Friday, November 14, 2014

The Last Day


Today is my last day as a single lady.

Since I was probably 13 or 14, I've always thought about these days -- today and tomorrow -- and wondered what they'd be like.  What would it be like to realize it's your last day as a single person?  What would it be like to wake up one morning and think, "I'm getting married today"?  

And now, at 28 years old, that moment is here.  This evening is my wedding rehearsal.  Tonight I'll kiss my fiance goodnight and whisper, "See you at the altar."  And tomorrow I get to marry the man I love, the man I have waited for.

It's pretty surreal, and super exciting.  I'm so thankful I can't even put it in words.  Today, 28 years of waiting, praying, questions, and heartaches fades into distant memory. "I have found the one my soul loves." {Song of Solomon 3:4}

Friday, November 7, 2014

How do I know he's THE ONE?!

Lately I've come across quite a few of these "marriage advice" articles, many of them titled something like this:

Twenty Questions to Ask Before You Get Married
Ten Marriage Deal Breakers
Thirty-Five Things You Absolutely Must Agree On
The One Characteristic You Can't Overlook in Marriage



I'm sure some of these articles contain some decent advice.  One should never go into a serious relationship blindly.  But don't you get the feeling, from those titles, that the authors are trying to reduce it to some sort of formula?  "Ask all of these questions, then you'll know for sure whether you should marry this guy or not."  They're trying to give us the steps to go through to make the process simpler -- ask this question, make sure you agree on this issue, don't forget to notice if they have this characteristic...figure out if they are "perfect for YOU" ...and if all the ducks line up, you've got yourself a spouse!

Also, just for humor's sake, you've gotta love this one that regularly circulates Pinterest:

Thank you, wise high schoolers ;-)

Of course, yes, there are basic, important questions that need to be settled before a couple moves forward into engagement and marriage -- the things that are fundamental, things like faith, spiritual convictions, and the direction they're going in life.

Do both love the Lord more than anything else?
Are both actively and intentionally pursuing a relationship with Jesus and being more like Him?
Do both have a similar passion and calling in life?  Are they going the same direction?

These are the questions to ask....more so than these....

Who will be responsible for keeping the house and yard clean?
How do you feel about paying for your children's college education?
What will we do in the case of an accidental pregnancy?
How much time will we spend with our in-laws?
If one of us cheats, what will be the outcome?

(Yep, all of those questions came out of articles like the ones I listed above.  One page even started out, "Sometimes love isn't enough to keep a couple together....ask these questions now!")

One of the best marriage articles I've read lately came from a young lady named Mo.  Here's what she says on her blog after getting engaged:

You see, my mind doubted because I was weighed down with the fear of making the wrong choice. Maybe Jeremiah wasn’t “The One”. How would I know for sure? There are things we disagree on. There are things about him that don’t always make me happy. It’s been a challenge, at times, loving him. And I KNOW it’s been a challenge for him to love me. Maybe we’re just compatible and I’m making the wrong decision. How do I know, for sure, that he is my soul mate?!
But maybe we’ve got it all backwards. Marriage is a covenant – a promise – to God that you vow to love another like Christ first loved us. In the most intimate, challenging, all-inclusive way. A vow to become one flesh with another person. To serve them and selflessly love them as Christ served and selflessly loved us to the cross. To carry their burdens. To take the lashes of their shortcomings. To bear the taunting of their sins and struggles. To put them before yourself to the point of brokenness, so that we can ultimately rise, just as our King did, in love.

I think, after knowing that a potential spouse loves the Lord with all his or her heart, is pursuing God, and that the two of you can truly walk forward in life together, the next big question is
a) does this person selflessly love and serve me like Jesus?
b) can I selflessly love and serve him or her like Jesus?
c) will we love one another in a way that reflects how Christ loves the Church?

Personal story moment.
The other night, my fiance, Brett, and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV, and eventually he fell asleep, leaning against me.  He looked so peaceful, and I began to pray as I watched him sleep.  For ten or fifteen minutes, I silently poured my heart out to God, praying for Brett, for us, for our marriage, and for myself, to be the wife he needs.  I prayed to always be, just like in that moment, a place of peace, rest, and refuge for him, in good times and bad.

When Brett woke up a few minutes later, I shared with him that I'd been praying for us while he was sleeping.  His response surprised me.  Pulling me into a tight hug, he whispered in my ear, simply, "Thank You, God, for Ashley. Please help our relationship always be centered on You and reflect You."  Then, looking me in the eyes, he told me, "I love you. I love how you pray over me. I love how you want to honor God in everything."

That moment, that night, reminded me of how blessed I am to call this man my future husband, how thankful I am that God brought us together.  It reminded me that, though neither of us are anywhere near perfect, we can reflect Christ in a godly marriage relationship.  It reminded me that this won't always be easy -- there will be trials and disagreements and challenges and uncertainties -- but by God's grace we will stay focused on Him and keep loving each other.  And it reminded me of what's really important... not the 276 Questions To Ask Before You Get Married (yes, that's a real article), but the knowledge that this man loves Jesus and loves me, intentionally and selflessly, and the conviction and commitment to do the same for him.

I couldn't ask for more.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

here's the plan:

Hey friends of the blogging world.
This space has been neglected for a few months, but I'm determined to bring it back to life yet again.... especially considering the big life changes that are here now and still coming!

Newsflash:  I got engaged during the six months I didn't write on my blog!  Brett and I will be getting married in just 18 days :-)

My goal is to blog a bit over the next few weeks about our story, thoughts about relationships and engagement, wedding projects, etc.  Then, as we drive across the country back to Alaska this winter (YES, we are DRIVING to Alaska. From Tennessee. In the winter. Unless plans change again. Which they've done about 20934 times.), I hope and plan to blog stories and pictures from our travels.  It should be fun.  So if you want to keep up with us crazy, in-love, road-tripping newlyweds, follow the blog and keep checking back!  And by all means, leave comments and keep in touch -- it will inspire me to keep writing :-)

Love, Ashley

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"If anyone wishes to come after Me.."

My daily Bible reading early this week was Matthew 16:21-28, the passage where Peter rebukes Jesus, telling Him, essentially, No, You're not going to die.  Jesus responds with, "Get behind me, satan!"

My thoughts:
Peter didn't want Jesus to suffer and die.  He thought that wasn't right, wasn't fair, and shouldn't happen.  The literal translation of verse 22 is, "God be merciful to You, Lord! This shall never be to You!"
It occurs to me that this is the attitude of many of us Americans toward the persecution and suffering of missionaries, and of Christians in general.  We say:

"They don't deserve that!"
"If they're suffering so much, they must not be in God's will."
"They should get out of there and not put themselves in danger."

But Jesus has a rebuttal to Peter's well-intended plea: "You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but of man" (v. 22).  Then He goes on to say that if we desire to truly follow Him, we are required to lay down our lives and our own interests -- to "die daily," as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:31.  And not just say we're willing to...but actually do it when called.

Yesterday I read a passage in Acts 21 that echoed this same subject -- "When we heard [that Paul would be persecuted], we...began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am willing, not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'  And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, 'The will of the Lord be done.'" (v.12-14)

For Christians today, it might not always look like being nailed to a cross or burned at the stake or thrown in prison.  Sometimes it looks like moving far from home, giving up worldly comforts, or enduring ridicule.  But in truly following Jesus, some degree of sacrifice, and even persecution, will come.  We will be required to lay down our life in some way -- "for the name of the Lord Jesus."  And others will say it's not worth it...but it is.  Following Him always is.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fourteen Days.

It's exactly two weeks from today that I fly from Tennessee to Seattle, Washington, and then the next day, on to Alaska to stay for the next 6 months.  Two weeks from today.  I can't even comprehend that!

It seems like just yesterday that I got home from Alaska.  In fact, I distinctly remember the day that was two weeks after getting back.  I wrote this in my journal that day:

October 9, 2013
Realized today that it's been exactly 2 weeks since I returned to TN.  Just 14 days.  That's not a long time, compared to how long I was there and how life-changing it was.  Some would say, 2 weeks is long enough to recuperate, now get on with life.  Maybe they'd be right.  But realizing it's only been 2 weeks somehow also gives me a little space and permission to breathe, to know I'm still processing and adjusting, and that's okay.  There's a lot to process.  And not just things that happened there, past-tense, but what is continuing.  What God was doing in me there didn't end when I got on the plane and left.  It's still going.  And yet some things did end and get left behind, like the beauty, the atmosphere, the friends, and the ministry, and those things I ache and long for.  So I'm working through the mess.  I don't know if I can expect to ever feel like I'm 'back to normal,' because I'm changed.  The old normal isn't normal anymore, and that's good.


(What a beautiful mess re-entry is.  If you've ever been on a life-altering mission trip, you understand.  It's good and terrible at the same time...but kinda mostly terrible...with good results, hopefully.)

So I remember very clearly those few weeks of re-entry woes, followed by what was kind of a difficult winter personally and a busy one.... and now I'm here, today, and it's spring, and I'm 14 days from going back to Alaska again, and I can't even believe that it all went by so quickly!  Didn't I just write that journal entry last month?  Nope.  Six months ago.  How in the world did that happen?!

I'm trying to pace myself through these next two weeks while getting everything done -- visiting with family and friends, saying goodbyes, shopping, packing, and yes, excitedly counting down the days until I'm back in the place that stole my heart last year.

Two weeks.  That's so crazy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

life like the sky.

Tonight as I was driving home, I couldn't stop looking in wonder at the sky.
If I had to describe it in one word, it would be....
WILD.

The weather today has been absolutely bizarre.  There was a beautiful sunrise this morning, but soon after, it got really cloudy.  Mid-afternoon, I looked out the window, and snow was pouring down!  Since it's been in the 50's and 60's for a couple of weeks now, snow was a complete shocker.  Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, snow and sunshine competed:  one minute it was bright and sunny; the next, snow was blowing sideways in violent wind gusts.

So when I drove home tonight at sunset, the snow had stopped, but clouds still covered the sky.  In my rearview mirror, the sun glowed bright orange, shooting out brilliant rays as it started to dip below the horizon.  The sky in front of and around me seemed to be almost constantly changing.  Big, billowy clouds in blue, gray, purple, and pink shifted and changed shape, exposing little patches of blue sky here and there, while the sun cast a slightly orange glow across everything.  The whole thing was awe-inspiring.  Beautiful.  And yes...wild.

I wonder sometimes if my life kinda looks like that.  To be honest, I WANT my life to look like that :  Ever-changing as I grow and follow God.  Inspiring.  Confusing.  Prompting others to praise the Creator.  Colorful.  Wildly beautiful.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Put Good In, Get Good Out

I thought of that creative title for this post, and then I thought, "Hmm that sounds familiar. Isn't that a slogan on a commercial?"  Turns out, it's the catchphrase for Minute Maid orange juice.

Image source - facebook.com/minutemaid

Oh well.  I just thought I was being creative.  Apparently mass advertising worked its little brain-tricks on me!  Anyway, on to the post....

Today is my day off, so I woke up around 9:30 and habitually grabbed my iPod Touch from my nightstand to check for any emails or messages.  As usual, Bible Gateway had emailed me the "verse of the day," which I opened and read.  Good start to the morning, right?  
That was the only email I had, so I switched over to Facebook.  After checking messages and notifications, I began lazily scrolling through the news feed.  For the next ten minutes or so, I read all the pointless statuses and sarcastic comments, looked at random pictures friends had posted, took the "who's your celebrity boyfriend" quiz and shared the results, and learned what everyone I knew had been doing for the past 10 hours while I'd been asleep.  

As I switched off the iPod and got out of bed, it hit me -- I had just started off my day by filling my mind with useless junk.  

Waking up and reading the verse of the day was good.  Even reading an email from a friend or a fun comment on something I'd shared on Facebook wasn't a bad thing.  But suddenly I regretted spending that chunk of time pouring all that uselessness and even negativity into my mind, letting that be the starting point of my day.  It was something I couldn't get back or do over.  

Ironically, my Bible reading just yesterday included Colossians 3:2 -- "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth."  How important it is to intentionally fix our thoughts "above" the things of the world, rather than on all the crap that surrounds us!  So why, I asked myself this morning, is it so much easier to let the junk into our minds than it is to let the good in?  

The answer?  It's in the word "let."  The negative, pointless, discouraging, time-wasting things of this world are all around us, and we can simply let it in.  No effort required.  Taking good, uplifting, God-honoring things into our minds requires more effort.  Often it's more than just letting it in.  Often we have to seek it, pursue it, and intentionally take it in.  Practically speaking, it requires a lot more focus and intentionality for me to start my morning by reading a Bible verse and praying than to mindlessly scroll through Facebook.  

And it isn't only about the morning.  In multiple situations and conversations throughout every day, we will face the choice to "let junk in" or to "put good in" our minds.  Will we choose the easy route, or the one that may be a little harder?  

That may depend on what kind of fruit we want to bear.  As Minute Maid has so aptly declared, "Put good in, get good out."  It's a simple concept.  Good oranges make good orange juice.  Or as Jesus said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good...for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Luke 6:45).  


Monday, March 10, 2014

Pasta Salad

When I lived alone for a year and a half, I had to learn to cook for one person -- quite the adjustment when you come from a family of six!  One day I decided I wanted to make pasta salad, which I honestly had never made before, because the rest of my family doesn't like it.  So while searching the internet for a pasta salad recipe, I ended up choosing bits and pieces from several recipes, combining them, and scaling it down to make just a couple of servings.

I'm actually making this tonight, to take to work for my lunch tomorrow.  While I'm at it, I thought I'd share the recipe.  It's super easy!  This makes about two servings, so you'll have to do some multiplication if you're feeding more mouths!  

PASTA SALAD

1 cup pasta of your choice
Handful of small broccoli florets
¼ cup mayonnaise
A little squirt of mustard
1/8 - 1/4 tsp salt
1/8 - 1/4 tsp sugar 

Boil pasta to desired texture -- I boil mine for about 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water to cool.  Mix mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and sugar together to form dressing.  Stir together all ingredients until well-coated, and chill in refrigerator.  NOTE:  I sometimes add some chunks of chicken to make it a meal!  


Sunday, March 9, 2014

We're all consumers here.

If working retail has taught me one thing, it has taught me that we are, without a doubt, hardcore consumers.  The most common phrases I hear, at both jobs:

Give me
Can I have
Can I get
I'm looking for
I need
I want


Plus, of course, all the complaints, the "no I don't like this, give me something different," and the relentless asking for discounts.  Being a retail employee is all about catering to the customer's every need and desire -- feeding their consumerism?! -- while at the same time meeting the employer's high demands for excellency and lots of sales.

Maybe it's my personality, my desire to work hard and give it all I've got, but for me, it's super easy to get sucked down into this endless whirlwind of people-pleasing.  Please the bosses.  Please the customers.  Give them what they want.  Keep that happy face on.  Sell sell sell.  It gets exhausting, and then suddenly I find myself in that I-hate-people-and-don't-want-to-talk-to-any-of-them-for-a-long-time mindset.  Oops.  Not a good mindset for a Christian to have, I guess.  Good thing I have tomorrow off to "renew my mind" (Romans 12:2), right?!

Anyway, this got me thinking a little this afternoon about consumerism and the self-centered nature of humanity.  Really, it's draining.  It's all about I want this and I need that, and we're all prone to it.  This fall I read Jen Hatmaker's book Seven: an experimental mutiny against excess, and it pretty much blew my mind.  It's all about how we can strive to be less consumers of and more contributors to the world we live in.  Jen put this into practice by committing to spend money at only seven different stores for a month, to give away seven things every day for a month, etc.  It's about intentional practices like this, but it's also about an attitude.  Jen writes:

“As Jesus explained, the right things have to die so the right things can live--we die to selfishness, greed, power, accumulation, prestige, and self-preservation, giving life to community, generosity, compassion, mercy, brotherhood, kindness, and love. The gospel will die in the toxic soil of self.” 

That last line gets me every time.  I don't want that to happen in my life.  May my selfish consumerism -- the natural side of me and of all of us -- never squelch the potential of the gospel in any way!  I want to consider, and maybe you will, too... how can I practice being a selfless contributor this week?  How can I let the gospel shine through not only my interactions with people, but through the way I partake of the world around me?