as you come home. (a letter to my favorite squad).

dear brian, katie, elliot, ryan, jayda, kristen, nikki, kevin, stefan, andrew, abby, riely, andrea, kaci, karson, laura, arielle, kaitlyn, krista, cherub grace, carly, kacey, and sami :

tomorrow you’re boarding a plane and you’re coming home.  you’re coming back to all of the things you left behind.  you’re trading in your backpacks for full closets and you’re broken mattress pads for queen sized beds with fresh sheets.  you’ll hand in your less than stellar diets of mostly rice and beans for an equally less than stellar diet but now it will consist of whatever you want.  don’t try to make up for all of the chick fil a you missed your first week home.  just don’t.

you’re returning to see all of the friends and family you left behind nine months ago.  you’ve missed holidays, birthdays, graduations, babies being born.  you’ve had days where you wanted nothing more than to be on your own couch, eating your mama’s home cooking and clicking through the channels with your closest friends.  and you’ve had days where you forgot you were sleeping on the floor with people you barely knew.  because somehow, it all starts to feel like home.

right now, you’re caught smack dab in the bittersweet.  i get it.  really, i do.

as you come home and you transition into whatever the next season is, let me offer you a few things :

you’re not the same people you were.  you’re not boys and girls wandering around the world.  you are sure footed men and women who have unveiled a bit more of their identity.  don’t forget that.  and walk confidently in who you’ve been made to be.  but keep in mind that everyone has been watching as closely as possible, which is still from a distance when you’re on opposite sides of the world.  have some patience with your friends and family and don’t become arrogant because “they just don’t get it.”  give away the same kind of grace that people have given you.

generally speaking, people here practice pretty good hygiene.  please jump back on that wagon.  the showers are hot now, so there is really no excuse.

focus on what you’re thankful for.  as you process the last nine months; the places you have been and the people you have encountered you’ll realize that not every bit of it was a bed of roses.  that’s okay.  that’s life.  don’t dwell on all of the things you wish had been different.  don’t wonder about the what might have beens.  take your entire experience and be grateful.  while you’re at it, stand on some chairs and shout about what you’re thankful for.  we’ve all learned that it makes all the difference.

get some sleep.  seriously. you’re tired.  take a nap.  or two.

remember that you are not alone.  jesus is with you and all of that. yes.  but you are each surrounded by friends and families that love you and have missed you like crazy.  and now, as cheesy as it sounds, you’ve got a whole slew of new friends and family that also aren’t going anywhere.  you’re not abandoned or forgotten.  you are loved.

okay, i’m out of wisdom.  at least for today.

i love each of you deeply.  i am beyond proud of you for how you have served the nations and each other so well.
you have two days left.  don’t get into any trouble now, kapeesh?

spoonfuls of nutella.

i’m still not exactly sure how it all happened.  it was one of those sweet ministry moments that wasn’t planned or expected.  it didn’t happen during a scheduled ministry time, no one was preaching or praying; but god showed up nonetheless.   it was, you know, one of those moments.  the kind that mess you up just a little bit and leave you thinking, wondering, dreaming, hoping.

i was in my my tent when i heard someone crying.  naturally, i assumed it was one of my participants so i got up to go save the day.  cowered in the corner, however, wasn’t one of my people.  it was a twelve year old honduran girl named nicole.

nicole is the sister of two of the boys who live here with tony.  she’d been staying with us for the past few weeks because her grandmother was having surgery and there was no one else to take care of her.  her abusive mom lives and works in the dumps where she also prostitutes herself. her father has never been around.  her grandmother cares for her from a wood and plastic shack on the top of a hill in the middle of los pinos – one of the most dangerous communities in tegucigalpa.

i sat with her for a bit and let her cry.  my spanish doesn’t really go beyond “hello, how are you?” so i just kept my mouth shut and held her.  after a few minutes i handed her the last of my peanut butter m&ms that my roommates sent me with.  it’s always my natural default to feed people when they’re upset or i don’t know what else to do.  eventually katie joined us, amalia, dania and sandra in tow.

it was amalia’s birthday.  but, the occasion was saddened by the fact that only a few months ago, amalias father had killed himself in their home.  “it cannot be a happy birthday without my papa,” she told us as she started to cry.  eventually, all four honduran girls were in tears.  a few more of my girls had joined us and for over an hour we each held one, prayed over them and cried with them.  we felt the weight of everything these sweet young girls were carrying.  the pain, questions, wondering where god is.

but there wasn’t anything we could do about it.  there were no nice answers or “i understands.”  we can’t really begin to relate to what these girls have seen and experienced.  there could only be desperate cries to the one who always shows up, the god who always meets us where we are.  so we asked god to come.  and we mourned with those who were mourning.

and then we ate nutella.  by the spoonful.  because crying girls should always eat nutella.

getting to honduras.

it’s no surprise that me actually committing to this trip wasn’t the easiest journey in the world.  remember that time i said no?  but the deepest parts of my getting to honduras can wait for another time.

after three days in hot cabins in the woods of georgia my squad was off.  we went to airport at 11 pm to catch a 7 am flight.  about an hour of sleep in the airport.  awesome.  from there we flew to miami where we waited for a few hours before finally getting on the long awaited international flight to tegucigalpa, honduras.

we’re working with zions gate ministry for the next few months.  tony and his wife nidia are heavily involved in a close little community called los pinos.  it’s there where they have spent the last few years forming relationships and looking to make an impact.  they’ve taken in over a dozen teenage boys who were once addicted to paint thinner and living on the streets.  today, these boys are in a loving home, learning about jesus, going to school, and learning to be all they were created to be.  it’s incredible to be a part of.

the ministry property is nestled in the mountains, our view is amazing and the weather has been perfect.  rain on a tin roof every night while i sleep? yes, please.  our teams are throwing themselves into all kinds of ministries. everything from teaching english to working in the dumps and facilitating church in the streets.  it’s an incredible thing to watch these guys come alive.  i’m finding so much joy in walking alongside of them as they discover more of who God is and who they are to him.

i said no. but then i changed my mind.

“no. no. nope.  absolutely not.”
that was response last week.  off the cuff, quick as could be – nope.  my reason?  it would be uncomfortable, inconvenient. my support account is in the red. i have a different plan.  a responsible plan.  not to mention what it might do to the people i love most.  the emotions.  leave?  again?  nope.  not gonna happen.

pretty quickly i realized what a cop out answer i had just given.  that i had no real reason to not at least ask the question of the lord.  “what if?” what if you did provide?  what if i did love it?  what if my inconvenience catapulted me into something great?  what if i fell in love with these people?  what if i came alive again?

yeah, but.

but what if people think it’s stupid?  what if i can’t do it?  what if the money doesn’t come in?  what if people get hurt in the process?  what if i’m not responsible?

yeah, but.

what if the nations are changed?  what if people get healed?  what if college kids come alive?  what if you told them who they are?  what if you were stretched again?  what if you were supported?  what if you were loved and encouraged anyway?

ultimately, i felt like God gave me permission to do whatever i wanted to do.  “ashley, do the thing you want.  the thing that will make you come alive. you have something to offer.  you have something to give.  do what you want to do.”

it’s been an emotional week.  a week filled with so many conflicting emotions.  emotions that i don’t really know what to do with.   a week of great rejoicing and a lot of tears.  a lot of hard conversations and decisions that, really, i wish i didn’t have to make.  a lot of thankfulness. a lot of questions.  few answers.

but, at the end of it – the only answer that mattered was my “yes.”  yes.  i’ll do this. yes. i’ll be all in.  yes. i’ll commit to 23 of my new favorite people.  yes.  i’ll choose to be uncomfortable.  yes. i’ll trust that this can be good – even in the midst of the stuff that, right now, seems anything but good.  yes.  yes. yes.

let me introduce you the amazing people i said yes to.  these 23 crazy people are a part of our passport immersion team.  they’re 17-21 years old and they’ll be going to the nations for 9 months.  these guys are putting off school for a year, selling cars and horses, leaving their families, friends and comforts all because jesus asked them to.  they said yes to that.  the least i could do is say yes to them.

 i’ll be squad leading this incredible crew. 
my last day in the marketing department will be august 10th.  i’ll go home for a week to see my family and meet with my amazing supporters (that’s you!) and then come back to georgia before we launch in september.  i’ll be with them for the first four months of their journey; discipling them, loving them, ministering with them and to them, setting them up to finish their journey well.  we’ll be in honduras for the first three months and then i’ll help transition them to thailand where they will be for three months before heading to south africa to finish their journey.  i’m beyond excited about the opportunity.  i can’t even begin to tell you how thankful i am for the chance to love them and pour out the stuff that’s been brewing in me for what feels like so long.

would you pray for me?  would you pray for incredible peace as i walk through this season?  pray for my squad.  pray for my co-leader, david.  pray for my family and friends as we say goodbye again.  pray for the funds to come in.  pray about how you can help.  pray for my gainesville people and the transitions we’re all walking through.  pray for direction about what to do after this.

i cannot express how much i appreciate all of the support and encouragement you offer.  it means the world to me.  it keeps me going.  blessings as you each navigate and decide what god is asking you to say “yes” to.