Smoky day.

Strange things are afoot today. I still haven’t figured this out, so I just keep telling my housemates about it.

I need answers, and I may not get them.

I put on a shirt today, as I do nearly every morning, and discovered midway through the Pope’s address that it smelled like smoke. Like tobacco smoke. Like I’d gone out back and smoked a pack then sprayed perfume on myself to cover it up.

I assumed it was the shirt. Did I go to a smoky, flowery place while I wore it last? I’m pretty sure I didn’t wear it for long last time, so I didn’t wash it. But… wouldn’t I remember that smoky place? You can hardly smoke anywhere these days. Not that I’m put out by that. I don’t smoke. So why do I smell like it? Did I hug someone who smokes? Like a really long hug?

I spent half a day in the shirt then went back home and changed, thinking that would solve the problem. I couldn’t take it any longer. It was messing with my head, making me question everything.

Changing the shirt didn’t help much. Maybe my skin absorbed it, because the new shirt and cardigan smell the same way, just a bit less strong.

My overactive imagination wonders if there’s a medical condition where you start smelling like a cigarette then spontaneously combust. Or if smelling smoke means you’re going crazy.

It’s a pervasive smell. It stuck with me, for whatever reason, and it reminded me of the day my friend Ellen spoke in chapel at my high school, probably during my junior year. She spoke of campfires and how she loves that smell. It sticks on her clothes and in her hair, and she never wants to wash anything touched by campfire smoke because she wants to be able to smell it forever.

She compared it to the way our lives should be saturated by God’s presence in it. That He should stick to us, and when people get close to us, they should smell Him. It’s a good metaphor because smoke is one of the strongest and most recognizable aromas. It’s also a good metaphor because, like the smell of smoke, it’s stuck with me all these years.

So now that I smell like smoke, I also wonder if I smell like Jesus. Hopefully the latter smell is stronger.

And hopefully the former will go away soon.

Here and there.

Jesus is not in the business of letting me plan ahead right now. I’m stuck in the here and now, waiting on people to get back to me so I can know what I’ll be doing in a month and so I can plan.

He’s not about that.

I’m taking this as a sign that I need to be present in the here and now a bit more than I would be if I knew what would be going on in my life in a month.


Like right and left, here is relative to where you are. I’m here, you’re there. And you could say the same thing to me. “I’m here; you’re there.” It’d still be true. Because “here” has to do with time and place.

Someone has been making that word bold in the typeface of my day today. In church today we sang, “The King is here/the King is here/Hallelujah/God, you’re here” then moved on to talk about how we’ll never be the same because God is… what? Here.

So many layers to this. 1. Jesus came back from the dead, the main thing we’re celebrating today. That’s one here. He’s in the realm of the living.

2. He did that whole defeating death thing so we wouldn’t have to say, “Jesus is there, but I’m here.” We share a here.

3. God comes into the midst of our lives to change us. He doesn’t make us change our here but instead meets us right smack dab where we are. And he either changes us or our situations.

4. And that never changes. When Jesus comes into your here he’s there to stay, whether I’m surrendering to the changes he’s initiating or not. He’s in my here for good.

That’s making the whole, I’m stuck here and can’t even think about there because I don’t know where it is thing much more palatable. Jesus knows my future, and he’s present in that, too (because being in one place in time is for chumps), but he’s in my here, shaping it for the there and making me who I need to be in the here and there. 

Small words can pack a punch in your day.

Birth and death.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I often read and re-read the different Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it, partly because it’s a powerful story and partly because its my best defense against commercialization.

I don’t usually do that around Easter. I probably will read the crucifixion story once a year, again if a sermon makes me.

I have a theory about this. For one thing, I’m always more excited about a birth than a death. Granted, Jesus’ death signals the beginning of life abundant for all of humanity, so technically this is a birth, too.

No, my theory has more to do with what each story requires of me. The story of the birth of Christ asks me to take pause and remember that I serve a God who comes to meet humanity right where they are, who humbles Himself to the point of being born in a barn. It asks for my gratitude, for me to think ahead to the hope I have in Christ, and for me to celebrate.

Easter’s a celebration, too. But it asks more of me. Perhaps this is why I don’t read and re-read the story for all of Lent. Easter asks me to die to sin – to my very nature  – because God became man and was nailed to a cross after being beaten and abused. And he did it for me.

Easter asks me to take stock of the sin in my life and mourn for it. It asks me to nail it to the cross and bear it no more (sound easy? I know. It does… but it’s not). It asks me to remember that I serve a living God, one who walks with me and is constantly rearranging my life so it looks more like one He would live.

It’s not quite as cozy. Certainly, if I use the Christmas story and jump ahead to Easter – because it’s all part of the same master narrative, really – I’ll have the same experience both times. But it’s pretty segregated in our world.

I think there’s a reason Easter is commercialized in a way that has nothing at all to do with what it’s about. At least Santa has to do with kindness and giving and somewhat the spirit of God coming to earth (but even then not much). But the Easter bunny? Seems like a blatant coverup to mask the power of the greatest story of all time. People don’t sell crucifixion scenes in most stores, but you’ll see the chicks and bunnies and candy.

Easter should be a wake-up call for me – to remember who I live for, why it’s worth it, and that death has no hold on me anymore because of Jesus.

That being said, I will definitely eat the pastel peanut butter M&Ms while remembering those things.

Giving up planning.

Since I last posted, I discovered (through another google search) that Obsessive-Compulsive Planning Disorder is a real thing.

All of a sudden, I felt fewer warm fuzzies towards my tendencies to plan and plan and re-plan and think ahead and plan and make three different plans in case one doesn’t work and an alternative for those. Then forget all the plans because I didn’t write them down and make a whole new plan from scratch.

In fact, it made me want to set aside my planning and pretend that all those symptoms didn’t fit me.

Deep breath in, deep breath out. I can live my life without a plan. Well, sort of. I can live without a five-year plan. I can live without a one-year plan. I can’t live without my day planned out, but that’s a different story.

I’d like to say in contrast to all the parallel symptoms I have with OCPD that I like to fly by the seat of my pants sometimes. And that most of my life has ended up going completely differently than I planned.

Thought I was going to be a teacher.

Thought I would go to school on a coast.

Thought I’d go to Scotland to study abroad.

Thought I’d be a Communications major.

Thought I’d graduate in 2016.

Never thought I’d have three jobs in college.

Never expected to be a book copyeditor by the age of 19.

Never expected to have seen nine countries before my 21st birthday.

Never expected to see God flip all my plans on their heads. As often as I think I’m a compulsive planner, I remember that my planning is fruitless. Some people say you shouldn’t plan without God’s involvement, but I’ve found in my life that I’m really just banned from planning at all.

I live in a kennel (though my kennel is big and includes all of my present reality) and am not allowed to jump into my actual future until 5 seconds before it strikes. Then the gate is opened and I scurry around in my new territory.

I think puppies and I have a lot in common.

The space beyond the gate is so much more spacious than what I had imagined and planned. It’s always brighter and more abundant and crazier than I could have planned.

So perhaps my limited planning does have a purpose, in helping me contrast my small ability to give myself opportunity and imagine the possibilities with the options God comes up with that I never even considered.

So I’m curbing my planning and waiting for the abundance to show itself. I’m halting my Google binges and asking God to maybe give me a hint of what He had in mind – or to at least give me the faith and patience I need to wait and to prepare me in the meantime.

I guess you could say this Lent marks me giving up planning. I didn’t plan to say that at the beginning of this post, but it seems appropriate and perhaps something I should practice as a sign of trust and faith. More prayer, less planning.

Five loaves and two fish.

Today has been a loaves and fishes type of day. I came to the day with a sack lunch, and I remember telling Jesus something like, “hey, be a part of today.” No matter what the exact wording was, there was an invitation issued.

Jesus is present in my everyday life even when he doesn’t feed the five thousand, but my goodness, when he does? I’m tired from all the excitement of my day.

First off, my class was cancelled. So I had a whole morning to write and get homework done. What a gift that was.

I tutor an ESL student on Thursdays at the local elementary school to help with reading fluency and comprehension, and we had such a fun session. He wanted to keep working after we’d been together for an hour.

Those would have been blessing enough. My heart was full and happy when I walked home and came in my door. My neighbors downstairs had again been smoking pot, and the smell permeated my kitchen, but I was determined it wouldn’t make me upset.

Then I looked at my email.

For the past two weeks, my birthday campaign with charity: water has been going on, and I started today at $913. Every time someone gives, I’ve been excited. It’s amazing what people will do, given the opportunity to do good. It was already more than I could have done on my own. I hoped that by my birthday in March, we’d be close to my $3,000.

But today, my email told me that someone I didn’t know had donated $600. WHAT. I was dumbfounded, thinking it must have been a mistake.

Then I went to the webpage for my campaign and saw that not only was it a legitimate donation, but someone else had given over $1,000.


Charity: water found my campaign (since I was plugging for Taylor Swift to find it and join me) and featured it on their blog today, so I suppose these generous folks found it and wanted to take part.

All I’ve done is set up a campaign and told my friends.

I gave Jesus my five loaves and two fishes, and so far, he’s provided enough money to provide 89 people with clean water for the rest of their lives.

My God does big things with small, ordinary people. He doesn’t care how insignificant we are or how incapable or unimportant we think we are. He asks us to join in, to take a first step and watch him make our efforts into something far beyond anything we can take credit for.

I am amazed.

For sale: one high horse

FOR SALEIf you’ve watched as many 18th century British dramas as I have, the scenes where the heroine sails through the English countryside on the back of a noble steed while she processes her thoughts about the rich stud who is currently making her life miserable but will eventually be her husband probably appeals to you. There’s an air of freedom in those wide-lens shots where you see the sunlight filtering through the trees that surround the clearing where our heroine gracefully gallops.

Also, can we just envy her that this is her workout? I mean, I know it’s not easy to stay on a horse, but let’s get real – it’s the horse’s workout.

Though I’m not an avid horse fan every day, this image makes my heart swell. It’s probably the closest you can get to flying on the ground without an automobile, and the romance and drama of it all is thrilling.

Sometimes we let our horses serve a different purpose though, don’t we? And when I say we, I mean: mostly me and possibly you.

Sometimes we ride our horses through the throngs of people who just don’t know what they’re doing – but we do. We hold our noses high and keep our eyes half closed in snottiness and wave our hankies at the huddled masses who just can’t do anything right.

Sometimes we even smack them with our riding crop – get your act together. You see this horse? They don’t just let anyone ride these babies. You’ve gotta know what’s what.

Yeah, right, Ashley. You know what you’re doing and what you should be doing and what’s going on about as much as a baby. (And Liesel has informed me that although babies learn quickly, for a while after they’re born they can’t see anything clearly that isn’t right in front of them. Also, they can’t speak or communicate through any other medium than grunts and wails.)

The pastor at my home church spoke on Philippians 2 yesterday, where it talks about Jesus, God Incarnate who didn’t consider “equality with God as something to be grasped.” Grasped meaning, something to cling to or hold over people’s heads.

So, if Jesus is the highest and didn’t consider his position – as the actual authority over all – as something to flaunt, what do he do?

He took the form of a servant.

So… if the one being who actually could say he had it all together didn’t use his position as a self-made pedestal, what am I doing?

I’m selling my horse. You probably shouldn’t buy it unless you just really need something to ride to work. It’s easy to get stuck on there, looking down and neglecting to see that you’ve been parading yourself around dressed in dirty clothes with ketchup on your face and branches in your hair.

If I’m doing to do any horse riding, it needs to be to hurry to someone’s aid, to offer a lift, to give the horse some exercise and love.

Here’s to a new semester.



Unbalanced to unseen.

Ever since one of my friends suggested the possibility I’ve been keenly aware that one of my legs is longer than the other. It’s been a couple weeks now, and sometimes I just sit and wonder at not knowing for so long.

I mean, it’s my body. I should know if one of my legs is longer. One of my feet is bigger. One of my eyes is slightly bigger. My knuckles on that hand are bigger. It’s all on my right side, which could make sense since I’m right-handed.

It just threw me for a loop. I’d lived with having different sized feet and knuckles for a while, but finding out that I likely have been slightly tilted for my entire life was a different, much more fascinating story. Then my other friend said I might not have differently sized legs; no, my pelvis might just be misshapen.

I’m unbalanced. It’s okay. If I was J-Lo or Kim Kardashian, I would have surgery to make them the same length and get a nose job while I was at it.

For these light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that will far outweigh them all.

This is light and momentary. It’s hardly even a trouble. My small physical asymmetry is incredibly light.

But stress isn’t light, life decisions aren’t light, grief isn’t light. Was Paul referring to all earthly trouble when he said that? Was he talking about loneliness and heartbreak? Was he referring to loss and regret?

Earlier in that passage (2 Corinthians 4), Paul says, Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. Gosh, Paul. That’s kind of big. But are your legs the same length?

So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. …That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

So, we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I just read the other day the part of 2 Corinthians where Paul talks about all he’s endured for the Gospel. It’s not light. It pretty much encompassed his entire life. But the hope of eternal life with God was enough to make it light. Not that it hurt less, but it meant less. It didn’t determine his future.

What is seen: racial tension, mass murders, exploitation, hints of good amid explosions of not-good, pieces of the Kingdom in the rubble of earth

What is unseen: History – a baby in a manger who grew up to bridge the gap between a God who loves and wants relationship and man who was unloving and didn’t know how much it needed that God, healing, light, life, reconciliation, peace, hope, joy.

The story stays fresh because it’s still relevant. It’s still central to our humanity that we’re broken and in need of someone to sort out our mess. We still need a humble Savior to lead the way.

I’m unbalanced. I’ve got iniquity in one hand paired with pain and grief. It weighs me down, but I cling with the other to my Father’s hand. As we walk, I start to drop my bad habits and painful memories.

For what is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.

Anchored in bad weather.

So, I’m a little frustrated right now. Partly with myself for  neglecting to blog from October 22nd til now, partly with myself for not just doing it, and partly with technology for deleting the blog post that I just wrote without even asking me.

Maybe this is Jesus’ way of steering me in a different direction. No, Ashley, no one needs to hear about what you’ve been doing instead of blogging. They don’t need to know who you were for Halloween or what you ate for breakfast this morning.

I’m sure there was something on my mind this week. Actually, I can remember being in the thick of busyness at multiple times this week then thinking something profound – hey, I should blog about that – then forgetting before I could get to a writing implement.

There must have been something going on between brain synapses. Join me in a moment of silence for all the potential brilliance/thoughtfulness/humor lost because I’m forgetful.

I could have thought up the idea for the next great American novel, but because I’m too busy to pay attention, I won’t write it.

Yesterday was about the yuckiest day you could possibly imagine. Sleet, rain, snow, and hail, paired with bone-chilling wind and gloomy skies. It doesn’t get much worse, especially if you have places to go and people to see on those days. It was dark and unmotivating and scummy.

And today. Oh, today. Today is chilly but bright and clear. The clouds are quickly clearing out to make way for the blue, and the sunshine is pouring onto my couch.

The weather is so often a picture of the human soul. I’ve been thinking about where I was at this point last year and how far God has brought me out of it today. This time last year, I had just starting taking my antidepressants and had gone through a week of intense, unwarranted anxiety. It was part of the process of getting used to the medication.

This year, I’m juggling two part-time jobs, an internship, a social, life, sleep, and my classes, and I’m capable of handling it. I’ve come out of five months on my own in a foreign country, where God kept pushing light into my life, into a world of bright shiny things and unicorns and glitter and wonderful, fuzzy feelings….

Did you catch the hyperbolic sarcasm there?

I’m tempted to make the comparison of darkness into light. God has brought day into my night. And I suppose, in a way, He has. My heart is lighter, my thoughts are clearer, my life makes more sense. But I think a more apt metaphor uses the weather. Storms come through and batter the soul. And sometimes the storms rage on and are followed by more storms. And the storms will come back. We are assured of that. Storms mold us and shape us more permanently than most teaching methods.

I think darkness is static. As a Christian, there are shadows in my life, but because I’m in Christ, there is no part of me without light. Storms are active. There are times when clouds veil the sun and produce shadows and sleet and winds so cold and biting and powerful that you might blow away into the abyss. But you don’t.

(c) Ashley McDonald 2014

So when the winds blow and the storms rage on and we’re pretty sure that our world will never see sunshine and warmth again, we are anchored.

Oh, crap, she’s up.

I learned what Neosporin is for today. I’d obviously never thought much about it, because until today, I thought it just made your wound sting more. Makes no sense. Why use it?

You’re totally missing the point, says my nursing major roommate. Then she gets the gravel out of my knee with a Qtip from the very public spill I took today on the sidewalk (where my knee got scraped… but my tights remained intact! A small victory) on my way to work. I dab Neosporin on it, and I’m guaranteed to have this thing heal faster.

It was a Monday.

I’ve noticed that my Mondays include a lot more spills and near spills (I almost poured coffee all over my keyboard at work today) when I get up and spend time with Jesus before I get going.

I’ve always loved this quote:

So, not that I’m such a powerhouse for Jesus when I spend time with Him without being distracted, but Jesus is such a powerhouse that when I spend time with Him, it has the power to change the way I interact with people all day. So naturally, Satan rubs his icky little hands together and conspires to make me trip over uneven sidewalks, nearly miss my train, and get rained on – having left my umbrella at home.

Ohhh, those little defeats. They have a lot of power over me, most days. I think there’s a lot of power in calling Satan’s bluff, however. Because it is a bluff. His hand sucks.

I see what you did there, little man downstairs. I see the pitfalls you threw my way. While I don’t appreciate them and certainly will not tell you to keep them coming, I choose to see them positively. I now know how to trip gracefully while wearing high heels and passing people on the sidewalk. I know what Neosporin does because I skinned my knee. I will have the coolest scab in a few days. I’m not thanking you, but I know that my God works all things for my good because I love Him and am called to a life lived for Him. I would like you to shake in your boots when you know I’m awake. 

Here’s to little defeats and seeing them as victories.

[side note: you know you’re a klutz when you have a tag on your blog for “tripping”… and it’s been used before]

Here and not holding out.

I’m back in Chicago now. I’ve left home and arrived at my apartment. Roommate reunion – check. Sweaty move-in – check. Furniture assembly – check. We’re still hanging pictures and figuring out the best places for our various whisks and such. I’ve realized that I left my mixing bowls at home, along with a few other things. Thankfully, however, those things are not the most urgent. 

I’ve arrived. And the natural next step is to figure out what I’m doing here. Not that I don’t have a schedule for my week and certain responsibilities and jobs, but what am I doing?

My parents and I went to my Chicago church this morning, which is always some kind of a good experience. And my pastor got me thinking about obedience. He was talking about what kind of God we serve, what he’s like and the lies the world, our flesh, and Satan tell us about who he is. 

He said something that put my brain on a loop for a minute: 

“God is not holding out on you.” Repeat that abut ten times, then move on.

I don’t think I hear that enough. When people talk about how God has so many rules and stipulations, I think – well, yeah, that’s just kind of the way it is. It’s good to be obedient. But I forget why it’s important. 

God is not holding out on me.

He has made it clear in his word that Christians are supposed to love, honor Him, honor each other, work for justice, save sex for marriage, live in a way that draws people to Him, not steal, not kill people, speak up for the voiceless and for righteousness, and in general, be holy.

It’s kind of a tall order, and it’s kind of a lot to ascribe to. There are parts of it that I’d rather ignore because it’s a lot of work and because it sometimes makes me butt heads with people I care deeply about and don’t want to offend. Also, my nature isn’t to be obedient. I like to question rules and ask if it’s really important. Like, why do I have to not do that if it won’t hurt me or anyone else?

But God is not holding out on me. The rules and the commandments and the advice and teachings aren’t to hem me in or to bind me to a legalistic type of relationship.

He’s a giving God. That’s his nature. Romans 8 says that if God gave his own son to die for the sins of the world, why wouldn’t he also give us everything else? Why would his rules be pointless and his guidelines be insignificant? If God is so loving that he’d sacrifice his own son in order to have a relationship with mankind, wouldn’t it be small potatoes to offer blessing and peace and joy and satisfaction as the result of obedience?

We’ve all seen some kind of movie where a man is being threatened at gunpoint. Give me the launch codes to the nuclear missiles, and I won’t kill you. Then, when the man refuses (so full of integrity and honor he is), they pull his little boy out from somewhere. Well then, we’ll kill him.

This is usually the part of the movie where the father says, NO! NO! ANYTHING BUT MY SON! The love the father has for his son is so powerful that now the fate of humanity is not as big of a deal. 

But God?

Don’t get him wrong, he loves his son. Jesus is a part of him; it’d be impossible for him to hate a part of himself, the perfect God. But God so loved the world, that he gave. He gave. And gives.

So when he asks us for obedience, it’s small potatoes. It’s the key to living a life of satisfaction and peace and joy and etc etc etc. It;s not hemming in, it’s setting free – at the expense of Jesus, who apparently could handle it since he defeated death in the process.

I’m not being hemmed in when God commands me to abstain from something or to go out and do something instead of something I’d rather do. I’m not being corralled into a boring or rule-driven, legalistic life when I follow the God who made the rules. I’m stepping into abundance, accepting the grace that God offers and telling him that I think his love and sacrifice merits a response. 

Doesn’t it?