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!

There’s Your Sign // A Grateful Heart

This morning, I am grateful for many things. The ability to travel, returning home safely from a fun four days in Texas, but mostly I am grateful today for how God has been calling to me lately and my ability to recognize that.

There’s a stand up comedy bit called “There’s Your Sign”, although I can’t quite recall which comedian made it popular. This past week or so, I cannot deny that God has been actively working on me to see a particular sign from Him.

The past two sermons at my church have both discussed the Bible and how we should actually be making a point to sit down and really study it. Not just glossing over the verses in our devotionals or being able to recall particular verses but actually praying over them and reflecting on what it means for our lives. Being completely transparent with you guys right now, I am absolutely terrible at this. I read my daily She Reads Truth verses and passages and mark them off, but I never really allowed myself to give them the proper reflection that they deserve. Reading the Word and studying the Word are not necessarily the same things.

In between those two sermons, I happened to discover the ESV study bible through my sister and her roommate who uses it. This, coupled with the sentiments from the two sermons definitely seemed like God calling me to spend more time with him through study and reflection. I recognized that and I began to take steps to do just that. For the past week, I have been carving out a time to spend with God each day; not just with my Bible app but with my ESV study bible, a highlighter, and a journal. We’re not always able to slow down and catch those signs that God is sending our way, but I am grateful that I recognized this call from Him.

That alone would, of course, be enough to make me very grateful this morning but what really makes me smile is what occurred yesterday. I was having lunch with my sister at one of our favorite Durham spots, and she tells me that she has a gift for me. It’s not my birthday and Christmas is (unfortunately) still months away, but she had a gift for me all the same. It was a Write the Word journal from Lara Casey.

This beautiful little journal has a specific verse or passage each day with a space for you to write out the word, then a space for what’s on your heart. I think when my sister handed it to me, I just started giggling because all I could think about was God saying, Ashley, there’s your sign.

This post is part of Ember Grey’s weekly Grateful Heart linkup! Add your link here. What are you grateful for today?

My, How Time Flies // A Grateful Heart

View of LA from The Getty Center
On Saturday when I woke up and checked Facebook I was reminded, thanks to their “On This Day” feature, that one year ago I was in Los Angeles for what is certainly one of my favorite trips! This was not my first trip to California or Los Angeles by any means, but it was the first time that I visited completely by myself. Like, I rented a car and braved the infamous Los Angeles traffic and the 405 all by myself and lived to tell the tale. Definitely a personal victory.
This time last year, I was still an entertainment blogger and ran a blog that covered films and television news that was related to projects that had been adapted from books. I was very fortunate and had been invited to Los Angeles for the press junket ahead of the release of The Giver, starring Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, and Meryl Streep. Just a couple weeks prior, I had participated in a phone interview with the author herself, Lois Lowry, and at the press junket I was able to interview her face to face along with Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, and Odeya Rush. If you want to hear me be super awkward with Brenton, you can watch that here (I’m at 0:34).
While traveling by yourself may seem kind of sad and lonely, I’ve learned that it’s actually kind of nice. You can go where you want and not have to worry about accommodating anyone else, but I will say that unless you’re a shameless selfie-taker (working on it) then you will come home with a lot of landscape photos and not very many photos that you in them. While in LA, I was able to see a couple of my fellow blogger friends which was wonderful but one the one full day that I had free, I was super pumped to drive out to the Inland Empire aka San Bernardino! I originally wasn’t going to rent a car, but the night before I left I realized I was going to have a full day to myself and that I could drive out to San Bernardino to see some of my family. My dad was raised in San Bernardino and this was actually the first time that I had been back since my dad’s brother and sister passed away. I called my great-aunt to let her know that I’d be driving out and when I got there, I was greeted by her, a couple of my dad’s cousins and two of my great-uncles. Then, I drove to Moreno Valley to see my cousins, the daughters of my late aunt. 
Truthfully, I think what made this trip so memorable was that I was able to do it completely on my own. I paid for my flight, rental car, and arranged for sleeping accommodations at a friend’s apartment. Thanks to my trusty GPS, I navigated the city with ease and I just felt like a real adult for the first time. Even though I don’t do that type of blogging anymore and that chapter of my life has ended, I have so much to be grateful for.
I was invited to this press junket thanks to a friendly word from a PR guy and mutual friend that I met through working with Summit Entertainment for Divergent a few months prior. This same PR guy is the reason that I am heading out to Austin, Texas this Wednesday. He was kind enough to allow me to visit his agency so that I can learn a bit more about what they do now that I am pursuing a masters degree in mass communication. God is so good and was so clearly guiding me through a season that has ultimately led me to where I am today, well before I even knew that I wanted to go back to school at all. 
What are you grateful for today? Share your link as part of Ember Grey‘s Grateful Heart linkup!

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