believing the unbelievable.


This is the airport in New Delhi, India.

I will walking through that airport in about 25 days, give or take about 10 and a half hours for the time difference.

About two nights ago, I was sitting in my bed at about 10:30, talking to Jesus about various things.  I was praying about this upcoming trip to India, when – all of a sudden – I believed it.  I believed that I was going.  The whole incredible journey no longer seemed like a pipe dream, a faraway aspiration that would be really neat and all but wasn’t actually going to happen.

Maybe it’s the fact that the number of days left on my countdown aren’t in the 60’s anymore.  Maybe it’s because I have all of my funds raised (all thanks to the God who always provides for me when He calls me).  Maybe it’s because my application for my visa finally went through.

Either way, ever since then I’ve had excitement in my diaphragm.  I know that sounds weird, but there’s this excited little bonfire going on in there – a literal burning of excitement whenever it crosses my mind, which is often.  And it’s real now.  I can see myself getting on a plane to Amsterdam along with 8 others from Minnesota to meet up with the rest of our team on a layover.  I can see myself putting on a floor-length skirt and long scarf in the morning (when it feels like afternoon to my jet-lagged self).  I can see myself picking at curry-loaded food, then grabbing trail mix from my bag as an alternative.  (I can also see myself coming back from the 12 days of consuming little food having lost weight.)

The details are invisible to me, and I could not say what God will teach me, who I will meet, what I will eat, or how many times God will break my heart for the injustices that break His, but I know this.  He is sending me, and He has gone before me.  My little worries about not being able to fit all the necessities into my 22” suitcase, forgetting my toothbrush, getting sick, or being inadequate are pointless.  Particularly the being inadequate anxiety.  Max Lucado wrote something that I have been holding on to as I prepare to go:

“God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”

Amen, Max.  Amen.  Looking at the people God chose to use in the Bible, it’s evident that God did not call people who were cut out for the job, but, rather, He taught them to be the people they needed to be in order to do His work.

Now, I just have to find the perfect suitcase and fill it.  Ready, set, go.

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Generosity and Purging


When my grandma comes to visit us, after every meal she sneakily starts taking people’s plates and trying to clear the table.  Once someone in our family catches on, the banter begins:

“No, Grandma, we can take care of the plates.”

“Oh, Ashley, I need to. ”

I try to take the plates from her, and she smiles as mischievously as her sweet face will allow her to as she lifts them out of my grasp and carries them to the sink.  Then she proceeds to wash dishes while we clear the table and do cleanup.  She’ll say, “Oh, Deborah [my mother], let me take care of that.  You’ve just been working so hard, and I haven’t been doing anything.”  When, in reality, she’s been helping prepare for every meal, and she’ll scrub every dish afterwards.  Then she’ll load or unload the dishwasher and take dirty towels down to the laundry room and tell my mom that she’s doesn’t want to get in her way.

This woman is the epitome of a servant.  The most generous woman I’ve ever met, when she leaves our house, it’s as clean or cleaner than when she came.  (probably the latter)  I remember coming into breakfast at her house a few years ago and finding twenty-five dollars under our forks at the table.  She’s supported every mission trip I’ve been on, come to see my volleyball games every year of high school, and never, ever missed my birthday.

I would like to be this woman someday.

When you combine my mom, who has a lot of my grandma’s cleaning and hospitality tendencies, with my aunt and grandma for a few days, the result is too many people in the kitchen and an influx of people offering more food to everyone else during the entire meal (which makes all of us eat more) and at least three people hopping up after the meal so they can beat the other two to cleaning up.  It’s sort of messed up, but it’s how we show we love each other in my family.  :)

After realizing last night that I didn’t have enough room in my room for the things I got (along with what I plan to purchase with my gift cards and Christmas money), I began a purge.  This morning, I removed about 20 items from my closet and a large number from my top two drawers of my dresser, some of which I hope to get money for by consigning them.  There’s a pile of hangers on my floor, empty because I’ve been so successful at purging my closet.  Then again, there’s also two laundry baskets on my floor, full of the clothes I haven’t put away yet.  Well, you get some things done and you don’t get others done.  LIfe goes on.

My dad decided that since a large part of our active family was going to be together, he would organize a family 5k run/2k walk.  complete with candy cane and gingerbread man mile markers.  and prizes.  and hoopla.  So, we ran.  Well, some ran.  I ran a mile, then decided that I was happy with my progress.  So, I walked back to the finish line to sit with my grandma and hold the paper chain for them to run through when they completed the race.  On my way back, I was thinking about Jesus and Christmas.  (I know, shocker on both counts.)  I was just realizing that Jesus’ love for us isn’t just huge or really nice to have – it’s self-sacrificing in more ways that just His death.

Jesus was in Heaven, where Christians long to go, where angels praise His name incessantly.  No tears, no pain, no discomfort.  Perfection.  And then He came to earth, instantly to be humbled and put into discomfort.  His first bed was full of hay.  It smelled bad.  Then He had to be an assistant to a carpenter, to work hard and sweat and feel pain.  He had to grow up – we all know that’s not as easy as it seems – and then He spent 3 years serving people, teaching people, traveling, sometimes having no place to stay.  It’s a far cry from a dream vacation.  It’s not even your typical mission trip, where you expect to be in discomfort.  He came into that on purpose, in order to seek and save that which was lost.

That kind of love is amazing.  Incredible.  Unmatched and never to be matched.

And this is why Jesus and Christmas are so astonishing.

How great our joy.


This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, but someone said something to me recently that made me think.

“Jesus takes great joy in caring for you, His child.”

Joy, in taking care of me.  The comment was made in reference to my story about getting in a minor car accident because of a stupid mistake I made with my windshield wipers.  I had realized that I didn’t need to worry about all the bad consequences of my stupidity because God knew all the ways that the situation could turn out for good, and He would use them.   I chose peace in that situation, and when my friend made that comment, I had to just sit back on my yoga ball for a minute.

Joy?  In cleaning up after me?  I just knocked this lady’s taillight apart.  I could have avoided that accident, totally.  It was so STUPID.  I’m kicking myself… and Jesus is happy about making my situation better?  Man, He’s so… holy…different.  

I just really don’t understand that.  When I’m babysitting and the child spills cheerios all over the floor or spits up on me, I don’t take that much joy in cleaning up after them.  If the kid is cute enough, I’m not too annoyed, but it’s not a joy.  

I take joy in lots of things: christmas, because it’s the celebration of the greatest Gift on earth, the most wonderful time of the year; having extended family around, since we only see them once or twice a year; I take great joy in seeing people who have experiences with God – you know, when you’re leading worship and you see that one person in the back who just has the most sincere look on their face, like they are talking straight to God – and when people tell me about what God’s doing in their lives; and… I have to say this…  I take great joy in blogging. :)  I think that might be obvious by now.

Maybe if I was a mother I could understand the joy that Jesus gets in making me all better. (I’m picturing myself back in my high chair, eating applesauce, but this time it’s Jesus who gets the wet rag to wipe the apple-drool off of my face.)  It’s a humbling place for both of us, me having to surrender my so-called “control” over the situation and get help, and Jesus, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe (no biggie), making right my wrongs.

It’s all the more reason to love Him.
How great my joy.

Merry Christmas, everyone :)

It’s ALL about the food (not really… but sort of.)


My family’s holiday season consists of baking; grocery store runs for more sugar, flour, cornstarch, or whatever we’re recently run out of; eating some, freezing the rest for later consumption; forgetting how much we’ve already baked, then baking more; bringing out the cookies after every meal; and planning meals days in advance just because we’re so excited to eat. This post is in honor of my food-crazy fam.

we even drag our friends into the obsession... "come over and bake cookies!!!!!!!"

Ann and I needed a pick-me-up, and what was the solution? food. smoothies, specifically, with ginormous straws.

 

Biaggi's helps with the obsession too... mm, Italian food with lots of carbs and cheese.

Our cake pop expedition starts with the photo of the dismembered Oreos and ends with the Albino reindeer on sticks.  It was quite the journey…. we lost a few brave travelers along the way, but we ended up with 21 “successful” snowmen and reindeer.

In spite of our food conscious holidays, beginning with a 15-dish Thanksgiving meal celebrated with 9 people, and ending with snacky foods on New Year’s Eve, we remember what they’re really about.  the pilgrims, thankfulness, Santa, and new beginnings.

Oh, I’m sorry, typo.  Christmas is really about Jesus.

It’s such an easy typo to make, though, such an easy assumption to come by when all the holiday themed attire, the decor, the traditions – all of them seem to include Santa and few include Jesus.  The cliché refrain of “keep Christ in Christmas” rings true, but what does that even mean?  For some people, maybe it’s just that they read the account of Jesus birth in Luke before they tear into an enormous pile of gifts. For some, it’s being Jesus’ hands and feet throughout the season – making an extra effort to put their change into those poor, cold bell ringers’ buckets.  (I encountered one yesterday wearing a head-to-toe fur coat… she was WARM!)

For me, this year, it’s about marveling.  So many questions have come into my mind that I never considered in prior years: Why did God choose astronomers to come honor Jesus?  And then why did the shepherds get to see him?  We don’t even get to hear about them after they go back to the fields, so what good was it to show them the angels and the baby?  Did baby Jesus really not cry?  As a babysitter, I find that very hard to believe – but since I know Jesus pretty well, maybe it’s not so crazy.  Where did our celebration get so off track?  Does my family eat too much butter?  Why is it that during this time of year, where it should be easiest to include Jesus in everything, we shy away from mentioning Him and wish everyone a “happy holiday?”  Unless you’re Jewish, there really isn’t another holiday, unless you count Saturnalia (which I hope you don’t) or New Year’s…

This isn’t really that revolutionary of a thought process.  I’m not the first person by a long shot to wonder where Jesus got lost when it really is all about Him.  There’s absolutely no reason to celebrate Christmas if you don’t think that the Savior of the world came as a baby, born in a barn to a teenage, unwed girl from Nazareth.  There’s no reason to bake cookies and decorate the tree while consuming them.  Why would you celebrate a holiday without any significance?  It astounds me how many people use Christmas as an excuse for “goodwill” and “showing love” without realizing that there was One who TAUGHT us how to love.  There is no goodwill without the One who is good!

And Christmas is the holiday packed fuller with meaning than most others.  It’d still be marvelous and incredible if there wasn’t any snow, no decorations, and no goodwill.  It’d still be wonderful because of the wonder that gives us cause to celebrate.

the wonder of a babe, born the world to save.

let all the earth rejoice, all the earth rejoice.

 

victory over visa


How many stories of God’s faithfulness will I have to recount before I get the point that I don’t ever need to worry?  Obviously, a lot.  Maybe I just enjoy worrying or something.

Yeah, right.

Anyways, the faithfulness story of the day begins with a visa application.  In order to go to India, I need to get a visa, so, about a week and a half ago – after I’d made absolutely sure that I had my visa pictures, my passport, pictures of my parents drivers’ licenses and expired passports (now those were funny to see), the check for a crazy amount of money, and the paperwork to boot – I FedExed the whole lot to Chicago.  Hooray! I thought. I’ll have a visa within the week.  But, no.  After they received the carefully mailed bundle, they sent me an email saying that the pictures of my parents’ passports (required since I’m a minor) were missing.

I was SO sure that they were in there.

SO sure.

But I sent them another copy anyways, just to be nice.  I didn’t want to complain to them about losing some of my papers.  But then, right after they get said papers, they send another email: “Application cannot be processed.” with no reason why and no explanation of what to do next.  So this morning, I hopped on the phone, sat on hold for 15 minutes, then, in the two minutes I got to talk to a representative she told me that both of my parents (who haven’t left the country since college, as far as I know) need to have valid passports in order for me to leave the country. I had a moment of panic as I remembered how long it took for me to get my passport three years ago.

So, I did what all panicky children do.  I called my daddy.  And I prayed.  If this is a sign that you don’t want me to go… well I don’t like it.  Ah, just please work it out, God!

Why did I even worry? For Pete’s sake, Ashley, has God ever let you down?  Don’t you know that India is where God wants you?  Didn’t he provide over $3,000 for you to go?  Didn’t he set the opportunity in your lap??  That’s right.  All yeses.  So you just stop worrying and watch him work.  So, I waited, and about an hour ago, my mom notified me that my dad had found out from the visa application rejecters that if we got a notarized letter saying that my parents don’t have valid passports, that would suffice.

Simple fix.  One I would never have thought of, just as I would not have seen that obstacle coming – of course, Satan wanted me to be discouraged and think I couldn’t go.  Of course he’d want me to think that I have no business going and that the visa being rejected is a sign that I shouldn’t go.

HA, Satan.  HA!  MY God takes care of me.  He has bigger plans than I can even imagine, and because he never lets me down, I’m trusting him.

Together, we can’t be derailed.

For certain.


I asked wordpress for blog topics, and it told me to make a list of things that I know to be absolutely certain.  Without any prior planning, I will attempt to do just that.

Here goes. My list.

  1. Jesus
  2. …………..
  3. ………………
  4. …………………
  5. …………………….
  6. ………………………..
  7. ……………………………
  8. ……………………………….
  9. ………………………………….
  10. …………………………………….

Well, that was more difficult than I thought.

I thought of things like “gravity makes things drop on the ground”, thinking that anything scientific would be certain.  But then I remembered the people who thought the earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe – things that have obviously been proven wrong.  And that just makes me trust science a little bit less.

Then I was thinking about other things I know are true – like the fact that I’m constantly hungry and the fact that Vicodin (among other things) makes me cry.  I know where I am right now – I’m sitting on my yoga ball at my computer desk.  But that’s not really very exciting.

The only thing that makes my list is Jesus, not that I didn’t consider the other things, but there’s always at least a little doubt in the back of my mind about the others – even the things I’m sure about, like where I’ll be next year or what color hair I’ll have.  Jesus is my only certainty, and really, if I’m certain about Him, the other doubts and questions are small.

I was going to compare having Jesus with buying an iPod and realizing that it came with all the chargers and music and apps and maintenance that I could ever need, but then I remembered that I definitely didn’t buy Jesus.  And I didn’t do anything to earn him either.  So ti’s more like seeing a box marked “FREE” at the end of someone’s driveway, then picking it up and discovering that everything you ever needed was in there.  But then, as you hop in your car and drive away, you see that the box isn’t gone from the place that you picked it up.  You have it, but the offer is still available to anyone else who drives by and chooses to take it.

That might be kind of a stretch, but it gets my point across.

Countdown to the arrival of the savior of the world: 7 days.

 

 

No room in the inn.


The last thing I heard before turning off my car last night to run through the bitter cold into the home where I would babysit two sweet boys was “… for there was no room for them in the inn…” I laughed at that, thinking, who doesn’t have room for Jesus? and proceeded to shiver my way up the driveway.

To their credit, those innkeepers didn’t know that the baby to be born would be the Son of the Almighty God.

That might have changed things a bit.

They probably would have cleaned every surface of their grubby little inn, kicked out some people who had a room, and given Mary every comfort in the world to be had during childbirth.  They would have apologized over and over about how they wished they had finer swaddling clothes and that they wished they’d had more notice of his arrival.

To my discredit, I know who Jesus is, and sometimes I don’t have room for him.   I don’t offer him my finest some days, and Lord knows the place where He resides could use a deep cleaning.

I know Jesus, and yet I don’t respond appropriately?  What is missing here?

That’s a question that I can only answer with the fact that on those days where Jesus gets my best, the love and honor and gratitude I have for what He has done for me drives me to act that way.

It’s something to ponder.

Lightswitch irritability and a case of the hiccups.


Make that two cases of the hiccups – in one day.  It’s so strange to not have control over your diaphragm.

Today is one of those days where I really should make a list of ten good things that happened in my day.  But, just for once, I think I’m going to rant and see how I feel afterwards. This is an experiment.

Things that ground my gears a lot this week:

  1. Chewing.  This is an every day annoyance, but today I’m actually going to complain about it.  I despise the sound of chewing.  I know that every one who eats solid food has to chew it, but those noises… *shudder*…
  2. When, at a stoplight, people keep inching up on you.  Buddy, the light’s not going to turn any faster if you’re closer to me.  I particularly hate it when I inch away from them just to give Audrey’s poor read end a little space, and they creep up again.  Don’t you know that was me trying to get away from you?!?!?  People need to understand the concept of personal bubbles better.
  3. Getting food stuck in the place where my wisdom teeth used to be.  I’m not sure why there are still little caverns there, but it definitely complicates things.
  4. Not being able to remember if I’m forgetting to do something.
  5. When people ask vague, open-ended, yes-or-no questions and expect a long, detailed response.  That only happens in movies.  If you want details, you have to ask for them.
  6. When you put something in your mouth and expect it to taste a certain way – and it tastes like vinegary dish soap.  (I’m sure you’ve had that experience before)
  7. When ranting about something doesn’t make me feel any better.

Evaluation time:  I feel crabbier than when I sat on this yoga ball to blog.  So, the obvious conclusions is that complaining isn’t productive, and it doesn’t give me any more joy.  Focus on the negative makes me feel like the smallest thing flip the switch on my happy attitudes.  Within an instant, I can become uncharacteristically irritable.

So, here the corresponding blessings/lessons to learn from those gear grinders:

  1. I’m grateful to have teeth so that I can chew.  And I’m glad that other people have the same capabilities (even if I wish the process could be silent).
  2. In the future, I’m going to be patient at stoplights.  And I will stop yelling at other drivers.
  3. At least my sockets don’t hurt anymore.
  4. If it’s not in my planner, it must not be important.
  5. Ashley could work on asking more specific questions.  It means a lot more to people if I know (and remember) something about their life enough to ask about it.
  6. I’m blessed to have the option of eating something else if I don’t like the soup put in front of me.  I can eat salad.
  7. Now this experiment has made it clear that counting my blessings makes my day much better.
  8. additional blessing: my mom just brought me a cookie

At the risk of being cliché, I’m going to say that I need to count my blessings more often.  To quote Bing Crosby in White Christmas, “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.” I can honestly say that counting sheep isn’t my usual response to worries – I typically just keep on worrying.  Recently I’ve realized that very rarely do I intentionally put things into practice that I hear.  I often assume that – because I’ve heard it – it will manifest itself in my life and change the way I live.

Maybe no one else has that problem.  But really, how silly was I to think that simply hearing something could change my life?  My ears don’t have any special life-changing power.  It’s the action that stems from hearing and changing that changes my life.  That’s so obvious.  Why haven’t I realized that before?

Glad you joined me today to realize something so obvious.  That’s just part of my growing process, I think.  I have to acknowledge obvious truths before I can comprehend the more complex ones.

Reputation = shot.


Words I would use to describe this picture of Mary, mother of Jesus:

  • mature
  • serene
  • respectable
  • pious
  • peaches and cream complexion

I’m pretty sure that those words I just came up with would not have described Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Or maybe I’m thinking of myself at about age 14: awkward, kind of spazzy, skinny, immature.  If an angel had told me that God was going to cause me to become pregnant supernaturally with His son — who would save the whole world someday — I don’t know what my response would have been.  I’m pretty sure that it would not have resembled Mary’s response in the least.  She sang a song of thanks to God for completely ruining her reputation.  Most people would never look at her the same way again.  She became a social outcast, someone people assumed had broken her promise to be true to Joseph.  Because, really, who do you know who would accept the explanation that you were pregnant with God’s son?  It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since.

And she sang a song of praise.

The skeptic in me who just doesn’t want to believe that someone could have such a good response to such incredible news, news that would cause all her friends and family to question her character.   The writers of the Bible must have just left out the part where she fell down on the ground crying.  

My pastor spoke about the type of people God uses this morning, and he used Mary as the example.  When he got to the part about how, in order for God to use us, we have to give up our need to have a good reputation, I instantly balked.  Wait just a sec here.  Aren’t our reputations as Christians super important?  Isn’t that how people distinguish us from the rest of the world?  I’m pretty sure in order for God to use us we need a good reputation.  And we need to maintain it.  And make sure that people have the right idea about us.  And never do anything that could call our good repute into question.

Then years of Sunday school kicked in as the other half of my brain responded, uh, hello, Ashley, remember Rahab, the prostitute?  How about Paul, the persecutor of the church?  Ever hear of Peter, the one who denied Christ in his hour of need?  stellar reputations?  I think not.  And, all of a sudden, my whole world flipped upside down.  As I thought more about it, I realized why he said that.  When my concern is for my reputation, how I look to people, it becomes about me.  Sure, my ultimate goal is for people to see Christ in me, but, then again, wouldn’t it be better if no one understood why I did the things I did and even called into question my motives, but I was wholly, thoroughly, consistently obedient to God?

Answer: YES.

This got me thinking about all the issues I try to solve in my mind and how what people think always plays into my decisions.  It’s not a concern for acceptance that brings that to mind; it’s an assurance that I’m understood.  I have a strong need to be understood – it’s why I ramble on long after other people would have stopped explaining things, why I can never make my blog posts short, why I flip over the same sentence three jillion times in a different way to make sure that everyone gets my point as I intend it to be gotten.

Today, as I sat in my pew, listening, God gave me a little shock.  I need to give up my reputation.  It’s not about me, not about being understood.

And actually, that’s kind of freeing.

making deals with God.


I made a deal with God a couple weeks ago.  It was at at time when I was fretting… Never a good thing to do.  The fretting was over the huge sum of money needed to go to India in January.  It’s a big-un, folks.  So my conversation with God went a little like this (it was very one-sided).

Hey God.  Thank you so much for that opportunity you gave me to go to India to serve you.  Remember that price tag on the trip?  Remember how when I first heard about the trip it was no biggie, because I knew that you were calling me to this trip, so I decided I would trust you to provide the money?  I remember that too, but it’s getting a little more difficult.  I have two months til departure, and I have $140.  That won’t even get me on the plane, much less give me a place to stay and food to eat while I’m there.  So, this is me reminding you that I have faith that you will provide.  This is your little reminder.  Here, I’ll even add something to it: when you provide all that money for me in a miraculous way (I knew it would have to be a miracle because the time was getting so short), I’ll proclaim it all over the place.  Heck, I’ll blog about it.  It’ll be all over the internet, and my seven subscribers will be overjoyed that you are so faithful.  Whew.  Okay, get going on that, please.  I love you, Amen.

Now, for the PROCLAMATION of the MIRACLE: I was handed a check written out for $2,000 last week.  Now, if that’s not a miraculous provision from God, I don’t know what is.  Have you ever received a completely unearned check for $2,000?  Well, I bet that was a miracle too.  In addition to that, my church is supporting me and my support letters have brought me up to a point where the only funds I will need is that $140 I had saved up.

NOW IS GOD GOOD OR WHAT?  CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH?

I’ll do it myself.  Hallelujah.

I never should have gotten into that pit of doubt where I didn’t think God would provide for something He called me to. Would that even make sense for Him to do?  Hey, Ashley.  I want you to go to India, but I’m not going to provide a way for you to get there.  I’m going to stomp on your fundraising and close every possible door so that you feel completely discouraged.  That is not my God.  I know that He doesn’t always make my way paved with smooth stones and lined with rosebushes, but when He asks you to do something for HIM, He will make a way.  We work alongside Him to make His kingdom come.

Praise Jesus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au3EGgISYMc&ob=av3e  And this is a link to the song my heart is singing now.