Worship, Waiting and Words

When I went to Kenya recently, one of my favorite things I did was to encourage the team that are doing ministry in Obunga day in and day out. The first Sunday I was there, I had the opportunity to lead a worship song and do a workshop with the worship team at Ndoto Community Church. It was so fun and while I unfortunately have zero footage of the workshop – I assure you it was one of the most precious things ever! The worship team took notes as I talked about what worship is defined as in Scripture, and what it really means to be a worship leader. We talked about the primary role of a worship leader is to minister to the Lord, and in doing so, creating an atmosphere of worship for His people. For some on the team, it was like watching a light bulb go off, seeing brand new concepts and truths from Scripture open their eyes. I also give them a pop vocal crash course, which was hilarious and so fun! They all wanted private lessons and I did not have enough time to do it but if I could have stayed another week, I would have loved to dive deeper with them! It was special to take a step back and realize all I have learned and all that God has imparted to me through my church and my training was able to be passed on to a group of worshipers half way around the world.

The church in Obunga is actually one of the first places I ever led worship. I sang with a choir in college, have loved singing all my life, and sang in a few other more traditional settings. But Obunga in 2006 – that’s where I began to really lead worship and feel the call on my life. I didn’t really recognize it at the time, but looking back, the tapestry God has been weaving together is easier to see.

People always ask me why Kenya is such a love of mine. The truth is, I don’t know. I just know that when I was in 2ndgrade, I did a report on Kenya in front of the whole grade, and ever since then, I wanted to go there. That’s something only God can do. He just planted that place in my heart at such a young age. It has stayed so special to me because I have seen God in special, radical, and tangible ways on Kenyan soil. One of those special ways is in my journey in worship.

What’s so crazy, is that 6 years ago, while I was living in Kenya, worship leading and writing music was a dream I thought was dead. Before I moved there, I had been leading worship on staff at my childhood church, where I thought I’d be on staff for a very long time and grow as a worship director/pastor. That dream came to a rather sudden and painful halt, and for two years I hadn’t really been to church, let alone sung a song even in my car.

In November of 2012, my missionary friend Clara and I went to Nairobi for a weekend getaway and spent some time in prayer together. She prayed and prophesied over me and they are words I won’t ever forget. I remember she said that she felt strongly that I would lead worship at my church and that I would meet and work with Rita Springer and it would change the way I worship.  At the time, the words were life giving and stirred hope inside me. They were words that encouraged my heart that was walking out the Scripture “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”.

Since I moved back to the states, I’ve been diligently and faithfully pursuing leading worship. Upon my return, this woman, Rita Springer that I had just learned about while living in Kenya had moved to Texas to join my church as an artist in residence. She was all of the sudden just right there in front of me.  I even found myself at her DIVE worship school. Her life, her worship, her heart, and her worship school did, in fact, change the way I worship the Lord, and rekindle my love for music and writing and leading.

It’s been a long journey of pursuing my dream and my call but in the end as per the usual, I was left in more waiting. Waiting on the Lord to bring the break through. Wondering what He would do with the broken pieces of my fractured story. Clinging to the promises of Him who called me. Wondering if I heard the Lord wrong or was disobedient in some way. It has been a hard journey for the past 5 years – being in process of becoming part of the worship ministry at my church. No matter how many times people told me to go to a different church and try out for their team, or just quit pursuing it, I knew that the Lord had made my home where I was at, and every time I thought about leaving, I had absolutely no peace.

So that’s a little backstory for you…fast forward to my recent trip to Kenya. One morning, about halfway through my trip, I got an email from my worship pastors inviting me to officially be on the worship team!!!!! To be honest, when I read the email, I thought it was sent to me on accident! Lol

I thought “but I haven’t done anything that would make them decide this”. Then, one of the pastors sent me a message telling me to check my email. I couldn’t believe it, which is ironic considering the amount of years I have pressed in and pushed through and stayed the course of what I know in my heart God was asking of me. It’s like we get used to the disappointment, or the no’s, and when God actually does the thing that we have been praying for or hoping for, we are completely surprised and in disbelief. That’s a whole different story and I’m digressing. But, five years of staying the course and struggling through faith and fear and wondering if I was wrong was all worth it.  The most fun part about finding out that I was officially part of the team is that my friend Clara was there with me just after I got the news! See, she was obedient to share that word with me 6 years ago, and by the grace of God, she got to see it come to fruition.  It was just too cool to see her rejoice with me with this almost unwavering confidence – she wasn’t surprised at all. Just so pumped that the Lord completed what He had spoken.

In a lot of ways I’ve already felt like part of the team – leading worship in overflow rooms, and helping wherever the need was. Now, I just have an added capacity to my role and I am excited for the journey to continue.

My worship pastor, Austin, said recently that titles catch up to you. You don’t have to wait for them. You just do what God is asking you to do and the appropriate titles will catch up to you in time. I personally haven’t ever been a respecter of titles, but I think he’s right. In Kenya, I was reminded that just because I haven’t been leading at my church, doesn’t mean I’m not a worship leader. I’ve been given opportunities to lead at conferences and retreats and churches in different parts of the world…and now God is expanding those opportunities and allowing me to serve in the local body of Christ that I call home.  I consider it joy to be even a small part of what God is doing…and what is so crazy is that when the Lord asked me to lay it down in 2010, I was SO scared and so freaked out that I would never do it again. It wasn’t that he was taking away the call. BUT…my heart had shifted, and it wasn’t in the place that He desires it to be. It wasn’t all about Him. It was about me, my talent, where I found my identity. Of course, I didn’t think that was true at the time, but looking back, I am grateful for the pause. I’m grateful for the waiting because my heart is in a different spot now. I feel humbled, honored, and joyful at the opportunity to serve even in the smallest capacity in my gifts. Or my sweet spot, as I like to call it.

What I realize from this portion of my story is that God speaks. It doesn’t always come in the forms of communication we want or expect, but He speaks. AND…when He speaks, He will do it. He is in the business of keeping His word and the vision or the call He gives us usually doesn’t look like we are expecting, so we have to be open. I’ve also learned that there is necessity in taking pause, laying things down, and just being. Some of the hardest and sweetest moments in my life have been in these years of laying down the thing I love to spend time with the one who calls me His. To just be his daughter, and to soak up that my identity is the same whether or not I ever sing a note again…that’s powerful and life changing, and leaves me so grateful for the season of waiting.

Spring is Dangerous

At the start of the summer, I attended an art show put on by Art House Dallas to support my best friend in presenting her incredible body of work! There were several artists who presented and talked about the inspiration behind their collections. One of the artists presented her paintings and as she was sharing about one piece, she was talking about how thoughts on spring inspired her. Then a simple phrase struck a chord in me…she said, “spring is dangerous.”

Dangerous. That’s not something you usually think of when it’s springtime.  Spring is notorious for being this happy, bright new season where things come to life. There are bright colors, warmer temperatures, and a magical bunny that brings candy and eggs. We get so excited about spring because it means that the long dreadful winter is over.

Winters can be so dreary and dark, that we are so excited for change…no matter what it is. We get so excited, in fact, that we often overlook the brutality of spring storms. However, the fact remains that in the midst of this beautiful, refreshing, colorful new season, there are some unpredictable and dangerous possibilities.  Spring storms are sudden, scary, and can be so intensely damaging. When they come, they show no prejudice, no favorites…all of us are on an equal playing field. They are fierce, quick, and merciless. Before we know it, the dangers of spring have entrapped us, and wrecked us…leaving us longing for yet another season.

I think it’s like that with our soul…when we have just gone through a cold, harsh winter, we cling to the hope of a new season…if the ground will just thaw, and the sun will just shine – there will be new growth and fresh hope in our lives. It’s easier to deal that way, I suppose.

However, I can’t help but think…what if spring was just all the fluffy, bright, new things we talk about? If the storms never come, how do we know what’s really taken root vs. what’s going to last only for a moment? Sometimes, in the newness of things, we lose our footing, or we get distracted from what we really want. We’ve been waiting so long focusing on a new season, that we get distracted like waves tossed in the wind.

Storms help us stay grounded…because we hold more tightly to the one who is over all seasons. It shifts our focus from the hope of change and something new back to the Lord, the giver of life.

Walking into new seasons of life is scary. It’s risky and unnerving. Yet, we all do it…all the time. What choice do we have?  A new job, new relationship, a new city, school starting, etc.…they all demand we walk into new seasons. When it first starts out, we are usually excited about the adventure, and full of expectations that this will be the best one yet. It lasts for a time…the honeymoon phase.  Then the storm comes. The sirens go off, we try to duck and cover and hold onto what’s closest to us. The reality hits us of what we’re now in, and we freak out. Maybe it’s a job loss, a divorce, a mental health battle…they can totally derail us in a moment when we’ve been on this high of spring. But, what if we let the season we’re in, with the storm, whether winter or spring, get rid of the stuff that doesn’t need to be in us anymore…the stuff that needs to die off, never to return, so the new things can grow! Or maybe it’s because God wants to grow something deep in us that we would never gain otherwise. What if we see what stands after the crazy spring storms and run with it?

What if we held things less tightly, nurtured the new growth in front of us, enjoyed the new life, and when a storm rips it from us, we are free to let go of it because we never held too tightly in the first place? Then, when things really grow, survive and take deep root, and make it through all the seasons, continuing to stand tall, we can stop and see the beauty and the miracle of it.

The beauty and the miracle of life and breath that God has brought to the thing that survived…

I think sometimes we come with this expectant hope (which is a very good and needed thing) but we come with it so naively … or not anchored in the right thing, that when the storms come, our hopes are dashed and we are left devastated – instead of holding lightly and trusting the Lord that He causes the growth and allows the storms, and He brings the good work to completion in us.

What is our hope is really anchored in during those moments. Is it the promises of the Lord rather than the Lord himself? What if we lived more in the moment and were prepared for the dangerous storms of spring, knowing that the Lord causes the growth, brings protection, and is ever present in the midst of the danger?

This is a battle I’ve walked through with the Lord for months now. I have had things stripped from me or withheld altogether that I thought surely it was time for. I’ve had my hope so built up from such a long and tiring winter only to have a spring storm come and snap me back down to size. I realized in some of those moments, my hope wasn’t in the right thing. It was in the new job, or the thought of a different future. It’s pushed me closer to Jesus.

As each passing storm comes, I see how beautiful spring really is in the midst of the pain and the brokenness.  Painful yes but beautiful nonetheless.


Who’s At Your Table?

A few weeks a go, I was volunteering at a conference, when I Just happened to sit in on a session. I was planning to serve, see my South African friend Andi, and head home. I didn’t know Louie Giglio and the passion band would be there, and I had no idea the revelation God planned in advance to bring to my life. I walked in and stood in the back just to soak in a song or two.

The worship was so anointed. Raw, real, genuine, and powerful. The team led a new song – Worthy of Your Name (go listen to it HERE.) I stood in the back, with my hands in the air, and I wept.  The words pierced my heart, and my soul was moved to worship. I remembered His faithfulness, His goodness, and His sacrifice for me.

In the moments that followed, Louie began to preach, and it was as if the Lord said “Ash, are you listening? This moment. This message. It’s just for you.” I was honestly kind of in shock. Louie was so transparent and raw about his own personal life and some struggles and battles he’s been through in recent years. As he spoke, the Lord reminded me of very similar battles I’ve been fighting and whispered in my heart “you’re not alone.”

Louie got to the Scripture focus, Psalm 23, and camped out on verse 5. “You prepare for me a table in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.”  I’ve always sort of breezed right on by the “prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies” part of that verse. I don’t really know what to do with that, so I just haven’t done anything with it…even in seminary. The wisdom and revelation about this scripture that Louie brought was absolutely tailor-made for my heart.

He talked about this idea of sitting down at the table Jesus has prepared for us and locking eyes with Him, the good Shepherd….in the presence of our enemies. Then Louie gave a truth and a warning that has stuck in my brain like superglue.

The Truth: “At the end of the day, the salvation of our lives is intimacy with God.”
The warning: The enemy is angling at your table and if you’re not careful, he will just grab a seat and get comfortable before you know it.

So… who’s at your table? Have you locked eyes with the Shepherd or has the enemy succeeded in his angle to distract you and shift your focus?  For most, the enemy angles at our table with a few thoughts in our mind, as Louie suggests. He tells us we aren’t gonna make it, that life is better at another table, that God doesn’t care, and that everyone is against us.

I sat there recalling all of those lies the devil has whispered in my ear at my own table with Jesus. I’ve believed them much of the time. I stood in the back of the sanctuary with tears streaming down my face as the revelation of spiritual battle in my life was unveiled. How did he even pull up a chair to my table?! Then Louie said something I will never forget.

“The only reason the enemy is talking to you is because you’re letting him…You have the power in the name of Jesus to dismiss the enemy from your table.”

Say WHAAAAT?!  My heart was full of sadness at how much ground I’ve given the enemy in my heart and life because I simply didn’t dismiss him from my table. Then came the hope and belief. I am full of the power of Jesus through His Spirit, and I have authority over the enemy!

In the weeks following, I’ve been so keenly aware of the enemy angling at my table. There have been some difficult moments where I could have let him pull up a chair. However, the Holy Spirit  reminded my heart “just dismiss him from your table”….and it was that simple! I simply said no to those lies and plans of the evil one, and CHOSE to fill my heart with the TRUTH that Jesus has spoken. I chose to lock eyes with my good Shepherd and focus my attention on Him.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying I am so grateful that the Lord ordained for me that time to walk into that conference session…all because He knew what was coming in the weeks ahead. I have strength because of His divine appointments and intervention in my life. His promises are good and trustworthy. He is for us. He invites us in to sit at the table, lock eyes with Him, and receive the power and authority to dismiss the enemy and move on down the road into all He has for us.

The Bachelor – Job Hunting – Same, Same.

In December of 2016, I followed a tug from the Lord on my heart to leave my job. I’ve had tons of interviews, and I’ve had lots of great companies and organizations talk with me. BUT, I’ve been looking for a new full-time opportunity for 11 months next week. None of them have been “the one”.

First, I have to say, God has been faithful and I’m grateful.  He has taken care of me these months. He’s provided contract work, grown my own business with Plexus, and has shown up with random financial blessings when I needed them.

When you’re 33, you feel like surely you should have your life at least a little together, right?! Isn’t that what our parents trained us for?! Despite my best efforts, it’s just not been working out, and I had an epiphany that the job search is exactly the same as being on the Bachelor on ABC.

Recently, after 3 months of interviewing with a company that I really love, I was told I didn’t get the job. I’m not gonna lie, I was heart broken. I really thought this was it.
When I first got the news, I had my “back of the limo” moment where I was sobbing and heart broken, and truly, for a moment, devastated. I would have absolutely hated cameras being on me in that moment. No one needs to see my ugly cry and snot running down my nose. It was the kind of ugly cry where even my dog was looking at me strange.
Then, I went into distraction/hiding mode.  You know, that part of the show where they leave, you don’t see them, you don’t know what they’ve been doing, but you can’t wait to see when they pop back up. I kept my best friends three kids for an entire weekend and was thrilled to have the distraction. I didn’t want to think about what just happened. I didn’t want to process. I didn’t want to move on. I didn’t want to “fix” anything. I just wanted to not think about it. So, I didn’t. If I wouldn’t have been scheduled to keep the kids, I would have gotten lost in movies, college football, or activities with friends and family to distract me.

I’m sure in a few days or weeks, I’ll be ready to resurface for the “After the Final Rose” episode. Where you at Chris Harrison? I’ll be ready to talk about it, maybe sit with the company I love and talk it out, to move on from it, to learn and grow. I may not have a TV audience eagerly awaiting my appearance, but I’ll resurface and muster up the strength and the will to go on the next season.
It’s seriously the SAME DANG THING as dating Y’ALL!!!!  I put my best foot forward, make sure my hair and makeup, my personality even, is on. point. It’s the newness of dating – making sure they see all the great things about you so they will want to stay…and then…they don’t.  Most of the time, companies, like dates, don’t call or give you any feedback. They just “ghost” you or disappear. This company did give some feedback and was kind enough to “break up” with me, which I’m grateful for because for all I know, there are quite a few places I’m still in the running and don’t even know!

So, while I want to be mad, who am I gonna be mad at? My friends can be angry for me and tell me how awesome I am and how I’m better off…which is what great friends do during a break-up… but for me….I’m just weary in the waiting. Weary that I’m still in this place 11 months later. Weary in waiting for the right fit. Weary of dating…companies that is. Don’t even get me started on dating companies and dating men…that’s just too much energy that not even Plexus can give me! lol

So, stay tuned for the next season of Ashley on the Bachelor aka Job Search! I’m very close to saying “forget it” and starting my own thing, my own ministry, my own company, and just make life happen. Who knows, maybe that’s where the magic is at?

So…if you’re in a similar place, I just want you to know…you’re not alone. I know it sucks. I know it’s frustrating…believe me. But I also know that the story isn’t over. It’s not the end.

So, put on your best outfit, and go on those “dates”. We’ll find the right fit. Right? If not, we know at least, people love the drama of the Bachelor so maybe they’ll keep watching?

For those who don’t want to be in this place, and didn’t think you’d be here again, just remember…it won’t last forever (or we certainly hope not). As surely as winter is coming, spring will be around the corner. Life moves in seasons, and so does the Bachelor.

Maybe God has something unique and special, just like you, in store for your life!

Happy “dating” y’all!


Not So Romantic

So I’m 32, single, and my encounters with the opposite gender from the time I was little have been nothing short of a Josey Grosey moment in Never Been Kissed.
I haven’t quite figured out what it is that makes me so goofy and awkward around men (I feel like I still have to call them boys), but I know that it’s enough material for a sitcom, stand up routine, or some form of entertainment.
From the time I was little, I fell in love with fairy tales. I was the queen of Barbie’s and Disney princess films. I day dreamed a lot, and imagined my life having a happily ever after ending. It was a beautiful idea that came with a lot of harsh reality the older I got. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with little girls in princess dresses and dreaming of their prince charming. I did, and I’m glad I have those memories and had that experience. But, when you realize life doesn’t usually end in happily ever after’s like the movies, it can be a bit unsettling.
As I got into Elementary school, I don’t think I ever went through the “boys have cooties” phase. I was head-over-heels in kindergarten…maybe even preschool, and I for sure always thought that boys were great!
As I grew up, I began to have so many awkward encounters, and I really think they just built on one another to make me more uncomfortable as time went on. I never had a bad or traumatic experience with men, I was just so shy when I was little, and then it turned into this sort of giggly fear. My friends would say to me growing up “I can tell you like him…cause you giggle.” Even in college, one of my best guy friends told me “I can tell when you’re interested in a guy because you don’t make eye contact and you laugh a lot.” Just picture Drew Barrymore in the cafeteria…”Hi Guy, Yes. You are a guy.” …Life with boys has been about like that for me. If I like someone, I run away because, I dunno, I never knew how to be normal, and maybe I put too much pressure on my fairy tale ideals?
Here are a few examples of my not-so-romantic, yet very comedic life.
I walked into my 3rdgrade homeroom on Valentine’s Day to a pleasant surprise. There was a box of candy with a heart shaped snoopy balloon attached to the top that said “I love you”. The only problem was, I had no idea who it was from! It said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” but there was no name attached. I was so excited, but also freaked out a bit on the inside.
As I looked at my amazing Valentine gift, two of my best friends in my class ran up to me, giggling. “It’s from Kevin but we’re not supposed to tell you, so don’t say anything.” My heart jumped out of my skin and I was the happiest girl in the whole world. Like that moment in Hairspray when she sings “I can hear the bells”.  
Kevin had transferred to my school the year before and it was one of those moments. You know, the moment in the movie when the cute boy walks in and some cheesy Mandy Moore song plays as he enters and looks at you for the first time? Yeah…that was my moment with Kevin the day he came to our school. He was wearing a neon green cast on his arm, and my class was looking at a slide show (before the days of power point), and I just daydreamed my life away.
Then it hit me…I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone?! Yeah right! I wanted to scream it over the principal’s intercom. However, I exercised control…or so I thought. I shared the candy with my class, and played it off like it was no big deal. Later in the day, however, Kevin and I were in a group together outside at recess. This is how I know that my awkwardness with men is not a newly developed thing.
We were standing there in the middle of the playground and I decided to tell him. Or maybe I just blurted it out because I felt awkward and nervous… 
“See those two over there” pointing to my friends, “they told me that you gave me the Valentine.”
He looked like a deer in headlights.
“Oh, uh, yeah…they weren’t supposed to tell you.” 
You would think that all would have clicked and we would have ridden off into the sunset.  Nope. That was the end of our conversation. We both turned around and walked away. 
My mom was so excited for me, and FORCED me to write Kevin a THANK YOU NOTE! For the little shy, nerdy kid who was in love and terrified, writing a thank you note was mortifying!!! So, what did I do? I wrote it, and then when I got to school the next day, instead of handing it to him, like a normal person, I THREW IT…more like CHUNKED it into his cubby!!!! I think I sent some mixed signals saying something to the effect of…
“Thanks for embarrassing me in front of our whole class and giving me an I LOVE YOU Balloon. I’m never going to recover from it. Love, Ashley.”
When what I really meant to say was…
“I’m in LOVE, I’m in LOVE and I don’t care who knows it!”
So, you see, I have never known what to do when I like someone. I get nervous, don’t make eye contact, giggle uncontrollably, and run the opposite direction.
I even was asked to go to the symphony with a guy while in graduate school, and I got so nervous/awkward that I blurted out “I don’t like music, but thanks.”
UM…WHAT?! Hello?! I am a singer, songwriter, and dabble in guitar and piano. Lol Immediately I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I still to this day have no idea why I even said it. It just came out.  

So, my friends…don’t let today get you down. It’s just a day. A Tuesday, in fact. Go about your day, knowing that you surely can’t be as awkward as 3rd grade me or graduate school me. You are awesome…quirks and all…just be you. It’s a great day to remember that so many people love you…Friends, family, and most of all by the God of heaven. This day is a big build up to celebrate a fat/mostly naked guy with a bow and arrow. But nonetheless, a day to celebrate those you love. I may be 32 and single, but I have a lot of love in my life. I have amazing friends, great family, and important people in my life that span across oceans. And, perhaps most important, I have learned to love myself…quirks and all.

Loving Lawi

It was a very long, very squished matatu (van taxi) ride to see Lawi and Molly. The vans are made as a 15 passenger, but they cram in a minimum of 20 people, and on the way home, there were 26 at one point. There was even a live chicken on board…thankfully not pecking my head this time. 
After two hours, we reached Muhanda, the town Lawi and Molly are in. We walked in the school, and before I could spot them, Lawi came sprinting to me and jumped up in my arms, almost knocking me over!! One of the teachers said she wished she would have had a camera, and oh how I wish she would have gotten that moment on film. It is a moment I will not soon forget, being reunited with that sweet boy. 
Molly is much more shy and reserved, but came quickly to give hugs! Then they took us in to the Head Teacher’s office to meet them, pay school fees, and hear how they are doing in school! I even got to go see both of their classrooms which was a first for me!  They are both doing so well and it was a joy to see them in their element! 
After that, we went to their grandma’s house which is sort of buried back in the trees. I had many questions for her, but most of them were answered before I asked. When I walked into the house I saw Lawi and Molly’s demeanor immediately change. No smiles, no talking. They were afraid to talk and be honest, and it just broke my heart. 
I was able to ask the grandma a lot of questions about what she has been doing with Lawi, if she is taking care of them, if he is still having seizures and how she’s handling it, and if he’s still running away. I was able to pray over him, and do some more investigating, and then we were off to school. 
This was the hardest part of my day. Lawi ran to grab his backpack and said “I’m going to Kisumu with you.” When I said no, and told him that he has to finish the semester, he started bawling. I tried to comfort him, but he just cried harder, and then he tried to run away from school. Chasing after him, finally we cut him off and Mama Bon put him over her shoulder and carried him back to school and into the head teacher’s office, where he counseled him and calmed him down, while we snuck out the door.

I remember feeling so helpless and so conflicted in my heart. I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming to his school, or if I had done some sort of classic “when helping hurts” maneuver that I was unaware of. I told mama Bon that maybe I shouldn’t have come, and it was so hard for me to leave him, knowing that his heart was breaking, thinking we were just leaving him behind.

Mama Bon, being very wise and strong, told me that I didn’t need to worry. She said, “Lawi knows you love him, and he doesn’t get that much. He is always sad to see the staff go when we visit, and he’ll be okay.” Then she said “Believe me, if Lawi wants to get to Kisumu, he will show up there tomorrow.”

Lawi has had a track record of running away and not telling anyone where he is going. He’s run from Kisumu to his grandma’s, and vice versa. We laughed at the thought that Lawi could probably even beat us back to Kisumu if he really was determined to get there.

That next morning, I went to the office and there were no signs of Lawi. Mama Bon told me “Your boy has grown. He isn’t running away to Kisumu today. He’s staying and going to school.” She had called the Grandma to check on him and make sure he was still there. Sure enough, our little Lawito (as we sometimes call him) had grown a bit! Instead of running to be wherever he thought best, he was sad, but he knew he had to stay and finish his semester. This was an unintentional test and he past with flying colors. I on the other hand failed miserably as I was so sad about that day.

Once I returned back home, I heard from the staff that Lawi came running to the office after his exams asking where I was. They told him I’d be back and he just dealt with it. He and Molly stayed with Allison over there break and there was no attempt to run away or be disobedient. Proof that our little guy is growing up and learning!  It was a moment where I felt the Lord whisper to my heart “Ndoto is doing good. Doing what’s best for Lawi, and raising up a young man.” I had a peace come over me, knowing that I hadn’t done something terrible in going to visit him.

What I’m reminded of is that God is good and His love for Lawi far outweighs mine. That’s sometimes hard to believe, as my heart bleeds for him and the other kids I know in Obunga. However, having a hard time believing something doesn’t make it untrue. The Lord loves Lawi more than I ever will or ever could. And He’s a good, good daddy to take care of him no matter where he is. So, I’ll keep going to visit, and surprise kids at school, trusting that God has their life in the palm of His hands.

Have Courage, Be Kind

Last Sunday was one of those days that I will cherish in my mind for a long time. One of those days where I am reminded that God is at work in the slum of Obunga. One, where I’m reminded of the love He has put in my heart for this place and these kids. One where I remember the beautiful blessing of fellowship with other missionaries, and where I remember that God speaks. It was also a day where I remembered how great Disney fairy tales are and how I would love to write a screenplay some day.

For those that don’t know, I work in an urban slum community in the third largest city in Kenya. The city of Kisumu has restaurants, grocery stores, cars….and (drum roll please)….a MOVIE THEATER!!! This hasn’t always been the case, but since the movie theater has air conditioning, I am always happy to go there! It also provides good laughs to see advertisements for things like 3-D movies…

Although these things are readily available, many in the city never experience them because they cannot afford it. This is the case for most of our Ndoto students. They might see movies from time to time, but going to the movie theater to see them is something most have never dreamed of doing.  It’s always a joy for me to take a few students to the movies (usually some who have never been).

On Sunday, Allison and I took three students to see the movie Cinderella. One of the students who joined us was Rose, a recent Ndoto college graduate. She has been through a lot of very rough seasons in her life, including losing both of her parents at a young age. Her and her brother were forced to become the care takers of all the kids in the family.  Thankfully, God provided through Ndoto, and Rose has just finished college with a major in journalism! We wanted to celebrate her accomplishment, so we asked her to join us.

I could not believe it when she told me she’d never been to a movie before. She is a college graduate! Her smile was from ear to ear and she was giggling with excitement as we walked in, got our popcorn, and sat down to enjoy the show. As the movie started, she leaned over and said thank you, and then told me “I remember reading this in a storybook. I never imagined it to be like this!” She watched the story unfold, and was laughing and engaged in a way that was so beautiful.

I sat next to her enjoying the film (it’s great by the way…bravo Disney), and even cried at parts. I cried because the message of the movie was so applicable to Rose! Cinderella loses her parents, and is treated as less than her step mother and step sisters. She never gives up, never grows bitter, and never loses heart. She remembers what her mother always said: “Have courage and be kind.”

When I look at Rose, I see someone who has managed to have courage and be kind regardless of the circumstances that have come her way.  She’s always been a sweet girl, but in the last year or so, she has grown into a humble, kind, joyful, courageous young woman! I teared up as Cinderella’s fairy tale came true, not because I believe in happily ever after, but because I know that God has met Rose in her difficulties, taught her to have courage and be kind, and provided in the midst of her circumstances to create a beautiful story of her life! Things will not always be easy, but if we have courage and are kind, and trust in the Lord, we will come out feeling like we have lived a happy ever after kind of life.

A Badge Of Honor

Most of you know that I work for an organization called Ndoto: For Africa’s Future, and that I’m back in Kenya after almost a year. It’s been a sweet reunion with friends and family in Kisumu, but I also had a moment in Nairobi where I was told by other missionaries and Kenyan’s I know that I had finally received the “Badge of Honor”.

The Badge of honor came on the first day I was in Nairobi, when my wallet was stolen. I still cannot figure out where or how it was taken, but I know that it was stolen along with my credit card, debit card, and 8,000 Kenyan Shillings (Roughly $90 USD).

As I grabbed my purse to pay for lunch, I realized it was gone. First, there was a feeling where my heart sunk, then I felt like I was going to throw up. I couldn’t believe it. I am always so careful, always aware, always on guard with my bag. However, despite my best efforts, it was gone and I had no idea!  I was sad that someone would do that, and sad that I wouldn’t get to shop at my favorite place in Nairobi, called Amani Ya Juu (A Higher Peace). It’s an NGO that hires women in East Africa who have been marginalized and teaches them to sew and make these beautiful bags, canvas’s, jewelry etc. It really reminds me of walking into Anthropologie.

A few minutes later, I made a decision to let it go. Why would I let something I cannot control ruin my day? It’s sort of funny because this is RARELY my reaction to things at home.  However, I was in a foreign country, no phone, no money, and completely unable to do anything about it at the moment. So, I decided to just enjoy the day. Then, I realized that the Lord wanted to teach me a lesson. You see, He has been showing me recently that I have a very difficult time receiving from other people.

When my friend and boss, Allison offered to let me shop at Amani on her. It was so kind, and something I would have done for a friend. However, being on the receiving end of it, was oddly unsettling. It was hard for me to receive, but it was a place I wouldn’t be again in a long time, and so I accepted her offer. The ladies at Amani even let me buy a bag that wasn’t technically out yet, because they knew I wouldn’t be able to come back. The kindness humbled me and blessed me so much.

It will take almost a week to get my new debit card and credit card, so I’m now in Kisumu completely dependent on Allison, the missionaries I’m staying with (Andrea and Jonathan), and others. I have no money to pay for food, tuk tuk, a phone…and yet, I have not gone without. If anything, I have eaten well and gotten where I need to go. It’s been one of the most unsettling weeks of my life. Why do I have such a hard time receiving? and if I can’t receive money for a taxi ride, how can I fully receive the grace, love, and mercy God offers to me?!

I’ve learned to be independent. I’ve always longed to be independent. For some reason, it’s even been hard for me to receive financial help from my parents when I couldn’t do things on my own. I don’t know where I got this or how it started, but I know it’s not good. I don’t want to be someone who is too proud to receive help, or too stubborn to accept such kindness. So, in these days that I’m without, I’m trying to be intentional in learning this lesson. I’m humbly receiving, or trying to! I have to.

I don’t want to be a believer who misses the fullness of grace, love, and mercy that God has to offer me  because I can’t receive in a time of need. He is showing me that He is here. He is pouring out grace, pouring out mercy, pouring out favor, faithfulness and fullness of life. He won’t force me to take it, but He is always offering it, and how foolish am I if I say no?!  I understand in a new way what it means to humble yourself before the Lord – not just that He is bigger and better than me, but humbling myself in order that I might receive all He wants to give to me, his daughter.

Wallets will come and go, money can be re-earned, and people can be reimbursed…it’s not enough to let it ruin your day. I consider this lesson the real badge of honor, and I’m glad I can claim it, that God has cared enough to reveal this and move me past it. I’m ready to receive all He has.

Sugar, Sleep & Spiritual Disciplines

So, I’ve been convicted lately of some things that I think many people probably struggle with in one way or another, and I figure, if I can save someone from having to learn the incredibly hard way by sharing, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

In the beginning of 2014, my church did a church wide fast for 21 days, prayer and fasting combined.  I’ve never been a faster. I remember in college seeing some of my peers learning about fasting and becoming very boastful about their righteousness because they could fast for x amount of days from x amount of things. I also had someone tell me when I was younger that fasting is for the super spiritually strong, and that if I couldn’t do it, I was immature. Needless to say, after that, I steered clear of fasting and those that involved themselves with it.  I always knew that it was a spiritual discipline, and something our Lord Jesus did on a regular basis, but I was not interested in taking part.  I had grown up Methodist/Lutheran and we sacrifice things during lent. it was so very different from fasting in my mind, though it was basically the same thing!

This January was different for me. I felt a strong tug on my heart from the Lord to participate in this discipline with my church family.  As I prayed about what I should fast from, the Lord spoke to my heart about food, something I typically don’t dare let him mess with! ha I try and eat healthy, take care of myself, work out etc…but why does the Lord need to be involved in my food choices?! It just didn’t make sense.  Well, sure enough, the Lord spoke even more specifically as I prayed and as I spoke with wise friends, about fasting from REFINED SUGARS. Say WHAT?! Initially, I thought…hmm…no ice cream for 21 days, no problem! I can do that…although it’s my favorite food.

Well, as I began to research refined sugar, I realized that I had made quite a commitment. Did you know it’s in literally EVERYTHING?! I had no idea. I just thought I was making good food choices! So, as the 21 days began, I slightly became depressed about my lack of choices for the next few weeks.  My church also had 21 days of early morning prayer at 7am, which was great for me to keep focus of why I was doing this to begin with.

Thankfully, Gateway had the early morning prayer online as a live feed and then throughout the rest of the day for you to replay at a time that worked.  For those that know me, you know I hate the early morning hours unless I am going to travel, or do something amazing! I would win an Olympic gold medal at sleeping.  For these 21 days, I was committed to wake up, roll out of my bed and at least turn on my computer and join in the hour long prayer time.  I was successful…for the first few days.
It was so good until I slept through my alarm!

What I learned in the process was profound. First, I have really bad boundaries with my time and how I spend it, which leaves me going to sleep late, and struggling to wake up on time or early. Second, I learned that foods with refined sugars have filled a lot of things in my life that I never knew.

I found myself stressed, upset, angry, happy, sad, tired…whatever it was…in the moments, I was often craving the foods I had vowed to fast from for 21 days.  Sugar was satisfying my emotions, and even spiritual needs that I should have been satisfying with the bread of HEAVEN, the WORD of God.  It really did sort of shock me that I’d never made the connection till now.  I’ve been getting healthy for several years now, and struggled in the process. In all my work outs, in all my healthy choices, viewing of the biggest loser, I never made the spiritual connection in my eating.

I found that I not only had more energy, lost weight, and felt better than I have in years, but above all, I was more closely connected with the Lord than I have been in a long time. Before the fast began, the Lord really impressed upon my heart this verse: 2 Timothy 1:7 “I did not give you a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline.” I really felt the Lord say to me “Ash, I gave you a spirit of discipline. If you choose not to use it, that’s on you. I gave it to you. You are without excuse.” Ouch. Sometimes the Lord has to be sort of sassy with me, because let’s face it…I’m sassy, stubborn and don’t always listen closely.  But when I read that verse, I was so convicted that I had said for so long that I don’t have discipline, and I want it…and here the Lord was telling me He’s already given me a spirit of discipline. I just have to use it.  I was just being lazy in spiritual disciplines. Just like I was being lazy in my boundaries with my time, claiming I struggled with discipline. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

During those 21 days, the Lord spoke truth to me that I hope I don’t loose. I was made aware of a stronghold in my life, that I’ve hopefully broken free from but will continue to become free from daily.  I learned the importance of structure, though I’ve since failed at keeping those boundaries. I learned that God is alive and always speaking, but I may not always be in tune. I learned that American food is full of a ton of crap. I learned God’s grace is abundant, that I cannot wear out His patience, and that His love for me is so rich and so deep that He would not let me stay in the stronghold I was unaware of. 🙂

It’s a struggle to be disciplined, to have healthy boundaries not just in relationships but in your health, and your time….it’s just a struggle to be a mature adult. Sometimes, the growing pains hurt more than I expect, but at the end of it all, I’m so grateful the Lord revealed this to me as I started off the year 2014 with a desire to be different and not look back next year and say “I wish I would have _____”. I am confident the year will be hard, and that breaking strongholds will take work, but I am confident that the Lord will lead me and that as 2015 begins I will look back and say “With the Lord by my side I did ______ and this year I will do _____”.

What does the Lord want to show you?! I hope this snippet into my life as of late has encouraged you to press in and know Him more deeply.

A look in the rearview mirror…2013 recap

So, I completely failed at blogging in the year 2013, so here’s a quick re-cap of the challenges and blessings I faced this past year! 

In 2013…

  • I had 25 job interviews
  • I was was totally unemployed for 6 months, part time for 4 months, full time for December and counting… 😀 Praise God!
  • I got a job with Ndoto: For Africa’s Future (the ministry I served in Kenya with for 6 months in 2012) using both my degrees. 
  • I got really hand, foot and mouth disease (a virus that is normally only for small children) in July and found out in August that I had a vocal chord injury. I stopped singing, had vocal therapy and am still going… 
  • I went to China with my dad in October for 15 days, and therefore, stepped foot on all the continents except Antarctica before age 30. 
  • I spoke to a classroom of Chinese 7th graders, climbed the Great Wall, Hiked the yellow mountain, had tea in a home of a woman in an unreached people group in China, froze my behind off in Lijiang, shared the gospel with my tour guide outside a buddhist temple, went on a boat ride in the West Lake, saw Giant pandas, walked in Tiennamen Square and the Forbidden City, and laughed so hard with my dad and our 16 tour friends! 
  • I had a fourth of july family party at the lake with my dearest loved ones and my sweet niece and nephew, Shane and Callie (6 & 3). Laughed so hard, watched our dads blow up fireworks and not catch on fire, and soaked up memories! 
  • I joined Gateway Frisco, started volunteering and found a great group of ladies to share life with! 
  • In November, my dermatologist noticed a nodule on my neck near my ear/jaw line. Turned out, I had a 2cm tumor in my parotid gland. I had surgery December 11 to remove the tumor after having a sonogram, ct scan, and biopsy. Turned out, the tumor was benign (again, praise God) but the tricky part was that during surgery, my surgeon found that the nerve which controls the movement of my face was completey wrapped around my tumor. So, it took tedious work to remove the tumor and keep my facial nerve in tact. BUT…my surgeon did it! God guided his hand in such a way that my nerve didn’t even have temporary damage! Now, i’m totally healed, my voice is back to full strength, and I have no cancer! YES! 
I know it’s a short glimpse into the past year, but I wanted to just recap the struggles I’ve had, and the blessing that God has shown in my life.  In the last year I have learned that His plans are good, and they have perfect timing! It’s hard to see it sometimes, but looking back always makes it easy to see what He was up to. 
I have learned in a new way (not to say I have learned it completely) how to be content whatever the circumstances. Maintaining joy in serving cute kids in Kenya, and in a life of unemployment is difficult, but if it’s from the source of all life, Jesus Christ, it is possible.  In my mind, in those months of 25 job interviews, I had no choice but to rejoice in the Lord, trust for His provision, and let His presence be my joy. I guess you could sink into a dark depression and self pity, but I’ve been down those roads before and this time, the Lord refused to allow me to go there, and I’m so grateful! 

When I think about where the Lord has brought me, I am in awe. He has grown me so much. Even in the past few months, a dear friend told me that she can see the difference in my attitude and my heart, just by talking with me for a moment.  I’m glad the Lord’s footprint on my heart is visible to others. … what a ministry to those that are suffering. Like I always have heard since college, there is no pit too deep that God can’t get you out of it. Or, like Priscilla Shirer said at the Gateway First Conference, you cannot wear God out. His patience is unending. I am so glad I can’t wear Him out. I wear myself out, so I’m glad He’s never lacking in margin to deal with me! 

In the last year I have been bratty, broken, bruised and hurt. I’ve also been joyful, happy, full of faith, full of doubt, full of anger, full of chaos, and full of peace. I have been blessed beyond measure to experience the presence of God in my life in 2013, though I was happy to say “see ya sucka” and welcome the year 2014 with high hopes.  Though 2013 was a hard year, full of hope deferred, God was still good, gracious, near and faithful. 

Here’s hoping that 2014 is a year of favor, blessing, joy, and abundant life! 🙂