Sunday, December 30, 2012

like a sponge.


Lately I've felt like a sponge, thirstily soaking up any bit of wisdom or inspiration I can.  I find myself searching for it everywhere -- in Scripture, in books, in old journals, in songs, in quotes, in conversations.  I don't know why or how I've become so thirsty, but I'm like a dry sponge, soaking it all in and wanting more.

I wouldn't really call this a valley, or say I'm in a spiritually low place, because that's not true.  In fact, God is very real and very close...His work is more evident and His voice more clear than it has been in a while.  And yet I feel thirsty, needy, for more of Him, for more wisdom, truth, clarity, faith, light, inspiration, direction, hope, and holiness.

He satisfies the hungry soul with good things (Psalm 107:9).  He gives me a little every day.  A Scripture, a devotion, a line from a song.  Something specific to pray for.  A quote I wrote in my journal years ago, that spoke to me then and does again now.  Little sips to quench the thirst.  In fact, there are so many little "sips" I could share here -- thoughts that God has given or that have encouraged me lately -- that would probably seem so all-over-the-place if I wrote them all down here together, and you'd think I was crazy!  But they have kept me going...kept me thirsting...seeking for more from Him.  For more of Him.

At camp, we play a game with the kids involving a sponge and two buckets.  Each camper has to dip her sponge into a bucket of cold water from the creek, soaking up as much water as possible, then place the sponge on her head and run to the other end of the field.  At the other end of the field, there's a second bucket, and she squeezes her sponge out there before running back to the first bucket.  The object of the game is to be the first team to fill the second bucket.  It's hilarious to watch the kids play this game, running and laughing across the field with creek water streaming down their faces from the sponge on their head.  Some of the little ones hold it there too tightly, and squeeze most of the water out onto their own heads as they run, leaving nothing left to squeeze into the bucket.

I don't have a brilliant analogy for this.  Thinking about being a dry sponge just reminded me of it.  All I can say is, Lord, fill my bucket!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

worship leaders

So, for the past couple of months, my friend Kevin and I have been serving as interim worship leaders at a new church start in Knoxville.  Today was our last Sunday there.  On the drive home today, I was reflecting a bit on the whole experience and what I've learned from it.

Leading a congregation in worship is an honor and a huge responsibility.  People come into church -- hopefully -- with a need and desire to experience God and hear from Him.  Practically speaking, the worship music is the door to that.  Before they sit down to hear the Word of God preached, they take part in the music.  It is the worship leaders' responsibility to lead the people into the presence of God.  That's huge.  That involves not only what songs we choose to sing, but the order of them, the quality with which we play and sing, our own spiritual preparation, and the whole attitude and spirit we give off from the stage.  Like the shepherd (the pastor) feeds and guides the sheep, the worship leaders have a responsibility to lead them as well, and that has to be taken seriously.  Just choosing a few songs to sing doesn't cut it.  It takes focus, work, prayer, and preparation to actually lead the people into the spirit of worship.

All that being said.... A) I have a new respect for church worship leaders! and B) it has been a great experience for me to be a part of this ministry.

And C) unfortunately, another level of difficulty is added when there is a general lack of the Holy Spirit's presence in a particular congregation.  That is one thing Kevin and I have struggled with during our time at this church.  The church as a whole is spiritually dry, and in that case, even when you pray and prepare to lead worship, sometimes you still get dull, blank stares from the congregation.  That can be frustrating and discouraging.  I've heard worship leaders talk about this before; now I've experienced it.

I'm not saying there weren't moments in these past 2 months that the Spirit was present and people worshiped.  I'm not saying there weren't moments that I got lost in worship as I stood on that stage and played my guitar, and played a wrong chord because my eyes were closed in worship.... because yep, that happened ;-)

But there was a lot of dryness, too.  So I'm praying for this church -- for God to be welcomed and to bring that congregation to life spiritually.  I'm super thankful for the opportunity to serve there for the past 2 months!  It has certainly been a learning experience.  Moving on from here, I hope God will bless them graciously.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"We are not through the story yet."

I've been slowly reading through The Shadow of the Almighty, the biography of missionary martyr Jim Elliot, for a while now.  It's a potentially life-altering book, if you let it really touch your heart and challenge you.  His passion for God, ministry, and personal spiritual growth is challenging and inspiring, and there are a lot of insights on how God works, too.  Not to mention the love story between Jim and his wife Elisabeth...that's pretty incredible, too...and as a girl, of course I love a good love story :-)

Personally, I find it crazy how alike Jim Elliot and I are.  The book records a lot of his own writings - journals and letters - and so many of his thoughts, prayers, and desires echo my own at this season of my life.  I almost feel like I'm reading my own journal at times!!  Maybe if we'd lived at the same time, we would have been "kindred spirits."  Maybe it's just the heart of a single 20-something called to a life of ministry.  Whatever the reason for the similarities, it's good to feel like you're not alone.

Today as I was reading, I came across this passage, an excerpt from one of Jim's letters to Elisabeth.  It's one of those that is so true for me, I could have written myself:

"Oh, what an ache wanting can bring, when I know that the wanting is good, right, even God-granted, but realize that for now it is God-denied, and that He has not let me know all the wisdom of the denial. But I believe, and it is this that lets the living go on...it seems to say, 'Take it easy; we are not through the story yet...'" 
(Jim Elliot)

Those words have been echoing in my heart all evening.  God knows what it is I want, the thing I'm waiting for, praying for.  Oh, what an ache wanting can bring.  He has His reasons for not giving it to me yet, and I trust Him, as much as I know how.  There is an ache in the waiting and wanting, but there is a joy in the trusting and hoping.  He sees the whole picture.  We are not through the story yet.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

You raise me up!

Let me tell you a story.

In July of 2006, I was working as a camp counselor at Camp Ba Yo Ca.  It was a tough week.  It was hot, I was tired, and some of my campers were difficult to get along with.  I remember Tuesday of that week so clearly -- that night was going to be the weekly hiking trip and overnight camp-out on the mountain, and I was dreading it!  Like really, really dreading it.

At chapel that morning, one of the younger counselors did sign language to the song "You Raise Me Up."  I'm pretty sure that was one of the first times I'd heard that song.  The words washed over me, overwhelmingly, speaking to me right where I was.  You raise me up so I can stand on mountains.  Suddenly I had the strength to go climb that mountain -- and camp out on it -- strength I had completely lacked just a few minutes before.  I am strong when I am on Your shoulders.

I remember that song playing in my mind all day long that day.  But it wasn't in the annoying, song-stuck-in-your-head way.  Rather, it was like God used the words to carry me through that difficult day, one step at a time.

Since that week, I've often named "You Raise Me Up" as one of my favorite songs.  I like to listen to Josh Groban, the Celtic Woman, Selah, or anyone else sing it.  But I don't remember it ever speaking to me and blessing me like it did that morning at chapel....... until tonight.

Currently, I have a big opportunity in front of me that's both scary and exciting.  I haven't shared it with many people yet... if it all works out, I'll tell you about it, so until then just take my word for it :-)  Let's just say it's an opportunity that involves standing on some mountains and some strength I don't know if I have.  The website is open on my browser, staring at me all day long, waiting for me to work up the courage to make a decision.  It's been consuming my thoughts for several days.

And tonight, I was listening to Pandora while editing some pictures, and the Celtic Woman singing "You Raise Me Up" comes on.  I hummed along through the first verse and chorus, distracted by my work....and then somewhere in the second chorus, it hit me.  Listen to the words!  So I did.  And again, just like that morning at camp years ago, I was overwhelmed by what they were saying to me.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on Your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be

I'm afraid of the "leap of faith" that is before me, but I want the courage to take it.
He will give me the courage....He will "raise me up."
I will not walk into this alone or unprotected.  He is my strength, and with Him I can do it.
With Him I am more than I can be on my own.
You raise me up.  Thank You, Jesus.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Musings.

1.  My darling sister and best friend is coming home tonight, along with her hubby (my brother-in-law).  I can't wait to tackle her with hugs when she gets here.  I miss our sister time so much.

2.  You should check out this short blog post:  Path of the Paddle .  It's pretty wonderful.  

3.  I am counting down the days until I go to San Diego, California (there are 12 days left in the countdown, if you were wondering).  I have hopes for it to be an amazing week in many ways... including the fact that I get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  

4.  I'm missing Camp Ba Yo Ca lately.  

5.  I've been doing a 2-week Scripture reading plan that covers remarkable prayers in the Bible.  A few commonalities I've noticed in the prayers of these men of God:  a) they were bold and faith-filled, b) they were often spoken aloud in an assembly of people, c) they reminded God of His own promises, and d) they were answered.  

6.  "All Things Possible" by Mark Schultz has made my list of favorite songs lately.  A few favorite lines: 

I know mountains can move
I've seen what You can do in my weakness
So my heart will believe
If I wait I will see
My God doing what only He can do

My God is strong and mighty
My God is faithful
My hope is in the Lord
For He is able

Still I'm holding on 
To the One who's making
All things possible

7.  There are a LOT of service and ministry projects you can choose from to do this Christmas.  I get that.  Just want to offer a suggestion, if you're looking for a way to give back and are interested in blessing our U.S. military... check out Any Soldier .  I discovered this organization today and am looking forward to participating.  

8.  I'm learning lately about.... real faith....trust in God's heart....hope beyond hope (Romans 4:18).  It's interchangeably wonderful and terrifying.  

9.  I'm also learning that I need to have purposeful diligence in my Bible reading habits.  In other words, not just picking it up and reading something random each day.  Focus it.  Pursue it.  Pursue HIM through it.  

10.  Here's something else you can do.  Do a Google image search for the word "beautiful" (make sure you have safe search on - friendly reminder :-) ) and look at the pictures that come up.  There are some beautiful and unique ones.  It's interesting to see what people label as beautiful.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

can it be?

"Awaken anything that has died an unnecessary death in her.. If she is in a desert, bloom something stunning and obvious there." 

(from Beth Moore's prayer for the listeners at her live simulcast, September 15, 2012)
(See the whole prayer here at Beth Moore's blog

That moment when... you've earnestly prayed this prayer for yourself, claiming what was prayed for you as your own... then a few days later, it happens.  An old longing you had tried to put to death is reawakened.  Something wonderful appears in the midst of the discouraging days.

And yet, still you question whether this thing is from God.

Until a few weeks later, you pull out your crumpled print-out of that prayer, read it again, and realize, in a wow moment, that maybe....possibly....this thing that has bloomed in your life again is God's answer to these words you prayed.  Can it be?

Monday, October 22, 2012

the wonder of it all..

During this beautiful fall season, I've been thinking about what it means to praise the Creator of this beauty.

I used to think that when I saw something -- mountains, a waterfall, a sunset, some glorious piece of creation -- that I was wrong or in some way "cheating" God if I didn't spout off some eloquent words of praise in my heart.  God deserves glory for His creation, right?  The Bible says that He has revealed Himself to us through creation (Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 19:1).  I thought, if He has made this for me to live in and to see, and if He uses it to show me Himself, then it is my responsibility to give Him proper praise for it.

But in the last few months, I've begun to realize that my simple enjoyment and awe of God's creation, the joy and wonder it stirs in my heart, is praise enough.  

God is our Father.  Think about it....parents love to see their children USING and ENJOYING the gifts they give them.  Right?  It would be disappointing for a mom or dad to give their child a gift, only for the child to toss it aside, take it for granted, and never enjoy it.  But when they see their child playing with that toy, wearing that outfit, driving that car, or whatever it may be, and finding delight in it, it makes the parent happy and feel that their gift is appreciated.

So when I see something awe-inspiring in God's creation, it's okay if I don't have any elaborate words of praise to say, or any amazing conclusions to draw (like, "God this shows me that you are....").  It's totally okay if I do, and I'm sure He loves that, too!  Maybe a Bible verse like "When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers..." might come to mind, or I might start singing a song about God's love being deeper than the ocean.  Awesome!  But it's also okay when nothing like that comes to mind.  Because I've come to believe that God loves to see my heart finding delight in what He has created.

And these are beautiful moments...
Being speechless over a gorgeous sunset.
Looking at a sky full of stars, wondering at how many there are.
Smiling when I see my beloved mountains appear on the horizon.
Breathing in fresh, clean air and laughing at the wind in my face.
Watching the snow fall in child-like wonder.

This is my heart wondering and rejoicing at my surroundings, at what my awesome Creator God has made with His hands.  Maybe I have prayers of praise and Scripture in response, but if not, no need to force it.  Maybe I simply say, "God, You're awesome."  Maybe I take a photo of it, or point it out to a friend, or just take a moment to breathe it in and savor it.  Whatever the response, I think our Father is pleased to see us delight in His gift of creation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

on singleness...

My September 5 journal entry:

"Got an email from [a friend] this morning.  She said, 'Love is hard but not impossible,' and said to keep praying, 'not in an attitude of desperation, but telling God that you need a person by your side.' 

You know that, Abba - that I need and want my man by my side, and to be by his.  But Your timing is perfect for that.  I can't even say if I'm ready for it or not, but I want to be.  Father, fulfill the desires of our hearts in Your perfect timing, and may it be soon, according to Your will.  Help me to rest in You and wait patiently, even when my flesh wants to pursue.  Remove selfishness from me, Lord, and develop agape love within me.  Prepare me to be the girlfriend, the companion, the wife that my man needs me to be - and more importantly, that You want me to be for Your glory!  And please be preparing him, too, to be a godly boyfriend, companion, husband, father, that I need/want him to be and that You're calling him to be.  Thank You for Your work in both our lives.
  
It's hard to have hope sometimes...Hard to imagine it actually working out beautifully...but help me hope, Lord; help me believe.  And God, continue to help me love and want You the most.  I pray that You would come before everything in both our lives, even before each other." 

[Note: the "man" referred to is an unknown person! :-) ]
Pray for your future mate, ladies and gentlemen.  And pray for God to bring you together!  I certainly do, though I sometimes feel like God is ignoring me.  He isn't.  But His ways are far above ours.

Yes, there have been moments in life that I have stomped my feet at God and told I'm that I'm sick of being alone.  There have been moments I've told Him I didn't want to learn any more "lessons" from "the gift of singleness." (as all the articles meant to make us feel better say!)  But in the end, I do believe that He knows what He's doing, and that what He's doing is something loving and beautiful.

It takes courage to hold onto that hope.  Let's hold it anyway.
"He makes everything beautiful in its time." Ecclesiastes 3:11

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

it is well.

A few weeks ago, I was really happy. Not that I'm NOT happy now or other times, but you know how it is... there are just those days that you just feel a lot of joy and happiness, and it flows through everything you do that day. I had several of those days in a row that week...a feeling of peace, joy, and anticipation.
My journal entry on August 21 says, "Thank You, Lord, for Your perfect peace that has surrounded my soul these last few days. I can say 'it is well with my soul.' The future is unknown, but I'm not afraid. I have peace..."
Those are beautiful days, aren't they?

Then, a few days after that, something happened in my personal life that took that joy and peace away. Because of that situation, I was stressed, disappointed, and even hurt... and the hurt stayed around for a while and weighed me down.

By this past Sunday, I was feeling a lot better, but with that recent situation still VERY fresh in my mind. In worship at my church that morning, we sang this song:
It is well, it is well
Through the storm I am held
It is well, it is well with my soul

I just absolutely love how God arranges the little details of life to speak to us. How profound that the same words I had written on that day of joy and peace -- "it is well with my soul" -- returned to me in a time of unrest. And not just those words, but along with them, the reminder that "through the storm I am held." God is so good, isn't He? Some days are more challenging than others to remember it....but always, because of Him, it is well with my soul.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mission Report!

So, I'm a little delayed writing about it here, but as many of you know, I recently spent 3 1/2 weeks on an overseas mission trip. That month away was truly amazing in so many ways. There is no way I can fully describe it here, but I'd like to at least try to give you a glimpse of it! So if you're ready... hang on because I'm about to take you on a quick trip around the world!! :-)

On July 16-17, I traveled for over 24 hours....all by myself....to Kenya. I came to the conclusion that I do not like traveling alone!! Especially not when traveling such a long way. It's just too lonely!! Yeah, I'll be completely honest, I almost totally broke down in the Amsterdam airport in the middle of the night...not a fun experience! But the weeks following were more than worth it.

Being back in Kenya again after 3 years was great! I lived with the same missionary family who I lived with last time I was there, and got a bit spoiled... my own bedroom, hot showers almost every morning, and delicious homemade food almost every night! :-) There was also another small group staying with us, who all work together at an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Camp in Michigan. We all quickly became like a big family! In fact, on the first night the FCA team arrived -- I'd already been there for a couple of days -- this conversation could be overheard between one of the FCA guys and myself as we played a card game:
"You jerk!"
"Wait, you've only known me for two hours and you're already calling me a jerk?"
"Sorry. I go into brother mode quickly."
"That's okay..I'm used to brother teasing!"

Since I was working with the same missionary as before, we were in Orbit Village again, with many of the same children that I met and fell in love with on my last trip. The Orbit Village Project has a Christian school, a church, two orphanages (boys and girls), and a child sponsorship program. <--click on the link for more info! It is a wonderful program that has changed thousands of lives for the better... including mine!!

During the two weeks we were there, we held a sports camp (FCA style, if any of you have done FCA camps before!) for the older kids, and a Vacation Bible School for the kids under 12 years. Nearly 100 kids attended the camp, and around 50 were at VBS each day.
My role? Each morning and afternoon, I led worship for the sports camp by playing guitar and singing. I had been sick for a week or two before leaving on the trip, and with that plus all the dust and dryness in Kenya, I was struggling with my voice the whole time! It took a lot of prayer, a lot of cough lozenges, and some dropping songs down a couple of keys for me to be able to lead the songs!!
video

One of the ladies from the Michigan team and myself, along with a few of the Orbit school teachers, led the VBS. Fifty children, age 3-11, in one tiny classroom can be a little overwhelming at times!! But the little ones are precious, very enthusiastic, and love any attention they can get from us American visitors :-) Each day, we taught them a Bible lesson and a Scripture verse to memorize, did art projects, sang children's songs, and played games such as the hokey pokey, duck duck goose (rhino rhino cheetah), relay races, and anything else we could think of to entertain them!!

You might notice in the pictures that most of the kids are wearing winter clothes. During our summer season here, it is winter in Kenya. Now keep in mind, Kenya is on the equator, so "winter" there is like spring here in Tennessee. While the kids were in long pants, jackets, and hats, most of the time I was wearing t-shirts!

It was wonderful to get to connect with my "sponsor sisters" again.. these are three young ladies that my family has sponsored for many years. Two of them have graduated from high school now, and the 3rd is a freshman. They are precious girls and SO much fun! :-)

One of the most meaningful parts of the Kenya trip for me was my special bond with "my baby girl." I met this sweet little one on my trip to Kenya three years ago and fell in love with her then. I was sooo hopeful that she would remember me this time, since she was only four years old before. Guess what... she did!! :-) The bond between us was almost like I had never left. We were nearly inseparable for the two weeks I was in Orbit, and saying goodbye to her at the end of those two weeks was heartbreaking. I'd bring her home if I could...

Okay, time to switch gears... after two weeks, it was on to a new country, a new continent, and new people! Making that change was challenging, but as much as I wanted to stay in Kenya longer, Romania ended up being amazing too! Here, I worked with Operation Mobilization, an organization that facilitates mission trips all over the world. This trip was definitely an international experience -- even our mission team was from all over the world!! Our group of about 25 people represented England, Ireland, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, USA, and of course Romania.

This experience was quite different from Kenya, where we lived in a nice house... here in Romania, we were really roughing it!! We lived in tents, showered from a cold hose, used an outhouse, and washed our dishes in buckets of soapy water. True camping!! :-)

After two days of team-building, preparation, planning, worship, and bonding, we began a week of activities (KidsGames) with the local children. Each day, we ran KidsGames in the morning in one village, and in the afternoon in a second village. These were activities like sack races, tug-of-war, soccer, relay races, etc. Our mission team was divided into smaller teams of 3 or 4, each with a country name and several children assigned to us. It was fun to see the kids get really patriotic with team spirit! Since I was the only one who had come from USA, our small group was "Team America."

The language barrier was a real challenge on this trip, more than I expected. It took me awhile to realize that.... in Guatemala, I could use my minimal Spanish to communicate with the kids. In Kenya, I know a few words of Swahili and most of the kids speak at least some English. Here in Romania, I had NO way at all to verbally communicate with the kids, and it was really my first experience with that. It was a little frustrating at times, but it was neat to find other ways to communicate with them. Smiles, hugs, high-fives, laughter, and team spirit are the same in every language!! (thankfully, we also had our Romanian team members there to translate!)

On our last 2 days there, we got to do some sightseeing, including Castelel Bran (the legendary Dracula's castle), the old city of Brasov, and the narrowest street in Europe. What an experience!! The streets of Brasov were just like I've always imagined European streets to look like...

What was most meaningful on the Romania trip? God really showed me how big He is, how His church has no national boundaries, how HE has no boundaries! Working with the international mission team was truly eye-opening for me. As I listened to the others pray and worship in their own languages, I saw in a new way that God is not limited by language. As real as He is to me in my heart and life as I talk to Him in English.... He is JUST as real in Romanian, German, Swedish, and Dutch. Of course I knew this before, but experiencing it in this way was really amazing. All I could do was just to be in total awe of my awesome, international God!!! :-)

video

Having friends all over the world is pretty cool, too....here's most of our group...

If you have read this far, props to you!! ;-) Thanks for reading. This trip was an AMAZING experience that I am incredibly thankful for. I love seeing the world, meeting new people, serving God in different places, and experiencing HIM in a way that's only possible on the mission field... Hopefully this little "mission report" has blessed you in some way!
~Ashley

Monday, July 16, 2012

going away...

I leave today for three-and-a-half weeks of mission trips! God has led me to spend time in Kenya and in Romania for the next month, and I'm really excited to see what He has in store!

I don't know if I'll have a chance to update the blog while I'm gone, but I do plan to post updates on Facebook as often as I can. So if we are friends there, you can get the latest updates and the photos of super adorable children and other cool stuff :-) If we're not Facebook friends, then you will have to wait until I get back, and I'll share some of that cool stuff here on the blog.

Either way, I'd love it if you would keep me in your prayers for the next few weeks. Like any mission trip, this will be challenging and adventurous in many ways, but I believe it will also be amazing! Thank you for your prayers... see you in 3 1/2 weeks!!
Ashley

Friday, June 29, 2012

if you're happy and you know it...

I'm happy.
This has turned out to be an amazing summer...it's been a fabulous week...and a wonderful day today! My heart is so full of joy and smiles. God is so faithful and good to me.

I'm thankful for opportunities to be involved in His kingdom work.
I'm thankful for some special people in my life.
I'm thankful that He's been speaking to me through His word a lot lately.
I'm thankful for hope and a future (Jer 29:11)

Life truly is good, y'all, because God is good. And joy is a wonderful thing, too :-)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

loooove

I've been reading "Shadow of the Almighty," the biography of Jim Elliot, the missionary martyr - excellent and challenging book! The following is an excerpt from a letter Jim Elliot wrote to his wife Elisabeth....BEFORE they were married, when they were just beginning a relationship:

"...And what [am I] trembling about? Three things: you, me, and God. I tremble to think that forwardness in declaring my feeling to you is actually affecting your entire life. I have an idea that it will be almost impossible for you to discern the Lord's mind for you without struggling through a maze of thought and feeling about me. What if, in the real test, your feeling should overcome your faith? Whose then the responsibility? Not entirely yours. For this I fear - that I, stepping out of the path of the Lord for just a moment, should draw you with me...
There is within a hunger after God, given of God, filled by God...What makes me tremble is that I might allow something else (you, for example) to take the place my God should have. I tremble lest in any way I offend my Eternal Lover."

I love two things about this...okay, maybe three :-) First, I'm a romantic and just love a good love story!! Even though I know Jim and Elisabeth ended up getting married, following the story of their relationship is still pretty great.
But on a more serious note, one thing that grabs me about this excerpt is how Jim's love and hunger for God came first, even before his love for Elisabeth. He had committed his entire life to the Lord, and was concerned that absolutely nothing should get in the way of that. I want to love God that way!!
Finally, it's awesome that both his love for God and his love for Elisabeth combined in his concern that he not be a distraction from her own walk with the Lord. Just this morning at church, the verse was brought up, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." Sacrificial love...wanting GOD's best for the other person...and it goes both ways.

I think this is applicable to ALL Christian relationships and friendships, not just marriage!! What a challenge...to always keep God first in our own lives and to seek His best for those we love. However, it also reminds me, personally, of the verse in Proverbs 31 that says "she does her husband good and not evil all the days of her life." This attitude of seeking God's best for the other person should be part of my attitude toward my future husband even now, while I'm still single.

Any thoughts or feedback on any of the above?

Monday, June 18, 2012

an update that's brief and concise...ish

So... I've been intending to write something here for a while now, but whenever I started to do so, couldn't think of what to write.  Not that there's nothing to talk about.  The question is HOW to briefly and concisely describe everything that has been happening in my life and heart!
A lot of changes have taken place lately.  I'm no longer working at Camp.  God said it was time to move on to something new... I have known that for a year, but just recently has it actually been the exact time that needed to happen.  May 25 was my last day of working - and living - at Camp.  That was a very difficult decision to make, even though I knew it was the right one.  Camp and the people I lived and worked with there became very, very dear to me.  Let's just say that the goodbyes were not pretty!!  But on the other hand, in spite of all the heartache and tears and "oh-my-goodness-what-am-I-doing-I-can't-do-this," those last few days were precious days, in a way.  I felt so loved and embraced by my Camp family, through the words they spoke, prayers they prayed, and gifts they gave.  Those people, that ministry, and the season of life I spent serving at Camp, will always have a special place in my heart!
One day last week, I went back up to Camp to visit and hang out for the afternoon.  I wasn't sure how it would feel to be back (considering how hard it was to leave!), and it was a strange feeling, but not necessarily a bad one.  When I left, one of the camp pastors told me, "It's like sticking your finger in the ocean" -- everything keeps right on moving, like you were never there.  It was good to see everything still moving right along at Camp, and to have the feeling that, even though I miss it, that's not my place anymore.  And that's okay.
So, on to what's next, right?  Whatever that is!  :-)  For now, I have moved back in with my family, and am spending the summer doing ministry work (Vacation Bible School, inner-city outreach camp, etc) and mission trips.  In less than a month, I'll be traveling to Kenya and then on to Romania, to be out of the country for almost four weeks.  I'm very excited and nervous about that!
As I pursue these opportunities this summer, I'm seeking and praying that the Lord gives me direction on what's next.  I've applied for a few ministry jobs, and "waiting and seeing" now.  It's a kinda scary place to be... not just financially because I don't have an income anymore, but also in wondering, what am I going to do with life from this point on?  I don't want to be stuck in a place of feeling like I'm wasting the days.  I absolutely want this season of life, and the next, to count for something good for God's kingdom and glory.  I think He will honor that... I just have to be patient while waiting on Him to reveal His plan.  AND I have to be diligent to seek Him every day, right now, while I'm waiting, and allow Him to be doing His work in my heart and life.

So there's the sort-of-brief, sort-of-concise life update from Ashley!  ;-)  I hope to start writing regularly again now...

Monday, May 7, 2012

the real me.

For some of you, this will be "before your time," but when I was a teenager, I loved Jaci Velasquez's music.  She sang Christian pop with a kind of Latin feel, and hers was the first CD I ever got as the world moved from cassette tapes to CD's.
When I was around 17 or so, Jaci Velasquez put out a new album called "Unspoken," and some of the songs on this album were pretty different from her previous ones.  One song in particular -- track 5 on the disc -- was called "The Real Me" and really grabbed my attention.  The song starts out:

People think I've got it all together
With the show of my sweet, sweet smile
But do they know if I am happy ever?
Pull up a chair 'cause this may take awhile.
I've got my bad days, some are even worse
I can be a blessing and you know I can be a curse..

The lyrics go on as she describes her own issues and insecurities, and says that she won't pretend to be perfect anymore, asking, "Can you deal with the real me?" 

When I heard this song, it grabbed me because it WAS me.  I felt like I could have written every word myself!  Filled with insecurity, I was doing my best to portray a perfect image to the people around me.  At that time, my family was attending a very small church -- one of those where everybody knows everybody and nothing is a secret.  Adults in the church would comment about what a "sweet girl" and what an "angel" I was, and I felt pressured to keep up that image.  I never felt free to admit that anything was wrong or that I was struggling with something, because I had to be the sweet and godly girl everyone expected me to be.  It was exhausting and painful.  Jaci Velasquez's song resonated with me because I could relate as she sang, "This is the real me - am I the girl that you want me to be?" 

Fast forward to yesterday.  Flipping through my CD case, I came across the "Unspoken" CD and popped it in my player as I drove to small group.  It always surprises me, when I listen to those old CD's from my teen years, that I still remember almost all the words.  Singing along with this song, "The Real Me," I thought back to that season of my life, and the hurt of trying to be what [I thought] people wanted and expected me to be.  Then I realized something.  

I've changed.  Sure, I still feel insecure sometimes... maybe a lot of times.  But God has been at work in my life the past few years.  I'm not so afraid to be myself now, and not so afraid to let people see my struggles and bad days.  God has been and is continually breaking my shell, removing masks, and teaching me that the best thing to be is what He created me to be.  

Just today, I was talking to a lady who I've only met a couple of times.  As we parted, she said, "You're just precious."  I thought, Well that's funny, because I wasn't even trying -- I didn't have on my "customer service" front that I use at work, or doing anything special -- just being me.  And that's when God reminded me.... that's the point.  Just being me. That's all He asks me to be.  No fronts, no angelic images, no measuring up to human expectations.  Just obediently being the girl He created and called me to be.  

That's freeing, isn't it? 

Monday, April 30, 2012

"can my child call home if he misses me?"

Talking to parents registering their kids for camp for the first time can be quite an experience.  There are so many different kinds of parents, and different emotional responses from them as they prepare to launch their child into the world of summer camp.  For some, the child has spent a week or more away at Grandma's house before, while others have never been away from their child for more than a day.

Some of these first-time camper parents will give me the needed information I ask them for, pay the fee, and they're off the phone... quick and easy.  Others, though, will give me the info I ask for plus anything else they can think of that I might want to know about their child -- emotional or behavioral issues, whether or not they make friends easily, what kind of activities they like, the fact that they are overweight and need to do something  this summer besides play video games.... etc etc.

Some parents make the phone call with a lengthy list of questions prepped in front of them.  Then it's interrogation time, and I get asked questions about everything from our activities to how many kids are in a cabin to how we screen/select counselors to how much snacks cost to emergency policies to... you name it.  It's interesting to me that some parents just trust what they see on the brochure/website or what they hear from friends, while others feel the need to dig deeper into the details.

These conversations can be enjoyable, difficult, and occasionally a little ridiculous.  But I imagine if I was sending my child to a week of summer camp for the first time, I'd probably be a little nervous, too.  After all, they are handing their most valuable possession -- their child -- into the care of other adults for a week!  In the end, it's always a good feeling when the conversation ends with a relieved parent saying to me, "Thank you, I feel SO much better about this now! I think my child will have a great time!"  I feel like I (and Camp!) have passed the test.  Mission accomplished -- that's one more kiddo experiencing the love of Jesus at Camp this summer!

Friday, April 13, 2012

a woman of God

So, there's always a lot of discussion in the Christian arena about what it means to be a "godly woman." In fact, I read a couple of blog posts on this subject just tonight. It's important, for sure, and it's challenging sometimes - especially in today's American society - to know exactly what being a Christian woman is supposed to look like.
The other day I was reading in 1 Timothy 5. I was actually reading chapter 4, and praying verse 12 for a friend (that's the "let no one look down on your youthfulness" verse, if you didn't know). I decided to keep on reading a little farther, and came across 1 Timothy 5:9-10. This is the list of qualifications for a widow to be "put on the list" to be cared for by the church.
I've read this before, of course, but this time it came across to me a little differently. Obviously, I am not a widow, nor do I ever want to be a widow! But it seems that in Paul and Timothy's time, older widows who were godly women were eligible for the church to provide for and care for them. This little description, then.... describes a godly woman. I don't want to be a widow, but I want to be this kind of woman:
"A widow is to be put on the list [if she has been] the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works, and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work." (1 Tim 5:9-10)
Being a woman of God begins deep inside, in the heart of hearts, believing in Jesus. It shows up in the "quiet and gentle spirit" and the inner beauty. And it displays itself to the world in the genuine, sacrificial acts of service described here. That's the kind of woman I want to be, with God's help!

Monday, April 2, 2012

the outcasts.


Thought for the day. "Jesus loves the outcasts."
Last night at small group, we discussed Luke chapter 5. This chapter describes how Jesus called Peter and the other fishermen to be His disciples, then how He healed the leper and the paralytic, after which He chose Matthew - a tax collector - as a disciple and went to a dinner party full of people who were called "sinners." What stood out to me in this chapter.... Jesus was all about the nobodies. The everyday, average-joe folks, who the rest of the world either a) overlooked or b) judged.
Jesus loves the outcasts.
Last week for my college class, we were required to take a spiritual gifts test, then discuss our results on the class online discussion board. My top result was Showing Mercy. As I discussed this with my classmates, one of them brought up a verse from this very story in Luke 5 -- Jesus' response to the leper. "He reached out and touched him and said 'I am willing; be cleansed.'" Loving the outcast. Touching the untouchable. Showing mercy.
Isn't that what it means to be like Jesus?
Whether they are the homeless on the street corner, the orphans overseas, the elderly in the nursing homes, or our own peers...
God, help me see people like You see them... as precious lives, souls in need of Your love, even if the world sees them as ugly or worthless or beyond hope or just a nobody. Break my heart for what breaks Yours. To love like You is what I want, Lord.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

a biblical question...feedback please?

This question has been floating around in my brain for about a week, and I haven't been able to land on an answer. Here's the question...

Do we too often respond to circumstances with "whatever God wants will happen" or "what's meant to be will be," in essence throwing our hands up and taking the easy way out, when perhaps we are supposed to instead find out what it is God wants?
The Bible says "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). It also says "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17).
So, rather than spouting off the easy, comforting "whatever is meant to be will happen," should we instead seek the thoughts of God and find out "what is meant to be"... and then be submissive and proactive in that?

I understand that saying "what God wants will happen" is not always just easy and comforting... it does require faith. I'm just wondering if it's the right approach in all situations.
Any thoughts? I'd really like to hear them.


Monday, March 19, 2012

When You Love Someone by Bethany Dillon

This morning it was a fight to wake up
Those words still ringing in my head
Never felt like such a fool in front of anyone
I guess that's what you do when you love someone

I was in Nashville, you were driving home
Wish I was in the passenger seat
I just needed you to know I'm coming undone
That's what you do when you love someone

Just give me time if you need more
There's no way to ever really know
How to protect yourself or predict the outcome
But you'll do anything when you love someone

I just hung up the phone
You've got a way of changing my day
You proved me wrong, I was convinced I was alone
I guess that's what you do when you love someone

Monday, March 5, 2012

something greater.

This is a picture of a 3-year-old Ethiopian girl and her daddy.
This is a picture of a little girl who cannot walk, run, or play with other kids because she was born with club feet.
This is a picture of a life with very little hope.
Yet, this is a picture of hope.
This is a picture of a little girl who now gets to have corrective surgery from the Christian doctors who work with CURE International.
This is a picture of a child whose surgery has been fully paid for by people who have never met her.
This is a picture of a family who will be introduced to Jesus at the CURE hospital.
This is a picture of how, by something as small as donating a dollar, or something as big as performing surgeries, or anywhere in between, we can all be a part of something greater than ourselves.

I want to be a part of something greater than myself. I want to make a difference in the world, in whatever part of the world I am in. I want to be one little person playing my little part in God's beautiful plan, but I want to KNOW that I'm touching lives and that it all really matters and that I'm giving my life to something great.
Sometimes, like tonight, it's more complicated than it should be -- details, money, applications, safety, closed doors. It's frustrating. Like, I just want to love on hurting people, just want to serve. But there's so much standing between where I am and where I want to be. And I'm not really even sure where that is, if it's right where I am, or down the road, or in some other state or some other country. All I know is I'm longing to lose myself in the beauty of doing God's work.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

total randomness.

Random Facts Running Through My Head
by Ashley

1. Mocha Cheesecake ice cream is really fancy and yummy.
2. My dog sheds a lot.
3. This thing sitting next to me that's made of cedar wood smells really good.
4. I absolutely cannot wait to be done with my AA degree in May.
5. I have Taylor Swift's song "Stay Beautiful" in my head.
6. My house is kinda messy.
7. It's going to storm again tomorrow.
8. I'm wearing completely mismatching clothes right now.
9. Cardio Ballroom Workout with Julianne Huff is super intense.
10. Today someone thought I was engaged.
11. One week from Sunday is the first soccer game of the season.
12. Pajama pants with pockets are cool.
13. It's dark outside.
14. I have a lot to do at work tomorrow.
15. Yesterday I heard "Go the Distance" from Hercules in some unidentifiable foreign language.
16. One time my family and I watched Mulan in Spanish.
17. I'm trying to learn how to French braid my own hair.
18. Rain boots are hard to drive in.
19. There's a coloring book and box of crayons on the chair next to me.
20. That's all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

can I be the one You use?

SET THE WORLD ON FIRE by Britt Nicole
I wanna set the world on fire
Until it's burning bright for You
It's everything that I desire
Can I be the one You use?

I am small but You are big enough
I am weak but You are strong enough

Take my dreams
Come and give them wings
Lord with You
There's nothing I cannot do

I wanna feed the hungry children
And reach across the farthest land
Tell the broken there is healing
And mercy in the Father's hand

I am small but You are big enough
I am weak but You are strong enough

Take my dreams
Come and give them wings
Lord with You
There's nothing I cannot do

My hands, my feet, my everything
My love, my life, Lord use me
I wanna set the world on fire

For the last six or seven months, I've been trying to figure out what comes next in my life. Where am I going when I leave here? I'm not sure if I want to work at a camp, or take a break from camp ministry. Maybe I'll work in youth ministry of some other kind. Or maybe I'll go to the other side of the world and "feed the hungry children." I don't really know! It's an adventure -- sometimes frustrating, sometimes thrilling -- as I seek where He'll have me go.
All I know is I want to make a difference. And I want it all to be motivated by the amazing, crazy, life-changing love of God.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

be real.

So, for something I was filling out yesterday, I had to answer the question, "What do other people see as your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?" In order to answer that question, I texted a few close friends and asked them.

I learned something: When you ask the question "what do you think is my greatest weakness?" you're going to get honest answers, and then you have a choice. You either brush off what they say, get offended by it, or receive it and learn from it.

In my case, three of the answers I got were very similar. The first friend said "kinda shy sometimes." The second said "your lack of self-esteem." The third friend gave a little more detail, and said "You lack a little boldness, seems hard for you to be real with what's going on with you."

It wasn't until I was sitting in church this morning that the third answer really struck me. The message today was on Building Real Community, and one of the pastor's points was "Fellowship is built on authenticity." He used 1 John 1: 7 here: "If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another."

At that point of the message, my friend's statement about me "not being real with what's going on" came back to me. She's totally right. I'm one of those people that, no matter how bad a day I'm having or how heartbroken I might be, I'm gonna paste a smile on my face and say "I'm fine." Neither am I very likely to open up and be vulnerable and admit that I'm struggling with something.

My pastor's challenge this morning was that that attitude is a hindrance to real, authentic fellowship. Keeping our struggles, and even our joys, hidden in the darkness of our own selves accomplishes nothing. They are meant to be shared. We are meant to walk in the Light and to be known -- known by God and by our brothers and sisters. We are called to bear one another's burdens. If we keep our burdens to ourselves, first of all no one can help us bear them, and second, we have no strength left to help others bear theirs.

So that's something I want to work on... authenticity. Yes, self-esteem and boldness and being less shy... but also being real. Why is it so hard for us to just be authentic?

"Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another." James 5:16

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cookies!!!

So, my friend and coworker Lisa is insanely creative. One of her most creative projects is decorating cookies... and I mean, not just cookies... these are COOKIES. You'll see what I mean.

Lisa recently went to working part-time instead of full-time, and has started a cookie blog, where she is known as The Bearfoot Baker. I miss her at the office, but am glad she's getting to do what she loves...which is cookies! :-)

Do me a favor and check out Lisa's blog. Here's a link to her most recent post, which happens to be a tutorial for some ADORABLE Valentines Day cookies. Look around the site, because there are lots of other fun cookie pictures and tutorials, too.


The Bearfoot Baker