Prayers for Charleston, and Ways to Help

I was just in Charleston last Thursday and Friday for work, speaking at a workshop for colleagues. I spent Thursday in awe of the historic, beautiful, hospitable city. Never would I have imagined that a week later, such tragedy could happen there.

My heart grieves for the families involved. The idea that within our places of worship, places that we should feel safest, such terror could invade completely tears apart my heart.

Katie, at Hope Engaged, shared some really helpful ways you and I can engage in the aftermath to help bring healing. I’d encourage you to click over, and read about the lives the victims led working for Christ’s kingdom and learn the deeper history of Emmanuel AME church . I’d encourage you to explore the ways you can help with prayers, donations and action, too.

I could get lost in deep theological discussion of pain in such a broken world, such brokenness in God’s creation. But at the end of the day, words fall flat. Pain remains and we are left with pieces to pick up and hearts to help heal. Moreover, in the face of tragedy, I’m left today thinking over what Frederick Buechner had to say about being the light in the midst of darkness and of working to change things.

What if anything have you and I done to do battle against the great darkness of things? As parents and the children of our own parents, as wives and husbands and friends and lovers, as players of whatever parts we have chosen to play in this world, as wielders of whatever kind of power, as possessors of whatever kind of wealth, what other human selves have we sacrificed something of our own sweet selves to help and heal?

“Bear fruit that befits repentance!” thunders the Baptist. “Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light,” whispers the prayer we pray. Bear fruit. Put on light like a garment, like a uniform. That is the place to stop and also the place to start. It is the place to stop and think — think back, think ahead, think deep. It is the place to start and be.

[Published in Secrets in the Dark]

As we sing each year at Christmas at my church, I do hope that this is the place, the moment, to start and to be… “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God as our Father, family all are we. Let us love one another in perfect harmony.” Stand up in the face of darkness, preach love where there is hate, share grace and healing where there is hurt, and love every. single. one.

 

Prayers for peace, and plenty of love,

Ashley

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Waiting In, and Appreciating, This Season

A Southern Silver LiningOne of the reasons I was inspired to start my blog was because of many of you. Seeing gorgeous adventures, and travel all around is always inspiring. However, right now foreign countries aren’t necessarily on the radar, or more importantly aren’t in the budget, but are definitely being saved for. Hopefully soon in the future after Nick and I settle down and are married, we’ll have plenty of places to adventure (double the income and only one place to pay for will surely help!), but in the meantime we spend a good bit of our weekends making as many day trips to as many nearby places as we can.

A Southern Silver LiningA Southern Silver Lining

The weekend before last it was a day trip to the NC Zoo. And this past weekend it was a trip to the mountains of southwest Virginia to see my Grandma, and Memorial Day at Grandfather Mountain – both of which I want to post on soon.

A Southern Silver Lining

A Southern Silver Lining

I think it’s so important to take advantage of where you are and to explore the areas around you. It’s easy to be impatient for the next big adventures in life, but there’s so much importance to stopping and appreciating where you are right now in whatever ways you can. We don’t have to go very far to see some of the beautiful wonders God has created. I’m thankful for this season in my life to focus on who I’m becoming as an adult, where I’m going, strengthen my relationship with Nick, and together our relationship with God. And in the meantime, see all that the area we’re in now has to offer!
This Season5

“Most Inspiring Blog Award”

Tuesday was just a regular day at work until I got a WordPress notification on my phone that a kind blogging friend had nominated me for an award! What?! Me?! I’m so grateful for such a great community of writers and bloggers to learn from, talk with and be inspired by!

I was nominated for “Most Inspiring Blog” by Nikita at Travel Adventures Across The World. I love catching up on her explorations and adventures, and admiring her beautiful photos. You should definitely check her blog out. 

Here are a few questions that I was asked and some fun facts about me.

  • What is your favorite TV show?

My favorite TV shows definitely change with the seasons. While Parks & Rec was running, that was tops my favorite. Before that, The Office. Now, I’m binge watching Downton Abbey. :)

  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

It sounds cheesy but if I could have one superpower, I’d want it to be something akin to apparating in Harry Potter. I mean honestly, imagine being able to pop up anywhere on earth you wanted, just like that. Travelling would be so much easier.

  • What is the coolest city/country you’ve ever been to?

The coolest country I’ve been to is Jamaica. My mom and I love to go on cruises, so we’ve been all throughout the Caribbean but by far my favorite stop was Jamaica. It’s like a jungle in the middle of the ocean and there were so many things to do and see. We hiked up a waterfall, and when I say hiked up, I mean hiked in. It was an amazing experience! It’s actually been the site of popular films like James Bond and a Tom Cruise movie, too.

  • What’s your favorite dessert?

Anything chocolate is my favorite dessert.

  • If you could have any job, what would it be?

I remember as a child watching the Travel Channel and being absurdly envious of Samantha Brown. Have you ever seen her shows?! I think my love for travel had to have been sparked by her, and I wish someone would follow me around with a camera and let me travel the globe!

  • If you could be an animal, which would you be?

I think that’s really a tough question. I feel like the animal kingdom is a tough place to make a living. Most animals are underneath someone else in the food chain, so I’d probably want to be a lion. Who messes with lions?

  • What was your favorite subject in high school?

No brainer, Environmental Science. Then, probably English.

  • What is your ultimate dream vacation?

My ultimate dream vacation can’t quite be summarized. I do have a list of top places I want to visit. Macchu Picchu in Peru, the Great Wall of China, a trip through the outback in Australia, a safari in Africa, relaxing in Bora Bora, seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland…. I’ve got a lot of plans.

  • Describe yourself in 5 words.

Soft-hearted, Adventurer, Introvert, Over-thinker, Christ-follower

Fun facts about me:

  • I really have a deep-down love for writing, reading and literature.
  • I’m a crazy cat lady.
  • I grew up by the beach and loved every minute of it.
  • I’m terrible at thinking of “fun facts”.
  • I’ve been playing the piano since I was five, but lately wishing I had more time to practice!

I would now like to go ahead and nominate five amazing bloggers for the Most Inspiring Blog award.

Most Inspiring Blog Award :

I would love to see nominations from each that I listed and also don’t forget to list 10 fun facts about yourself. Though I’m still building my blog, finding my voice, and writing about what I like, I’ve gained so much from the blogs I follow and am so thankful for the blogging community that inspires me!

Easter: Death Does Not Get the Final Say.

I wasn’t able to write as much as I’d wanted to through the course of Lent, but I found myself hearing from God more than I’d expected. In each reading, each prayer, I kept rediscovering the depth of His love and an invitation to trust Him. I don’t think I was quite prepared to so quickly need to hold on to these discoveries. And, although I usually try not to write too terribly personally, I felt writing may help the process.

    
Unfortunately, toward the middle of March, my grandmother became quickly, and severely, ill. At first, I held on to hope that she would quickly recover and be back to her fiesty self. When it became clearer that that may not happen, I made the trip up to be with her and spend time with her. Though hospice had come in, and she wasn’t able to communicate clearly to us, I told her of all the love I held in my heart for her and with each squeeze of her hand, I was reassured she understood.
I had to leave her side to travel for a work conference. I made it through the first days OK, granted I held a heavy heart. But, one afternoon I felt the need to run up to my room between sessions and just rest. While I looked out the window toward the ocean, I found myself saying out loud “Grandma, I love you so much”. . But meanwhile thinking, I know she can’t hear me all the way from her house, how silly of me. Yet, I felt this deep emptiness and just started crying and missing her.. Shortly after, I talked to my mom and learned that was just about exactly the time Grandma left us.
I believe deeply in the bonds of family, of love felt mutually between souls, and I know I can look to the sky now any time and talk to her. And for that I’m grateful. Through grief, I feel sad, and sometimes angry. I remember feeling angry as I drove to see her, seeing springtime coming to us yet knowing she may not be here to see it. But as I reflect on what I discovered throughout lent, I know that there is pure love and no pain where she is now. And, God can handle my sorrow and occasional angriness, in fact I think he invites us to express it so he can heal it.
 
I am thankful that because of this particular Lenten season, because of the hope Easter offers, because of the resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sin, and the gift of God’s grace through faith in Him, I will see her again. I’m grateful that I’ve been invited to follow Jesus where he may go, to live an abundant life in the here and now, and to depend on God on the path I am walking.
   

Easter has always been second to none, my grandmother’s favorite holiday. This year, it holds a deeper meaning to me. This year, I find the substance and the holiness of its truth and the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, where there is no more pain, sorrow or injustice. In past years, though I grasped the Easter message and understood Christ’s sacrifice and the hope of life everlasting, this year I find myself really living into that hope.

One of the very last things I told her, was that I was thankful for the love of gardening and nature that she instilled into me from a young age. I promised her that this year I would plant a hydrangea, one of she and I’s favorite flowers and help it to grow for her. She nodded “yes”, and that was all I needed. Last summer I made a bouquet from the flowers in front of her house and brought them in, and she just kept telling me how beautiful they were. So, this year I hope to make the flowers grow just as beautifully as her life and faith grew and flourished for our whole family. In the meantime I hold the love and happiness she gave me in my heart and carry her memory with me always, knowing that because of Easter, death no longer has the final say.  

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth, or falsehood, becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound, as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But, suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” -CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

Snow Days



Youd think that being cooped up in my apartment during snow days would lead me to blog a little more…. Instead, it led me to starting an early spring clean.





I’m not actually sure what all I cleaned during the vortex of these snow storms, but I do recall a general mix of cleaning, couch lounging, napping and eating. 





And, overall, my apartment is cleaner! I also made quite a few yummy things so I’ll share them with you soon. 



They’re calling for more snow tomorrow night, after all. So I’ll have plenty of time on Thursday to share some Hashbrown Stacks and a quick Fajita Bake. (I did make the obligatory chili, required for all snow days, but wound up eating it before I could take any pictures!)

Adventures with Stella & Luna

I think every so often I might just post about the adventures of Stella and Luna. They live fairly exciting lives for two overfed, over confident, over loved cats. Plus, they make pretty good photography subjects.

Meet Stella (the lioness).
Meet Stella (the lioness).
Meet Luna (the cuddler).
Meet Luna (the cuddler).

Usually each evening after I come home, they’re there to greet me at the door. Their greetings more or less consist of an exchange of loud meows and flopping down on the floor with a thud, just to get my attention. I happily take this to be excitement in seeing me and not just a desperate plea for food. I think they only love me because of my generosity with the cat food, but I’d like to think they just were so excited to see me they could barely contain themselves.

After they nibble a bite, I usually go into “their” room and spend some time playing with them. [Yeah, my cats have a room. That’s a different story for a different day.] We toss their toys around, Stella bats one behind a chair that I have to go get out, Luna gets fed up with Stella in her space, and their general disdain for one another becomes clear. Its usually at this point that Luna gets aggravated and decides the view to the outside world is a better bet.

"If I could only get out of this apartment.."
“If I could only get out of this apartment..”

Stella hesitantly wants to share the window, but gets side tracked with a toy.

"Hey, hey Luna, wanna play with me and this toy again?"
“Hey, hey Luna, wanna play with me and this toy again?”

Eventually, she’ll knock it off the ledge and get back to aggravating Luna.

They’ll try to share. They’ll try to be good siblings. They’ll try to love one another. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

DSC_0394But, reality quickly sets in.

Stella tries to talk things over with Luna.

"Can't we work this out?"
“Can’t we work this out?”

Luna, the elder, promptly sets the record straight. I recall the night I brought them home from the shelter together and Stella took a swipe at Luna. From that moment on I’ve never quite been able to tell the difference between their friendly play, and their death threats.

I just know I don't want to be on the receiving end of that look.
I just know I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that look.

To be fair, they get along peacefully most of the time. Its more of a tense stand off between them and no one’s ever quite sure what might set them off. I think we can hold off on calling the Cat Whisperer for now, but I’m keeping an eye on it.