Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stop Evaluating

I am not going to waste another minute of my life worrying about or measuring my spiritual progress. My mentor read me a Brennan Manning quote that spoke to this idea, and it really resonated with me.

See, I’m an evaluator. I like to evaluate how I am doing in all the categories of my life, and my spiritual life is no exception. In fact, it’s the most deadly form of evaluation.

For example, I love the Bible. For a long time the Bible intimidated me, and then one day in college I started reading it and it came alive to me. The words seemed to rise up off the page and scream, “This is for you, Ashley! I wrote this for you.” It connected the puzzle pieces of my life and made sense out of things I did not understand. I felt like I had discovered a secret treasure.

Then I started sharing it with others. First in casual conversations with my closest friends, and then eventually leading Bible studies for high school and college girls.

Sharing what I have learned from the Bible brings me so much life.

But, at some point I made my time in scripture a part of my evaluation. My spiritual report card hinged on if I had spent time reading the Bible or not. Soon one of my favorite things became an obligation not a gift.

Maybe it started with the day I learned the phrase “Quiet Time” because it sounds like being sent to time out. And that’s what it felt like: “You’re sentenced to 30 minutes of Quiet Time.” Ugh.

So, what’s the answer? Stop reading my Bible? No. Stop evaluating.

Our system of evaluating is not at all how God sees us.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
 neither are your ways my ways,” 

declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
- Isaiah 55:8-9

  Because here's the thing....
Brennan Manning - Ruthless Trust 

We are free to enjoy a relationship with God without weird expectations that we put on ourselves.

He just says,

“Come, all you who are thirsty, 
come to the waters;

and you who have no money, 
come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk 
without money and without cost.  
Why spend money on what is not bread, 
and your labor on what does not satisfy? 

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.  
Or more simply put, just, “Come to me.” 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Absolute Favorite Verse (Honest)

Isaiah 49:14-16

I’m one of those people that throws around the word favorite a lot.

“She’s my favorite person.” “That’s my favorite restaurant.” Blah. Blah.

But, honestly, this is my absolute favorite verse(s). And it has been for a while.

It just SPEAKS to me. Like if I sat here and thought about it long enough I could definitely start crying. Easily.

If I were asked to read these verses to a group of people, forget it. They would all be really uncomfortable because there is a 100% chance I would be crying.

So, here’s why. Let me break it down why these verses have this effect on me.

First, it starts out…

“The Lord has forsaken me, 
the Lord has forgotten me.”

Maybe I’m a drama queen, but I feel this fairly regularly. Not so much “forsaken” as in He’s turned His back on me. But, maybe that language is just a little strong for me. FORSAKEN is kind of harsh.

But, forgotten? Yes. I sometimes think He’s forgotten me.

Or just given up on me altogether.

I feel like a 5-year-old little girl saying, “Do you remember me, God?”

So that first verse is my line: “God, I think you’ve forgotten about me, and maybe given up on me altogether.”

Then God says: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
 and have no compassion on the child she has borne?”

And this is such a great line because he’s leading me somewhere.

He’s saying, “Could a loving mother forget a baby that she birthed and nourished?”

“Could a mother possibly have no compassion and love for a child that is her very own flesh?”

And you think, well this is obviously a rhetorical question. No way could she forget! What heartless woman would do that? Forget her child? Impossible!

And then the curveball:

 Though she may forget,

In other words, maybe so. She really might forget you. Mothers abandon their children all the time. People in general, not just mothers, let us down. They break our hearts. They turn their backs on us. They make mistakes.

But, God says:

“Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

He will never forget me. He will never let go of me. He will never leave me.

He has not given up on me.

And he will never forget you either, dear child.

He’s always been there, right by your side.

And He has the scars to prove it. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

33 Things Every Christian College Freshman Should Know

This is my 4th year working in college ministry. Therefore, I know everything. Just kidding. Therefore, this is the first time I have walked all the way through college with a class of girls.  

Every week for the last 4 years, we have sat on UT campus, or in my living room, studying scripture and sharing life together.

I have washed 39,485 water cups. We have eaten our weight in Nutella and hummus.

Average number of cups used after Small Group. Notice our fine china. 

We have cried a lot. Truthfully, tears is the 17th member of our small group. And tears usually comes in waterfall formation – one girl starts to cry and then we all cry. Most of the time after we cry we get really silly. Like stupid silly. Like ‘I hope no one is recording us right now’ silly.  Then I usually say something inappropriate and they love it.

These women have blessed me more than I have blessed them.

Watching them graduate in May was much harder than I expected. I was a wreck. Crying at all the “lasts”. The last small group was brutal. But, I have to believe what I told them: “This is just the end of the beginning of knowing each other forever.”

A few small groups before the brutal emotional last small group, I asked them what advice they would give to an incoming college freshmen. In other words, if they could rewind the clock and talk to their terrified freshman self, what would they say? Words and thoughts immediately swirled around the room, and I could barely keep my pen writing fast enough.

Reading over their list, I see the footprints of wise women who have had many victories and failures these last 4 years. Women that will make incredible wives and mothers. Women I am proud to call my friends.

Some things they learned in our small group, but most just from living and walking with the Lord.

The funny thing is that almost all their advice applies to my life, my mother’s life, and every woman’s life. I love that about God. He is teaching us the same truths over and over and driving them deeper into our stubborn souls.

So here it is…I picked a nice round number…

33 Things Every Christian College Freshman Should Know:

1.     Study 1.5 hours per day, but no more than 3 hours.  
2.     Exercise and take care of yourself.
3.     Everything in moderation (sleep, food, TV).
4.     Live with a few people and DO NOT isolate yourself.
5.     Time is never wasted in community with other people.
6.     You’re never going to know everyone, so don’t try.
7.     Understand friendships take time to build.
8.     You’re never alone in your feelings.
9.     Don’t take yourself too seriously.
10. Busyness isn’t good or impressive.
11. Designate time to be in the word.
12. Go to church every Sunday.
13. Make time to pray – like in the car or walking to class.
14. You’re already a success in God’s eyes, you are allowed to fail and you will at some things.
15. Stop comparing.
16. Don’t feel like you have to do it all.
17. Practice being thankful.
Elena's Page of Thankfulness from Small Group
18. Everything you are sure of will probably change, so hold them loosely (friends, major, ect).
19. Don’t go home too much.
20. People do care, so let them in. Allow yourself to receive love from people.
21. Don’t have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Enjoy what God is doing where you are in the present moment.
22. Pray protection over your friendships. Confront and give grace. Have no expectations, but also great hope for spiritual friendships.  
23. There will be seasons. Believe in the hard seasons that God is good. Your circumstances will change and you will be ok.
24. Don’t assume people view you the way you view yourself, especially in the times you feel least like yourself.
25. Don’t worry how you will handle things in the future. God will give you the strength at that time.
26. Challenge people and open yourself up to be challenged.
27. Be quick to apologize without excuses.
28. Rest more – not just sleep, but rest spiritually by getting alone with God.
Chillin at the lake at the busiest time of the semester. Boom.
29. Think how to bless your family, not just how they can bless you.
30. When you try to please people, you’re not pleasing God. Remember, people were angry with Jesus all the time.
31. Tap into each other’s gifts and speak those gifts into people.
32. Speak lies you are believing aloud, and it will diminish their power in your life.
33. Don’t peg other people. Be open to friendships with people that are different than you.

Me & Casey. An unlikely friendship. JK Casey! ;)
That’s it. You don’t need to know anything else in college! You don’t even need a degree! Don’t tell your parents I said that.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Who is the Holy Spirit to us?

courtesy of

The Holy Spirit has always been very mysterious to me. Like something pulled straight out of a Harry Potter book. Because think about it…

The Father is in heaven.

Jesus lived on earth, and now is seated next to the Father in heaven.

But, the Holy Spirit is here with us and in us NOW.


I think it’s one of the most fascinating things about God – He is with us and in us in this very moment.

Side note: This makes the Holy Spirit one of those parts of Christianity that you can’t talk about to random people and sound normal. I feel like people look at you like you might start speaking in tongues at any moment. Which is funny, because in a lot of ways it’s the most tangible way we experience God. Maybe we’re just not giving the Holy Spirit enough credit.

The Holy Spirit is introduced immediately in the Bible. Out of 31,103 verses (thanks Google) the Holy Spirit enters the scene in verse 2.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

Hovering. What do you think of when you hear hovering?


Hovering over my husbands shoulder (“Ashley, stop hovering.”)

But, mostly, I think anticipation. If someone is hovering, something is about to happen. There is a move about to be made.

So, the Holy Spirit was there, at creation…hovering. He was waiting and anticipating because the most creative act in the history of the world was about to happen.


But what else? What is the Holy Spirit like? What is He responsible for in our lives?

Here’s what I found…

He is a deposit guaranteeing the joys of what is ahead in heaven – a glimpse of what is to come.

He gives us power to share Christ with others.

He gives each of us unique spiritual gifts.

He helps us with our prayers and translates our deepest desires to God.

He defeats Satan in our lives. He helps us overcome our personal darkness.

When we sin, He is the one who convicts us.

He is the source of all: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

On the days we doubt that we are God’s children, when we think we’re out of the family, He talks with us and reassures us that we are always loved.

He guides us, tells us that to do, where to go, and who to talk to along the way…even when we don’t know why.

He is how we feel God’s love poured out on our hearts.

He teaches us ALL things spiritual. There is no limit to what He can teach us.

He counsels us.

He reminds us of all Jesus has said to us in the past

He gives life, new life.

When we’re in a bind, He tells us what to say.

He brings us together as believers.

He calls us all who are spiritually thirsty to come and drink the water of life freely through God’s grace. 

Even Jesus said it was better that He leave and go to heaven so that the Holy Spirit could come to us. (John 16:7) After reading all that, I can see why!

I’ll take a little extra peace and patience today, Holy Spirit. And a side of counseling. Thank you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Who is Our Heavenly Father to us?

Via Pinterest

I love thinking about the Father and His love for me. The desire for a loving father is deeply rooted in all of us, regardless of what our earthly fathers are like. I see it bubble up in myself as I read each of the scriptures that describe the Father. Many of his attributes are things I would have never chosen, but desperately need (loving disciplinarian). Others are so obvious and simple that I am surprised by the weight they hold in my life (He knows what I need).

But, let's get down to it. 

Among an endless amount of things, here is who the Father is to us…

He helps, defends, sustains, and loves the fatherless.

He has compassion for his children.

He teaches us, gives us instruction and advice. Not a bad gig since he knows everything.

He disciplines us in love. Every loving father disciplines his children, except His discipline is perfect.

He delights in us. We bring him joy.  He rejoices over us with singing.

He is our Everlasting Father, so there will be no end to our relationship with Him.

He is perfect, as in fully complete in every way. He is everything we want in a Dad…and more!

He knows what you need before you even think to ask.

He rewards us for our prayers and good deeds done in secret. The ones where no one sees but Him. 

He is always there in our secret places. We can not run or hide from Him, even when we try.

He provides for our needs, and often in His grace, he provides for our wants too.

He wants to give you good gifts, and He is pleased when you ask Him for them.

Everything, even the smallest pieces of everyday life are done according to His will and under His control.

One of His favorite pastimes is revealing truth to us.

He is always at work. Always moving.

He is protective of us – no one can snatch us from his hand.

He is pleased to give you the kingdom.

Unintentionally, but appropriately timed for Father's Day! 

Did I forget any attribute that you are especially fond of? 

Also, if you missed it, make sure to read yesterday’s post: Who is Jesus to us?

Tomorrow is the Holy Spirit.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Who is Jesus to us?

I am a researcher by nature (nerd alert). I often find myself asking a question and then diving into scripture, books, or (let’s be real) my magical iPhone to find the answer. Often I don’t find the answer, or the answer is one of those shades of gray answers that involves faith and long deep breaths.

But, sometimes God is gracious and He answers me.

Like when I asked, “Who are Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit to us?”

They are all one God, but they must have unique purposes. Otherwise, what’s the point? And I wanted to know what each of their purposes meant for me.

So, this is a three-part post on what I found. We’ll start with Jesus. The Man.

Here's how this is going to work. 

I just thought of the movie Tommy Boy when he yells out, "Listen up! This will only take a second!" and everyone thinks he's robbing the bank. Amazing. 

And we're back. Like I said, here's the deal:

First the scripture, then a basic explanation in my own words including who Jesus is to us. Got it? 

In no particular order…

He’s our advocate – when we sin, He speaks to the Father in our defense.

He’s our Amen. Our stamp of approval. Our period at the end of our sentence. Our trustworthy witness. He’s the Anointed One – chosen for a specific task by the Father.

He’s the Author (the creator) of our faith and the perfector who brings all things through to completion. He always finishes what He started. <----A quality I admire. Not that I don't also have that quality. 

He’s the Bread of Life. The bread that if you eat it you will never die, but live forever. The ultimate satisfier of all our needs and desires. via Pinterest

He’s the Bright and Morning Star who shines in all our dark places. via Pinterest

He’s the commander of the army of the Lord who defends God’s children.

He’s the Cornerstone on the building of God. He is the stone that the builders rejected that has now become the cornerstone. He’s our Deliverer. The One we have waited for.

He’s Immanuel, God with us, not distant but gets down on his hands and knees to be with us.

He’s the ultimate prince on the white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True.

white horse

He’s a friend of sinners who befriended prostitutes, liars, thieves…that includes us.

He’s the Shepherd of His sheep who protects us. He makes us lie down in green pastures and restores our soul.

He’s our high priest, our ultimate intercessor. The last sacrifice once and for all.

He’s our hope when we have no hope.

Pursuing Inspiration via Pinterest

He’s the perfect image of God – the exact representation of His being.

He’s the great I AM! The ultimate existence or being. No words can fully explain him.

He’s the Just judge who judges the living and the dead rightly.

He’s the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and he can and will bring the rulers of this world to nothing.

He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and makes them white as snow.


He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Life to the full.

He is the Light of the world and whoever follows him shall NEVER walk in darkness. via Pinterest
He’s the Lion of the tribe of Judah who is worthy and powerful.

He protects me. via Pinterest

He is the True Vine and if we remain in him we will bear much fruit, but without Him we can do nothing. via Pinterest

He is the great physician who says, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

He speaks only in righteousness, and he is mighty to save.

And a few bonus characteristics:

  • He is prophecy fulfilled.
  • He healed the demon possessed
  • He fed 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish
  •  He heals lepers
  • He teaches in beautiful tabernacles and dusty households
  • He gives sight to the blind
  • He raises the dead
  • He dines with the wealthy and religious, but prefers the poor and humble
  • He corrects hypocrisy and gives grace to the repentant
  • He blesses little children and says we should act more like them
  • He drives merchants out of the temple in righteous anger
  • He washes his disciples feet and says “do as I have done for you”
  • He prays a lot and is always getting alone to be with His Father – even amongst chaos

What did I miss?  Jesus is so much to us if we allow Him to be!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Top 10 Nuggets for Working in Ministry

Every single one of these nuggets was either taught to me through a mentor that I love or through my own miserable, horrifying, go-hide-in-a-hole-now-Ashley failures. Those are THE best.

I think they also apply to anyone trying to spiritually lead a group or individuals.

Here we go…

1. Don't make walking with Jesus any more complicated than it is for yourself or your students. At the end of the day: read the Bible; pray; surround yourself with people who know Him better than you and a few who don't know Him well and a few who don't know Him at all. Seek to plumb the depth of understanding Him -- not because you have to but because He fascinates you. And when He doesn't fascinate you -- don't worry....He isn't that put out and He's always fascinated by YOU!!!
(After I took my current college ministry job, I panicked a little and emailed a mentor and friend, Cheryl Fletcher. This is what she told me.)

2. Choose 12 or so people and focus on them. Jesus was the MESSIAH and used just 12 men to change the world. Don’t try to be everybody’s everything. It’s ok to disappoint people. Jesus did because He always had His focus on the greater goal.

3. Try something new every year. Never stop taking risks and evolving. It’s ok to fail. IT’S OK TO FAIL!

4. Trust the word of God fully. Earn the right to be heard, but never hesitate to share the Word or the Gospel. It is alive, active, and more powerful than any words we can say. I think when I get to heaven I will wish I’d taken more risks in this area.

5. Have a plan and then be willing to throw it out at any minute because the Spirit says so.

6. In discipling and leading small groups, challenge people and set expectations early. (Be on time, be prepared, memorize scripture, ect.) Then administer grace over and over. You can’t control people. We are only responsible for being faithful and then trusting the Lord. Being a control freak is either a lack of faith in God, or an identity issue of who we are in Christ. So, be faithful, but always give grace when people don’t follow your plan.

7. Your girls don’t need another friend, they need a leader. Sure, you will listen to their struggles, encourage them continuously, and hopefully become life-long friends. But, what they need is a leader. So be confident and lead them! Be an adult. Show them Jesus. Speak truth into their lives. And always believe in them when they don’t. Each year, at our very first meeting, I tell my new freshmen small group, “Look around because these people are your new best friends.” You can imagine the reactions, but the point is I am injecting them with belief.

8. Guard your marriage, friendships, and your time with Jesus.  Take your to-do list and eliminate 25% of it. You know, the “I’m never ever going to do that realistically but it sure does sound nice” things. We are loved daughters of the King, but we are tempted to act like slaves who need to produce to earn our keep.

9. Know that you will fail as much as you will succeed. You must trust the work of the Holy Spirit. There are many times when I finish leading a Bible study and I think it was an utter failure. Then someone tells me God spoke to them through it. Who are we to judge what God is doing? Be faithful in your studies, pray, trust the Holy Spirit is moving, and then don’t beat yourself up when things go south temporarily. 

10. Find other ways, outside of yourself to skin the cat. Utilize people. You don’t have to be the leader of everything. Determine what your gifts are (spiritual and natural) and then multiply yourself by equipping and training people. Let it go and allow others to take over. Even if they don’t do it just how you would have.

Are there any others you have learned through ministering to others? Let me learn from your failures! Come on, it’s only fair.