is this the last one?" they would ask and Nancy would be behind him shaking her head fervently. The story goes that he was continually pulling guns out of every pocket!

To get back at peeping photographers that were perched atop one of the mountains above the ranch, he faked a heart attack. During a Jeep interview with Barbara Walters he was said to drive through rough terrain every time she asked a tough question. Stories like this were numerous and our guide, who did a pretty good impression of his voice, had us in stitches most of the time.

The speakers were great, and I took extensive notes on their lectures. While I will type them up later, I wanted my blog to be about what was the center of it all for me. Being quite the romantic, I loved the anecdotes that told of Reagan as a man, as a father, as a loving husband-- for it is this glimpse that provides the window for me to get to know the rest of him.

His famous line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" is only part of his very historical speech; what many people may not have known is that after several attempts at an agreement, the other leaders came back to him with what Reagan had written and been rejected on many times before and presented it as their own. Swallowing his pride, Reagan adhered to the agreement, giving credit to someone else in order to gain the better result. As his son Michael told this story, he began to get choked up at his father's humility and desire to do what was right for the country as a whole.

We may not have an actual physical structure standing as division between us today, but as Americans, we have ideological walls rising daily; in our universities, in our communities, in our nation; but let us not lose sight of the man who sought to break down those barriers and advance freedom.

It is time to stop trying to be like everyone else; to make everything "politically correct" and apologize for enacting policies that match what we believe in as a nation. Reagan taught us that there is truth; that there is a right way; and that we should be the lighthouse that the world looks to for that truth.

But they won't be able to see until we tear down the walls of fear, lukewarmness, and apathy.

America is our Nancy; and like Reagan's life example, each individual must have the mindset that the honor and the privilege of getting America off of this path is exclusively theirs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's Raining Joy (Hallelujah!)

“Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain."

Most people from around here have realized that we haven't received a good rain in a while. I've heard from a number of people how this was affecting their land, their lawn and the flowers that highlight their gardens.

I was standing outside last night keeping a friend company as people were working on her car, and the clouds began to darken and rain began to pour from the sky. It was like someone had been holding a lever, blocking the passageway of our rain and had suddenly released it all at once.

To be honest, I usually hate rain. It's so inconvenient; I have never found an adequate umbrella and it just puts me in a dreary mood. All this without even considering what it does to my hair. If Carrot Top stuck his finger in an electrical outlet, he would mimic me on a rainy, humid day.

Still, something came over me last night. My friend, always the adventurer, suggested we go run out in the rain. For a second, I thought, 'I am nice and dry under this awning and I would really like to remain that way.'

But something about this particular rainstorm called to me. It was like a heart celebration. I swelled with happiness and inched my way out into the downpour. Immediately, my cares were washed away as the rain drops engulfed me in their steady rhythm. I began to laugh.

I extended my arms to their full length, looked up at the sky and began to twirl. Cars were driving by, probably questioning my sanity, but I didn't even care. The twirling soon became dancing and before I knew it, I was leaping into puddles and leaping across the yard, giggling like a small child who saw her crush on the playground.

My friend, coming to visit, drove by with her SUV and waves of water splashed us in the face. Seeing our pure glee, she drove back by a few times, humoring us with more tidal waves.

Psalms 147:7-8 tells us to, "Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: Who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow upon the mountains."

I don't usually just open myself up to that kind of praise; I feel self-conscious; I feel childish. But after I submitted myself to uninhibited thanksgiving, I became incredibly elated myself.

This isn't to say that every time there is rain, I will stop what I am doing and dance; but it is a lifestyle I want to adopt in my spirit. I want to figuratively look up to the sky, open my arms wide and let the showers of blessing fall upon me.

Take the time to enjoy a good rain someday. Dance in it. Sing in it. Whatever makes your heart fill up with joy. I guarantee you there will never be a drought in the soul that stores the rain.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ball and Chain

My friend Nicole, knowing my love for ridiculous news articles, sent me a link that I couldn't just keep to myself. Apparently, in Columbus, Ohio recently-- a man suspected of robbery returned to the crime scene to ask the victim on a date.

Yes, you read that right.

The robbers fled when neighbors threatened them, but less than two hours later, police said one of the suspects returned to the victim's home to ask her out on a date.

The woman obviously recognized him and called the police. He was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. He was held on $100,000 bond in the Franklin County Jail; my gut is telling me that Ms. Martinez did not bail him out and take him to dinner.

Though this article is laughable, it does support my notion that love makes people crazy. I'm sure the now black-and-white-striped Mr. Bennett was a few fries short of a Happy Meal to begin with, but even fairly normal individuals fall off their rocker when infatuation comes into the picture.

I once pretended to be a college football team's number one fan to get the attention of some guy; I would watch the highlights, memorize the big plays and recount them to get some high-five, chest bumping action from the supposed "boy of my dreams." I borrowed T-shirts, wore the jacket. It's like my sanity was momentarily lost because I knew it had to be done. Another crush sent me buying energy drinks I didn't even like because his company sold them. I sipped them occasionally so I could update him on my steady increase in energy, thinking this new energy would fuel something greater than a horrible taste. No such luck. I'm sure Bennett's determination kicked in when he locked eyes with his lady mid purse-snatching.

Even my dad talks about how he figured out my mom's schedule and would "casually" bump into her on Harding's campus. I once walked all the way across campus with a guy just to talk to him even though I had a class on the other side. He asked if I had anywhere to be, and I said, "No." When he rounded a corner, I took off in a sprint to class, my backpack beating against my back.

We spend countless hours staring at our phones, waiting for that one text message. We spend more hours thinking of what to respond with if said-person actually sends one. Our well thought out plan is usually annihilated when we run into the person and a stuttering mess of nonsense escapes from our mouths. Then, we go home and stare at our phone again, wondering if all is lost because of our previous blunder.

We eat food we don't like. We go to our least favorite restaurants. Guys watch "When Harry Met Sally" and hand the girl tissues. We over-analyze everything. We meet someone and then look at them on Facebook (don't act like you haven't done this). Guys make burned CDs of songs they've never heard but looked up on iTunes. Girls make posters and go the big game, googling "off sides" on their cellphone.

I say all this to say; judge Mr. Bennett all you want, but we're all nuts. He may have an actual ball and chain tied to his feet now, but we all have metaphorical ones. We will, until the end of time, be carrying around the ball and chain of love madness.

Let's just try not to commit felonies along the way.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Deliver Me

As most of you probably know, working several jobs and grad school during the school year are not very conducive to dating around and meeting the man of your dreams. The interactions I have while at work must tide me over in the meantime. There is one part of my day, however, that gives my heart some flittering action. Around 5:00, the Fed-Ex man pulls up in his truck. I don't even know his name, but I have come to look forward to his arrival.

I have to be careful not to look overeager, and I wait patiently until he fully approaches the window before I slide it over to greet him. I usually click my mouse a few times so that it appears that I am quite busy while nonchalantly recognizing his appearance. He will no doubt ask me how I am doing, and I have yet to find a unique way to respond with, "Doing well, thank you!" Occasionally, I find ways to make small talk when the situation calls for it. Like the time the air conditioner was broken and sweat was profusely pouring down my face. I felt the need to let him know why I looked so disheveled.

Today, the phone rang as he approached and that southern accent that comes out when I am around cute boys dribbled from my lips before I could control it. It sounded like Dolly Parton had resumed the receptionist position. Sure enough, the co-worker behind me began to mock my "Can-ya hoooold?" question and he grinned and chuckled to himself.

I know he thought it was adorable.

Sadly, I think this situation will stay the same forever. I mean, I don't know if he has a girlfriend, if he still lives with his Mom, if he lives in his Fed-Ex truck. For all I know, a date with him could ruin my 5:00 daydream.

That's why I think every person needs something to look forward to. It can be silly. It can be absolutely juvenile and ridiculous. But some of the best gifts come in small packages (pun totally intended) and deliverance can come in rare forms.

I know that there will always be a 5-minute break from the chaos of my day. He may present athletes with the new shoes they ordered, an eager musician with those concert tickets he always wanted and a child with the latest toy. But, for me, perhaps the greatest thing he delivers is his smile.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Battle with Mediocrity

I used to be the girl who never settled for less; I went to seminars and classes that encouraged and empowered young women; I even led a few classes here and there. I knew that my goals were attainable; that I should dream as big as I want and not date anyone who didn't treat me like I deserved.

Somewhere along the way, I've gotten lost. You see, after you accept mediocrity one time, it begins to gradually morph into your normal. Your former confidence and fiery spirit begin to be broken down and suddenly average doesn't sound so bad.

Situations you never would have found yourself in become familiar atmospheres, career goals begin to be overshadowed by a constant state of inferiority, and relationships you wouldn't have touched with a 10-foot pole become your love life as you know it.

This is usually the part of the blog where I encourage you to do something great; I give you advice from my experiences. Although I long to one day be at the point where I can spout advice, I am not there yet. I look in the mirror every day and continually battle the feeling that I am not good enough; that I am not worthy of my dream career or the man I deserve. I go out on dates because they're...well, dates...I get in slumps of self-pity where filling out a job application is physically painful.

I can, through all of this, give preventative advice. The day that you make the decision to take the easy path; the path that seems like a result of bad luck and hard knocks, you are selling yourself short. It may be an easy road to travel, but it is very difficult to veer away from once you are traveling toward its dead end.

You will reach road block after road block and you will look into the distance and see the road that you were once on; a road that was really taking you somewhere great. A road with a fast Interstate, numerous lanes and bustling activity. You are looking for the nearest exit to get you back there.

I am in the current exit-seeking phase. I know that it is hard to instill faith in yourself and the hope of something greater when you feel like all is lost sometimes. You feel like you traveled down the right path for so long and it seemed to get you nowhere; so you took an alternative route.

What I have found about the alternative route is that it is nothing but an optical illusion. It appears that it is a great route for the meantime and that you can get back to your self-assured, optimistic ways after your short "time out" from living your dreams. In reality, it becomes your way of life so long that you vaguely remember the person you used to be; with high hopes and very little fear.

I came to a fork in the road, and I chose the other one because I was exhausted from always doing things the conventional way; the right way; the perfect way. Now, I sell myself short a lot of times and accept treatment that is beneath me. I make excuses for why I let these things happen and always end with, "Well, one day, I will..."

The sad truth of this statement is that "one day" never comes if you don't take hold of your life today. Worst case scenario is that "one day" never happens, but you sit in your rocking chair years from now saying, "I should've..." When "should've" replaces your "one day," you have let mediocrity won.

I've heard it often said that only the mediocre are always at their best; I have lived by this because I was afraid of failure; I was afraid of rejection. As long as I was living below what I was capable, I wasn't taking the chance of being hurt. But what I have found is that mediocrity is even more painful. It is this low bar that is constantly pushing you down when you are yearning for more.

I know this isn't the usual light-hearted prose that you are used to, but I am a young woman of many facets and there are days that I struggle; and putting my vulnerability out there for everyone to see isn't easy, but it is the first step in rising above the issue about which I write.

Be my guiding lights. My lamp posts leading me toward the exit sign. And one day my "one day" will be a recollection of the full life I fulfilled-- one goal at a time.