Dear Ashley,

You are unsure about who you are, and are constantly searching for a principle, or belief to stand on that gives you purpose, power, and something to validate your worth. The truth is, that you have no idea who you are and you’re not supposed to have all of that figured out right now. However, there have been so many voices pouring in, tearing out, and destroying your innocent foundation; it will be y e a r s before you even get close to being real. Other kids get the opportunity to be shaped, and molded into whom they are supposed to be by positive experiences and loving words that sit well on the inside and make you think to yourself, “this really is me.” However, that does not exist for you. And as much as it hurts to tell you this, it never will. It won’t be until you find Jesus that you even begin to open your mind to the possibility that all the words that have been used to describe you, all the labels that you have adjusted to fit, don’t belong to you. They were never yours, but you never had anyone paying close enough attention to notice the lies about yourself that were being sewn, and by the time anyone could recognize that you had watered these lies to reap a plush garden of false confidence, obnoxious arrogance that avoids criticism and pain; you were too far gone.

You are at a place in your life that even if there were someone to pour into your life and change your mind about who you are, they wouldn’t be able to help you. Every day you shape yourself into what you think is acceptable, and who you think you should be. You are about to spend your life trying to disprove the things that have been said about you with a flippant attitude, doing and saying only what you want to do. Your perspective, perception, and opinions are harsh, arrogant, and judgmental and you will be known as the black sheep, outspoken, blunt girl. I need you to know that while people are seemingly accepting of this, it is only to spare themselves of your wrath. You are so angry, and that anger just covers up the kind of hurt that runs back to the beginning. I do know this. You are going to spend so much time believing that you raised yourself this way, and that you are responsible for this. The truth of the matter is, you needed someone and no one was there for you. There were a lot of people in your life, a lot of adults and influences standing around, but none of them were paying attention. No one took the time to instruct your heart, to guide your thoughts, and show you a path that you could follow that would one day lead to your true self. Even though you don’t see it this way, you will spend a large chunk of your life struggling with this. There was no one there to protect you, but in your own way you have decided it’s your obligation to protect everyone else. Please hear me when I say this: it is not your responsibility to protect the people that did not protect you. Your truth is your truth, and down playing, hiding it, or being ashamed of it does not work. All of the things that you hide, the feelings that you have, the experiences that you are ashamed of; hiding and ignoring them doesn’t keep things together, it simply tears you apart while everyone else continues to live.

And just to address the people that didn’t care enough about you… those people have issues! And they are not yours. You are an innocent victim to the crazy of some crazy folk. As 15 years your senior, I want you to know that though I wish things were different for you now, you are a ‘G’ for enduring what you did. And your heart is in the right place for surely, however you are a child and should stay in a child’s place. And for the record, the way that your babysitter treats you- yeah that’s not normal, that’s not “just how she is”.. she has been abusing you for years. Yeah, I know you like to down play that part, but if we call a thing a thing, she’s been verbally and emotionally abusing you since you were five years old. And while you know you have a smart mouth and can work a nerve, you do not and did not deserve to be treated that way. Yes, having her as the person that watches you after school is beneficial to your mother, but it’s not your responsibility to be treated like that because your mom couldn’t or can’t find somewhere else affordable for you to be after school. Honestly, it’s not worth the pain and if you would give your mom a chance to fix it, you will find out that contrary to your beliefs, she would choose you over the struggle that would be to come if you just spoke up. And while there is just way too much to cover in this letter, let me say this about her: It is not okay for a white woman to call you her “little black child,” among her white grandchildren, it is not okay for her to make you feel bad about your home life and relationship with your mother, it is not okay for her to take her frustrations out on you, it is not okay for her to make you wear a bib at the dinner table because she feels you are a messy eater, it is not okay for her to embarrass you by making you eat out of a sectioned children’s plate because she doesn’t like that you don’t like your food to touch, and it is not okay for her to put you on a diet, or on a scale and constantly critique your weight, and it was absolutely not okay for her to allow her children or grandchildren to harm you, and that day she slapped you and called you a bitch was absolutely unacceptable behavior. No matter how grown you think you are, you are a child!! And you have the right to be treated with respect despite your age. All of these things are not okay. Do not continue on as if this is normal, this is not normal! I Couldn’t admonish you more, say something. Anything.

Even though you appear to be resilient, and tough on the outside; you are broken and in shambles on the inside. You have a lot of fear of losing the comfortable things, the things that you consider to be stable in your life. Truth is Ash, even the things that you are holding onto for stability, are broken. They are just markers of your day to day life posing as some semblance of stable normality. These things are false. And while I wish I could tell you not be afraid, some very scary things have already happened to you. Things you never dreamt would come to pass. It’s hard not to feel afraid of what is to come next. You are so damaged from the losses that you have experienced thus far, you are living in fear of the next shoe to drop and which carpet will be pulled out from under you next. Because your fears are valid, I admonish you to just feel them. Don’t spend so much time trying to avoid the fears that you exist through terrible times numb. Truth is, you’re not numb. You feel everything even when you convince yourself you are unbothered. Oh baby, you are more than unbothered. You are coming apart at the seams.

Because tomorrow is not promised, and you cannot change the past, there are some very important things I must tell you that could change the course of your entire life. See, you are about to spend a good ten to twelve years harboring a hate in your heart that is absolutely going to do nothing but destroy you. So let me say this first, the feelings you have toward your father do absolutely nothing but keep you angry. And as I write this to you, I wish I had more concrete facts to share with you about why things happened the way they did. This is the ONLY thing I could come up with. And while it may not be enough for you in this moment, it will deliver you when you get there. The facts of this matter are this: Some people cannot play the roles that they signed up for. They simply are unequipped for the responsibility, and because of this there will be casualties and what feels like fatalities, but we will all be stronger for it in the end. The only thing that I have learned about your father is that he is not equipped to be a father. And I can hear you now going off about exactly who’s fault that is because you are right, you did not choose to be here, and you didn’t choose him for your mother. You are absolutely right! However, he cannot emulate, mimic, or follow in the footsteps of something he never had. People need examples to follow, and unfortunately your father did not have that. See, ironically enough, your Grandfather left your Grandmother and your father without his dad. It was one of, if not the most devastating things to happen in his life. Sound familiar? Following this broken relationship, your dad was extremely hurt but, more angry than anything. That night you heard he and your mom speaking about the shambles that there marriage was in, and you walked through room and he said “ that’s the best thing I ever did, and I did the same thing to her that he did to me..” He really meant that. You are the best thing that he ever did. And while He will absolutely never say this to you, you are the greatest accomplishment of his life. He would say because you’re a good kid, and you stay out of trouble. I want you to know that you are the greatest accomplishment of his life, because he didn’t destroy you. His actions hurt you, broke you, stole your family and completely altered the course of your life. Yes. These things happened. However, you can’t see it now, but you will survive all of these things. It didn’t drive you nearly as crazy as it seems like it is now, and as dark and dreary as the space in your heart feels, it will draw you to a light that will change your life and what you believe your heart is really capable of.

And while I have you, you have to cut your mother some slack. I’m not sure if you watched too much Cosby show or full house when you were younger, but you have some very concrete ideas about what family looks like, and what roles a person is supposed to play. You have developed a life ruining expectation known as the “supposed to be’s,” And by now you have already come to the harsh realization that your mother is not a super hero. She isn’t. And I know you found that out in a very devastating way. But Ash, no one is a super hero. She could be your personal hero if you like, but she’s human just like everyone else. You really haven’t had that many examples, of an up close and personal view of what love is, and what it looks like. However, your momma loves your daddy. And when they separated, it really broke your mom. Understand that all of these things took her by surprise just as they did you. Your expectations of her are outlandish and impossible to live up to. I’ll grant you grace in that, you have no idea what it truly means to love another person other than yourself. But what you are feeling and your behavior towards her is absolutely unacceptable. So for this matter, you need to get your life! As devastated as you think you are, you need to take the time to put yourself in her shoes and consider how she must feel. And as hard as it is for you to see her like this, she’s a big girl. It is absolutely not your responsibility to be strong for her as she goes through the dissolution of her marriage. That is her marriage and she should grieve it as such. And you should grieve it as well. However, stopping your process and trying to be strong for her too is only damaging you. Where you see your mom today, she won’t be always. She’s going to work through it, and seemingly be okay and move on. But by the time she’s there, you will have spent so much time in secrecy, and hiding that your world will be so convoluted, you won’t even have a clue what is real and what is fake.

Ash, your convoluted world of secrets and lies are killing you. They are holding your life hostage. And I know you’re only doing what you think you have to do to live with the person you think you are, and the things that you’ve been through, but it’s just not worth it. When you’re hurt, be hurt, and when you’re ashamed, be ashamed. Live your truth and feel how you feel. I can’t stress that enough. Feel how you feel. It’s going to save your life when you’re older. Seriously. You are about to spend so much time trying to survive, that you will not live. You will not thrive, you will exist with moments of extremely rewarding happiness, and once in a lifetime experiences strewn in the midst. This is what your life is becoming. Oh, one other very important thing I need to tell you. Being devastated, upset, hurt, and or broken does not make you weak. Your mother is not weak because she feels the way that she does. She’s human, she’s hurt, and rightfully so. So instead of running with the notion that emotions make you weak and that you must be strong to survive, not to be cliché..but try a little tenderness. And that day that Mrs. Avery pulls you into her classroom and asks you what’s wrong, you better tell her! She’s genuinely concerned about you, and the fact that you are two steps passed the edge, and the other side isn’t looking too good for you. When she gets angry because you won’t tell her what’s going on, know that that’s what you’ve been looking for the entire time. Someone to care. And not because you’ve done anything for attention, not because you are desperately seeking someone to, but because she just really cares about you. The person. The person that she sees you to be. Speak up girl!! This could be your out!!

Judging by the tone of this letter, you might think that I agree with you in that there is so much stuff wrong with you. But! I want you to know that underneath all of that, there is so much that is right with you, and I don’t want you to ever lose that!! For instance, you love to make people feel loved, and special, and you love folks down to the core – for everything they are, and even more for the things they are not. You do things for people, that you wish people would do or would’ve done for you because you know how happy, special, and cherished it makes a person feel. I can’t even say to this day that you are wrong or right for this. I know you get a special joy out of doing this for people, because in the back of your mind that’s your version of receiving it. It’s like, if you can’t receive it, what better way to get close to it than be the giver of it. Please don’t lose this quality. Even after all you’ve endured and put yourself through, you have such a big heart. Your motives will always be questioned, and people will try to make you feel bad about your disposition by putting alternate meanings, and implications on your love for others, and the way that you show it. You can’t see it now, and I’m telling you now, a lot of people won’t even try to understand it. But, you love the way Jesus loves. It’s unconventional, it doesn’t make sense to everyone, and people just don’t get it. But the best thing about it is, that the one it is designed for, understands it. It’s not about everyone else’s opinions of you, or what it is that you do, or even why you do it. Jesus had people to criticize Him every single time He did something or was with someone they didn’t think He should be with, or treat as such. Do not be dismayed. Your way of loving, your way of caring for people, your way of uplifting is ministry. And even as I share this with you now, I’m not sure when it will click like that for you in your mind, but do not be disheartened or turned around be the opinions of others. Truth of the matter is, every person that has mocked or spoken ill towards the way that you love and your personal ministry, simply wishes that they had someone in their life to love and support them the way that you do. Pray for those people. They don’t have to agree, and you don’t need their permission to exercise your heart in the way that God has called you to.

Speaking of Him, I know that you have recently gotten reacquainted with Him. I admonish you to stay right there with Him! While you haven’t been able to wrap your mind around all of your experiences and your life thus far, He’s holding it and you in the palm of His hand. Every single experience, feeling, circumstance, even happenstance has been a part of His plan. I admonish you to believe this. However, whether you believe it or not, it’s the truth. You can either choose to hold on to this fact and allow it to give your life meaning, and great expectation.. or you can put the pieces together later when they are revealed to you through future experiences in your life. It will be a long time before you even play with the idea of believing this, but God has a plan for your life Ashley. And make no mistake about it, the enemy has been after you, your life, and the plan since you took your first breath of air. And I know it is extremely hard for you to have faith in the end result when you can’t see passed the middle. But know this, all of the trials, experiences and attempts on your life – they wouldn’t exist if there were no great purpose for your existence. Personally speaking, I think you must be destined to do great and amazing things. Can’t tell you what they are, but there is some serious opposition to you being alive, and in your right mind from the powers and rulers of darkness. If it says nothing else to you, let it say this – There is a power and force to be reckoned with when it comes to your life. However, you will only experience minuscule pieces of this power until you completely yield yourself to Christ. And if you hear anything that I’ve said about what is to come, and what advice I can give you.. It is to yield. Surrender, Quit, Stop, Drop, and Roll. Tap Out, Raise your white flag, and call a fat lady to sing. You have to die to yourself. And you have to give it – A L L of it to Jesus. And while you think you are in the midst or have come out of some very trying and difficult times, I can tell you now that nothing else compares to the difficulty you will face in letting go and giving it all to God. Nothing. Wish I could say it’s going to be easy, but that would be a lie. It will be the hardest thing you ever do in your life, and takes time. Many will tell you where you’re supposed to be in your walk, what you’re supposed to be living like, doing, etc. The only thing I want you to judge your walk by is the unadulterated word of God, and the current date 365 days ago. Every day you are presently granted is 365 days more than you thought you might see. Have you changed? Are you different? Are you closer in your walk than you were then? Are the chains falling off? Are you freer than you were a year ago? Are you still thirsty? Are you thirstier? These are the criteria for assessing your walk. Not what someone tells you, preaches at you, or forces to you feel you should be. This is time spent with your Father. Only He and you can decide its course. Rest in that. Take comfort in that. It’s all that truly matters.

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