Long journies are tough. (Can I get an Amen!?) They can be full of excitement and challenges. One challenge is figuring out how to share the journey with those you love—those you consider to be your people.
What do you share? What is the line of oversharing? Do people even care?
Recently, I met a girl who was going on a journey around the world and she decided to document this for her family and friends through a blog. I watched eagerly as she detailed all the amazing things she was doing in each city along the way. However, she encountered a communication challenge: many days would go by and she would be without wifi or access to her computer and she would have to delay her updates--therefore rolling them all into a large post at the end of that particular leg of the journey. Essentially, she was off the grid for days at a time. I am not sure people blamed her for her inability to communicate or got their feelings hurt because she didn’t share the minute she got to her next location. But there was a delay. People had to wait, wonder, and patiently anticipate her next update.
This is where I am. I feel like I am on a long journey and I have lacked the ability to communicate to those closest to me. I haven't shared the highest highs or the lowest lows. The difference is, people’s feelings were probably hurt by my silence and people have probably blamed me for my inability to articulate the truth of my journey. This has looked a bit different for each person. Some just pull back. Some runaway. Some lean in. Some just wait--patiently. Some have graciously and generously just encouraged me. Some became angry. Some chose to become frustrated because they didn’t understand. For some, it was just too uncomfortable to deal with. (And if I am being really honest--how can I blame them?) Long journeys are tough. They are hard to understand when you are not the one experiencing it. There are turns that cannot be anticipated and are hard for a bystander to endure without some whiplash. A happy example of a long journey is marriage or parenting. In both cases you know you are signing up for the long haul. But in both cases, you anticipate that it is going to be a worthwhile long journey--no not one without challenges but it will be rewarding. My long journey has been straight up challenging. It was twisted and intense and many couldn’t handle that.
However, for the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling around the country sharing about functional medicine and health in various capacities and forums. Throughout that time doors have opened for me to share more of my story and journey with those who have been through similar experiences. I have very reluctantly shared bits and pieces, but never fully. I would often absolve myself from the situation by turning the conversation to someone else that I thought had a better story or communicated more eloquently. This led me to a place where I finally had to ask myself--why?
Why do you always remove yourself from the conversation? Why do you always laugh off speaking opportunities? Why do you always negate the fact that people want to hear from you? Why are you disqualifying yourself at every turn?
I realized--it is because those that are closest to me--my people, they don’t know this Ashton. It hit me like a ton of bricks and it hurt. Consider this scenario with me: A room full of people whom I have come to know and love from around the country. Now let’s say they were all talking about a particular person (Me). These people are talking about what I have done for them, how they have been encouraged and touched by the stories I have shared with them. Now let's imagine my family and my people were to walk into that room--I am confident that they would have no clue that everyone in that room was talking about me. This is the crux of the problem. The people that I perceive as needing to know the deepest parts of me, they don’t really know me at all. They think they do. They would fight to the death and say that they do. But when my dear 22-year-old sister looked at me at Thanksgiving this past year and said,
“Hey, Ashton, you know when you got sick when you were 21....”
21? I was in such shock I didn’t even know how to respond.
I looked back and said,
“You mean when I was 16 and got sick?”
“No I mean like when you really got sick, when you were 21.”
“Chelsea, I really got sick at 16--like they told me I was going to die.”
“Oh, well I am sorry--Mom never really told us anything, I didn’t know.”
My sister, whom I love to death, didn’t even know that I had been told I was going to die. She didn’t know that I had been sick for over a decade. She didn’t know my journey, my pain, my isolation, my heartbreak, my loss of life. She also didn’t know my victory over death, the life-changing moments that led to health, my joy in the midst of challenges. She didn’t know any of it. She only knew in part. So when I read Mark 5 about the demon possessed man who Jesus set free, verses 18-20 stuck out to me like a flashing light in the dark.
“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, ‘No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.’ So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.” Mark 5:18-20 NLT
Here I was traveling the country, talking to parents, patients, doctors, and other professionals and yet my own family didn’t really know all He had done for me. I will not lie--I wanted to tell others, genuinely I wanted to share the story so that others could find the freedom and hope that they wanted so desperately. But the reality is--I couldn’t share everything I am because the people that the Lord had FIRST called me to share with had been kept out of the journey. They had missed several updates along the way and it was not only stunting our relationships but it was stunting me. I need my people, for continued health and to support me as I begin to share this HARD journey with others.
So if you are reading this and you are not my family, maybe you are not "my people"--thank you for taking the time to read my words, I hope they encourage you and inspire you to share your journey with those you love. But for now--I am writing this for my people. So they might come to know the real Ashton.
Messy, but whole.
Complex but simple.
Hurting but thriving.
Challenged but victorious.
Once a Victim but Now an overcomer.
Family and Friends--
It is my hope when you finish reading my stories you will understand me a little more--but more than that, I hope this encourages you to dream your dreams, face challenges differently and to never ever give up--because Hope is like an Anchor, set firm in Jesus! I have found that on every mountain top and through every valley He has been near and He has rescued me. He will do the same for you--if you just believe and hold tight to Him.
You are my people--and I want you to take this journey with me--First!