November seems to be the unofficial month of gratitude, all due to Thanksgiving. Personally, I think our society needs to get better about expressing our gratitude the other 11 months of the year as well…but that’s just me.
Sometimes it feels like so much of this blog is me looking back. I guess it’s only natural when there are so many things over the course of the past 2 years that have truly shaped the person that is sitting here today typing this.
Instead of hopping on the bandwagon and sharing one grateful thing every day in November, I wanted to wait and share my greatest gratitude on one day. One particular day, in fact. November 19. If you have followed this blog for any length of time (and if you do…hi there!), then you will know some of what I have experienced since 2013. The loss of two of my dad’s siblings ten days apart, followed by a stressful school year at work with an aggressive, emotionally-draining, but very special little boy, and more recently, the loss of my beloved Grandmother and Aunt two days apart this past September. But there’s been something that I haven’t really talked about here.
One year ago, on November 19th, my Dad was admitted to the hospital.
His hospital stay lasted six days and he was discharged two days before Thanksgiving. When your dad comes from a family of six and his father, brother, and sister all died of cancer…your anxiety flares and worry begins to creep in. Thankfully, what was ailing my Dad was not cancer, rather, an auto-immune disorder that had been attacking his kidneys, but you can imagine that worry that was felt and the prayers that were prayed.
Those were probably the longest six days that we had ever experienced. There is something very strange about seeing your father in a hospital bed and your mother looking so scared yet still staying strong for everyone. My one consolation was the fact that, despite his ailments, my Dad was probably the healthiest looking one on the whole floor. From the outside, you would have never guessed he was sick.
The fact that I have my Dad still with me today and sitting in the other room, fills me with a gratitude that is indescribable. For days and weeks we prayed for answers to what was ailing him and that it would be treatable. Our prayers were answered and then some.
If I have learned anything in the past two years, it is that in those moments when we feel broken down to nothing, those are the moments in which the Lord is doing some of His greatest work in us. As much as I wish the pain of the past two years didn’t happen, it has molded and shaped me in ways I never imagined. I recently discovered Clayton King and his amazing book, Stronger, and it is there that he phrases it perfectly.
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.
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:
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.
This post is part of The Peony Project’s monthly linkup.
One of the more consistent things in life, I’ve found, is that life is usually in a constant stay of chaos and uncertainty. Perhaps that’s just me and my life, but I’d imagine that this would ring true for a few others as well. For me, there’s the hustle and bustle of juggling work life with school life and somehow trying to fit in my sometimes nonexistent personal life into the mix. If you were to ask me when and where I feel the most peace, I may try very hard not to laugh out loud. Life is stressful and overwhelming, but it’s also something that I truly enjoy…even if I forget to show it sometimes.
So let’s go through a checklist, shall we?
I have a good job as a Pre-K teacher. Sure, it’s a little thankless at times and working with special needs children brings its own unique dynamics to the workplace, but I am still blessed to have employment in this day and age and with kids, which I do love. Check.
I am enrolled in graduate school online through a great university (Go Gators!) and I am pursuing a master’s degree in a field that I am truly passionate about – Mass Communication with a specialization in Social Media. I have always said that I didn’t just want to stop with a Bachelor’s degree and that I wanted to pursue a higher degree and I do feel very blessed to have the opportunity and financial means to do this so soon after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree (in completely unrelated field). Check.
I have an amazing new church home and growing church family to begin doing life with. In the year and a half following my return home after graduating in Spring 2013, I really struggled with not having a circle of close friends within driving distance anymore. My closest friends all lived almost two hours from Charlotte or out-of-state and at the time, I was working both a full-time job as a teacher and a part-time job in retail, consistently working seven days a week, with little time for socializing with folks my own age, much less enriching myself with church each week. Discovering my new church home and finding a small group full of amazing and faith-filled women has done wonders for my heart and soul already just in the almost five months that I’ve been going there. Check.
God has clearly blessed my life with amazing people, experiences, and opportunities…so why do I struggle so much with being at peace with where I am in life?
Quite simply, I am a planner. I tote my beloved Erin Condren Life Planner almost everywhere I go, and I’ve always been the type of person to try and plan/map out every detail of a trip, right down to utilizing Google Street View to get a better idea of where we’re going. Only problem with these kind of tendencies? I consistently find myself looking forward to the future, rather than taking the time to slow down and appreciate where God has me right now.
Right now, I am teaching and slowly but surely working towards that graduate degree that will pave the way for a career change in 2-3 years (see, planner…). This would probably be a bit easier to deal with and work towards if I hadn’t been dealt with quite the challenging first two years of teaching. On my worst days at work, the yearning and longing that I feel for time to speed up so that I can be in any other career is overwhelming. And admittedly I do feel a little ashamed and guilty for admitting that to all of you right now. But it’s the truth. But I am not ready for that career change just yet, no matter how often I yearn for it. Something that is approaching in the more immediate future is the possibility of me changing schools and school districts for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year. I have enjoyed the school where I currently teach very much. I have learned so much amidst the stress and challenging behavior of my kiddos and I have been blessed with the sweetest woman as my assistant and spiritual mentor. While I do feel like it’s time for me to look at other options closer to home (I currently commute 40 minutes, one way), the uncertainty of reentering the job search is nerve-wracking.
As I sat down to reflect on this topic and area of my life ahead of writing this post, the obvious answer for achieving peace and contentment with my current life stage is God. Loving and trusting in Him to continue to provide for me and make clear to me the path or paths that will allow me to learn and grow in the ways that will continue to enable to me to glorify Him in everything that I do. I wasn’t raised with the practice of memorizing scripture, but it is something that I have been working on lately. Two of my favorite verses that I have come across recently and kept close by are from both Matthew and Philippians.
Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Philippians 4:6-7 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”