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    Can You Pray For Us Today?

    Hi y’all. This last week has thrown me for a whirl on a roller coaster of emotions. I’m exhausted to say the least. With everything that happened, I didn’t end up posting a blog last week. I’ve got several blog posts that have been stirring in my mind for awhile, but honestly, none of those seem right. More than anything I could write to y’all this week, I would rather ask for a favor. Can you pray for myself, my family and my friends today?

    Please Pray For

    + A family member who is in a coma after suffering from 2 strokes.
    + Myself and my family as we grieve the loss of our dog, Clyde.
    + A friend suffering from a severe allergic reaction.
    + A friend who lost her father this past week.
    + Several new opportunities that are arising in the next few weeks.
    + Our continued house search as we start over after changing locations.
    + Restful sleep.

    Grateful For

    + Time spent with loved ones.
    + God bringing glory to himself in the midst of tragedy.
    + A husband who has supported me throughout this crazy week.
    + Getting to see friends I don’t normally get to see later this week and weekend.
    + A property manager who is working with us to extend our stay in our current home.

    Thank y’all. We desperately need your prayers. How can we pray for you?

    Let Freedom Rise

    Red, White + Blue. Inner Tubes on the Lake. The American Flag on as many things as you can get it for the day – clothing, drink koozies, etc.. Grilling Out by the Pool. This is America. The 4th of July is our day. Let Freedom Rise!

    Except, what about those that aren’t free today? What about those that are suffering captive by their own minds, their own addictions and even by others? There are a lot of us captive by varying things. Today, most Americans will choose to focus on family and friends, fireworks, relaxing in their freedom and amazing grilled grub like that brisket above.

    Freedom. You know those who have gotten us here – our armed forces, our leadership at all stages, our ancestors and our past as a nation. But those who aren’t yet free are harder to put a face with. In fact, they’re the ones we ignore, the ones that we’d rather not put a face with. Ignoring them and their existence is a 1000 times easier than admitting slavery still exists, than admitting that it’s real and that this is a problem.

    The problem is that it is real though. Listen to these statistics that Love146 has collected: “In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that there are 20.9 million enslaved today. That’s an estimated 4.5 million in sexual exploitation, an estimated 14.2 million in forced labor and an estimated 2.2 million in state imposed labor… One child in Love146’s Survivor Care Program was sold by a trafficker to a brothel for $72. This price is quite typical.”

    You can read more about slavery – how it happens in today’s world as well as some of the stories of those Love146 has helped here. Seriously, click on it and educate yourself. Then come back here and pray with me.

    A Prayer to Let Freedom Rise

    God, you know what is going on in the world around us. You see the good and the bad. You see the downright atrocious. The thing that make my heart so sad and causes tears to flow freely from my face. I can’t even imagine with you being All Knowing how you so deeply feel about this. You see every single moment. I can only imagine the heinousness of it all.

    As we celebrate our freedoms in America today, may those who are not yet free know that they are loved and cared for even now. Allow us to be your hands and feet as we stretch them out to those who need it. To those who are deemed unworthy according to our society. To those who are “supposed” to be overlooked and forgotten. May we see them. May we remember them. May we play a part in their rescue, in your redemption story for their lives.

    You can move mountains with the slightest of whispers. We know that you can take the world of human trafficking and not only make it turn upside down, but change hardened hearts and eradicate that world for good. God, work your miracles. Rescue those who are trapped! 

    God, force us outside of ourselves. May we lay our selfishness of not wanting to upset our “perfect and busy” lives to help those who are hurting whether they’re your beloved children who are trapped in human trafficking or those we know are hurting but are hoping someone else will step up to help them so we don’t have to. Will you use us for you glory? Lord, we’re here. We’re ready. We’re waiting for your gentle, “Let’s Go.” before we launch out in obedience. Show us where we need to be obedient to you in this today. 

    Lord, may our partnership with you be a blessing to others right where they are. In Your Name, Amen. 

    Resources – Where to Start + How to Get Involved

    I hope your heart is stirred today. I hope at least you will learn more and remember those without the same freedoms as you and me. If you’re looking for more additional resources, I’d start here and then check out the organizations that I have put my own trust in below. I would strongly urge you to see if your church has a small group based on learning more about human trafficking and how we can prevent it. I joined one for a semester a few years ago. It was probably one of the heaviest small groups I’ve ever been in, but also one that challenged my stagnant faith in a “wake up, o sleeper” kind of way, especially to the plight of others around me.

    A great way to get a good glimpse of exposure into what is going on is through reading and seeing. While Netflix has several documentaries that highlight human trafficking in various ways, I would recommend steering clear of those initially. I’d instead recommend focusing initial documentary screenings regarding human trafficking to these ones that are provided online thanks to Elijah Rising. I haven’t watched them yet myself, but I’ve heard really good things about Nefarious from the leader of the small group I was in. I’d also recommend reading Renting Lacy. Get ready! This book tore up my heart over this issue when we delved into it as a small group. If you’re looking for even more, A 2nd Cup also has an amazing resource library here.

    Organization against human trafficking:
    Free the Captives // Love 146 // Redeemed Ministries // A21 Campaign // A 2nd Cup (Houston Coffee Shop) // Elijah Rising

    What I’m Loving + Favorite Photos // June 2017

    Hey everyone! I’m so thankful and excited by the overwhelmingly positive response I received last week on the official launch of Ashley Karlen Photography. Starting a photography business has been a dream of mine since college. I’m super excited to see what’s ahead. On to today’s fun stuff!

    If you’ve been around my page for a bit, you know that I absolutely love sharing about the things that I am currently loving. I’ve done this every couple of months since I started blogging again. You can read those here and here. While I still love sharing about the things I am loving, I wanted to spice things up. Every month from now on, I’ll be sharing things I love, am exploring, am curious about and many other things. The fun thing is I’ll also be sharing some of my favorite photos I took during that month. Are you ready!? I am!

    What I’m Loving

    DISCOVERING the library and the depth of it has been amazing. I absolutely love books and can’t stray away from a good book sale to save my life. This has really cut down on those books that I really want to read but don’t really need to buy. Plus, I’ve found that I absolutely love listening to fiction like this or this on audiobook. I love highlighting and taking notes so I’d much rather hold a non-fiction book in my hand.

    ENJOYING time on our back porch sitting in our camping chairs, relaxing and sometimes even building a fire. Yes, we live in Houston. Yes, it’s hot outside. Even with the heat, we’ve started a fire in our fire pit and spent an evening discussing life around the fire and roasted some s’mores.

    ADORING the lifestyle and community ideas from The Turquoise Table. Rick and I are already dreaming of our next home and how we can implement the ideas in this book to get to know our new neighbors and start building a community there. It’s made me start dreaming of fun little things to take out to my future table like this pitcher or these plastic cups. I just absolutely love the colors of those cups.

    PRETENDING I’m at the spa with this luxurious face mask. It smells so ridiculously wonderful in the morning.

    RICK’S RECOMMENDING the sous vide cooker. Rick has seriously recommended this immersion cooker to multiple people in the same day. I will say that this gadget is pretty nifty. It’s a great meal prep tool that you can set and leave which I’m always a fan of. The absolute best brisket I may have ever had in my entire life was cooked in this just a few days ago. (See below for the brisket picture.)

    PLANNING lots of vacation days in the next couple of months. Who has any fun ideas for San Antonio, Waco or Costa Rica? Later this fall, we’ll be looking for a great little bed and breakfast either around the Houston area or not too far away for a little couple’s getaway. Post all your must sees and great spots in the comments.

    GRATEFUL for the friends and family who have constantly encouraged me, stuck by my side and helped launch me into this new season of life.

    Favorite June Photos

     

    The Special Announcement Is Here!

    A few days ago I posted on Ashley Karlen Photography that I had some exciting news to share this morning. I totally do. We’ll get to that in a few minutes though. I know. I’m not always the best with waiting so feel free to scroll down and come back up here. I totally get it. I’ll even wait…..

    Relieved that you finally know? Great! This past year of learning the path to being brave and starting out on that adventure has been such an exciting one so far. I’ve rediscovered things about myself that are so cool and yet I’d completely forgotten about them with the hustle and bustle of the last few years. One of those things has definitely been my love of photography. It’s been a long time coming, but getting back into the groove of photography has been so soothing to my soul. I feel like I’ve regained a part of me that has been missing for years. It’s been so life giving in a way that I could have never imagined.

    I want you to know today that if you’ve lost a hobby, a relationship or something close to your heart over the past few years, you can recapture it. It may not look like my journey to being brave. In fact, it probably won’t. What matters is that if there’s something stirring in your heart whether it’s a creative endeavor, a pull to a simpler life or taking on a new task that you’ve previously placed in the ‘that’s scary and so not for me’ category of life, it’s okay. You can totally do it.

    Put on your brave today and step towards it. Baby steps are totally fine. I’ve baby stepped, stumbled, fallen and gotten up again on this journey. The beauty of that is that with each baby step forward, I can see his grace pushing me and leading the way. God will be there, right beside you to pick you up and brush you off just like the good father he has promised us He is. Put on your bravery, step out and pursue what God is calling you to do no matter where or what He’s leading us to. From my own experience, I think you’ll regret not doing it sooner.

    What’s the news already!?

    I’m so glad you asked! I know a few of you posted on the Ashley Karlen Photography Facebook page that you’re hoping for a pregnancy announcement. Sorry to disappoint. But that’s not what’s about to happen here today. Believe me, Rick’s smile would be much bigger than it is in that first photo! Now we truly know how excited our family and friends would be to find out that news though! If you got all psyched up in anticipation of a baby announcement, rest in knowing that our family has grown recently from Rick, myself and our wedding tree, Charlie, to include a little cactus named Sue. Cactus Sue loves sitting in the sun and enjoys summer just as much as I do.

    We’re super excited to celebrate summer with you! Ashley Karlen Photography is offering a special summer rate of $75 sessions through July 31. Any portrait session is available. There’s so many possibilities for these sessions from portraits of your little kids, getting ahead of the rush to have your family photos ready for Christmas cards or just a few nice headshots for your dating profile. [This special summer rate doesn’t apply to weddings or events, but I’d still be interested in doing those for you.] I would love to hang out with you and have a fun summer session too. Interested!? Click here to send me information so we can set up a session today! Click here to see some past sessions.

    The Weird Thing Annie Downs Taught Me About Bravery

    My rhythm of life was greatly interrupted last spring. My daily rhythm changed drastically as I sat out a few rounds against Chron’s Disease due to surgery. What I didn’t realize at the time is that it was also being deeply interrupted by something else. I spent a lot of time in various waiting rooms reading tales of bravery penned by Annie Downs in her book, Let’s All Be Brave. It’s weird. I thought in those moments that hearing these stories were to help me to get through surgery and recovery but they seeped far into my heart past those months.

    I wouldn’t say I’m a risk taker. The unknown and how everything will play out has always made me a bit anxious with possibilities. It makes being brave hard! When I started reading this book, I didn’t realize what being brave in my life would mean. I didn’t know the steps ahead that God would ask me to take in His name and in the name of courage itself.

    Unmarked

    I have long felt the desire to write about the words within these pages. Words of bravery beckoning for courage. Doing bravery any kind of justice is something I just I don’t feel I can adequately capture because I struggle with my own bravery. The path to finding my own bravery has been rocky. Some days look crazily more brave than other days.

    I’m a doodler. In meetings, in my personal reading, in making checklists for the day – I doodle. I underline, I highlight, I circle, I draw arrows and so much more. After urging my friends to read this book last January and finally finding a chance to have a book chat over Skype, It was a surprise to me when perusing the pages again that there wasn’t even a single pen mark.

    I picked the book back up again last week. Still no markings. I have very few books in my possession that are this devoid of pencil, pen and highlighter. In a way, I am so thankful for that. Last week, I read these words again and allowed them to cut into my heart and soul once again.

    Annie’s Words That Punched Me In The Gut

    “If you are brave, you are willing to walk the map that is yours, the one with twists and turns you’ve never expected, and you must be disciplined enough to stay on the narrow road under your feet. Step by step. Each step leads to the next, and before you know it, you are walking in a rhythm of courage.

    I never tied discipline to courage. I never saw the correlation. I guess I should have, since I lack in both. But in all matters – physical, mental and spiritual – I believe that to live a disciplined life leads to a brave life. We long  to be brave in the big moments, in the clutch times, in the times when our backs are up against a wall. But to get there? It’s the everyday. It’s the practice. It’s the steps. It’s the discipline.

    Let’s be real; that’s not the most fun answer you’ve ever heard. None of us enjoy discipline. Hebrews 12:11 puts it perfectly: ‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’

    And in The Message? Boom. ‘At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.’

    It always feels like it’s going against the grain.
    Yet. It pays off handsomely.”
    Let’s All Be Brave by Annie Downs

    The Weird Connection + My Path to Brave

    I’ve always perceived discipline to be a continual rigorous act that requires patience and strength no matter what the discipline is for. Just like Annie, I never thought about discipline to be related to courage. Never in my wildest dreams. It just seems so weird. Yet, as I’ve started adding more bravery to my life, I’ve become more brave.

    I quit my job.
    I married my best friend.
    I began writing and blogging again.
    I picked up my camera and started shooting again.
    I started a Supper Club.
    With the support of some friends, we created an accountability group called the 7th.
    I started a new treatment for my Chron’s Disease.
    I confronted my fears.

    I became increasingly braver with every act. The bravery has opened my eyes to new ventures that I feel like I can say yes to and that I can feel confident about. I don’t know when I became braver. I don’t know when I first embraced courage and said, ‘Let’s travel this road together now’. What I can tell you is that as I’ve given myself the gift of grace to fail, I have become braver.

    I didn’t realize this until recently. I’ve struggled a lot with some of these things. When Rick and I were discussing one of them the other night, he turned to me and told me that I showed bravery in my decision. Bravery to follow God and to live true to myself. In that moment, a realization sunk in. I had never pictured it that way, but maybe, I am brave after all. If nothing else, I’ve got to be on the right path to bravery.

    I don’t know what you’re struggling with. I don’t know what giants you may be facing or what is lurking in the back of your mind today. What I do know is that my life is being changed through the brave path of discipline. The small disciplines of giving myself grace, allowing myself to fail and in saying both the courageous yeses and no’s, are making myself into a better person as each day goes on.

    Annie Downs later says, “Unforced rhythms of grace. Discipline as a rhythm. Could discipline look like grace and make me braver?” Yes Annie, I believe it can. I do believe it can.

    10 Summer 2017 Books I’m Excited About

    I absolutely loved reading during the summer when I was little. I loved being able to pick out any book I wanted to see what would happen. Looking through the Summer 2017 books that are coming out, there’s 10 that have stood out that I really want in my personal library or at least to read. I absolutely love the endless adventures and possibilities waiting for you with each book.

    Coming in June + Ready for Preorder (Or Just Out This Week!)

    June 6Praying with Eyes Wide Open: A Life-Changing Way to Talk with God by Kevin G. Harney and Sherry Harney
    Growing up, prayer was something that was defined to a set time – mealtime, bedtime, church time, etc. I love how the Harney’s are opening up prayer to permeate every aspect of life rather than just those moments that seem to be ‘prayer times’. I’m really excited to see how this book can take my prayer life to the next level.

    June 6The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell
    I joined Jamie Ivey’s Book Club a few weeks ago and was ecstatic to see this was the first on our list to read. Focused around community and your own neighborhood, this is an easy read and may I say GORGEOUS book. I can’t wait for this to show up in my mailbox!

    June 20My Year in Paris: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World by Janis MacLeod
    When I lived in Costa Rica, I read an entire series on a life in Paris. Ever since that summer, I’ve been increasingly more interested in both baking and France. This day to day journey of a memoir is exactly what I want since my summer travels don’t include a trip to Paris. One day…

    June 30 – When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
    What is summer without some summer romance? This unexpected novel quickly caught my attention. If you know me, you know I’m a fan of cultures around the world. I love reading about them and I love experiencing them. This novel combines that with a look at how two Indian-American’s look at arranged marriages as they navigate both their relationship as well as their relationships with their parents.

    Coming in July + Ready for Preorder

    July 1 – Exalting Jesus in Acts (A Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) by Tony Merida
    It may be a little weird that I am adding a commentary to this list. Y’all, these commentaries are so cool. They’re one of my favorite additions to look at next to the scriptures. Acts is a book that I’ve longed to read for a while now. Since I’ve loved the other Christ-Centered Exposition Commentaries, I will definitely be using this one to pair with my reading of Acts. If you’re in any type of teaching the word of God, I’d highly recommend this series of commentaries.

    July 4Fearless Parenting: How to Raise Faithful Kids in a Secular Culture by George Barna and Jimmy Myers
    I am not a parent. I have spent a lot of hours working in youth ministry with teenagers though. Researcher George Barna’s has teamed up with counselor Jimmy Myers to create a book steaming with insights of what it looks like to raise faithful kids in today’s world. Even though I’m not a parent yet, I believe the insights of these two are worth reading for anyone who works with kids or students.

    July 4Doing Busy Better: by Enjoying God’s Gifts of Work and Rest by Glynnis Whitwer
    Busy. Overcommited. Exhausted. These three words often define me, and maybe you too.  Glynnis Whitwer breaks down our habits that we’ve built for ourselves and shows us how live our lives better as we work a new rhythm of rest into it.

    July 25Lucky in Love by Kasie West
    This romantic tale seems like a fun story for you to get lost in. Both the main characters work at the zoo which is one of my dream places to work so that makes me both excited and intrigued about this tale. How fun would it be to say that your coworker is a tiger? Okay, this may not be so much about the animals as it is a secret, a dramatic life change, two zoo co-workers and love. I’ll still love it anyway.

    Coming in August + Ready for Preorder

    August 1Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlike Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter + Aaron Ivey
    This tale unites the lives of Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson as it shows us their individual lives as their journeys cross paths and they become friends. I’m not sure if it’s historical fiction or an accurate historical account. Either way, I do believe the juxtaposition of their tales will make for an interesting read.

    August 8Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of this Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker
    Jen has a way of utilizing her wit and insight to draw you closer to Christ. Her past books have made me reflect on many things that I’ve never really drawn a parallel with in my life with Christ. I’m very excited about this read, plus I love saying the word ‘moxie’.

    + Some Spring 2017 New Releases I’m Still Super Excited About

    Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner
    This call to slow down is meant for the busyness that we allow to invade our lives, but let’s face it, I doubt we left our busy tendencies behind when summer started.

    Love Lives Here by Maria Goff
    This is one of the few books that made it onto my 2017 Reading List. Maria Goff infuses her life and home with love. In this book, she has provided us insight on her secrets on how to do that in our own lives. It’s a must read for me after falling in love with her husband, Bob Goff’s book, Love Does.

    Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships by Lisa-Jo Baker
    Friendships can be so, so hard. I’ve heard a ton

    Sweeter Than Honey: A Coloring Book To Nourish The Soul by Lindsay Sherbondy
    L
    indsay Sherbondy has beautiful work – calligraphy, sayings and this coloring book is icing on the cake as she invites you to join her in the creation.

    At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
    I listened to another podcast the other day with this author and each time I get even more excited about this book, her travels and the amazing stories and revelations she had in her 9 months abroad. This one will give you wanderlust for sure.

    Lucky Few by Heather Avis
    I am in love with Heather’s story about how God took all her plans and wrecked them for his. She’s an adoptive mama of 3 kids, two of which have down syndrome. I follow Heather on instagram and absolutely love watching her journey.

    Hopefully this makes choosing your summer reading picks a bit easier. What’s on your summer reading list?

    My Prayer for Those Struggling with Owning Their Purpose + Calling

    A couple of weeks ago, Rick and I had a bizarrely bare weekend schedule. We quickly remedied that with milk tea, Pandemic and some sweet time chilling in our hammocks. You may remember that I accidentally added Christine Caine’s, Undaunted, that weekend. I’ve been pretty candid that I believe in God’s timing for me to read that in spite of it not being on my list per se. (You can read more about that weekend reading and my thoughts here.)

    It’s no secret to me that God is using this season for me to sit and confront my purpose, my calling and His timing with it all. It’s a tough season to say the least. One peppered with questions, struggles, wonders and so much more sitting on my heart. It’s not been easy and it’s been way longer than I wish.

    I feel a stirring deep down that this season will be coming to an end soon. I don’t know what that will entail or what will come of that ending. In some ways, I know that my purpose and my calling have been renewed during this time as well as my belief in His good timing. His timing is perfect and sweet and above all, good even when it doesn’t seem like it. He’s all knowing and in control. It takes trust to believe in His timing and what he’s called is to do. It’s not always easy, but it’s always possible.

    Writing this prayer today, I’m sitting shotgun on a road trip while listening to a podcast and enjoying the golden hues of a late in the day summer sun over country fields in Texas. It’s exactly where God wants me, right here, praying this prayer for both myself and for you.

    Pray this with me.

    God,
    You are great and mighty. You are a sweet, sweet Father who cares for us even in ways that we can’t fathom. You know everything and hold everything together in crazy, miraculous ways.

    I know you know my innermost thoughts. I know you know my despite for this season of waiting, a season of questioning who I feel like you’ve called me to be.

    You’ve called me to be a warrior carrying your words in my heart yet I struggle to hold fast to them myself. I read them, I hear them said to me and yet your truths seem to bounce off my heart. Why can’t they stick, Lord? Why can’t I believe who you’ve called me to be? Why can I believe you’ve created and revealed your purpose for me yet I feel like I can’t act on it?

    This feeling of waiting lingers around me at every turn. I know you’re doing good things. I can’t imagine what you’re sowing into me right now that you’ll use for your glory in future seasons. Give me patience to do this hard work of waiting as I see others seemingly pass me by. Allow me to cheer on and encourage those who are doing all the things I wish I could be doing while I wait for your timing to follow where you will have me be. Lord, in this waiting, break me and draw me closer to you.

    I know your plans for me are greater than I could ever begin to imagine. Help me to own my calling. Help me to cast off the cares of the world that don’t align with yours. Help me to believe in truth and not the lies that have wormed their way into my heart and my mind. Replace them with your words, your sweet, sweet words that you have spoken and sung over me since the very moment you thought about me. Let those words take root and flourish in my soul.

    Lord, take these words. Take my heart. Make the words I believe about myself and my purpose and calling to be words that are true and words that are of you. Make my heart reflect more of yours. Amen.

    Cling to this with me.

    “Waiting is just a gift of time in disguise – a time to pray wrapped up in a ribbon of patience- because is the Lord ever late?”Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

    He is never late. Now, let’s go live in His calling and purpose for us. Let’s go live the love we can in this moment.