Ashley Wilda


Page 2 of 12


when I was little, I read this mystery book with a character who could take mental pictures. she would blink, like a camera shuttering, and make a little ‘click,’ and her mind perfectly saved that moment. she could go back to it anytime she wanted to and remember exactly what she was seeing. I always wanted to be able to do that, to save a moment in my mind like a photograph, and I tried. most of the time, it didn’t work. I’d try super hard to remember but the picture would just fade away. I’d remember I’d taken a picture but couldn’t remember what it was of, or the pictures that did stay were unimportant, not things that really mattered to me, like the pink flowers on a smooth dead tree on the drive back from the beach. those things didn’t count. they were beautiful, but not what I really wanted to remember.

but one day, we were sitting on your bed. I think it was the afternoon. just us. and you had the blanket pulled halfway up your face. you know, the peachy orange one, almost scratchy but not quite, thick and warm. all the way to your nose, like you sometimes did when we were talking. and you were looking at me. all I could really see were your eyes. the eyes that I know are brown, with a bit of gold in them when the sun hits just right. and I remember really wanting to remember that moment. I’d never met a person my heart wanted to take a picture of more badly. and I think because I was scared of losing you, I was even more desperate to capture it. to never let it go.

that picture has stuck with me ever since.

Jesus is the lightning bolt

Here’s something I’m realizing about God… he rarely does what we think he’s going to do. And that’s generally because our dreams and ideas are too small for him. What he did for me in the past three days is no different.

I decided to go to Passion 2018 probably not in the same way most students did. I had written it off – too last minute, too far, too many people – until three days before the conference began. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, staring at a job application I was supposed to be filling out, and all I could think about was how dizzy I was, how my breath felt constricted. I hopped in the shower just to feel the water on my skin, just to get outside myself a bit. I was thinking about how my plans didn’t work out, how I’m still still stuck in the same city with my same self with my same circumstances for the foreseeable future. I was thinking about how I wanted to rest in God but just didn’t know how, my head knowing all the answers but my heart just couldn’t feel anything anymore, nothing but dark and sad and scared. He felt so far away, almost like he didn’t exist. I knew he did. I had felt his presence, his spirit, in a powerful and undeniable way in a church on my knees in 2013, and hundreds of smaller moments before and since. But now, I felt completely alone. I couldn’t reach him. And I needed him now more than ever.

I decided to go to Passion because I needed a way out. I told myself it was practical, a vehicle for physically leaving my world behind for a while, but I also desperately wanted God to do something. Anything. Anything other than the way I felt right now.

Honestly, I felt a little insane as I packed my bag, prepping to sit in a van for hours with over twenty college kids I didn’t know to join a conference of thousands of more people I didn’t know to talk and sing and think about Jesus nonstop for the next three days. I was the girl who isolates herself because she doesn’t know how to be around people and carry her pain. I was the girl who almost never made it all the way through a church service because the emotions and the truth clash and it’s just all too much to surrender. I was the girl who hides in the familiar and the small and the comfort of a quiet bedroom and fictional adventures. Not the girl who decides on a whim to jump in the car with strangers, basically attend church 24/7, and constantly be around thousands of people I didn’t know. I really did feel crazy. And I completely lost it as I left my house in the morning, the thoughts in my head spooling out and circling me, you don’t belong there you don’t belong with these people you can’t handle this you should just stay home stay put and just get over yourself. But my need to get out was bigger than my need to hide. And God used that to get me where I needed to be for him to blow my mind.

As my group walks into the arena, I immediately feel surrounded by possibility. The speakers are pumping. Purple lights illuminate the mist, making the air seem to glow. Cellphone lights bob from the far reaches of the accumulating crowd, like stars or white fireflies. The atmosphere feels as if it is humming with life. I look out on it all, the stage, the full seats, the blasting music, and am aware that I am still me. I am still the girl who hides, who struggles, who loves in an empty room, who feels trapped by everything that she is and isn’t, who cannot seem to pierce her own isolation and dark, who can’t seem to reach her God. But I also felt promise. Promise that if I come, if anyone comes, we will not be turned away.

And so here comes the part where even as I ask God to something, I already have a presupposed idea of what it’s going to look like. I ask him to remove my depression and anxiety. I ask him to either completely take away the desire that has caused so much hurt in my heart or give me peace and confidence that he’s going to fulfill that desire. I say, do this or this. Hit me with a metaphorical lightning bolt, one that changes everything. But I also say, whatever you want to do, don’t leave me where I am, because I can’t stay here anymore. I can’t change myself. You can. And that’s all he was waiting to hear.

The music starts, and something incredible begins. When I decided not to run, to let him in, God filled every second of that time. The next few hours blur into days, moments all strung together by his mighty hand. I came as nothing, a shell waiting to be filled, a person begging to be rescued. And he did, and totally blew my expectations of what that was going to look like out of the water. I am still processing all that happened in my heart and in that arena and probably will continue to process these things for a long time.

In the end, God didn’t do what I asked. And yet he did. He did both things, and neither. Often this is the way God works, in seeming contradictions and impossibilities, that only make sense once we experience them, are willing to be open to them. He lifted off of me the burden of depression and anxiety that I have been feeling. I was in a pit where I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe and he pulled me out of it. But I also know I will still struggle with sadness and fear. We cannot escape these things in this life, on this earth. Sin and heartbreak go hand in hand. We have the promise of wholeness but the world is still broken. Even as God brought his peace and strength and light to my heart, I still intimately knew the fracture lines in my heart. They are as familiar to me as the sun and the night, I can trace them with a fingertip with my eyes closed. While I am here, they will always be part of me. Where love is great, pain is great. This is a part of life. But at the same time, I felt God breaking me free from the depth which I had been at. He says, you will feel pain and fear and confusion and achings, but you will not drown in them. Not while I am here.

And then, he did something strange with my desires, my longings. I expected him to take them away or tell me he will fulfill them. But he did neither. He filled me up with who he is. The songs and the messages reminded me of who God is in a new way, and as I surrendered everything I was to those truths, my heart started to wake up. I told God, I just want you, everything that you are, all of you, just fill me up with yourself, and he said yes. alwaysHere’s the thing about being a Christian – you don’t have to feel God to believe in him. Just like you don’t need to visit India to know it exists, or see the sun in the nighttime to believe that it’s there. Believing is not about feeling or seeing. It is about knowing. About truth. About the facts lining up. And they do, and that should be enough. But it is human to want to feel. I have been blessed to have powerfully felt the presence of God a few times in my life. And in that arena, with 10,000 people all praising God together, technologically connected with over 30,000 more, I felt him there again. It’s not something that’s easy to explain. I don’t know if it’s something that people can explain, because the words just aren’t there. But we know it when we feel it, and it’s not something deniable.

Over and over again, God showed me this: He is the lightning bolt. No change in my circumstances or my desires can make as big and true an impact as his presence in my life and the condition of my relationship with him. When I let him fill my focus and my heart, everything changed. My desires did not change, but when I desired him above all else, I didn’t feel them as sharply. They felt smaller. Not because they were any smaller, but because next to God, they couldn’t compare. He eclipsed me. God is worth infinitely more than anything else we could ever want. And in the end, everything good we desire is a reflection of who he is – that’s why we want it in the first place, because it is good. But ultimately, our biggest desire and need is him, and nothing else can fully satisfy us. It’s one thing to know that, and quite another to feel it. My desire is still there. My love is still the same. My memories intact. What was true before is still true now. But with God, it doesn’t have to overwhelm me. All is not lost if my desire isn’t fulfilled here. God will be enough for me. And in the end, in the perfect world that is to come, every desire will be fulfilled, in ways more perfect than we can imagine.

And yes, God did give me peace. He did give me hope. But he gave them to me through my being willing for him to do whatever he wants in my life. Through knowing that he cares about my loves and my desires. Through believing in his fierce, unstoppable love for me and for the people I love. I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one can ever know. But with God, I have hope for good things, even if the good things he has for me aren’t the ones that I would have picked. His plans are better than anything I could choose. Bigger. But he also hears me when I pray. He feels my heart when I love. And with him, anything is possible. And it. will. be. good.

I am aware that the experience I had at Passion definitely qualifies as a “mountaintop” experience. It was full of revelation followed by revelation, one after the other even when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more. It transcended most of the experiences I have ever had. It was full of feeling and seeing and not just believing and knowing. Whenever you climb a mountain, you have to come back down. You can’t stay up there forever. It doesn’t mean you leave behind what you have learned and who you have become, but you do have to come down to the life you normally walk, full of plains and hills and even valleys, but rarely mountains. I am aware that I probably will not feel this peaceful, this grounded, this full, this satisfied, this courageous, this lit up, in few days. Right now it feels like there’s this direct line between me and God, a 24/7 connection. I know that most of the time it doesn’t feel like that, even though nothing has changed, even though his spirit is still present and living in me. I am aware that as I come down off this “high,” sadness will trickle back into me again. Fear will attack me. Those fracture lines are going to hurt like nobody’s business. But I’m going to fight back. I know who I am. I am a daughter of the King. I am never alone. And he’s already won every battle that I have to fight.

During the last session of the conference, someone said, “Be in the dark who you are in the light.” I like that. It feels like the truest statement for me. It doesn’t deny that there is going to be dark, that I will have to live through darkness. But it also confirms that there is light. That who I am in the light is the person I was always meant to be, the person I truly am. The person God has made me to be, who he will help me continue to be, get better at being. Right now, after these few days, I feel like I am living in the light, despite the darkness of unmet desires and love that keeps on going without answer. I am infinitely grateful for that. I am not the same person that left for Passion. But I also know that the farther away from this mountain I get, the more the dark will undoubtedly return. But that doesn’t mean that who I truly am is different. That doesn’t mean that God is different. And that’s what I want – no matter what happens, I want to live in the dark as the person I am in the light. And with God in me and around me and by my side, I will.

dreams and the divine

dreamcatchers hanging on my doors

I wonder why you don’t work anymore

my sleeps are haunted by dreams

your feathers and tethered string don’t catch

yet perhaps your wooden frames

are not dissimilar to God –

I only see the brokenness let through

not the undoubtedly greater darkness

you never allow to reach me

snapshot of a day well spent

some days are like a cold drink of water. a deep breath of air after it rains. most days I wake up and wish I could’ve just stayed asleep. but days like this, I’m glad I woke up for them.

grey morning. footsteps in a house still sleeping. biting cold of leather steering wheel. two cars full of people I don’t really know. somehow still comfortable. somehow not overwhelmed. bluetooth music, throwback pop to broadway musicals. no shame. coffee cup in my boot. dusting of snow on highways and cars and quiet roofs.

a gym that opens up to receive us, walls yawning and stretching and branching in the best way. feeling that giddy child wake up inside me, like someone’s pumping me full of carbonated bubbles. like a toddler in a candy store. bright blue, sharp white. rough texture on skin. new holds like pleasant sandpaper. rope spooling through fingers, higher and higher, clip after clip, feeling the jitters in my limbs as ten feet turns into twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, the overhang pushing me toward gravity’s embrace. adrenaline. I’ve missed adrenaline. feeling the pump build unexpectedly fast, forcing me to try harder. lowering, dangling. holy crap. landing yards away from where I began. a tiny tail of rope sits where a pile used to be.

we are all a little bit in awe of this place, and a lot a bit excited, to climb and flail and fall and fail and succeed and summit. the point is in the process, in the experience, not however high or hard the end point. I remember how I used to feel a kinship with people like this, people who share this kind of crazy, and the memory makes sense again. the longer I let myself enter into the moment, the less like an antisocial, angsty hermit I feel. I find that I actually can talk. laugh. the sound effects which used to be so much a part of my ridiculous personality make a brief reappearance. for these few hours, it’s not painful to be me. I am not constantly uncomfortable with just existing. I actually feel like I’m living. I feel like I can just be. I curl up in my flannel somewhere beneath the looming overhanging and alternate between dozing and watching people interact, climb, laugh, goof off. the empty space in my chest is still there, as I know it will be – I don’t expect it to be gone, when I’m still missing a piece of me – but in this moment, I can accept it as part of me. I am okay with being me. I. felt. happiness. today. no one but myself can understand what an enormous thing that is.

red hands, bruised toes, grumpy callouses, stinky feet, we all pile back into cars in the dark. pleasantly physically exhausted, feeling satisfied. as the tires and engine whir and a few errant flakes of snow drift down, I feel the sadness quietly begin to trickle back to fill me again. I knew it was going to come, I am ready for it. I try to continue the day’s trend of acceptance. I look up at the moon, so bright, spattering of craters clear in the sky. it’s a few days shy of being full. I am somehow comforted by the fact that when you look at the moon, we’re looking at the same one. it is a small connection, but still, it is something to hold on to.

which walls could come down

alone rather than together

surrender rather than struggle

radio silence rather than contact

a decision that perhaps holds up

when I view it from afar

but when I take it into my hands

it falls apart

maybe because it isn’t mine.

but still there is nothing I can do

because it was always yours

to reverse.

yes, I built a wall

a towering structure that I hated

yet needed

but I always hoped we could one day

tear it down

and I don’t know how to stop.

remember, there is yet light

some days panic wraps its hot hands around my throat and squeezes. it mixes a cocktail of sadness and fear and missing and worry, pinches my nose, and forces me to drink. I push away the looming cloud for as long as I can, distracting myself with music and movement, but I can’t keep it at bay forever, and when it catches up with me… the world feels like a hopeless place.

so often I feel trapped within myself, living in a suffocating atmosphere of thoughts and emotions that just won’t let me go. no matter how I try to escape from myself, there is another layer, a box within a box within a box within a box, and I’m just trying to get out into the clean air and take a deep, clear breath. sometimes it feels like I’ll never get there. when I’m so trapped in circumstances I can’t change, when I’ve done everything in my power to do, when there’s still no ship on the horizon coming to rescue me from my island… well, only metaphor comes to mind to explain what that feels like. I am a whirlpool. I am a mess of scribbles. I am a wild thing curled inside a rubber ball. but I guess in the end, I am just me–a girl with a lovesick heart–and that is the problem. I can be no one else but me, and I have to learn how to live with it.

and so here I will try to compile moments from the last few days that carried some release, some beauty, some hope. moments which reminded me that there is a world that exists outside of me, and I can still interact with it. moments that said, you won’t be like this forever, no matter how you feel. moments which reminded me that it’s worth it to keep on pushing through.

the quiet rush of a river in the mountains. steel patterning the sky, holding up the bridge I stand beneath. Sweet Frog somehow still refreshing on a cold day. two pairs of footsteps on wood. the unexpectedly wise words of my fifteen-year-old sister. art galleries. songs in the car.

pushing myself on a new route, white pinches and burly moves. remembering my body still has the power in it to do hard things and come out on top. feeling my mind clear for those few moments. being successful at something I like doing.

Disney cartoons. hearing myself laugh. letting myself laugh. allowing myself to enjoy the childish ridiculousness of a fruitcake falling on a talking snowman’s head and sleighs spontaneously combusting… only in the world of Frozen. creating new inside jokes with my mom.

the tradition of Christmas Eve services. the rare blessing of feeling something, of knowing that my prayers are heard and I am cared about. the big brown eyes of baby Gabe staring at me from the row in front, obliviously sticking his tongue out in the adorable way he does. a fierce hug and present from Hilton that made me laugh out loud… a giant fake butterfly knife, perfect in utter ridiculousness.

feeling like a family on Christmas day. a dreamcatcher ornament, metal feathers silver and tinkling. the happy anticipation of giving and opening presents. the satisfying tearing and crinkling of wrapping paper. tea in a new mug with dark chocolate mint Tim Tams. playing Scrabble on a mini board.

the thrum of an electric guitar against my stomach. messing around with volume and chords. the squawk of the amp makes me smile.

the crackle of a fire. a soft knitted blanket. my mom’s heartbeat. my question, “you still praying with me?” her answer, of course, “I’m still praying.” beef stew in a gingerbread man mug. watching characters play out their antics across TV screen.

squishy movie theater seats. superheroes and their crazy adventures. the smell of extra buttery popcorn. the darkness that envelops me in story when the lights go out and sound and color shake the huge room. the ability to get lost in another world and emerge feeling like I could be more than I am. like I could fight for something that matters. like happy endings are possible.

written down this way, these moments seem more than I remember. in the flood of stretching days, of waking up and immediately entering the struggle not to drown in myself, I forget about the shafts of light, where panic eases up, when sadness consents to sit more quietly in my chest. but whether I remember them or not, they are there. and even as I hope and pray and breathe and feel and be, I will try to remember them still.


wrapping presents just isn’t the same this year,

perhaps because I know what I truly want

I won’t find under the tree,

that my heart hurts because of a missing piece

no wintry magic can fill.

the greatest gift would be for you

to reach across this space and hold me,

to be honest with whatever your heart speaks,

to give me nothing less or more than truth,

because all I want is you.

musing… another spiral.

I live my life in cycles.

I’ve realized this about myself of late… I pursue things with a frenzy until I don’t, and move on to something else, just to pick up that same original thing days or weeks later.

I’ll read for a few days. I’ll read and read and it doesn’t really matter what I’m reading, as long as I’m reading, and as soon as I finish a book I immediately pick up another one, not pausing for breath, because the craziness in my head doesn’t stop for breath so why should I let my attempts at distraction pause for breath either? That would just be giving myself room to think, which I do not need to do. I don’t have any new information to think about, although I wish I did.

But there’s a limit to any human’s ability to put up with one activity for an extended period of time. There comes a sudden moment when I’m sick of reading, I can’t read another page, so I just stop. But the space needs to be filled. Maybe I’ll listen to an audio book for a day and color. Maybe I’ll research jobs I don’t end up applying for, or do apply for and even interview and then realize I probably won’t ever take it because it exists on the west coast. Maybe I’ll go and climb every time I feel like being myself becomes too much, and keep doing that, until I’ve climbed everything or I’m sick of climbing alone or I’m sick of climbing in general and then I just quit climbing for a week or so. And then I take up walking and listening to music. I drive to a pretty, quiet place and just walk and walk until I’m done walking. And when I don’t know what to do with myself, I’ll do it again. Except now I think my feet are trying to tell me they hate my boots because it kind of feels like the shin splints I created during my short, ill-fated quidditch career are trying to resurrect themselves. I hang out with people every so often, but even that happens in shifts, like two whole days of being with people, which feels like a lot of talking, which is very, very good in the moment but by the end of the second day I’ve had my dose of social interaction for the next two weeks and I’m done. Doesn’t mean I’m not lonely anymore, but I’ve just reached my limit. The hole in my heart that just needs to be around people is all filled up, making the hole which really just needs to be around you, and you only, hurt that much sharper.

I wonder what my next cycle will be. The content of my cycles keep on reappearing, because they are part of the layers that make up me, the things that I enjoy doing. But even juggled, these cycles get boring when you’ve repeated them for months and months. I think about the things I used to do and don’t anymore, think about trying to pull them into my life again. I remember the smell of bone dust, and the rhythmic motion of sandpaper, and the deep satisfaction in just following the intuition of my fingers and watching something come to life beneath them, something which just used to exist in my imagination, and the cool kiss of newly polished pendant resting against my skin. I remember wrapping my hands and wrists, with extra padding over the knuckles, throwing myself into punches and palm strikes, breaking choke holds and blocking knife strikes, allowing my inner tendency for fierce motion to erupt through me, grappling with friends while training for the day I may run into a foe. I should work to reconnect with these moments, push to add some newness to my days. Rekindle a bond with these pieces of who I am. I should feel more alive for it.

Some activities I struggle to return to, even as I feel desire pulling in me… like singing along to the strumming of my guitar, or lying in the grass and looking up at the stars, or eating gummie bears while watching TV, because for some reason they all remind me of you. And in the absence of you, that’s just too much to carry.

to be, I wait

fear and hope war inside

the cage I call a heart

fighting an endless battle

to be myself is to love too much

to be myself is to hope against

the impossible

to be myself is to wait

for a response that may

not come

to be myself is to love you

what a thing it is

to turn myself inside out

to reveal everything

oh everything

to know I have nothing left

to give

how freeing and terrifying

to put myself in another’s hands

to sing and write and pray

to send off into the unknown

to listen to the silence

until my ears bleed

and still wait

not knowing if I will hear

your voice

yet still hoping with every breath

because to live

to breathe

to love

is to hope

and I know no other way

to be

I see you too.

I get her text, and pull myself from my nest of quiet and stories, built to erase myself from the world. Brownies for breakfast, empty mugs of tea, coloring pages of fawns and armadillos, pencil peelings lost in my sheets. Piles of books I haven’t read, audio stories of Mistborns burning metals, vigilantes in hoods shooting arrows across my computer screen (Oliver is way hotter than Barry, in case you were wondering). I’m all too good at ignoring the world, and the world is all too good at forgetting about me. But hours wear monotonous and lonely, and I know I need her.

She’s there, smiles and long curly hair, the same smell I remember from childhood, when we’d get our team hoodies mixed up and I’d know which was hers. A hug catapults us into conversation, like we’re picking up in the middle of something already started, still familiar with the language only we have shared for over six years. Our feet move as we talk, picking up speed, following the mirrored blues of the river beside us, propelling us across dirt paths, over bridges, balancing on roots. We’ve always talked best on the move, in the places we love, letting nature tease out our happinesses and hurts, easing the process of sharing and connecting.

Like a breath of sweet spring wind, the remembrance of how we talk the same, laugh the same, finish each other’s sentences, speak the same words at the same time. How something integral about our souls is the same. I let the feelings and thoughts that have been building up inside of me just spill out, and she does the same, affirming, questioning, just being there. Accepting. Caring.

There is so much I keep inside. So much I hide from everyone around me. I feel so much and share so little. I think so much that I only allow the journal by my bed to know. I hide behind the anonymity of screens and the privacy of a closed bedroom door. I bottle up who I am, the good and the hard, because it’s less scary than venturing to let another human being in. And yet I forget how the unspoken, the secret, eats away at everything that is alive inside of me.

But now, I let it all flow free, feel a safe space to welcome all that I am. I don’t need to hide here, and neither does she. We aren’t trying to fix each other, because we know we cannot. We aren’t trying to be exactly alike, because we can’t do that either, although we are insanely kindred. We aren’t trying to explain or prove or dissect. We just need to be understood. To be heard. To be loved. To be seen.

Finally feeling unalone opens my eyes again, and I feel something inside me trying to wake up. I see the forest, see it’s beauty. Green and brown arches, delicate and reaching. Clouds mirrored in water. Earthy scent of the air. Calm expanse of silver and blue. My fingers reach out to brush bark as I walk, daring to touch the world again. Laughter feels good. Honesty feels better. Embrace feels best.

I thought I had lost her once. We’d made it through high school, but college broke us apart. It was the greatest hurt I had yet felt, and it floored me. It took travelling to another country on the opposite side of the globe in order to feel like myself again, and still I missed her. Still, I hoped. (I have found that hope is something that sticks closer to me than my own breath.) My heart knew she couldn’t ever truly be replaced. What we had was too special, too unique. We meant too much to each other. Even as I didn’t understand, I made sure she knew I was still there for her. I always would be. And miraculously, with God’s help, we made our way back to each other. Now, each of us is walking through the darkest times of our lives. And she has been one of God’s greatest gifts to me through it all. We have needed the reassurance of the other’s hand in the dark. We have needed someone who sees the true self and the struggles and is not intimidated by the mess. Someone who says, I feel it too. Who says, I am not going anywhere.

Love and pain, climbing and questioning, hope and fear, waiting and following our hearts, we talk about it all, no holds barred. Minutes bleed into hours, light fades from the sky as cars hum over the bridge, and we could talk through the night if we wished. I wish I could have her every week, instead of a handful of days a year. I wish we still lived in the same city. I wish we were fourteen again, running out into rainstorms and spinning beneath the thunder. But we have this moment, and the promise of years of moments to come. She sees me. I see her. This is how we’ve always been. This is how we are. And with God’s grace, this is how we always will be. I’ll return to my world, and she’ll return to hers, but we have this to hold on to–

I see you too.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2018 Ashley Wilda

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑