Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Sweet Life - Guest Post Written by Maren Engel

[Blog post written by Maren Engel]

I met Ashley four years ago while working as musicians together at a local church. Her sense of humor, authenticity, and spunk drew me to her immediately. We became fast friends. I deduced that Ashley was sick, but my Midwestern instincts told me not to ask. As my friendship with Ashley grew, CF creeped its way into our conversation and as the god parent and eternal babysitter for her two fur babies, I became more aware of the hold that CF had on Ashley’s life. Unexpected trips to the hospital had me “on call” with pups Cooper and Kalvin and I quickly learned the appropriate procedures when Ashley’s giant box of meds was delivered to the front door.  As a new member of Ashley’s world, I was in awe of her unbelievable strength and as a fellow singer, the idea that such a talented musician could be suffering from a disorder that affects her ability to literally breathe was unfathomable. An involuntary human function that I take for granted is one that Ashley struggles with daily. However, it is a struggle that Ashley refuses to let limit her ability to make music—which she describes as her life source—her necessity for life. How powerful.

Nothing makes me happier than going over to Ashley’s for a glass of wine, a few puppy snuggles, and a good gossip session. Ashley and I are what psychologists refer to as “Highly Sensitive People” or HSPs. I prefer to call us “feelers”. Hence, we have much to discuss. We spend a lot of time talking about happiness—where it comes from, how to get it, how to keep it. Ashley’s perspective on life, in part due to CF, is obviously unique and impossible to understand but she lives her life the way we all should: present and with intention, taking in every experience as something to cherish and grow from. It’s remarkable. Any active Breathe Bravely reader knows this. Ashley manages to accomplish so much while making time to enjoy a good dinner party, camping trip and to make every single person in her life feel appreciated and loved. She’s captures what truly matters in life. Her brave choice to share her journey with all of us is a gift.

A wise friend of mine and Ashley’s recently said to me, “Life is like a really amazing cake.” In my case? Carrot Cake. “Everything that happens to us is either the cake in the middle or the icing on top.”  I’m a dessert fan, so the metaphor obviously resonated. My take away was that most of our life experiences are like building the cake. These are the experiences that shape us, build us and mold us. And they certainly are not always positive. Sometimes they’re painful and horribly earth shattering. But they’re foundational--necessary. Then there’s everything else--the beautiful, fleeting experiences that keep life exciting—that’s the cream cheese icing.
As I’ve been reflecting on the last few years of my life and my talks with Ashley, I realized that I’ve been busy trying to ice a cake that isn’t quite fluffy enough yet. Annual travel experiences, activities that keep me busy every single night of the week, applying for this, applying for that, escaping to a new place—All things that will make my cake pretty on the outside. The icing is instant gratification and so much easier. But I don’t think all of that icing has made me very happy or fulfilled. So much sweetness has started to make me feel pretty sick, actually. I need more cake.

The cake metaphor immediately reminded me of Ashley. She’s baking her cake with all the best ingredients and helping me choose my own for a well-developed cake and a wholehearted life: Spending time with good people, practicing gratitude, peace, and kindness, fueling passion, striving for contentment, appreciating the simple things and learning to see myself the way God sees me. Mix all of this in with the inevitable obstacles that cause you to grow—pain, failure, uncertainty, disappointment—all of that makes a pretty fulfilling cake. And just like any worthwhile thing, it takes a few tries to get it just right. Oh, and of course the icing—all that sweet stuff—that’s really just a bonus.

I can’t put into words how thankful I am for Ashley and for the light, wisdom, and courage that she brings to the world. How lucky I am (we all are) to be a part of it. She is truly an inspiration. The ever persistent echoes of CF are truly muffled by all of her goodness and strength. I’m forever grateful that she has shared a little slice of her cake-one of my favorites!-with me.

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