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May 1, 2017

Hello dear heart..

A few days ago, I spent hours writing about my history with pain – physical, emotional, spiritual. It wrecked me and, in hindsight, wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. It turned my shoulders into knots, my brain into mush and my heart into a jumbled beehive with the warning, “Shit! Danger! Escape! Get out! Save yourself while you can!”

Without going into it here and causing further trauma, I’ll just say it reminded me how woven our experiences are into the fibers of our bodies. We all have these soul-carrying vessels, but forget so fast the effect pain and wounding of the soul has on them. We brush our teeth and go to the gym or fill in our eyebrows, but we’re downright amnesiac when we consider our inner contents and the way they ache.

My soul and spirit have suffered thus far on this trip and I’m not alone. We’re all like clay pots being filled with dirt and seeds and compost. We absorb the contents by osmosis, by nature, nurture. We take them all in, then polish and paint the outside in hopes it will hide the shit we’re carrying.

I feel so drawn into this act of polishing a turd. It’s why I’ve started to tweeze the little dark hairs trying to grow on my upper lip, and won’t be caught dead in public without an excess of blush. It’s also why I spend more time looking in the mirror most days than I do praying, meditating, or reading books. Oy.

I’m afraid all the shit I’m carrying has decided to revolt. It’s staged a coup and now I’m at its mercy, a Prisoner of War until it decides to release me or grace intervenes. I worked for years to polish the outside of this clay pot. I went from teen with eating disorder to head cheerleader to prom queen to 102-pound bride to fitness mommy in the span of a couple of decades. I’ve sweated and tweezed and selfied my way to acceptance. Without even realizing it, I’ve constructed personas with the same common manifesto, “don’t let anyone see how deep the hurting is.”

Sometimes the hurting takes matters into its own hands. Sometimes spirit and body no longer want an amicable divorce, they choose to be together again no matter how messy. The first week of the new year, spirit and body teamed up to send me a visitor named “chronic pain”. Chronic pain moved into my house in the form of debilitating migraines, with the worst pain I’ve experienced, strange brain fog, depression, hopelessness. I’ve tried more than I can say to manage it, seen the doctors, taken the tests, changed my diet and lifestyle to get better, but nothing seems to be helping. There are good days. There are bad days. But between you and I, this new pain is a motherfucker, and I don’t like it one bit.

I was talking on the phone yesterday with a dear friend who has seen me through so much. She was the one to make me go out to coffee with her when my dad died and I couldn’t bring myself to put on real pants. She was the one who took bundles of laundry and gave me clean clothes again. She was the one who visited me and three pound baby Zion in the NICU in those long months when I thought everyone else had forgotten about our story.

I told her about the pain yesterday, that it’s not getting better, just less predictable. I told her I was so afraid this was going to be the story of my life, that I’d be known as the woman of cancelled coffee dates and the inability to fold my own damn laundry or love on my kids. She told me she was so sorry I was going through this(this goes farther than anything, by the way), that she loved me, and she believed this was not going to be the story of my life. Her words in a follow up text to me, “I do believe you’ll find restoration. You’re Ashley Fucking Parsons. Don’t forget it.”

I don’t know if this pain will be ongoing, if the doctors I’ve seen will ever figure out what the hell happened to me and fix it. I don’t know much apart from this: this moment, the one where I’m writing this letter to you.. the moment when it’s raining outside and the sky is grey and everything outside my window looks greener because of the darkness, this is a moment of grace to me. I don’t have a migraine right now and I’m sitting in a real chair writing real words that tell the truth about me. I’ve been a present mom today and I’ve kissed my husband. I’ve looked my children in the eyes and I’ve lost count with how many hugs and “I love you”s I’ve given out. These “normal” seconds have become magic to me.

I have no control over this pain. It could come back in five minutes and I’d lose my vision, be gripped by fear of dying, have paralyzation (yeah, it’s brutal), end up in bed and stay there for the next three days. But I am choosing to believe my beloved friend is right.. this is not going to be the story of my life.

I’m choosing to believe it because, even if I never get fully well again, grace is real. Despite all of this pain, grace can take the hugs and the “I love you”s on the good days and stretch them out like long, stringy, pink taffy .. carrying the sweet memories and seconds to season the hard days. Restoration comes in the in-between moments, in the sacred mundane moments. We can have it wherever we find ourselves stuck today, we just have to open our hands and take what comes to us as a gift of grace.

I don’t know what pain you carry or try to hide. I just want you to know, whatever it is dear heart, you’re not alone on this bus.. and grace and restoration can be the story they remember about you, about us.


ash parsons

Hi Ash,
I’m sorry you have to go through this pain. I hope, whatever it is, the root of it will be found and you’ll get to leave this pain behind you.
But the thing with pain is, you remember it all too well to fully forget what it is like. Hang in there, strong woman.

Lovely Sandra,
Thank you so much for saying you’re sorry about the pain. Like I said, that goes further than anyone could ever know, just hearing that others hurt over the thoughts of my hurting. It makes me feel less alone in it all somehow, which can only be a gift to me. So thank you. I really hope the root of it will get figured out, too. In the meantime, I’m working on just receiving and giving grace all I can.

Dear Ash,
You’re so brave. I should be sleeping right now but in my last ditch effort to “make the most” of my day I opened IG (eye roll). I’ve just read through all of your letters and you’ve taken me to a real place, with real feelings that really matter and I pray they stick with me and impact the way I embrace tmrw. Ah hah! Eat that IG. I’m terribly sorry you are experiencing such pain. What you are going through sounds awful. It must be so scary. I’m completely impressed that you’ve been able to use your good moments to be present and loving and light- rather than worry about what’s next. Wow. You.
I’m carrying you in my heart and prayers and look forward to your next letter.
Love and Grace
– Emily

Emily dear,
First of all, the whole “make the most” of the day by looking at IG and “(eye roll)” thing made me laugh. I can laugh with because I’ve been there done that, bought the t-shirt. But gracious, the fact that you found my words and letters through that place, that you connected, that you felt a bit renewed in how you engage the next day, gives me so much joy. Thank you for saying you’re sorry about my pain. Every time someone says so, I feel less alone in it, like there’s more purpose to it because it’s bringing me close to other humans instead of isolating me. It has been scary and I’ve made a mess of tings at times, but gracious, I’m so thankful for the grace to keep going. It’s definitely not my own flexing of any kind of muscle over here. So much love and grace right back to you, dear heart.

Dearest Ash,
Thank God for you. So thankful I found you. Your words are a shelter from bullshit, made from a deep and true love. You make me so excited for life, girl. I love that you are open and raw and honest and tangible. Dear sweet Ash, my heart hurts for you. But I fully and wholeheartedly KNOW this horrid piece of your life is a small piece. It doesn’t feel like that, and in no way do I want to minimize your pain. But at the end of your earthly life, you won’t be known as the woman in pain. You’ll be known as the woman who led a full, honest life. A fanstastic mother, wife, friend. A woman who loved and was dearly loved.
Anyway, i love seeing your light from so far. This is beyond needed in my current phase of life. You’re in my prayers and I’m loving your heart.
Until next time,

oh dear Jenna,
THANK GOD FOR YOU! I can’t even tell you.. your digging in and responding to what I’m sharing here means so much. “Your words are a shelter from bullshit, made from a deep and true love.” GEEZZ. I don’t know if I’ll get a better compliment about my words. Thank you for that. That’s exactly what I want them to be, exactly what I need them to be. This is all so real for me, so necessary, such a calling. Thank you for resonating with my hurt and hurting with me. for saying I won’t be known as the woman in pain at the end of my life. I hope and believe you’re right. keep writing back. I’m so thankful for your honesty with me here.
xo ash

I know your pain; we’re well acquainted sadly. This means I also know that the only thing I can say is,”That sucks. That really, really sucks.” Whenever my pain is bad, when it drags on ceaselessly, I remember this quote from Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing. I hope it resonates with you: “You try to tell yourself that you’ve been lucky, most incredibly lucky, and usually that works because it’s true. Sometimes it doesn’t work, that’s all. Then you cry.”

Dearest Athena,
I would love to know about your pain. As strange as it is, once you know about life on this planet, it helps to hear of other’s experiences on it. It’s almost like learning from a tour guide how to survive in the wilds of this odd and sometimes terrifying land. If you read this, I would love a letter / email from you. I’d love to know what your pain looks like, what you do in the midst of it, what you feel like on the bad and the good days and how you are spending your life. where does grace show up? As I read your comment, “On Writing” was literally in a stack of books sitting next to me. I love that you shared that quote. LOVE it. Thank you for sharing and being honest about your own knowledge of this pain, and the suck-age of it all.

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