When High School Boys Read Your Blog

When High School Boys Read Your Blog

I subbed this week for high school English and one of the boys walked into class and immediately made reference to my "fashion blog." Ha! Not only is this NOT a fashion blog (for reasons documented here) but it's always disconcerting to hear that someone unexpected reads the blog. Finding out a high school boy reads mine was a little weird... I don't care but it does make me rethink the outfit posts, you know? 

BUT a little discomfort never kept me from posting an outfit (too bad, probably) but this week I had a real reason. Even though mine is not a fashion blog, I do read several and over the years Audrey has consistently been a favorite. Her remixing is the very best and honestly I don't think she's ever posted an outfit I wouldn't wear. So when she issued a weekly style challenge for a new series I was totally in! This week the prompt was wearing a bright color, and though sadly you can't see how very bright this skirt is, it's definitely hot pink. 

Oh, and speaking of high school boys (weird sentence... AND girls), I am not much of a blazer wearer but I have been known to toss one on when I sub for high school (or, you know, teach high school, since that used to my job- tears!) since I have been told I have a baby face and teenagers are hard enough to intimidate. Although, my lack of intimidation skills may have less to do with my face and more to do with my endless Disney references. "She loves High School Musical... she's not scary!"

Blazer: Eileen Tracy 
Top: Old Navy (Merry Christmas from Amy!)
Skirt: Belk
Shoes: TJ Maxx (They're my Elphaba shoes!)
Necklace: J.Crew Factory

Since I'm not a real fashion blogger, I get to share incredibly dorky poses like this.
Smooth, right? I wonder why people aren't asking me for posing tutorials.

I bought this necklace in the fall and let my mom borrow it and after weeks of her begging me for it, I finally bought it for her for Christmas. Nothing says cool like twinning with your mom. (Can you blame her for begging, though? It's so pretty!) 

If this post is a little all over the place it's because I haven't had caffeine all day and feel a little like my head's going to explode. I've tried being strong and it's just not working so I'm off to drink some coffee. Nothing rewards failure like peppermint mocha creamer, am I right? 


P.S. Linked up with Audrey

Can't Stop Won't Stop

Can't Stop Won't Stop

I've always been a creature of habit- really though, aren't we all?- but lately there are a few things that I have been reaching for over and over again, whether to wear, eat, drink...etc. You get it. Hence the title (^) of this post. This week, I've played favorites and "can't stop, won't stop" with the following:

Wearing: these sneakers from Target. I'm a little obsessed with all things quilted right now. Also, they're still full price online but I got them 50% in store so check your local Future Home of All Your Money.

Eating: okay, I can't help myself. I have a favorite candy for every holiday. At Christmas, it's candy cane Hershey kisses, Easter is Cadbury mini-eggs, Halloween is Reese's pumpkins, and Valentine's Day is these. And they totally don't taste like the other conversation arts (aka like CHALK. Bleh.)

Wearing II: April got me this bracelet for Christmas and a box of letters 

Drinking: Chick-fil-A coffee. Sooo good. The creamer is killing me but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Listening to: This soundtrack. Stephen Sondheim is a genius, I'm obsessed with Anna Kendrick's voice, and well, it's just great. I love it. Jonathan is less than thrilled to have the songs stuck in HIS head but hey... "the family that obsessively plays music over and over together stays together" is a well-known proverb.

Loving: this awesome, awesome mug from my friend Emma's shop. (She made it for me because she knows me SO well and she's the best.) Check out her cute stuff or let her know if you need anything customized. 

I'm not saying I want credit if you get hooked on any of this stuff, but... I better get it. Enjoy, friends!


Ten Years

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, my sister Amy and I got up early in the morning. My parents drove us to the San Jose International Airport, my dad walked us to the gate, and then I stood and watched him (through my own tears) weep while his two youngest girls got on a plane to fly across the country alone to live with their grandparents for nearly a month and to start at a brand new school (in the middle of the year) only two days later. Our family was together when suddenly we were being flung thousands of miles apart. 

The events that led up to that day were less than ideal... to be honest, they were awful. I really don't even want to dignify them with an explanation of the details. They're a decade old and why rehash sad memories? I have to mention them briefly only because they were the cause of the rest of the story, but this post is about what happened next.

Amy and I traveled all day. I wore a green and yellow track jacket from American Eagle. I held tightly to the cards and scrapbook made for me by the friends I had just tearfully said goodbye to the night before, after a basketball game and a trip to Taco Bell. Neither Amy nor I had a cellphone so I had to attempt to use a payphone during our layover (unsuccessfully) and then very reluctantly ask to borrow a stranger's cellphone so we could let our parents know we were okay. Looking back, I think I was a terrible sister because I don't remember checking on Amy or comforting her... maybe I did, but more than likely I was too wrapped up in my own teenage heartbreak to notice if she was upset. We finally arrived at Raleigh Durham Airport late that night, where Justin, our good family friend, was waiting. I had never been so relieved to see a familiar face in my life. The next day we went out to dinner with Uncle Mike and Aunt Lisa, and Sunday is a total blur. Even though being with Mamaw and Papaw was comforting, I just remember a mixture of fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety. 

At fifteen, I thought that my entire world was falling apart. I guess technically it was... leaving all my friends and everything I was involved in- sports, youth group, music- and leaving the Silicon Valley to move 3,000 miles away to a reeeeally small town and a school full of what I snobbishly considered rednecks who wore the ugliest shoes I'd ever seen (Sperry Topsiders, actually... and of course now I own several pairs.) 

I vividly remember waking up the following Monday and feeling like I would suffocate from the feeling of dread at the thought of facing all those people I didn't know at school (thank goodness for my cousins Stephen and Kailyn, but they weren't even in my class. A whole day full of strangers!) I know I'm not exactly shy, but really... a fast-talking girl from the West Coast stood out just a little bit. I lay in bed and just prayed that the Lord would get me through the day. 

And you know what? I got through the day. I got through all the following days... and over the next few weeks and months, I made some of the best memories of my life. All the stress, fear, and uncertainty that characterized our last few months in California vanished as I thrived in a brand-new environment where people loved on my family. I made the best memories, played softball (badly), sang my first solo (thanks, KD), became friends with my future best friend (hi, Brookie!), and developed an important, lasting crush on my future husband (that ended very well.) Even though I attended and worked at Faith for several years later on, that season cemented it as "home" in my mind. Our family was taken in, loved, and allowed to heal while spending precious time with family. It was an oasis after a desert, and we are still thankful for it.

I can't believe it's been ten years since we left, since our family went through such a painful time, or since I truly experienced God's goodness and faithfulness for the first time. I missed my friends and life in California so badly- and I still miss those friends- but I've thought many times about what our lives would look like if we'd stayed. I wouldn't have made the dozens and dozens of friends I have now. Our family wouldn't have gone to Georgia, where more best friends (Sara!!) were made and countless relationships formed through the years at Berean. I wouldn't have attended Southeastern. I wouldn't have been able to sing in Faith's choir or have a regular order at Rudy's or wear Sperrys. I wouldn't have been able to spend precious time with Papaw in the last few years he was with us. Most of all, I would never have become friends with or had a crush on or eventually married Jonathan. And for that matter, I wouldn't be moving to Texas!

I'm still learning this lesson, but I'm thankful that God showed me early on that His love is real. He gave me parents who didn't allow our view of the ministry to be destroyed by a hard experience. He gave us friends who loved us through those six months of change and culture shock. He allowed me to have teachers who remain mentors to this day. He put me on the same side of the country- in the same school!- as the boy I'd marry. My plan and His weren't even remotely similar, and a decade ago I would have given anything to stick to my plan. But, as usual, His turned out so much better. 

Ten years ago today, my life changed in a big way. I miss California... I miss San Francisco, I miss the weather, I miss Santa Cruz bonfires, I miss the A's and the Giants and the Warriors. I miss Jamba and Premier Pizza and Baja Fresh. I miss Rivermark and Montague Park. I miss Bears games and doing the stats for the Bulldogs. I miss garlic fries and lumpia and nachos and 7-11. I miss Camp Lucerne and the Youth Extravaganza. I miss all the older boys who stood up for me when the boys my age picked on me (and I miss those boys too.) I miss Syndee, Jenn, Gabe, Greg, Jordan, Stephen, Sammy, Allen, Paul, Jessica, Kim, Josh, James, Evelyn, Georgette, Kenny, Jake, Amber, Justine, Alisha, Matt, and Monica. I miss Mr. Carey and Miss Schweitzer, the Freds, walking to school, the neighborhood shuttle, and Youth Hour. I miss a time in my life where I made so many friends and had so many wonderful experiences. I'm so thankful for that brief time. Even though some memories aren't so happy, there are plenty of good ones.

One of my favorite songs by Mark Hall really sums it up best: 

"If your eyes are on the storm, you'll wonder if I love you still, 
But if your eyes are on the cross, you'll know I always have and I always will. 
And not a tear is wasted; in time you'll understand.
 I'm painting beauty with the ashes; your life is in my hands."

 I'm so, so grateful that the Lord took something terrible and turned it into something amazing... truly "beauty from ashes." I would never have dreamed that a decade later, I'd be thanking God for turning my life upside down as a teenager, but I am. See, Squints? Everything turned out just fine. =)




One of my goals for this year (which I should probably share for accountability's sake but then what if I fail??) was to read 125 books and to take notes while reading...Not like "there will be a quiz on this" type notes but just jotting down quotes or ideas worth remembering. Gretchen Rubin says that being a notorious note-taker has aided her tremendously in the writing of each of her books. And not that I'm going to be cranking out any NYT Bestsellers anytime soon (someday? ha!) but I liked the idea.

Sometimes these notes are thought-provoking, sometimes inspiring, sometimes humorous, and most of the time they're just so well-written that I feel they deserve to be preserved (you know, in the super-special gilded pages... of my iPhone Notes.)

Here are a few of the quotes I've jotted down over the past few months and books:

"Cassandra always hid when she read, thought she never knew quite why. It was if she couldn't shake the guilty suspicion that she was being lazy, that surrendering herself so completely to something so enjoyable must surely be wrong." Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden (I definitely identify with that feeling!)

"The amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he cannot go wrong." Julie Andrews, Home: My Early Years (Wow! I've never thought about it like that but it definitely makes sense.)

"Sally wasn't really very pretty, but no one ever noticed because she behaved as if she were." Kristin Levine, The Lions of Little Rock (Truth, right?)

"To think was to dip the paint-loaded brush of doubt into the clear water of certainty." Kate Morton, The Distant Hours (I think?) (Seriously, that woman has a way with words.)

"Fear of trials sometimes depletes more energy than facing trials! Once we accept the inevitability of hardship, we can redirect our focus from fear to faithfulness." Beth Moore, Paul (I'm doing this Bible study and I'm pretty sure I could include quotes from every single day. I love Beth Moore and I'm convinced when I move to Houston we'll become bffs who meet for coffee.)

"As usual, we were supposed to spend 15 minutes jotting down our deep and cosmic thoughts about the quote while the teacher checked her deep and cosmic email." Jordan Sonnenblick, Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip (This guy is the master of YA and capturing the teenage voice... a perfect mix of sarcasm and heart.)

"He was an English teacher and thought life should have a topic sentence." Beverly Cleary, Sister of the Bride (I will never not love Beverly Cleary and I also think life should have a topic sentence.)

"But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not steal past those watchful dragons? I thought I could." C.S. Lewis, quoted by John Granger in Looking for God in Harry Potter (This was a fascinating book but I especially loved this quote about the Narnia series.) 

Have you read anything good... even quotable... lately? 


Word of the Year

Word of the Year

When I wrote my word of the year post last year and the year before, I knew almost immediately what I wanted my word to be. (Of course, the first year I did it, I wrote the post in March and not January but that's neither here nor there.) But this year I just wasn't sure what to choose... after thinking on it for several days I finally arrived at.... (drum roll....) THRIVE.

If you've talked to me in person in the last year, you've probably heard me rave about this album and this book at some point. But the song "Thrive" in particular has been one that we've had on repeat in our house for months. Every time I hear the words, I'm encouraged or convicted (or both!) and I thought the word thrive would be perfect for this year.

After a year of change, lots of ups and downs, and finally a brand new direction for our ministry, I felt like my word needed to reflect my desire to do more than just survive (which I stole from the song, actually.) 2014 was a great year, but I feel like I spent the majority of it with my head barely above water. But God wants so much more for us than that- He wants us to THRIVE. And on the precipice of another year full of change (but in a different, better way, I think) I wanted a word that would remind me to live as richly and fully as possible. Thrive means, "to grow or develop well or vigorously; flourish, prosper." That' exactly what I want to characterize this year- vigorous growth and development in every area.

And (even though I started this post last week) I have felt even more sure about choosing "thrive" after the events of the past few days. On Saturday, we went to my cousin Bethany's funeral. I hate that I wasn't able to know her very well, but after the service I felt like I did. She was so loved, so vibrant, so excited about serving God, that even though it was a heartbreaking day, I left feeling inspired by her life and wanting that feeling to impact me more profoundly than just a fleeting emotion. Through the testimonies of many people, it's become obvious that Bethany thrived... as a wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, and Christian. She thrived when ministry took her to foreign countries and she thrived when it meant uprooting herself (more than once) from the familiar. I think that Bethany's legacy will influence many people in many different ways, but this word is the way it's influenced me. I want to thrive just like she did.

Life is so busy, so crazy, so full of unexpected problems, and so exhausting sometimes that it's easy to go and go and go to the point of survival. Running on empty is not only possible but it's probably the state I'm in more often than I care to admit. In the last few years I've seen friends who seem to really be thriving in their ministries or jobs and thought, "Why don't I feel that way? I love what I do but I don't feel like I'm bounding out of bed every day ready to do it." Of course, no one will feel that way every day, but if I'm having more "surviving" days than "thriving" days, there's a problem. God's people should be the happiest and healthiest (spiritually speaking) people on the planet. 

I've seen evidence of this in my own family members this week; even in the midst of unbelievable sorrow and grief, they have been able to smile and praise God. Why? Because "we sorrow not as those who have no hope"! Thriving doesn't depend on our own emotions or even our view of our circumstances. John Piper said, "My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God's Word defines truth." As we were reminded at Bethany's service, things are not always what they seem! God's plans are always perfect, even when they're different than our own, and resting in that environment of sovereignty creates a much more healthy atmosphere for thriving than our own flawed agenda.

So, in 2015, on the precipice of a year full of transition, new beginnings, and even a change of address, I want to thrive- grow, develop, flourish, and prosper- like never before. 

"We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives; it's time for us to more than just survive... we were made to thrive."

What's your word of the year?


Change of Plans

Change of Plans

While not as obsessive as some, I would definitely call myself a planner. I'd say it has less to do with being hyper-organized and more to do with the fact that I like to control my schedule. (Don't we all?) I wouldn't really enjoy someone else planning my day, my activities, my meals, or even my reading list. (Wait... did I just describe college? ha!) Even if you're fairly spontaneous, you have a plan for your day or week or month or year. 

I don't know about you, but my plans don't always turn out like I intended. For example, this morning I had grand plans to make some "apple pie oatmeal" recipe that I'd pinned forever ago. (Lesson number one: if Pinterest claims that some recipe is the any type of superlative- "easiest," "yummiest," "fastest"- don't fall for it.) Although I guess I can't blame Pinterest for what happened. I wasn't feeling too hot and must have been really out of it, because even though I followed the instructions to the letter, my own Ashley-ness stepped into save ruin the day. 

I thought I'd add another dash of cinnamon, just for fun. (This was after Mamaw sliced up my apple so I wouldn't have to deal with a knife. My level of spaz knows no bounds.) But unbeknownst to me, the cinnamon container, unlike every other spice jar, did NOT contain those little holes that keeps the spice from falling out like a great, sneeze-inducing cloud. That's right... my "dash" of cinnamon was pretty much a cinnamon BOMB dropped right onto the unsuspecting bowl of my oatmeal. I tried to salvage it but... no. Into the trash it went.

That was Oatmeal Round One. Not to be deterred from my (inexplicable) desire for oatmeal (seriously... I never crave that stuff), I grabbed a packet of instant oatmeal, used half water and half milk, and threw it in the microwave. Normally I used water but I know I should drink milk other than just with cookies and for whatever reason, this morning felt like a good time to start. When the oatmeal finished in the microwave, I decided to pour in just a tad more milk (why did I keep adding stuff today??) and immediately was met with a smell that could only indicate that the milk had gone very, very bad. 

"Mamaw, is this milk sour?"
"Oh, yeah... I meant to throw that out yesterday."

Serves me right... I usually check the date on milk obsessively but hey, that would have cut this little story short! That did it though... a cinnamon bomb and rotten milk. Mamaw noticed my crestfallen face and said, "Don't be undone!" (Ha... has she been reading too much Grace Livingstone Hill?) But, alas, I was undone and dumped my second bowl of uneaten oatmeal into the trash, poured myself a cup of coffee, and returned to the couch to question why in the world I had wasted so many ingredients and so much time (okay, half an hour, but still) on something I never want to eat. 

Ugh. My oatmeal plans were thwarted, to say the least. But while that's a semi-amusing story (April laughed throughout when I told her, but then she's always my best audience), I know that sometimes I make much more important plans and those don't work out like I thought, either. Certainly the last year, even though I'm thankful for it, has not gone according to my plans. As a person who likes to keep to the schedule and definitely be on time, I'm not big on the words, "Change of plans... let's do _________ instead."

A high school classmate just lost her dad to cancer... that wasn't in her plan. One of my sister's bridesmaids lost her week-old baby... did she plan that? Did dozens of family members and friends in Paris plan for their loved ones to be gunned down at work this week? My cousin is battling breast cancer. She has a husband and three little kids. Whatever they envisioned for 2015, surely chemo and surgery were not in their plans. Nobody pencils in "receive terrible news" or "have my life changed forever." 

My devotion this morning talked about being flexible versus having a plan. The actual lesson was about being prepared to serve God but also flexible about His timing and direction. Of course that applies to ministry, but we have plans for life. We have schedules, day planners, calendars, to-do lists, goals, and dreams. There's nothing wrong with those things... I have them myself! But even our best-laid plans can and will be interrupted at a moment's notice. How do we become okay with that? Can I just shrug my shoulders and say, "No problem"? It's much harder than that, and it may mean letting go of a dream, saying goodbye to a timetable, to relinquishing the white-knuckled grip on whatever it is we can't bear to see change.

A few months ago in choir practice, our music minister said that some circumstances we go through and trials we experience may only serve the purpose of bringing glory to God... and that's enough. Wow... we say that, but do we really mean it? If our plans are set aside, rearranged, or scratched completely, is it enough that God get glory from an otherwise awful situation? 

I'm not suggesting anything as trite or unfeeling as to suggest that we "roll with the punches" or "shake it off." Even knowing God is at work doesn't always change the fact that losing a loved one, facing cancer, or dealing with a broken heart can cause seemingly unbearable pain. I cannot and do not presume to imagine how awful your situation may feel. But I also know that it didn't just "happen." It was not the result of coincidence, or karma, or a mysterious alignment of the planets, or bad luck. The Creator of the universe, in his omniscience, allowed His plan to override your own. That doesn't make God cruel or unfeeling. 

On the contrary, He loves us so much that He literally gave His life for ours. That kind of sacrifice hardly suggests a pointless hurt. There IS a point to every change, every moment that strays from our tidy little calendar. When our plans are derailed, it's not "just because." We don't have to sit in bewilderment wondering what cosmic workings have caused our pain. I Thessalonians 4:13 says that we "sorrow not, even as others which have no hope." And that verse is a comfort, because without God's overwhelming love for us, much of what we face in life would seem hopeless at best.

When I directed a Christmas play last year, I may or may not have been known to be uptight fairly strict about "sticking to the script." (It may have have something to do with the fact that I wrote it?) But sometimes God's will involves a move "off script," and while a director may not appreciate any ad-libbing in a performance, God's script is always, always better than your original! 

As an adult, one of my favorite verses has come to be Isaiah 55:9, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." While I can only see right in front of me- the pain, hurt, confusion, sadness, and even anger- God sees the big picture, the end result, and "unexpected end." Does that mean that after a time, things go "back to normal" and our plans get put back in place? Not necessarily, but again... even our most thought-out, Bible-based, well-intentioned plans are inferior to God's sovereign one. 

I'm no expert in this... any trials I've experienced have been light compared to so many people I know and love. The ones mentioned above are especially heavy on my heart. This post isn't meant to remind us that our lives can change at any minute- we all know that, deep down. I have no desire to live in fear of what may happen... worrying comes very naturally to me, anyway! But it IS a reminder that our plans, while good to have, ultimately have to surrender to the sovereign plan of God... the Grand Design that He has orchestrated from the beginning of time. 

Sometimes a change of plans is no big deal... like my breakfast this morning. Other times, that change turns our world upside down. My friend Andrea sings a song that says this: "When all your dreams are shattered, rest in His sufficient grace. We don't have to understand when God has another plan." Even in the midst of pain, our comfort can be found in the simple fact that God knows our names, HE has a plan, and the ultimate outcome will be for His glory. While we may not- and probably won't- see the good in it at the moment, we can place our faith in Christ. He's earned our trust. 

Please join me in praying for my cousin Bethany, her husband David, and their three children as Bethany begins treatment for aggressive breast cancer. Also pray for my cousin Brooke, her sister, as she flies in from Spain this week, my Aunt Debbi, my cousin Brandon, and their families.

Update: Bethany went home to be with Jesus early this morning. Please pray for her husband and their families.This is a heartbreaking tragedy- and certainly a drastic change of plans- and her loved ones need comfort and peace.  


Support Update

Support Update

The title makes this post sound like an email reply from an Apple Genius named Javi but it's not. =) I've just had several people ask how our support and service schedule and everything are going and I got about halfway through a Facebook post when I decided it was entirely too long and a blog post would have to do. 

So, here's what's going down. We've only had seven services so far but (praise God!) we've already raised about 1/3 of our monthly support and over half of the actual cash-on-hand in our account. And even though we've been so very blessed to be at Faith the majority of the time for these past few months, we've got a much busier travel schedule for January and February. This coming weekend, we'll be in Alabama and later this month we'll have services in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and all over North Carolina. 

Sometime in February we'll make a trip to Houston to find a place to live (semi-important!) and also to find jobs (also important!) and then the plan (assuming/trusting everything goes well with our support!) is to pack up and go the last week of February/first of March. SO SOON! We're really excited and nervous and thrilled and terrified... all of the above.

I remember when my oldest sister was traveling in a college tour group and one year one of the girls said in a testimony that the girls would get back in the van after services and "marvel" at the people they met. (My sister told me this was a blatant lie and that the word marvel was certainly never used. Ha!) So, at the risk of sounding like the Lying Tour Group Member, every time I see another prayer card filled out for monthly support or another offering taken up or even another person saying they're praying for us, I genuinely am surprised (even though I shouldn't be- oh me of little faith!) and so very grateful that people consider us worthy of their time or money. 

This morning, our choir sang one of my favorite songs and the chorus struck like never before:

He will be faithful to the end; 
He will provide time and time again.
He will be faithful, faithful to the end.
He will be there when all else fades; 
His love is stronger than my pain.
He will be faithful, faithful to the end.

Yes! God has been so faithful to us these past few months in what has truly been a journey of faith. He has provided over and over again and even though the coming months are sure to hold more uncertainty and change, I'm confident that His faithfulness- and the faithfulness of all of you who have supported us- will continue to uphold Jonathan and me in this new adventure.

Here's a brief, specific prayer list for your convenience: 

-Pray for safety as we travel. (A given but winter roads scare me!)
-Pray for individuals and churches to commit to monthly support (our biggest need right now!).
-Pray for us to find a place to live in Texas.
-Pray for our job search in the Woodforest area. (Already God's working in that regard- I just received an email from a Christian school saying they would keep my resume handy if anything opened up in my field!)
-Pray for our upcoming services- you know how terrified nervous I get about all those new people. =)

 As always, THANK YOU for praying, giving, and supporting us. We are very anxious to get to Houston, get settled, and most importantly, get involved at Woodforest Church, and we could not do any of this without God's people. I could never repay every individual but you have my sincere gratitude (and if you ask, I do make fabulous peanut butter cookies. Maybe I'll include some with our next newsletter.)