Life

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”

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!

The Art of Giving Up

We’re almost two weeks into the season of Lent and something that has been on my heart lately is the tradition of giving something up. Growing up in a Catholic church, this tradition as well as the abstaining from meat on Fridays is something that I am familiar with and would practice every year. But now that I am in my twenties and kind of rediscovering myself and making my own path in the church, this is an interesting season for me.

For as long as I can remember, I have given up soda every year for Lent. This year, I find myself stopping to think more and more about the true meaning of this practice and how I, and many others, are really missing the mark.

Last week, my sister and I had a conversation about what we were giving up this year. She knew that I was doing my typical soda-fast but she was still debating on what she should do. She made the point that we should be giving up the thing that is keeping us from really spending that quality time with God. This has been something that I’ve been struggling with for the last couple of years, but I’ve always stuck to the soda-fast because it was what was familiar and I didn’t really have to think about it. But shouldn’t I be thinking about it? After all, what’s the big point of giving up something for Lent if it’s really not doing anything for you spiritually?

Sure, giving up soda and the sugar and caffeine that comes along with it is one way to make healthier life choices, but that is a rather selfish act and not one that genuinely draws me closer to Christ. I thought about praying every time I began to crave it, but what became abundantly clear was how I had lost sight of the true purpose of this time in the church.

While I am still holding on to my soda-fast in hopes to prove to myself that I can actually do it (I’ve succumbed to the cravings at least once or twice for the past two or three Lenten seasons), I have added a new challenge for myself. I have been an avid reader my entire life but I have always been drawn to fiction, particularly young adult fiction. I’m in no way giving up that genre, but I have begun to seek out a few non-fiction reads that will hopefully bless my life. I’ve been reading through Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist, which is amazing and I am looking into her other novels now, and will be starting The Best Yes after that. It’s a small gesture, but the genre is a departure from me so I am praying that I continue to be intentional and reflective on these books and their impact on my life.

While the Lent serves as a time for us to draw closer to God and His word, we can’t just look towards the superficial tendencies that fasting in today’s society often brings. Fasting from soda and sweets is healthy, but is it really bringing me closer to Christ? As the name of the Lent study from She Reads Truth says, Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.

The Struggle is Real…But God is Greater

Struggle is very much real and a part of our daily lives, whether we want it to be or not. No matter how bad it may seem to get, I always try and remind myself that there will always be someone out there who has it “worse” than I do. Lately though, my heart has been heavy with stress, feelings of helplessness, and just pure exhaustion.

For those of you who may not know, my full-time job is a Pre-K teacher. My class is blended with both typical and developmentally delayed learners, but this school year I have found that my kiddos are anything but typical. Each day when I walk into work, I am met with students who have significant behavioral, emotional, and medical needs. Since October, my assistants and I have tried every single strategy and visual possible from every resource available to us, with no success. I have been slapped, kicked, and bitten by these students on a near-daily basis. Granted, this is a small number of my students, but as you can imagine, the current scenario makes it incredibly difficult to not just come to work, but to actually try and teach. Not to mention there is the stress that comes from still being a new teacher, only in my second year. There is no college course on how to manage this type of classroom.

To put it quite bluntly, my job has been slowly draining the happiness from my life this school year. It may sound over-dramatic but it’s pretty accurate. But this emotional struggle that I have been dealing with is what brought me closer to Christ and renewed my faith.

Some background information: Up until this past October, I worked a part-time job on the weekends during all of this as well. Weekends, that should have been an escape and a chance to unwind, were spent at my second job working some crazy hours at times (gotta love clocking in at 4am on a Sunday!). I’ve since left that job, of course, but as of January, I am in grad school and taking classes online for my master’s degree. I’m still busy, but the difference is that the content that I am studying in school is something that I truly enjoy and have a passion for.

So where does God fit into all of this? (Disclaimer: I get a little ramble-y here but stick with me!) Well, to be quite honest, He didn’t for longer than I care to admit. Working two jobs and working seven days a week didn’t leave much time for going to church. When I left my part-time job, I had not been to church in more than two months. However, around this same time, I began to feel a pull to do a little research into a church that I’d previously would have never thought twice about. I’d seen their road signs every day for years on my route home, but never paid them any mind. But at the time something, or someone, was telling me to find out more about this place. Once I visited their website, I learned that the church had three locations as well as an internet campus that streamed their weekend services at various times. I wasn’t sure what had me so curious, but I decided to check it out. I soon began tuning into the internet services as often as I could, due to that crazy work schedule of mine.

That period of time was a time of big change for me, having grown up in the Catholic church which of course is very rooted in tradition and suddenly feeling like I was being called to a church that was nondenominational and very contemporary. But I knew that God was definitely trying to tell me something.  I had gone weeks without church before (during college), only now I was beginning to really notice that something was missing. I knew from visits with my sister that she found a great sense of community through the two small groups that she is a part of in Raleigh and I began to wonder if perhaps I was craving this sense of community for myself as well. I began to attend services at this new church and the overwhelming sense of peace was like nothing I had felt before. I began to crave that hour on Sunday mornings throughout the week. I began to look at my daily life at work a little differently with each day. God placed these kids in my care for a reason, and there’s no way that I can finish out the year without Him. I began to crave a community to call my own.

Last week, I attended an event at church called GroupLink, an event that matches you up with a small group bible study based on your age and life stage. I mentioned this event briefly in Monday’s Grateful Heart post, but it completely confirmed for me that this was why God was calling me to this place. The ladies that he has placed into my life and into my small group are already such a blessing. I completely walked away from that event with this overwhelming sense of peace knowing that I was following God’s path for me and saw that the uncertainty of beginning a new journey of faith at an unfamiliar church was all leading up to this…finding a community of women to do life with. I have that already with The Peony Project, but having a local group of women who follow Christ together is amazing.

While this journey that I’m on is by no means over, it all began with overwhelming feelings of stress and helplessness. When I was no longer able to keep my head above water by my own means, God stepped in and began to carry me through on His own infinite strength. We can’t do this life on our own. The struggles may be real…but God is always greater.

Happy Birthday

Dear Aunt Sandy,

Today is your 61st birthday. Yes, you went up to Heaven just six days after your 60th birthday, but there’s not going to be a point when we stop acknowledging and celebrating the day of your birth so happy 61st!

my beautiful Aunt Sandy, December 19, 1953-December 25 ,2013

A lot has happened since your last birthday, but I’m sure you already know that.

There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of you and miss you terribly, especially being in the thick of the Christmas season. I know Halloween was your favorite holiday, but I’m fairly positive that Christmas was tied for that honor, or at least a close second.

So many of my favorite Christmas memories and our family traditions have your spirit woven within them. Making red and green Rice Krispie treats and cookies for Santa at the Trenton Street house just hours before you gave me a glimpse of “Santa” for the first time. Anxiously awaiting the package from the mailman that held your Christmas gifts and the inevitable See’s Candies box(es) and saving them especially for opening on Christmas Eve while everything else had to wait for Christmas Day. And of course hanging the beautiful stockings each year that you made for Sarah and I.

Some of my favorite memories, though, aren’t necessarily Christmas related, however. Some of the most precious memories I have with you are pretty recent. I was able to spend a lot of time with you on my last visit with you in July 2013 while Sarah and Auntie Margaret took care of Uncle Louie.

I made you tea with lemonade and fixed you tostadas but all I really wanted to do was to magically whip up a cure for the cancer that had invaded your (and Uncle Louie’s) body.

I can’t help but smile when I see Long Island Medium marathons and when we fix tostadas. You’re still with us in so many ways.

Aunt Sandy, you have no idea how much we miss you. Our family is not the same but I stand by the words I wrote to you in the birthday card I had Dad read to you last year.

I wish you a lifetime of pain-free birthdays.

I love you. I miss you,

Ashley

Note: I’ve lost my Grandpa, Aunt, and Uncle to three different types of cancer and one of my cousins is currently battling a fourth kind. My dad has lost his father, older brother, and younger sister. Cancer is a terrible disease and it seems fitting to recognize and donate to the American Cancer Society, who is the “official sponsor of birthdays”. I donated in memory of my Aunt Sandy, Uncle Louie, and Grandpa Luis, please consider donating to this great cause as well. Visit cancer.org for more information.

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