This Profound Hope // Psalms 119:50

“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” // Psalms 119:50

The thing about suffering is that we are all guaranteed to experience it. To be human is to be susceptible to pain, no matter how much we may try to avoid it. God never promises us a life free of suffering, but He does promise us an eternal life if we believe in Him and trust Him enough to lead us through the hard times.
I wish I could put into words how the losses from the past two months have impacted my family. My grandmother was the light of all of our lives. I’ve never met anyone stronger, more quick-witted, or more giving. My aunt was the baby of the family, the youngest girl. She was quick to tell anyone that she was the baby. She was also one of the funniest people that I’ve ever met. You could not be around her and not be laughing. To know that these two amazing women are gone from this Earth is absolutely heart-wrenching. My mom’s family is very close knit and the pain of these losses will be felt for a very long time. 

When horrible things happen in your life, I think the tendency is to retreat inward and shut yourself off from everything that is causing you this pain. We want to go home, throw on the sweatpants, grab the ice cream and wallow and dwell on what is happening to us. I don’t know about you, but all wallowing seems to do is prolong the journey that we all must go through in order to come out of these seasons. While it may seem like these seasons of hurting are never-ending, particularly when the hits keep coming, if we trust in the Lord as we say we do then we automatically have a light shining at the end of the tunnel. The hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ is powerful enough to restore and renew even the most broken souls.

The hope that we are promised through Christ eases my aching heart in ways that are inexplicable. Our God loves us so much that we need only say a “see you later” to our loved ones and even in great loss, we the incredible gift of profound hope in Jesus Christ.

Hidden Treasures // Ecclesiastes 3:11

It’s been about two and a half weeks since my world changed forever. Sometimes I wonder if grief is easier when loss comes when you are an adult, rather than when you are young. The consensus seems to be that no matter when a loss occurs, grief comes in waves. On September 17, 2015 at 10:35am, I said my “see you later” to my dear Grandmother. Less than 48 hours later, at 1:45am on September 19, 2015, I unexpectedly had to say my “see you later” to my sweet Aunt Shelia, my Grandmother’s youngest daughter.

In the days and weeks since those span of days in which I swore the world had stopped moving, my family and I have grieved with one another, supported one another, and  most of all, loved one another. My mom has had to endure the loss of her mother and her baby sister, both of whom she was close with, just two days apart. And here we thought my dad losing his older brother and younger sister ten days apart in 2013 was as hard as it could be.

But despite the immense sorrow and grief that has been felt every day, by all of us, I can only speak for myself when I say that I have truly discovered comfort in the arms of our Savior. I don’t have much shame when I tell you that up until about a year ago, my faith was not resting on the firmest of foundations. I don’t because as I sit here and type this, I can’t help but be absolutely awestruck by the divine timing that our Lord has and how often times this can only be seen in hindsight.

One year ago this week, I received a new student in my classroom that challenged me in more ways than I ever thought a four year old could challenge a person. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, God had used that student to bring me back closer to Him and in this past year, I have learned so much about what it means to completely trust and follow Christ. While I may still have more learning to do (don’t we all?), I know without a shadow of a doubt that the highs and lows that I have endured this year have absolutely prepared me for this season of sadness. Do I miss them both terribly? Oh, do I ever. But do I have any doubts as to where these two special women that were so instrumental in my upbringing are today? None.

One of the verses that came to mind in the past two weeks that brought me comfort was Ecclesiastes 3:11. The verse came to me via the She Reads Truth “Bible in a Year” reading plan and I had bookmarked it on the same day that it was published; August 22. The verse reads:

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

At the time, I had no idea when I bookmarked this verse that I was going to come back to this just a few weeks later. I remember coming back to it because of how it talks about we, as humans, simply cannot fathom every thing that God has done. I came back to this verse after hearing my Uncle Bobby, husband of my Aunt Shelia, say something like this, “I trust in the Lord, but I’ll never understand it. Maybe when I get to heaven He’ll explain it to me but we’re also not meant to have that kind of understanding.” Now, I’m paraphrasing slightly but what he said really stuck with me. If we possessed the kind of understanding that allowed us to know why He planned for certain things to happen when, where, and why they do…then we’d be like God ourselves and that is an impossible feat. We just have to trust Him and trust in His plan for our lives.

This past Sunday, I found Ecclesiastes 3:11 coming back to me in a way that I never anticipated. My parents had driven back up to my Grandmother’s house and while there, my mom had discovered some notes that my Grandmother had written. One of them was on the back of a card that my sister had sent her and the other was on a type of prayer card that had Ecclesiastes 3:11 on it. On these pieces of paper, my Grandmother had written prayers on them and the words on the Ecclesiastes card began with my name and my sister’s names specifically. In my 24 years, I never knew that my Grandmother would write like that. When I verbalized as much to my mom, feeling the goosebumps popping up, she looked at me and just said, “I know, Ashley. But I think someone’s trying to speak to you.”

Her words read: “Sarah – Ashley, all my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren are all beautiful. Thank God He made you that way. All of you love God and he loves you. That’s what I’m so proud of. When I was in so much pain, you all called me, told me you were praying for me. All of you- that’s what helped me so much.”

I have not been able to stop reading the words that my Grandmother wrote, who knows how many years ago. To know that I was one of the people on her mind as she read over these precious words from the Bible is beyond words. This hidden treasure is one that I will keep with me forever. And what sweet truth this is to be reminded of.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time”

A Somber Soul, But a Grateful Heart

I didn’t want to write this today. I didn’t want to sit down and reflect on the past week, even though there is so much grace, love, and gratitude interwoven through the days. And then I saw that today is Gratitude Day, and I knew I needed to share what’s on my heart. And to my sisters (and maybe brothers) in Christ, boy, is there a lot.

On Thursday morning, my sweet Grandmother went home to be with the Lord surrounded by six of her ten children, as well as my sister and I. She had been in the hospital for almost a week, suffering from pneumonia which is something she had overcome about three years prior. But when we learned that she had significant kidney damage and they were functioning at only 15%, my mom and her siblings made the decision to make her as comfortable as possible. My grandmother was an amazing woman who raised ten children primarily on her own while holding down many different jobs over the years. She was known for her quick comebacks, a fierce love for the Carolina Tarheels, and being the sun in which our entire family orbited.

 But while we were sad at the loss of our incredible matriarch, there was so much rejoicing in knowing that she was walking in paradise with her Savior. A friend of my sister,who recently lost his own mother, told her once that although they will always miss her, they would never wish her back. Why? Because she has seen Jesus, and why would we want them back on Earth when what she is experiencing is so much better? Those words truly resonated with me and helped with that inital grieving process.

But then Saturday morning came. At 1:45am on Saturday morning, just seven hours or so from my grandmother’s funeral, we were woken in the night at our hotel by one of my aunts to tell us that my sweet Aunt Shelia was not breathing. My Aunt Shelia was staying with her husband and my Aunt Kay at my grandmother’s old house. She wasn’t breathing and EMTs had been working on her for over 10 minutes. We drove the five or so minutes over to the house from the hotel and had to park a block away due to the ambulances, police cars, and fire truck. When I saw the police cars, I think I knew, then as I stepped into the front yard and spotted my Aunt Shelia’s husband in tears and two of my mom’s brothers with him, my heart sank. My mom’s youngest brother, my Uncle Randy came over to my sister and I, since we were walking in front of my parents, and told us that they couldn’t save her. We fell into his arms and I heard my mom say, “no” in such a heartbreaking cry. My aunt had gone to be with the Lord and was reunited with her momma, but so much sooner than any of us could have guessed. We think it was a massive heart attack. She was only 56.

5 of my Grandma’s 10 children. Aunt Shelia, 2nd from right, next to my Mom

This may be one of the less peppy Grateful Heart posts that you read today, but make no mistake that although my heart is hurting far worse than I ever thought it could, I am still grateful. I am grateful for the 24 years of laughter and memories with both my Grandmother and my Aunt. I am grateful that my Grandmother was able to go peacefully into the Lord’s embrace. I am grateful for my Uncle Bobby, who showed me faith and a trust in the Lord so deep barely a hour after losing his wife. I am grateful for my family who have made me so proud in the past week. We are strong and we will get through these hard times together. But most of all, I am grateful for a grandmother and an aunt who had given their lives so fully to the Lord, giving me no doubt at all today as to where they are. I love you. I miss you.

my Grandmommy
March 13, 1926-September 17, 2015
my sweet Aunt Shelia
October 24, 1958-September 19, 2015

Low Country Living // A Grateful Heart

Happy Labor Day, my friends!

As I type this, I am preparing to make the drive back to Charlotte after a wonderful weekend spent in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. One of the things I love about the Holy City, and there are many, is that it really feels like you are a world away from everything when you come here. There is an easy, relaxing, and oh so welcoming vibe that this city just radiates.

And perhaps it’s the city’s rich history, but I always feel so much more in tune to my Southern roots when I am here.

My friend from college and I toured Fort Sumter, got caught in a downpour on King Street, watched fireworks right on the Folly Beach Pier, basked in the beauty of Middleton Place, and indulged in more seafood than I’ve had in quite some time.

And, although we didn’t seek it out specifically or walk right up to it, the moment that I spotted Mother Emmanuel AME Church as I crossed through the intersection of Meeting St. and Calhoun, will stay with me forever. In the days following the terrible tragedy in that place, my heart ached for this kind and faithful city. Mother Emmanuel is a place rich in history and although it is now marked with a solemn sadness, the forgiveness and faith that Charleston’s people showed the world touched everyone.

Here are some shots from our weekend!

What are you grateful for this week? Share your post in Ember Grey’s Grateful Heart linkup!

Texas Getaway Recap // A Grateful Heart

I’ve always had a heart that yearns to travel and see as much of the world as possible. I may not always have the funds for it, but the desire is always there. This year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to take two trips to places that I had never been before. I traveled to Michigan in June and just over a week ago, I traveled to Texas.

Though I spent most of my time in Austin, I was also able to spend a few hours in San Antonio as well. Both cities are very unique but I definitely want to go back and explore San Antonio some more. Between the missions and the Riverwalk, I definitely only scratched the surface of things to see there.

I arrived in Austin around 11am on a Wednesday and immediately set out for downtown once I had obtained my rental car. I knew I wanted to see some of the UT-Austin campus and pick up a shirt or something with the Longhorns emblem on it (I’m weird, I know) and grab some lunch. Well, I had recalled a couple days earlier that there was an In & Out Burger in Texas and the Austin location wasn’t far from downtown and the University. In & Out and I didn’t have to travel to California to get it? Perfection. Central Texas was in the midst of a heat wave (heat indexes in the 102-105 range) so I didn’t do much walking around, but I grabbed an Iced Coffee from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (another California favorite!) and perused the University Co-op and the cute little courtyard that was out back. Awesome “Greetings from Austin” mural and giant Texas Longhorn? Check.

Later that day, I ventured out to Gourdough’s Public House for dinner, which I was actually a little nervous for! Dining out alone always seemed kind of sad and lonely, but let’s face it, I wasn’t going to be able to experience Austin’s great food scene unless I ventured out there. Gourdough’s is known for their donuts…and they use them in everything! As in, even their chicken and dumplings are made with donuts. The dumplings are donut holes and are served with a garlic and herb donut. My appetizer was garlic parmesan donut holes as well! Sounds odd, but trust me this place was delicious!

The next morning, I woke up early (to try and beat some of the heat) and drove down to San Antonio. I got to the downtown area just as the Alamo was opening and it was so nice to be able to explore the grounds with a relatively small crowd. I just wish we were allowed to take pictures of the interior; so cool! After the Alamo, I ducked down to the Riverwalk for a few moments before driving down to Mission Concepcion.

Mission Concepcion is just one of several missions on the San Antonio “mission trail” and it was absolutely gorgeous. It’s been renovated on the inside and is actually still a functioning Catholic church every week!

The church is almost haunting from the outside and as you walk around, the rich history is nearly palpable. I couldn’t help but kneel by a pew and spend a few moments in prayer and gratitude, not just because I was raised in a Catholic church but because in that moment, I just felt so thankful for the opportunity to travel and to see beautiful sights like this.

What are you grateful for this week? Link up with Ember Grey‘s Grateful Heart linkup and share the love!

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