Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lighting the Lamps of the Past

Isaiah 63:7
I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD,
   the deeds for which he is to be praised,
   according to all the LORD has done for us—
yes, the many good things
   he has done for Israel,
   according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

Philippians 2: 1-4
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Why can’t we do this?

Remember what God has done for us, and have faith he will do it again. If anything to remember the first time we experienced God and he said to you as a captive, “Come out!” and you in darkness, “Be free!” (Is. 49) Or if that memory seems far too distant, there must be some moment not that long ago where you can remember His voice?

Have you ever been sick, and you were healed? Even of the flu?

Worried about finances, and were provided for?

Weighted down by a burden, and felt relieved?

Encouraged in a time of trouble?

Comforted in sorrow?

Don’t forget what God has done for you. Think about the past for a moment.

Has the Lord never met with you? Climbed a mountain with you? Helped you in a time of need?

I know he has.

“Go back, then, a little way to the choice mercies of yesterday, and though all may be dark now, light up the lamps of the past, they shall glitter through the darkness, and thou shalt trust in the Lord till the day break and the shadows flee away.” –Charles Spurgeon

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friendship and Ugly Crying

“Good friendships are like breakfast. You think you’re too busy to eat breakfast, but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky halfway through the day, and discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired.”

-Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

I have the greatest friends. Seriously.

But, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, I remember a very distinct moment on my birthday only a few years ago when I looked at Micah and pathetically cried, “I have no friends!” And it wasn’t a graceful crying. It was the kind where your face gets really red and you look hideous. Girls, you know what I’m talking about. We were newly married, and Micah was dumbfounded.

I also remember many frighteningly similar moments my freshmen year of college. Sitting in my dorm room at the University of Texas crying because I was hundreds of miles away from my closest friends from high school. And I was utterly, totally convinced I would never have another meaningful friendship.  I would throw myself down on Jenny (my roommate and only friend) and my futon bunk bed and cry ever so dramatically. Pretty much a weekly occurrence. Okay, daily.

And here’s the truth. Here’s the hard, scratchy, uncomfortable truth. Friendships are work. They take time, patience, forgiveness, understanding, listening. Everything that within ourselves we just don’t feel like doing. And making friends is even more work. Because you have to go through many stages before you can get to the ‘we spontaneously hang out without an appointment stage’. But, if we choose not to work, choose not to grow, choose not to be vulnerable, then one day, you wake up and you’re ugly crying because you have no friends.

Proverbs 27:9 says this:

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”

I just got back from a Young Life training in Georgia, and we were in class all day everyday for a week. The room we were in was set up classroom style, and my whole row was full of guys I work alongside. One day, we were all getting a little stir crazy. I reached in my bag and pulled out this lotion that legitimately smells like the Caribbean. I started rubbing it on my hands, and something hilarious happened. Slowly each guy in our row got a whiff of this lotion until they were all staring at me. Pretty soon we were passing it down and our whole row smelled like coconut and the ocean. It was magical.

I think that’s what Proverbs is saying about friendship.
That when we smell Caribbean lotion…
or we hear a great song that makes us want to dance….
or we taste hot apple pie and homemade vanilla ice cream…
or we see a sunset that we know our camera will never be able to capture.. .
or put our toes in fresh cut green grass…
We perk up. We take note of how great life is and how much we enjoy it. We celebrate.

And in just that same way, friendship refreshes our soul.

It’s like a little confetti explosion in our heart when we spend time with a close friend who gets who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go.

So, make time for the friends you have and press into those who aren’t quite there yet. They’ll be worth their weight in Caribbean lotion. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm Not Sorry...But I Apologize.

I have a terrible habit. Yes, I bite my fingernails, but that’s not it. In fact, I have many bad habits, but this one is currently my least favorite about myself.

I say, “I’m sorry” too much.

Especially with new people. People I want to like me.

“I’m sorry, I stepped in front of the TV and blocked your view.”

“I’m sorry, I’m talking too much.”

“I’m sorry, you have to drive me home.”


Now that I’ve recognized it in myself I catch myself doing it all the time. It drives me nuts! And I notice other women doing it too. All. The. Time. I’ve started imagining funny things to say when I catch people doing it…

“I’m sorry, I took a sip of your drink while you were in the bathroom.”

“How could you do this to me??”


“I’m sorry, I don’t have makeup on.”

“I forgive you. But, only because Jesus asks me to.”

It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? And often the words, “I’m sorry” should be replaced with other better words. Like “Excuse me” or “Thank you” or something else entirely…

(bumping into someone) “Excuse me”

(forgetting my wallet at home) “Thank you, friend, for paying for my coffee”

Thank you is such a more fitting phrase. But, it’s harder to say, isn’t it? Thank you. I appreciate you. I couldn’t have had this delicious coffee without your help. I couldn’t have gotten home if you didn’t drive me. No apologizes, just gratitude.

The worst part about this whole thing is that I’m TERRIBLE at apologizing. When I actually do something awful –like watch Modern Family on our DVR without Micah in a moment of weakness – it’s so hard for me to apologize. I make excuses. I blame people. I distract with dancing and jokes. Anything to not apologize.

Why is it so easy to say, “I’m sorry” in the little things, and so hard to really apologize in the moments that matter?

So, I’m challenging myself to start saying the hard/good/right thing more often.

I’m sorry I hurt your feelings…

It was my fault, I’m sorry….

I’m sorry I was selfish…

And to stop with the weird, insecure, empty sorry’s. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

No Shortcuts

I don’t know a ton about God. In fact, the more I learn about Him the bigger He seems to become. I like it that way though. I don’t want to serve a God who is small and fits in my little ideas and assumptions about Him.

One false idea I’ve often believed about God and the Holy Spirit living inside of me is that there are shortcuts. If I can just master these 3, 5, 10 things, then I’ll find healing, joy, fulfillment, forgiveness, life, friendship…it never works. I usually get 15 minutes into the first thing I’m trying to master and decide I’d rather watch a Law & Order marathon or something. For example, I’ve tried to read the Bible on a 1 year reading plan at least 3 times. And when I start I usually think, “Psshh I can totally do this. In fact, I could probably read this in 6 months. Biblical genius here I come!”

FAIL. Genesis is long, people. I’m not disciplined enough for shortcuts.

But, on the other hand, I have friends who are much more disciplined than I am, and even when they complete the shortcut sometimes they don’t feel God’s presence at all. I think one reason that happens is because God doesn’t always work in formulas. He doesn’t just swoop in on a cloud once our little imaginary boxes are checked. He wants to be involved in the process. He wants us to get our hands dirty. He doesn’t want me to just memorize a verse. He wants it to sink down into the deepest parts of me and set up camp. And the funny thing is that most of the time “getting my hands dirty” looks a lot like opening them up and releasing the grip of what I’m holding onto.  It looks like me not putting totally unrealistic expectations on myself. 

He just wants us to wake up and say, “I trust you today, Lord.” It sounds so simple, but what I usually wake up and say is: “I trust you today, Lord. But, I’m going to need some details…preferably before I get out of bed.”

Instead of short cuts, He wants to take the long way with us – the scenic route.
And He just keeps asking me to take one more step of faith…

”that was great, Ashley. Can you do it again?”

one more step…

”wow! I’m so proud of you. Would you be willing to take another?”

one more step…

And on and on it goes. And pretty soon I look back and I’ve walked a mile with the Lord. And it was way better than the shortcut.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Listening is Love

I recently came across three short paragraphs on listening written by Henri Nouwen. He was a priest, a scholar, a professor at Yale and Harvard, and an author. But, my favorite of his writings are from when he worked with the poor in Peru or the developmentally disabled in France. He wrote essentially that in those environments, all his accomplishments didn't matter. A lesson I need to remember daily. 

I'm not sure when these writings were written, but enjoy. I will post the other two soon.

 Listening as Spiritually Hospitable - by Henri Nouwen
“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speechless, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you. “

Monday, January 10, 2011

Well I did it...We did it

It only took a life altering snow storm for me to do something I've been thinking about for awhile - starting a blog. I had lots of hesitations, but they mostly fell in the middle school insecurity category, so I'm going for it.  

I'm currently sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta with two friends - Teressa and Caitlin - who have become even dearer friends in the last 48 hours. The three of us all work for Young Life in different towns, and we came together with several hundred other staff for a training this week at Sharp Top Cove (a YL camp 90 miles outside of Atlanta). I love these girls. They laugh at my jokes, I laugh at theirs, they pray for me, and typically at these types of mass trainings I stick unashamedly close to them. I would consider myself an outgoing person on the normal range of humans, but gathering 300 extreme extroverts in one room totally overwhelms me. I age 50 years, and go to bed by 10PM, and read alot, and do not participate in the array of dance-party-type activities. 

But, I digress...

On Sunday the three of us realized a multiple-day blizzard was scheduled to arrive that night in Georgia, so we left early and went ahead to Atlanta to be close to the airport. When we arrived at our hotel we felt tired and hungry, but accomplished, especially since my mom snagged us a hotel way above our class level with her travel points. We threw our stuff in our room and decided to take a cab to the finest establishment downtown Atlanta offered - Chili's. And it was amazing. Micah always makes fun of me because I get obsessed with restaurants and then ruthlessly break up with them. Chili's and I had a rocky past, but Sunday night we reconciled over an Oldtimer burger and chili queso. At the dinner table, Caitlin and I bugged Teressa to tell us what she loves about her fiance Stephen, and then we talked about how thankful we are for our jobs and our lives. And for a moment I felt like life stopped and we really enjoyed each other. 

Then it started to snow. 

Just a little at first, and then in flakes so big they looked like those snowflakes you cut out of doilies in elementary school. In true Texan fashion, we marveled at it, took pictures in it, and then giggled like little girls as we ran to the Publix grocery store across the street to get provisions. 

You know we're excited when the thumb up comes out

We got in Publix and wandered around buying only the necessities: things like Nilla wafers and Fanta. It wasn't until we talked to our cab driver, Dewayne, who was stuck in the snow-induced traffic that we started to question our lollygagging. We sat on a bench in between the two automatic sliding doors and waited. Waited until every customer was gone. Waited until the lights went out. Waited. Minutes turned into hours as we called other cab companies with no luck. It looked like Dewayne was our last hope. (Actually, an 80 year old woman did offer us a ride, but she had minimum 6 people already in her SUV and she was....well....80.)

My now BFF, Dwayne, who I had called at least 27 times in the last hour assured me he was coming, but we still literally screamed and jumped for joy when his minivan cab pulled up. It took him 2 hours to drive 6 miles to get us. 

He then drove us another 2 hours/6 miles to our hotel in a snow storm so bad we saw hundreds of abandoned cars and an 18-wheeler slide off the road. Not only that, but he was patient, kind, and laughed when Teressa asked if he had snow chains for his tires. 

We swore Dwayne was an angel. 

After Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days, the Bible says that angels came and "attended to him". (you can read the whole story here

Also Hebrews 13:2 says: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." 

That just blows my mind. That angels are real. And not just real but involved. I don't know alot about angels, but I'm pretty sure they don't look like this. And whether Dwayne was an angel or not, he ministered to us in the best way anyone could have possibly ministered to us in that moment: he got us home. Or at least to the Westin. 

Goodnight from snowy Atlanta.

flying home with bride-to-be, Teressa...finally