courage on display.

a few years ago i found myself at a conference in ireland with a few hundred other crazy people.  i’d just gotten home from that time i traveled the world and i didn’t have a clue what i was doing with my life.  i remember being in that room; confused, angry, heartbroken and overwhelmed all at once.  transition was happening so fast around me i felt like i was spinning.  one morning during worship the lord prompted someone to do some declarations.  one declaration in particular.  “i am a woman of courage,”  i stood on a chair and screamed.  over and over and over everyone in the room chanted.  courage.  courage.  courage.

i was laying in bed tonight thinking of that moment.  i was thinking about how i am certain i became more courageous in that space.  as i was reflecting i decided i don’t think it came from some big announcement to the world.  courage took hold inside of me because of the small act of standing on the chair and opening my mouth.  it’s in the day to day things.  it’s in the moments when we quietly choose.

lately, i’ve seen courage on display.

courage

but it hasn’t looked like giant gestures and loud proclamations.  nope.

it’s looked like telling roommates they are settling in that relationship.

it’s looked like the middle of the night text messages that say “i messed up.  again.”

it’s looked like circling yes on the survey and admitting for the first time “that happened to me.”

it’s looked like speaking up in a meeting and stepping out of your comfort zone.

it’s looked like accountability and repentance and the receiving of grace.

it’s been saying yes to that date and no to that ice cream.

it’s looked an awful lot like emails that just say “help.”

it’s looked like break ups and changing majors.

it’s certainly looked like hard conversations scattered with tears and laughs and sighs.

lately, courage on display has mostly looked like a new bunch of crazies.  a slew of incredible, beautiful, wide-eyed college women.

how blessed i am by them.

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.

just calm down.

i have been struggling to write a blog for weeks.  in fact, i’ve started about eight different ones with the exact same sentiment.  they are still sitting on my desktop, half started.  i don’t why it’s been so difficult for me, lately.  i’ll blame it on the dreary weather.  it’s been dark and rainy.  but, the sun is trying to shine through today.  amidst the clouds, it’s peeking out.  so, despite the fact that i feel like i have so much to say and  nothing all at the same time – something is getting posted.  for all six of you to read.

we’re in another season of transition down here.  i’m beginning to wonder how long a season can really last – or if at some point, that’s just the way things are.  either way, things have changed and continue to do so.  for me, when there is a positional shift in a place, it naturally makes me wonder how it will affect the relationships i cherish.  i don’t really have answers to that question.  but i’m more confident in this community that i belong to then i ever have been.  i’m confident that we’re all in this together; good and bad, messy and put together.  we’re all here.  in the spirit, we’re knit together in a weird, supernatural way.  i used to be really afraid of these kinds of relationships because i was afraid they might go away someday.  my fear of what may or not happen on the back end of something kept me from blessings at the onset.  i’m not so afraid, anymore.  i wonder, sometimes.  but i think i can wonder without being afraid.

i’m doing a lot of pondering these days.  which can be both healthy and dangerous for me.  it’s easy to get excited about things, begin to dream up new ideas and possibilities.  it’s also really easy for me to look at the enormity that is life and get all super serious, contemplating the deep things of how the world works, why i’m on it, how there can be both good and evil, sorrow and joy.  it’s all very important to ponder.  but i go into debbie downer mode pretty quick, convinced that the world is, in fact, going to hell in a hand basket.  my insides get all dramatic and the voice-over guy in my head comes on.  oh, you don’t have a guy that does voice-overs in your life?  i do.  he probably works part time as a radio-show host.  he gets super dramatic on me with life lessons and how i need ot find significance in the flower petal that just fell to the ground.  it’s like life goes into slow motion until i slap myself.

but then i slap myself out of it.  stand on some furniture to, one more time, remind myself that god is good.  always.  that’s usually the cycle of my pondering.

my sweet friend caroline gave a really great word on monday at church.  yes, i go to church on monday.  there’s a chance we meet in a restaurant.  okay, fine. it’s a bar.  well, it has a bar.  and yes, women preach at my church.  young women.  and do you know what?  it’s the best church i’ve ever been to.  the worship is incredible, the teaching solid, and the people life-giving, honorable, and sincere.  i love my church in a bar.  whew.  now that that’s all out in the open….

so, caroline preached on how we need to rest.  about how when we find a deep place of rest and assurance in who God is the circumstances around us don’t really matter.  we can stop spinning and spinning and spinning and just stand with solidarity.  what i heard the lord saying through her was, “just calm down.”  so, i’m working on that.  calming down, knowing that it’s all under control.  the lord has it in his hand.  all of it.  remembering that can be hard.  especially in the midst of change, in the midst of watching people hurt, in the middle of confusion and chaos.  my thoughts and emotions go all haywire.  i get really riled up.  and right now, in the middle of it, the lord [and probably some of the people around me] are saying, “just calm down.  it’s all going to be okay.”

so, i’ll just be over here.  tea in hand, calming down.

embedded residue. i’ve been home one year.

well.  it’s official.  i can no longer start a sentence with “last year on the world race…”  i’ve been on american soil for three hundred and sixty five days. [minus the week-long stint in ireland last fall].  whoa.  deep breath.

i landed in lax sometime in the afternoon a year ago.  the lady looked at my passport and said “you’ve been gone for quite some time.  welcome home.” to which i offered a fake smile as i fought back tears.  then i stood in customs for three hours before finally walking out into american civilization.  i spent the evening with my world race bff’s before hopping on a red-eye back to missouri.

i walked off of a plane in springfield and hugged my family.  we drove home.  the first thing i did was try on an old pair of jeans to make sure they still fit.  then i took a nap.  we ate lasagna for dinner.  and normal life just kind of began again.

countless times over the last year when i have thought back to my time on the world race i’ve  felt like it was nothing more than a dream.  a crazy adventure that just kind of happened but it wasn’t real.  except that it was real.  so real, in fact, that the residue is still on me.  not the africa dirt and asia smell.  but the residue of the things i saw.  the prayers i prayed and people i met.  the residue of feelings i felt and dreams i dared to dream.  it’s still on me, the glory of it all.

in fact, it’s just being embedded deeper and deeper into who i am.

i spent three weeks at home.  mostly i tried to catch up with the friends and family i had missed for eleven months.  i ate a lot of food and drank a lot of coffee.  i packed up my life and drove to georgia, where i’ve spent the last eleven months on a brand new adventure and at the same time discovering a new kind of normal.

my first few months in georgia were mostly spent in tears.  i cried because i was lonely.  i cried because i missed being on the field.  i missed holding babies and praying for sick people.  i cried because i had no plan.  i cried because i had absolutely no idea how to do my job.  sometimes i cried because it was the only thing i knew to do in the midst of trying to process and re-enter to so many things.  but, over the months, slowly but surely the tears have become fewer and farther between.  i promise.  ask allison.

i’ve become somewhat settled.  in gainesville, yes.  but mostly in my spirit.  i’ve got a bit of handle on why i’m here.  i’m not so lonely anymore. and i’ve figured some things out about my job.  i feel like i’ve processed the things i’ve seen; even though i still miss the african babies.  i guess i don’t really have a plan.  but i don’t feel like i really need one right now, so that’s refreshing.

anyways.  a lot has happened in the last year.  a lot of good things and a lot of hard things.  some broken places have been exposed and some other broken places have been healed.  i’m more whole than i was a year ago.  i’m more confident and hopeful than i was a year ago.  i’m definitely more free than i was year ago. and i am so much more thankful thank i was a year ago.

i’m thankful for the journey of the world race.  i’m thankful for the journey the last eleven months in georgia have been.  as thankful as i am for the past, i want to be the kind of person who looks ahead to the future with hope and great expectation.  there’s really no telling what’s in store for the next three hundred and sixty five days.  but my prayer is that the residue of my past journeys would become more deeply embedded as i set my eyes and heart towards the journey ahead.

with that.  enjoy the video i made of our world race journey.

happy home-one-year-aversary k-squad.

grateful. no, really.

nothing is ever good enough for me.  ever.

that is a statement that i have absolutely let define me over the years.  it’s something that was spoken over me over and over and over growing up.  ungrateful.  nothing is ever good enough.  it has shaped and molded the way i see myself, the world and most importantly, the Lord.

it wasn’t until recently that i even realized what a stronghold that lie has been.  it’s only been in the few weeks that the Lord has been revealing to me the gravity of it and the way that it has affected so many areas of my life.

tonight i was sitting in an all-too familiar training center at the aim headquarters.  listening to my dear friend give a talk i’ve heard at least a dozen times.  almost thirty leaders showed up this afternoon for a few days of training before over 200 college kids will get sent out to the nations next week. for two months they will serve the world.

as i was sitting there listening to kelly tell stories about past participants she told stories about how their lives were changed.  stories about how a man in africa woke up out of a coma because a real life team prayed for him.  she told the story of a participant who overcame an eating disorder and a drug addiction; whose life was transformed by the power and grace of God.  she told stories about how it rained in kenya when our participants prayed and massai warriors were saved as a result.  she spoke about how she believes wholeheartedly that these participants will change the course of history this summer; that lives will never be the same because they were sent out into the darkest of places with a commission to bring light.

as kelly shared more of the vision for real life i found myself about to lose it.

tears streamed down my face as we prayed for the nations, once again, from that place that has become so comfortable and familiar and yet always transitioning and changing.

because for the first time in a really long time i felt absolutely, unreservedly, filled-to-the-brim grateful.

grateful that i get to be a part of the whole thing.  grateful that i had a hand, small as it may have been, in getting over 200 college kids to the mission field.  grateful that of all of the qualified, competent people out there God chose me to partner with Him and with this ministry.  grateful that in the midst of my brokenness and my process and my junk i am surrounded by people who believe in me and who fight for me, especially when i can’t fight for myself.  grateful for the reminder of who i am and whose i am.  grateful that i don’t live under the lies that were spoken over me.  that i am not defined by what i was told or not told. but that i am defined only by what God says about me.  grateful that even though it seems minuscule i maybe might be starting to learn some things.  grateful that even if wake up tomorrow with my sassy pants on, there is grace to cover it.

i don’t know.  maybe it seems silly.  but i’m just really, truly thankful tonight.  for who God is.  for who I’m becoming and for this life i get to live.

summer [about to] happen-ings.

so, we’re about to walk into busy-town over here at aim.  all kinds of goodness is happening and tons of people are being mobilized to the mission field this summer.  it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

i feel like we’ve been talking about it for weeks, so you’d think i’d be prepared.  but, leave it to me.  procrastinate. procrastinate. procrastinate.  i was feeling okay about everything that i need to do but, all of a sudden i just became really overwhelmed by everything happening in the upcoming weeks.  and the amount of things that need to get done.

so, let’s see.  tomorrow is memorial day.  lucky for me the office is closed so i can work on tackling my inbox while simultaneously cleaning my bathroom and preparing my house for the guests that will be in and out all summer.  tuesday our real life leaders come for training camp.  [wahoo!].  friday 200 [holy moly] participants come to join them and we’ll all head to the hills of tennessee.  sunday i’ll leave camp for a wedding back in georgia and then leave right after the ‘nuptials to start a 13-hour trek to missouri to represent AIM at a conference.  we’ll be there until thursday when we’ll make our back to georgia for another two-day conference in hot-lanta.

a week of ambassador [high school] training and sending out and then i’ll head out for a marketing retreat.  right after that i go back to hot-lanta for another conference.  there is also a wedding happening that same weekend – probably need to figure those logistics out.

the last week of june is our second training camp for ambassadors and then we’ll head back out to tennessee for world race/real life immersion camp for six or seven days.

and then.  it will be the middle of july and i will take a nap.  🙂

that pretty much gets you up to speed on my schedule.  i am thrilled about all of the things happening down here and feel so blessed to be a part of it all.  if you could just keep me and the rest of the staff in your prayers that would be great.  some of them have crazier schedules than i do [throw in some international trips and eek!].

i’ll do my best to keep you posted with all the lord is doing as we mobilize over 500 young people to the mission field this summer!

dear jesus, please don’t come back.

dear jesus,

i am sure that by now you’ve heard the news.  the news about the rapture happening on saturday.  yes, this saturday.  may 21, 2011.  you’re comin’ back to get your people. or something.  they tell me the elect of God will be taken up to heaven and then in five months on october 21, 2011 the earth will be destroyed.  a lot has happened since you were here last time so i bet you’re ready.   you’re probably real excited to have a party, to have all of your favorite people with you, and to rest for a bit.    i get that.

but.  well, here’s the thing, jesus.  i just.  well.  i just don’t want to go.  yet.

it’s not that i’m not ready to have a party with you for all of eternity.  because i am.  really,  i am.  and when i start thinking about all of the stuff going on down here in my life, all of the stuff you are trying to teach me and lessons i’m learning; all of the junk you’re bringing up in me for the greater purpose of wholeness…when i think about that stuff i realllllllllllly want to come to up there.

but then i start to think about all of the orphans that still need to know the love of a father.  and i think about the friends and family who i love dearly who just don’t know you yet.  i think about my friends in africa with aids.  i think about children with cancer who need to be healed.  i think about prostitutes in thailand and adulterers in america.  i think about how they need to be set free.  i think about the hurting and the dying.  i think about widows and single moms.  i think about my friend judy who i met in wal-mart and how she desperately needs to know you.

and i know.  you could make all of that go away without lifting a finger.

but i want to help.

i want to help make dirty water clean. i want to hold orphans and kiss ’em and love ’em and squeeze ’em until they feel loved.  i want to bring food to hungry people.  i want to see aids patients healed and paralytics walk.  i want to see prostitutes freed.  i want to tell my friends and family about you. about how you died for them because you love them.  i want to comfort people who are abused.  i want to share my story.  because it matters.  and because it will bring hope to people who need it.  i want to comfort widows.  i want nations to be transformed by the power of the holy spirit.

i know some of that is happening now.  you’ve sure helped me.  but i’d like to see some more.  i’d like to see more of those “greater things” you talked about.  i’d like to be a part of bringing back some more of your inheritance to you.  i’d like to see restoration and redemption and reconciliation that i just haven’t yet.

so, maybe i’m making a selfish request, it wouldn’t be the first time.  but if you would, just wait a little while longer to come back.  because i think we’ve still got some things to take care of down here.

love, ashley

p.s. if you decide to come back anyway and need to find me  i’ll be at world race training camp getting saved. again. because that happens at training camp, you know.