Monday, December 17, 2012

Connecticut


It‘s been easy for me to separate myself from the events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I’ve closed my eyes at the footage, clicked out of online articles, and blankly replied to my grieving friends, “Yeah, this world is an evil place. It just is.” 

In my heart of hearts, I could not even process the evil that was committed, and so I just didn’t.

But Saturday night I got a text from my sister that changed all that.

“Hi family—in light of Friday’s events, there will be a required sign-in for everyone before Rach’s Christmas concert, so it may take a few extra minutes.”

You know. In case there's a shooter.

You see, tomorrow night is Eastview Elementary’s second grade production of The Nutcracker. My niece, Rachel, has a speaking part. (She's pumped about it, by the way.)

This will be the fourth Christmas concert I attend at Eastview—I have three nieces and one nephew, so it’s a yearly tradition. They’ve dressed up as barnyard animals, candy canes, olden-timey children, and bees. For years I’ve sat in the rows of folding chairs and taken pictures of my littlest relatives, intermittently cheering and waving at my sweet babies from the audience. It’s such a regular occurrence that I’d thought about skipping this one—it’s an hour drive out, on a work night, and sometimes it just feels like too much.

But never once have I worried about my nieces’ and nephew’s safety at this school. In my mind, it’s been their safe haven, a place where they’ve learned about the world while gaining the skills they need to successfully interact with their peers.  It’s been easy to take it for granted.

 Getting that text from my sister gave me pause. It made me realize that my nieces and nephew, with all their bright innocence and trust in the goodness of the world—even they aren’t safe. They live in a small town in the Midwest during a time of heightened security, of lockdown drills and SWAT teams.  Safety, in its simplest form, is just an illusion. It’s a feeble attempt to create a feeling of control in a world that is completely out of control.

And what it all comes down to is this: even now, even in this day with smart phones and panic buttons and safe rooms and fire drills and backup plans—even now, we are still utterly and completely dependent on our heavenly father. We are still at his mercy. And in light of recent events, we are still called to treat each day with our loved ones like it could be our last.

So today I will return to the Word of God with the trembling and a sense of urgency that I should feel each day. I will beg for God’s protection over my loved ones, and pray for the grieving families in Connecticut who’ve experienced the worst loss imaginable.

And tomorrow night, I will sit amongst my family with my five-year-old nephew, Micah, on my lap. I will hug him tightly and tell him I love him, and together we’ll cheer for Rachel and her fellow second graders. And I will refuse to let this commonplace event lose its luster.

If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that every day that I am able to celebrate the lives of my family members, I’m experiencing nothing less than a miracle.

Connecticut, my heart and my prayers go out to you.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sabbath Prayer

I crack open one eye and look at the clock. 12:30 p.m. Welp, there goes church, I think to myself as I half-tumble out of bed. I'm groggy. I pour water into the coffeemaker, eyeball some coffee grounds into the filter, and spend ten minutes staring as the dark liquid drops into the coffee pot.

I wander around my apartment in a baggy Cubs t-shirt and black pajama pants that are two sizes too big, recounting the events of the evening prior, giving myself ratings on my performance. Dress: B+. Humor A-. Biting Sarcasm to Kindness Ratio: C. I feel a heaviness settle on my heart.

Someday the kindness will win out, I think. 

Eventually I sit down on my couch with coffee in hand. I've decided that since I didn't manage to get my lazy rear end to church this morning, I owe Jesus some quiet time. I read A.W. Tozer, rereading each paragraph a few times to digest what he's written, and then turn my thoughts over to my journal, flipping through the entries I wrote over the summer before I find a blank page to begin a new chronicle.

I get halfway through a narcissistic retelling of my last week, begging Jesus for peace and direction, when I get a text from my niece, Maya. This is a big deal--she's texting me on my sister's phone, and at nine-years-old, this is one of the first texts she's ever sent. Lots of smiley faces.

She and I text funny faces back and forth for a bit and eventually she calls me, her voice sounding way too grown up when she announces that she's just calling to say "hey" and asks me how me and my roommate are doing. Good Lord, I think. Wasn't she just learning to crawl? Whahaaat is happening?


We talk for a solid twenty minutes before she hands the phone over to my sister, we talk for a bit, and then I hang up. Alone again, I finish journaling, ending in some desperate sort of "God help my stupid self navigate this life less idiotically" plea, and snap my notebook shut, wishing the feelings of heaviness would dissipate, but grateful I got to speak to some family this morning.

I spend the next few hours alone, eyeing the boxes that still need to be filled and stuff that needs to be put in them. I pack nothing. We're moving in five days.

 I don't handle alone time well. I can do it for about...oh, two hours, and then it's all over and I start desperately texting people, asking them what they're up to.

My roommate is the same way. When one of us is out of town, upon return we compare notes about how pathetic we began to feel as the week waned on with one of us returning to an empty apartment. By day three there's usually crying. I know. Ridiculous.

Eventually I pull on some leggings, a sweater, and boots--it's only one step up from pajamas, but it's enough to get myself out of the house, and decide to work on freelance at one of the downtown coffee shops. I try Caribou first, but there are no empty tables.

I curse Wheaton College for being back in session and slowly shake a lowered fist at the college students who've moved into my tables. I walk to Starbucks with no success, and then wander into the only independent coffee shop in town, only to find out that it closes in thirty minutes. 

I don't want to work today. I have no desire--but I have too much to NOT work. I can't seem to shake this feeling of grief, either, which isn't helping fuel my productivity.

I get back in my car and drive to another Caribou, one a little farther out of town, which is, oddly enough, full of Italian men sitting in large groups at tables, all wearing their coats and playing various dice games. I'm pretty sure I'm surrounded by the mafioso, but I've always wanted to be a part of a good mob fight, so I find a table in the back (where I'm safe from being whacked with a canoli) and open my laptop, searching for a recent interview I need to transcribe tonight.

I open my email.

It's not there.

Nay, it's absolutely nowhere. It's not in my Yahoo account, it's not in my work account, it's not backlogged in my Yousendit account...nada. It's sitting on my work desktop computer, and there is no retrieving it tonight. 

I feel a tinge of relief and smile at the irony that I've just been forced to actually observe this Sabbath, a spiritual discipline I LOVE to ignore. I pull out Jen Hatmaker's book, Seven, which I was supposed to have finished yesterday, when my book club met to discuss it, but like the procrastinator that I am, I rolled into book club with thirty pages still unread.

The thirty pages left are, as a matter of fact, devoted to observing the Sabbath. OF COURSE THEY ARE. Because this is the nature of my life. God knows I'm dumb, and that if I'm going to be taught something, I need to be smacked over the face with it. It's all very brutal.

And so I open to this: 

"During the first week of October, I suffered an inexplicable sadness for our Ethiopian kids, yet unknown to us. I couldn't quit crying. I couldn't stop worrying. I felt heavy and dark without knowing why...I threw my emotions up into the Facebook ring for some backup. From adopting friends a common thread rose up: 

'God is prompting you to pray for your children for some reason. You don't know them yet, but he knows they are yours. Intercede for them this week; then write the dates down.'" 

Jen goes on to write about how during her week of sorrow, in which she got on her knees in prayer for the child she was going to adopt, her future daughter had just been delivered to an orphanage in Ethiopia.

The child's first week surrounded by people she didn't know, missing her family, getting her head shaved, wide-eyed and fearful in the night in an unfamiliar place, was the same week that Jen felt she needed to pray for kids, even though she still didn't know who they'd be. Her prayers went to her daughter in a time of need before she even knew her.

Now, I know this all may sound a little bit Chicken Soup for the Soul-y, and if it does, then, gross. But to me, it sounds beautiful. It sounds like God cared enough for this child to have her lifted up in prayer by her mother long before she even knew her.

I'm reading this chapter on slowing down and taking time to pray and intercede for others when God places them on your heart, and my eyes start watering like crazy. I look up and realize that both (I'm guessing based on their awkward facial hair) seminary students sitting in the leather chairs across from me are watching me cry like an idiot, but seminary guys sort of creep me out, so I don't care. 

I feel again the heaviness in my own soul, and the person who I have to pray for comes to mind. It comes on so strongly that I have to stop mid-chapter to lift him up, silently crying a prayer to the Father who loves His children so desperately.

I pray for reconciliation, I pray for the Holy Spirit to move, and I pray God would show me the role he wants me to play in this person's life. I pray until I finally feel the heaviness lift.  

And now I find myself wondering how often God grants me with this same heaviness for this same reason. I've often taken this as a mood swing or a good reason to feel sorry for myself (and Lord knows that sometimes it's P.M.S.), but maybe, just maybe, God places these burdens on my heart not as another way to focus on myself, but as a means of lifting up someone specific. Someone in desperate need of intercession.  

I've decided I'll be damned if I miss another opportunity.

I want so badly to turn my grieving into joy by partnering with the Lord to lift up this world. Every day I meet another broken person, and I wonder at the epidemic of lost and the lonely people. It threatens to overwhelm me, and I'd be lying if I said I haven't at times handled it by hiding.

But standing in someone's place and praying for them with my whole heart...that's something I want. In John 17, Jesus prays for the world like that. He prays that God would protect His people and unite them in love. He intercedes.

On its own, it's a wonderful prayer.

But in context, it's so much more. It's the prayer Jesus prayers the night before He's brutally murdered. He spends the night before his execution using His own heaviness to lift up the sinful, selfish people whom He's grown to love so much. The people He came down to save: me and you.

Thank God.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vacation Manifesto

I'm going on vacation. 

Let me say that one more time, in case you didn't catch what I said. 

I'm going on vacation. VAC-YAYYYYY-TION, if you will. (I'm sorry. I had to. I couldn't not.)

I'm not telling you this to make you jealous. That's just a benefit. I'm telling you this because this is a big deal for me. I haven't left the Midwest and taken a legitimate vacation in almost four years.  

So, in two days, I embark on a trip to a sandy island in North Carolina.

I will be on vacation for eight days.

For these eight days, I've made myself a few rules. These are rules that will hopefully untangle me from a bit of the ever-twisted Stockholm Syndrome I've developed over the past few years of constantly being plugged into everything, all the time, everywhere.

1. I can't check my phone. The world will be fine without me for a week and a half. In fact, it's probably ready for a break. 

2. I don't even have to glance in the general direction of a computer screen, unless I want to.

3. Wearing heels is not an option. Flip flops or gym shoes. That is all. 

4. I'm not allowed to twirl my hair. Hair twirling indicates anxiety which indicates that I'm worrying about things that are out of my control, and I'm taking a vacation from that particular brand of crazy for the next EIGHT DAYS.

5. I'm not allowed to talk about, think about, or even mention the word work. 

Instead, I'm going to lay on a beach and read this: 



I'm going to eat fruits and vegetables.

 I'm going to not set my alarm clock. 

And I'm going to re-learn how to interact with other humans--specifically my best friend, Steph, my sister, her husband, their friends, and their friends' five-month-old baby.

I'm going to drink tea.

And coffee.

And wine. 

I'm going to do yoga. I might even go running. (no. that last part is a lie.)

I'm going to get a real tan. (also probably a lie.)

I'm going to read entire books.

I'm going to eat ice cream.

I'm going to discover new BBQ dives.

I'm going to take walks.

And I'm not going to look at my phone. Ever.

I had a good summer--good, but rougher in some ways than I expected it to be. And sometimes, even though you've healed and moved on as much as you can, it takes going away for a little bit to find the space to fully recover.

What I'm saying is, this vacation could not have come at a better time.

Over the next eight days, I want to reconnect with God.

I want to read about Jesus again, get to know him again, study his face again. I want to spend a good amount of time reading the Gospels, not so I can come back with some sort of Holy Glow and tell everyone about how I spent a week reading the Bible while they slaved away at their desks.  No...it's just that I desperately need to re-read the life-giving words of Jesus.

I need to remember what it's s all about. I need to read about dying to myself...I need to read about the kind of love that Jesus has for me. And I want to pour my heart out to God. I want to ask him questions, confess my most recent bouts with stupidity, give him my worries, and plead, face to the ground, for direction.

...

I also want to write.


I will write creatively.

I will write without an audience.

I will write because I have to write. Because writing is my own personal catnip. It's the thing that makes everything else quiet down...it's where I can actually use that daydreaming dipstick inside me that I fight on a daily basis, and instead, put her to good use.

....

And lastly, I will spend the next eight days filling my words and my actions with gratitude. I have a good incredible life. I am more than blessed. But sometimes it's hard to see that, and instead of giving thanks, I complain and I criticize. It's exhausting.

What's especially stupid about it is that most of the time, I'm criticizing myself.

You see, when you're me (or maybe when you're you), you're never good enough.

Every misstep seems like a downfall. Every pound seems like a ton. Every new day becomes a new chance to self-deprecate.

And what I forget, over and over and over again, is that God didn't make a mistake when he made me. He chose to make me a neurotic dreamer. He looked and me and said that it was good. Not perfect, mind you, but good. Good for his purposes.

So for the next eight days, I'm going to unabashedly embrace who God made me to be: spacey, creative, sarcastic, direction-ally-challenged, zero sense of time...a little offbeat....I'm going to thank God for all of it. Even the stuff that annoys the crap out of my family and friends.

...

I'm going to thank him for my life, and for the people in it.

...

I'm going to thank him for the salt in the water, the wind on the waves, and the sun on my face.

...

Oh, and for the wine in my glass, too. I will thank him for all of it.

And I won't look at my phone.



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bela Karolyi Will be My Life Coach

I had one of those months that I'd like to redo, from top to bottom. Best/worst of times. And naturally, through it all, I failed to write a single word in this blog of mine. I'm just that on top of things.

In other news, my roommate and I found ourselves a new apartment last night, which I am exceedingly pumped about. It's fancy, and way cheaper than my current place, and it will hopefully smell a lot less like pot brownies, dead cats, and movie theaters. Here's to hoping.

A bunch of my co-workers are at the Summit at Willow Creek today, listening to Condoleezza Rice tear it up while I sit at my desk and continue to email people W9s and request book permissions from various publishers. At some point soon, I will experience the glee of running to Kinkos. Please stand by. I know you're jealous.

                                                     Sigh.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Epic



Can we just give it up for this? Repeatedly? Thanks. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

30 Things I Want to Tell My 18-year-old Self


Life Lessons...and Things I Wish I'd Known Before College 
[Things I would say if I could pull my young self aside and tell me what's what.]

1. First of all, Little Ashley, the reason you started crying at the sight of your empty P.O. box today is because you are very, very tired. You were up until 4 a.m. hanging out with your roommate at a diner, and you are not functioning properly. The truth is, you suck at life when you're tired. Take a nap, kid. You will need more naps in college than you did when you were a toddler, and you will be able to take them. Don't miss this window of napportunity. Ditch Western Civilization, climb into your lofted bed, and pass out until dinner. You will still pass that freshman gen. ed. with flying colors.

2. Your college experience will not be just like Keri Russell on Felicity. I mean it. Skip buying the giant sweaters and finding a friend to send your recorded self-obsessed messages to. That's what blogs are for. Give up on this tv show dream; it is fake.

3. If you go on a date with a guy who tells you he hates reading books, do not go on another date. 

Unless he's a really good kisser.

No not even then. Don't listen to me. 

4. Learn how to drive in the city. Soon. Not knowing how to drive in they city at 18 is precious and endearing, but not knowing how to drive in the city when you are almost 26 years old is sad and pathetic. This cannot be your crazy cat lady quirk.

5. Jump in a lake with your clothes on with that one crazy guy who takes you on that one crazy date your junior year. It will be fun, and it will not get weird. 

6. You also need to get over your fear of old people. They will always be there and you should be nice to them. They are not trying to lure you into their homes in order to eat you, like the witch from Hansel and Gretel, and the odds of them dying of old age, mid-sentence, while talking to you, are very slim. 

7. Sit your butt down and write your uncles two thank you cards for collaboratively buying you that laptop for high school graduation. I know you think the appreciative email you sent them was enough, but it wasn't. I know, I know, we hate thank you cards. But if you do not do this thing, they will vibe you/me for the next seven years. Write them cards. It is not hard, and it will save us from years of awkwardness.

8. This is selfish, maybe, but switch banks now. If you don't, then I will have to take care of it this week, seven years later, when all my direct deposit and withdrawal stuff is set up. It's super annoying. Please do this thing. Do it for me, your elder self. 

9. Don't cut your hair super short your sophomore year of college. You will hate it, and yes, you will look like a mom. 

10. You're not going to find your husband in college. I don't care what all of those games of M.A.S.H. said. Feel grateful for this, and don't worry about it. You will be tempted to worry because you will surrounded by girls who are worrying about this, but don't get sucked in. Life goes on after college. As a matter of fact, it gets better.

11. DO NOT. AND I REPEAT, DO NOT try to dye your hair Gwen Stefani blonde by yourself at 2 a.m. in your dorm suite bathroom, with a $5 box of hair bleach you bought at the grocery store. You know the guy who hosts Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? Yeah. You will end up looking like him. Don't go there.

12. Figure out the difference between a boring guy who is super responsible and a non-boring guy who is completely irresponsible. Find out the character traits of a happy medium between the two. Do it now. They exist, I promise.

13. You are not a failure at life because of whatever currently overly dramatic crisis you are currently facing. Stop telling yourself you are. You're eighteen, for Pete's sake.

14. Everything you own does not have to be from the Gap. In fact, owning trendier clothes will prevent you from dressing like a teacher or a little boy every livelong day, which, unless you change your ways, you will, until you turn 24.

15. Take your sister up on her offer to teach you how to cook. Someday (it will come very, very soon) you will have to cook for yourself, and you cannot live off of peanut butter, yogurt and grapes.

15.b. I know you think your inability to cook is a cute and interesting fact about you, and that it makes you mysterious and independent. Unfortunately this all goes to crap and ends up making you look rather pathetic by around age 23. Learn to cook. Do this thing for me, Young Ashley. I would love to know how to make lasagna, and it all depends on you.

16. You don't have to like Wilco. You can find them boring and pretentious. It's okay.

17. It is also okay that you like Alfred Hitchcock movies, painting things, reading books, folk music, and going to flea markets with your mom. I know you are a dork now, but in seven more years, this will be super cool. You're basically a trendsetter. Keep dorking it up, sister.

18. You live in a world where the bank closes at 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Denying this fact will not make it open when you go there at 3 p.m., so please learn this very important, harsh life-truth right now.

19. People are not always mad at you. Sometimes their mood has absolutely nothing to do with you. I promise. On the same note, Jesus is never mad at you. Stop thinking he is.

20. Start a savings account right now. You don't pay rent, you don't pay utilities, you don't pay for a car, and your student loans haven't kicked in yet. We could be so rich by the time we are my age. We could buy our own chef and then you wouldn't have to worry about my instructions in number 15.

21. Call your parents more, especially your mom. I know you don't want to call your her right now, but you need to. Seriously, though.

22. Keep being best friends with Steph. Treat her like a rockstar. She will be your pillar of sanity and loyalty through all of college and your early twenties. Be nice to that guy she starts dating your junior year. He never goes away. As a matter of fact they get married. But you will continue to refer to him as Smelliott, and Steph will continue to find it just as funny as you do. This is why she's your bff4life. 

23. When God says he'll provide, he means it.You will re-learn this everyday.

24. Don't change your major four times. I know you will get super freaked out when you go to your first journalism class, but it's the only thing you've ever wanted to do. Don't let it scare you away. You do not want to be a social worker, a teacher, or a professional communicator. (What do communications majors do, anyway?) Study the Chicago Manual of Style. Study good writers. Write all the time. You love writing--you want to be a writer.

Do not make a pros and cons list that tells you otherwise.

25. Buy tickets to go see Nickel Creek EVERYTIME they are in town. I hate to tell you this, but shortly after you graduate from college, they will break up. You will continue to stalk Chris Thile and his new band, but it will never be the same. Don't waste this precious time with them.

26. Hang out with your college roommate, Alyssa, more. She kicks butt and someday soon she will marry a Swiss rocket scientist and move to Boston. No, I'm not kidding. Make sure when you are working on a paper at 3 a.m. in your dorm room, you don't wear headphones. You will accidentally be much louder than you think you are, banging your coffee mug on your desk, etc., and you'll keep her awake, but she will be too sweet to say anything. Do not do this. Preventing one from sleep is a form of torture. Have some social grace.

27. Be ballsier. Just in general.

28. Don't be such a snob about music, movies, or books. Someday, you will harbor a very intense love for an 18-year-old Canadian popstar who looks strikingly like a woman. And you will think that this fact about you is very awesome.

29. Your sisters are always right. So is Steph. Get used to this now and you will save yourself a lot of wasted time.

30. Life will not end after college, just like it didn't end after high school. You will like your early twenties an awful lot. You will, dare I say, have even more fun than you are having right now. I promise. 










Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Little Something on Grace and Honesty



Hi folks. I've been the crappiest blogger on the face of the earth lately, because I've been spending a lot of my time writing for Kyria.com. Here are a few of the posts I've done recently. Please known that for Kyria, I've written twice in the last month about kinky porn in society. I do not have any way to explain myself.



However, this is a post I wrote last year, on my old blog. It's about Jesus. And honesty. And grace. I've been reflecting a lot on the mayhem that recently took place in the life of Brian Presley, including the circulation of an interview I did with him two months ago. It's all been very odd for me to watch, but it's made me think a lot about how, simply stated, we are never going to be perfect.

 So...here you go. A little something for you Wednesday.
-------------------------
I read this last night, and it has never read so beautifully before.
"27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
 - Luke 5:27-32
After that, I read this.  Jesus said it.  I like it.
"37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
    41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
 Luke 6:37-38; 41-42
Christ was sinless and perfect, and he told. us not to judge each other. 
But we do. 
We do it in conversation. 
We do it in our minds and hearts. We do it when we pass people on the street or drive past them in our cars.  We do it when we watch the news and hear about the different ways that people are trying to fill the voids in their lives with relationships and substances that continue to hurt them.  We shake our heads and say, "How could they do something like that?" when really, what we should be saying, is "How wonderful would it be for that person if they allowed Jesus to fill that void.  Thank God for His grace and mercy that allows me to feel whole, even amidst confusion."
 My pastor always says that there is nothing worse than a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian in which our main goal is to "fix them."  It's just gross.  
It was one of those crazy weeks for me where God kept telling me the same thing so persistently that I would have to chop off both of my ears in order to NOT hear Him.  I'm not down with the ear-chopping.
We were not put on this earth to judge one another.  We just weren't.  At least five times, just this week, I have been on one side or the other of the following conversation:  
"I didn't want to talk to you about this/call you to talk because I was scared I'd be bothering you/I didn't want to disappoint you/I didn't want you to let you down."
Translation?  We are terrified of being judged by each other, and so we isolate.  And when we isolate, we suffer even more, and that fear continues to build.  Two nights ago I talked to my best friend for a good hour, and we both admitted to each other that we'd been scared to talk to each other about some things that we were dealing with.   But the fear that we both felt was a lie.  Through our conversation a film that had been covering our friendship over the past few months was lifted, and we were able to see clearly that we will receive nothing but love and understanding from one another.  And yes, sometimes we tell each other that we are acting like morons.  And that is a good thing, because it is based on love. 
But why does that fear exist in the first place?  Why do we get so scared to talk to each other about the truth of our lives?  I think that sometimes the lack of grace we are surrounded by in this world becomes a direct correlation to how we perceive our relationships with one another.  In the church, we deal with the anomaly of striving to become perfect in Christ while knowing in the deepest part of our hearts that we are nothing but a bunch of sinful bastards.  We are given mercy through the faith that we have, not because of our perfection.  We don't deserve the Father that we have in Heaven, but He loves us just the same. 
We know that we can't hide our sins from Christ, but sometimes we start to believe that everything will be so much easier if we DO hide our sins from one another.  The biggest problem with this, of course, is that the more perfect we try to appear, the more hypocritical we become, and also, the less likely it will be that anyone who is actually struggling, who is actually in pain, will be willing to talk to us about it.  When we shut out God's grace for ourselves, the grace that allows us to joyfully admit that we are imperfect, we also stop giving that grace to those around us.
"16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Hebrews 4:16
I am talking to myself more than anyone, today.  We have to get it out of our heads that being saved by grace makes us "better" than anyone else.  We aren't better, we are just incredibly blessed with the knowledge of a loving Savior.  We have to stop freaking out about the minute things that make us think that our society is "going to hell in a handbag," and start freaking out about the incomprehensible amount of suffering that is taking place around us.  Jesus spent His time on earth with those who were suffering and confused.  The outcasts.  The people you'd never trust to babysit your kids or hold your purse or go to for advice.  Those were the people He ate dinner with.  So I guess what I'm trying to say, and struggling to do so, is that this judgement and fear that we live in is not the Gospel.  It's not the truth.  Jesus loves us sinners, and He demands that we love others in the same grace-filled way that He does.
This week I had another conversation, too. This one tore me up, because it gave me, with clarity that I believe must have come from the Holy Spirit, an outsider's view on the graceless, selfish "religion" that Christians today are always in danger of becoming, and often, have become.
I'm paraphrasing, but in unbelievable truth, a friend  of mine said something pretty close to this:
"Do you want to know the reason that everyone who isn't a Christian looks at the Church and laughs about what a big joke it all is? It's because you people spend so much time judging non-Christian music and movies and listening to your contemporary Christian music and preaching at others about how they need to get "saved," but in reality, your lives don't look any different from ours.  Your lives become about what you don't do.  Where are you being the hands and feet of Christ? Where are you actually being the light that is showing the world that you are different?  No one gives a crap about what you have to say if you are living a life that is full of judgement towards us.  Show me someone who is living like a light.  Who is really trying to spread that love that Jesus gave.  I'll listen to that person." 
I think that God speaks in a lot of ways.  Wednesday, this is how He spoke to me.  And now there's no going back to normalcy.   Not when you get convicted like that.
Happy Wednesday, y'all. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

I think I've always had two versions of Jesus in my mind.


First, there is Jesus: the sweet, life-giving, grace-pushing carpenter who was always telling the losers he loved them. I've always liked him. We're close. I tell him things. And he makes me feel safe.

And then there is JESUS: the silent, somber B.A. who was always pissing off Pharisees--the one who walked the road to Calvary. Now, this guy, I respect. But I'm not sure if He likes me that much, and he's always freaked me out a little.

It's always been easiest to have this separation, because what Jesus did on the Cross completely baffles me. I don't understand it. It makes me sad. And it makes me feel a little guilty.Yes. It has been easier for me, for 25 years, to keep the Jesus in the crowds, the one who called me on the beach, saved me from being stoned, broke bread with me...it's easier to keep that Jesus separate from the one who died for me.

But tonight I attended a Good Friday service that felt a lot more like a funeral--and I've been to my share of funerals of the past few years. The resemblance was purposeful, but it was also incredibly fitting. Tonight was not a memorial of the distant martyr who hung on the Cross. It was the funeral remembrance for the only man who has ever loved me purely. The one who says he's the shepherd for the lost and the hopeless. The one who prays to his Father in John 17, telling him how much he loves the insignificant morons he's spent the last 33 years getting to know. The one who knows me inside and out--who I share everything with.

Tonight I re-lived the funeral of my best friend.

It was awful.

I don't know what it was. Maybe it's because this year, more than ever before, I've experienced more closely what if feels like to lose someone you love. Or maybe this was the year that I finally truly fell in love with Jesus. I don't know, exactly.

Whatever it was...the life I lived this year has brought me to a place of absolute dependence on the Grace of the Man who died tonight.

The death of Jesus is not some far off, theological concept.

It's personal.

It's heartbreaking.

It is worthy of mourning.

But...it's not the end of the story.

How thankful I become when I arrive, face-to-face with this truth.




Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cat. Organ. Rainbow. Song.

Hello there. How are you doing?

Me? Well, I was doing great. Was. Until I saw this. Now I'm sort of a mixture of nervous, nauseous, and...and...



Now it's all just darkness.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hospital Gowns and Jesus

I wake up to a sharp jabbing sensation taking place in the direct vicinity of my ribcage. I peek out of one eye and immediatly recognize the culprit as Eva, my friend Jennie's four-year-old daughter. "Wake up! Wake up! Ashchleee, WAKE UP!" she yells as she continues to stab me with her tiny (but freakishly strong) hands. I roll over and groan. I"m beyond tired and my head is pounding. Eva's lucky she's cute, I think as I roll off the couch and onto the floor.

I eventually stand up and drag myself into the kitchen after groggily fist-bumping my little alarm clock. Eva is freaking awesome. She can tell the difference between Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson songs better than I can. She's a rockstar. But I need coffee.

Jennie stumbles into the kitchen a few seconds after I've poured the water into the coffeemaker. We exchange mumbles. My roommate, Anna, is much more of a morning person than either of us will ever hope to be. We can both hear her singing to herself in the shower. I crack a weary smile.

In truth, I've spent the weekend fighting demons. I've been angry and bitter at the Church and its failures, lately. My anger is about the things that show the immature, stupid state of my own heart, things that God is in control of, and things that I need to let go of. Basically I've been struggling with the notion that everyone sucks. I know this is not okay, but I can't help but carry around a heaviness in my heart as I get ready for the service this morning. It sits as a passenger next to me on my drive there.
Marching through the church doors, I'm pleasant. This is stupid, I tell Jesus. I fake smile at the greeters, hoping to avoid talking to anyone else for the rest of the morning. I run into Jennie and she tells me about a debacle she had with one of the parking attendants, and I manage to curse about it while standing in the children's ministry area. Good job, Ashley. Classy. I make it halfway through the lobby before I look down at my phone and see my sister's caller ID flashing across the screen. It's early for her to call, and she has babies to get out the door for church. I figure I'd better answer it.

"Did you butt dial me?" I ask dryly as I navigate my way through the crowded lobby.

"Get somewhere where you can hear me right now," April orders.

Oh boy. Is she mad at me? I wonder. I feel panic and guilt rise up in my chest, my brain racing to figure out what on earth I possibly could have done wrong in the past two days.

"Okay, I can hear you," I say, finding a quieter corner in the noisy lobby.

"Don't freak out."

Panic panic panic.

"Okay, I'm not freaking out."

"Alright. Mom and Dad are in Milwaukee for the weekend, and they were swimming this morning..."

Oh my gosh my dad is dead.

"And Dad passed out in the pool. He was having pains across his chest. I don't know. But he blacked out and Mom had to pull him out and he's ok now and there was a nurse nearby and she told them that it might be a precurser sign to a heart attack so now they're in the emergency room in Milwaukee and we need to go up there."

I get off the phone and start speedwalking back through the lobby, tears stinging my eyes. All I can think about is my dad, and how he can't be old yet, and about how he's supposed to walk me down the aisle and he needs to meet my kids someday and he can't do that soon because I have committment issues and I can't find a man and my mom needs him around for forever and my sisters need him and my nieces need him and my nephew needs him and the world needs him...I think about how I cancelled on my family on Friday night to spend time with my friends, and how I am the worst daughter ever. I think a lot of other very guilt-ridden thoughts, as well.

Etc.

On my way out the door I hear someone calling my name. I turn to see Anna, who's looking at me like I've lost my mind. "Where are you going?!" she yells. There are way too many people around for me to feel comfortable with this setting, but as she walks towards me I begin to fall apart.

"My dad...heart attack...water...pool...Milwauakee...Do you know how to get to Milwaukee? Can you point me in the direction of Milwaukee?! I NEED TO GET TO MILWAUKEE AND I DON'T KNOW WHERE IT IS!" I sob-yell incoherently.

Clearly I am extremely level-headed.

Anna puts her arm around me and starts walking me towards her car. "You can't drive like this. No seriously you can't. It's a bad idea and you WILL will die. I'm driving you." she says calmly. "Your dad will be fine. I promise. Let's go. And stop apologizing," she orders, referring to my half-hysterical mumbling of the phrase, "I'm sorry."
I feel awful about Anna driving me all the way to Milwaukee, but luckily my sister comes up with a better plan to meet somewhere nearby and drive together, so Anna and I have exactly ten minute in the car together, filled with her praying and my crying before I am back at my own car, driving to meet my sister nearby.

I've never felt as desperate as I do on the car ride to meet my sister. God gets quite the earful from me. I tell Him I know He owes me nothing. I tell Him I know that I idolize my dad way too much. I beg Him not to take him away. I bargain with my own life, I apologize for my own idiocy and constant sin, but mostly I just cry, and yell about how helpless I feel. I tell Him I know that my dad would go to Heaven, and I know that God would take good care of him up there, but I need him here. I beg some more. And then I meet up with my sisters.

We arrive at the hospital and scare the nurses as we storm through the halls, trying to find our dad. It feels good to be with Erin and April now. I'm positive the nursing staff thinks we're nutjobs. We find my parents in Room 6, my dad all hooked up with tubes sticking out of his arms. I feel myself wanting to cry again as my mom tells us exactly what happened. I can't get over how small my dad looks in the hospital bed. Like a little boy who's trying to be brave. He looks afraid, and wide-eyed, and traumatized, and glad that we're there. I pull up a chair right next to him and ask him if he's okay. His eyes water, but he nods. I struggle to hold it together. Dad crying is the worst.

We spend the day together as a family, and my dad cheers up more and more. He tells us how much he hates his hospital gown, which nurses are nice and which nurses are bossy, how uncomfortable his bed is, and how much he loves us. The immediate tests have all shown good things, so we all relax and talk. When I was little, we had nightly mandatory family dinners. Now that my sisters are both married, and April has four babies of her own, my immediate family rarely gets a chance to just be together. I feel thankful for this time together, even if my dad is wearing a man-dress and lying in an uncomfortable bed.

I decided to stay the night in Milwaukee with my mom. She's asleep now--she was exhuasted. I'm writing this in a pitch-black hotel room, relieved I can process what happened today. When we left my dad tonight he told me his big plan was to get another blood test and then watch ESPN. I think he's actually pretty pumped about that last part. Tomorrow they'll do a stress test on him, and depending on what they find, they'll either keep him for longer, or send him home for a follow up.

As I sit here in the dark tonight, all I can think about is how much I don't deserve the blessings that God has piled onto my family. Today was the first health scare I've ever faced with my dad, and as a result he spent the day being doted on by my crazy sisters and mother and me, as well as four nurses, a nurse practictioner, a doctor, five med students, and probably some kind of pear tree. I feel like God blessed this day by allowing us to be together and pause our lives for a few hours. I'm thankful.

I'm thankful for a few other reasons, too. You see, my dad is not a cuddly, warm-fuzzy guy. He's gentle and kind, always, but he's never been big on "I love you's" and hugs. But today made me realize that he knows, without a doubt, that I love him. I tell him I love him all the time, but today was the first day that made me realize that he gets it. He joked all day about how he knew I would be the biggest disaster when I heard the news this morning. He even called me when I was on the way to the hospital to check-in. I don't know if I'm making any sense, and I am extremely tired and more than a little emotional right now, but there's something incredibly valuable about knowing that someone KNOWS that you love them. I'm grateful.

And all of that stuff...the stuff that was stealing my joy and making me feel worthless and causing me bitterness earlier in the day...it just doesn't matter anymore. Because in the grand scheme of things, the ONLY thing that matters is that we love each other like Christ loves us. That's it. Set the pettiness aside, set the fears aside, set our selfishness aside...the only thing in this world that matters is the love of God, and the love we share with each other. Looking at my family today, thinking back on the struggles and the hurt that we've gone through and caused each other in the past, and how far we've come, brought concretion to the reality that each day we have to start anew, and each day we are required to forgive each other, and each day we get to love each other.

And the same goes for the church. You know, The Church--that thing with those people that was pissing me off so much this morning. The people who have "failed" me in some way. It just doesn't matter anymore. We're fallen people. We're all big effed-up losers no matter how much Bible teachin' we've got. And we need to stop keeping count of one another's wrongs and making each other feel like a bunch of failures. Because if we don't, we're just simply an organized group of lying hypocrites who can wave goodbye to a unified church. I mean, right? So now I need to seek forgivness from God for the grudges and the anger I've held in the past. Sheesh. Today was a big day for me. I gotta stop saying sheesh, though. It makes me look like a nerd.

Thanks for letting me debrief from today's insanity. I'm sorry if this post makes zero sense and makes me sound like I'm full of it. I'm tired as crap. And I had a long day.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pancakes.

I would like to take a moment and discuss pancakes. I stayed home sick today, and decided to make pancakes when I woke up. Pancakes are delicious.


Mmmmm.


Nom nom nom.


Ooh look blueberries. NOMMMMM.


Pancakes are yummy.

However, when I make them, they look like this:


Not my proudest moment. Except I like the top one. That one can stay.

We can't all be good at things.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ryan Hates Cats Too.

Sigh. 


For those of you that work in publishing and have had a crush on Ryan Gosling since the day he grew and beard, lost his mind, and built a house....


Some of it is semi-inappropriate. But I can see past that if you can.

You're welcome. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Story of Hope

Tonight I walked back up to my apartment after having coffee with my sweet friend Emily, stuck my key in the lock, flipped my wrist to the left, and pushed on my door.

 Unfortunately, nothing happened. 

I tried again.

And again.

And again and again and again.

On the fifth round  I discovered I could actually swivel my key in a complete 360 circle, the lock spinning as I turned the key. I pushed on the door, I manipulated the key, I maneuvered, prayed, I waited fifteen seconds, and then I tried again.

And again I was met with nothing but failure. 


Sheer and utter failure.  

The End 

Goodnight.

Anxious Wreck--My Story

This week, I had the privilege of writing for Kyria.com, a branch of Christianity Today, where I work.

Check it out. You'll get to read all about how I became an anxious disaster, and how God is changing that part of me in big ways.

http://blog.kyria.com/2012/01/giving_up_worry.html

Also, how amazing is this?

Compliments of iwastesomuchtime.com

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's Sunday and I Have So Many Words.

Well, I'm at Starbucks. Surprise, surprise. I could probably retire off of the money that I spend here instead.

Anyway...

This week began with a resounding Bachelor-watching fest with the sisters and friends.


Poor Ben F, or Benff, as I like to call him. He should really run away from all of these women screaming as loudly as he can. Look at him in his vest. He's so innocent. So, so innocent. And bad things keep happening to him.

For example: 


Run Ben. Run away. COURTNEY WILL EAT YOUR SOUL and then spit it back up because she doesn't want your mangled-up soul calories. 


Also: 


Shawntel, I give you props for trying. Good luck next time you try to confess your love to someone who doesn't know you. 

And...


Ben, if you don't choose Nicki at the end of all of this, mark my words, she will set fire to your  vineyards and murder your dog.
So many happy, smiling faces. I can't wait to see what kind of insanity it will hold this Monday evening.

Tuesday night I had small group. We're reading this book:




I've read the introduction and the first chapter. So far, it has been...how do I say...a challenge for me. And for my temper. It's written by many different women, so I'm hoping that the next chapter is better, but the first chapter made my feel physically enraged. I understand the whole, women need act feminine, bla bla bla, mentality, but this book actually encouraged the women who were reading it to learn to love cleaning, cooking, and homemaking before you get married, so that you will be ready to fulfill your marital honors once you do find yourself a man. It also said that as women, we should basically always and only look to the men in our lives for advice.

*shudders*


I'm giving it one more week, and if the second chapters sucks as much as the first one does, I am going to run it over with my Civic or, more possibly, force-feed it to the nearest innocent male bystander.


I'm so kind. 



I feel zero guilt about this book hate. Jesus didn't write the dang thing, Nancy Leigh DeMoss did.

So there you have it. 

Wednesday night I went to a young adults group (Read: Adult Youth Group) at a church I do not attend.


 As far as churches go, this one is the MOST RELEVANT CHURCH EVER. Hipsters frolicking freely. A pastor who says "dude" and "bro" while explaining Old Testament kings. Wristbands. Ambient music. Floppy hats. Worship music you could barely sing to because it was so very experimental. BEARDS GALORE. And the prettiest art of all the arts.

Relevant. 



So relevant.

I left that place feeling incredibly grateful for my own church, and for the fact that we actually open our Bibles at our 20somethings ministry. I also felt insanely grateful for the incredible people I have met there over the last year, and for worship leaders and pastors who care more about bringing people to the throne of God than they do about making Jesus look sexy.

Loobadeeboolabeedoo.

Thursday night I went to my aforementioned winning 20somethings church. It was a lovely evening with lovely people who I don't see nearly enough. It was especially lovely when my friend Jennie and I decided to wear our ridiculously wonderful matching furry scarfy things as hats. 

We're breathtaking. Now ship us off to Moscow.

Friday I was supposed to lead worship with my friend Peter, but we ended up getting a blizzaster that closed us down for the evening, so instead, I spent the evening watching Gilmore Girls with Lana, Peter's wife (who happens to be one of my absolute bestiest besties). 


Look at us. Watching TV together.

It was a happy evening until Peter and Lana's walls started spitting out water because of a burst pipe, and Peter, Peter's dad, and Peter's uncle ended up doing this to their kitchen (while speaking a LOT of Russian at each other) while Lana and I hid in the living room: 


So at the end of the evening, my friends were less happy. They looked like this:


In other news, I hate my bank. I ordered checks from them two weeks ago and SOMEHOW they haven't been mailed to me yet. The're going to call me back "tomorrow" to determine whether or not they were ever actually properly ordered. Thanks guys. I'll just pay my bills with monopoly money until you straighten things out. I will say that the teller who helped me out was extremely nice, and he did indeed stutter the whole time, so he's okay in my book. But his manager...yeach. What a douchy hat. 

Saturday was a festival of fun that began with me, Jennie, and her daughter, who is literally the coolest four-year-old ever, trying to make a snowman. Unfortunately the snow was not pack-able, so we ended up making a snow "volcano." A snowcano, if you will.

Snowcano
Eva jumping and then falling off the snowcano.

Snowcanos are great. We are so freaking cold.
We hate snow. 

We eventually gave up at on any kind of snow buildery and went inside for: 

1. Eye Spy Memory Games with Lana




2. Harry Potter with Anna


Wine and babies. So classy.




I just want a hippogriff. 

Good Lord my head hurts.  I blame Jillian Michaels. I did her "Yoga Meltdown" DVD yesterday and today everything hurts. She is a demon.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

Updates on Beth soon to come.

Also, have ya'll seen this? Seriously how did this happen? 


Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Am Completely Stupid in This Area of Life

So today I'm kicking my own rear end on the Stairmaster, when what to my wondering eyes do appear through the doors of the gym, but a 40-year-old man and his 5-year-old son, both carrying fake swords. They quickly look around and then book it into the empty yoga studio, where they proceed to fence for at least a half hour. 

During this time I feel disturbed by the following visuals:  

1. a grown man in elastic-band sweatpants, wielding a fake sword
2. the fact that he is owning it like a samurai
3. the intensity with which the small child boy and his dad are fighting. At several points they battle each other until one is laying on the ground with a sword pointed at his neck. I feel like I'm watching Lord of the Rings.

As I continue to master the art of stair-climbing, my eyes go back and forth between the ecstatic look on the boy's face, and the intense, there-will-be-blood look on his father's face. I can't decide if he is the coolest dad ever, or a potential sword-flailing child abuser.

When I finished my workout, all sweaty and disgusting, I head back to my own apartment building, where I see Tony Soprano's twin, and his son, silently stalking back to their apartment door. After twenty seconds of silence, Tony mutters, "C'mon," and thumps his awkward adolescent son on the back. Then he heads into the apartment. His son, Smalls Soprano, looks awkwardly at me, and then kicks off his snow boots and heads inside after him. I get in the elevator and ride it up the the second floor, because I am extremely, extremely lazy outside of actual "exercise time." 

As the bell rings and the doors close, my mind comes to this ugly realization: 

I do not understand men AT ALL.

If my mom had said to me when I was five, "let's fight with swords," I would have run away crying. She scared me enough with the angry face she used to make while she was vacuuming. 

And there is no back-thumping in girl world. We are gentle. We don't whack each other on the shoulder blade. That form of non-verbal communication doesn't even exist for us. 

I have so much to learn and understand. Ugh.

More on this later.