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    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

    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.

    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.

    What This Crazy Texas Weather Is Teaching Me About Seasons

    Sitting pool side with warm rays of sunshine hitting my face is not something I get to do often. Doing that in February though is crazy unheard of. It’s been an uncharacteristically hot winter. You could even say that we have skipped spring and beckoned summer to come play with us a little early this year. It’s a bit ridiculous. A bit ridiculous yet still super cool. I’m loving reading outside in my backyard this time of year in spite of the crazy Texas weather.

    There’s quite a downside though. I love fall and winter fashion. I enjoy fashion year round, but there’s nothing like throwing on a vest and a scarf and heading outside to face the frigid temperatures. (Okay, in Texas frigid temperatures are like 60 degrees. Laugh all you want northerners. This Texas girl just can’t handle it.)

    It’s not just about the fashion though. Texas can’t make up her beautiful little mind. Leaves on the ground or bluebonnets bursting through the ground. What has happened is that we’ve been switching from tshirts and shorts one day to a winter coat the next. It’s a lot to handle and is causing severe problems. I just got back from running some errands in a long sleeve tshirt and a vest. It’s February. That seems like a considerably warm outfit for this time of year. This is insane. I’ve been sweating for hours! Thank the good Lord that a/c still runs on 60 in most stores. (Actually, that could be changed too but for different reasons.)

    All of this back and forth between the seasons stopped and made me think about what we’re missing out when we miss the seasons. I’ve been painfully aware of them over the past several days. God’s even placed on my heart an overt awareness of the season my life and heart are in.I like to sum up seasons with a word to remember them by. (I’ll be sharing my word on the blog for this year/season which happen to be the same soon.) If you’re not sure what season you’re in, it’s okay. Ask God to show you what he’s doing in you, what the key themes he’s trying to get you to grasp right now are. You may just be surprised.

     

    Be Aware of the Season You’re In

    I could have easily hit the weather app on my phone while I was brushing my teeth. I would have known a short sleeve tshirt would have been enough for running errands this morning. This seems so simple. Yet, how many of us don’t check what season of our lives and we’re in or where are hearts truly are? Right now I know I’m in a season of healing, a season of giving myself grace and a season of intentional growth. With this seasonal perspective, I know how to prioritize my time, what to say yes to and what to say no to, and how to equip myself for this current season.

    Live Into The Season of Life You’re In

    Living into the season where you are living is the absolute hardest thing one can do. We long for the future. In the future, we’ll be better, we’ll eat healthier, be more fit, have our life perfectly balanced, a successful career, the happiest of happy homes, and all of our relationships will be satisfyingly perfect. We will have our quintessential version of a perfect us and a perfect life. That’s just not true friends!

    It’s so easy in the midst of a tough season to say that you just have to grit your teeth, hunker down and try your hardest to get through this season. You can certainly do that and I have definitely done that a time or two. It gets you through, but you miss so much of what is going on around you. I wish I could go back several seasons and start over. If I could go back in time to past seasons, I would focus on and learn the things that I am learning now. I could have learned some lessons in past seasons if I had stopped to truly realize what God was doing in that season and let Him fully do it.

    I’m in a weird season currently. I’m in a season that I long for to be over. I know that if it was over tomorrow, I would have missed it in so many ways – settling into a new marriage, discovering who I am sans my identity being tied up in what I do for a living, learning to give myself grace. I need this season. I need to lean in fully and be okay with what awaits me. Even when what is waiting for me turns out to be something scary.

    Do Prepare For Future Seasons

    Seasons change. It’s a beautiful thing. It can be a scary thing though. Each season is meant for it’s own purpose. If we live into that purpose while being aware and preparing for future seasons, I think we’ll be better for it when we face that season with all of its unknowns.I know that I won’t be in this season forever.

    One day, I’ll return to a traditional job. Knowing that, I’m getting ready for that future transition now. I’m seeking opportunities I may be interested in when the timing is right. If my skills don’t match up with something I’d potentially love to do, then it’s time to see how I can acquire those skills. It’s time to look at what has held me back in the past and how that can be changed for the future. The ground work I am laying now is in the small things. These things like learning to eat healthy seem small and maybe even too easy with a lot more time on my hands. When I go back to work though, I’ll have new eating habits where I’ll be okay leaving the entire box of donuts in the break room for other employees.

     

    I pray you’re living into the lessons of this season friend,
    Ashley

    Starting Over To Become A Better Me


    I love, love, love the idea of everyday adventures and unseen beauty. Oh how I wish my life could be that! I wish those were things that really exemplified my life – searching for unseen beauty in things that may not be so lovely and seeking out everyday adventures in the mundane. It just doesn’t seem like that is where I am though. Maybe it is where I was and maybe where I’ll circle back to in a different season. Right now though, that’s not the season I’m in. It’s not where my heart is. I think I just need to start over and work on becoming a better version of myself.

    Why Start Over?

    I believe it’s a season of changes, healing and restoration. It’s also an incredibly challenging time of sorting out of the identity of who I’ve become versus who I wish I had become or could become. I’m questioning my current life path. I’m seeking out past hobbies that once brought me joy and looking at them in a new light. Due to all of this and the switching of priorities of taking care of family matters first instead of working for a career, it’s time for a fresh start, a new chance at who I wish I’d become. Some days, I have the desire to look at my life penciled on a page and start ferociously erasing. Afterwards, I’m left with imprinted scratches and a somewhat new-ish slate. It’s something I can start over with. With each pencil stroke, I can begin to build something new, something better.

    Why Becoming A better Me Starting Today?

    As this journey has started, one thing has become incredibly evident. I have changed significantly over the past several years. Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of these changes aren’t for the better. I’m not saying that I believe I need to be the perfect woman juggling her career, kids, faith, home, friends, family and everything else with exact and precise balance while living each moment with intentionality. There are areas of my life that I feel like I’m not good at though, that I feel like need improving. I don’t feel like I live each day with intentionality. The thought patterns I’ve developed over time could use a major overhaul. I don’t give myself grace, yet I know I need to learn to do so. These things won’t change overnight, but I believe I can start to become a better version of myself one day at a time starting today.

    What Does Becoming A Better Me Look Like?

    In short, I have no idea. So many areas of my life that need redemption. From my questioning faith after seeing so many Christian failures as well as my floundering relationship with Jesus to a new healthy lifestyle that isn’t filled with pinned workouts while I’m seeing how many donuts I can eat in one sitting. Due to my love of research and reading. I know that research and reading will play heavy roles on this journey. I know being truthful, honest and eagerly seeking out answers will be on the way. This journey will be filled with changing things/habits/thoughts/routines, trying new things/foods/workouts and discovering that even an older dog can learn new tricks. The cool thing is that each day is new and what becoming a better me looks like today may be different in a year or so depending on the season.

     

    Grab my hand and let’s journey together!

    Ashley

    A Little Breathing Room

     

    A new friend of mine from the Start Experiment and I’ve been messaging back and forth. The other night she sent me these words of wisdom: “Give yourself a little breathing room – you’ve got a lot going on IRL”. (IRL means ‘in real life’) This is in response to trying to get my new site up and having everything ready by Monday. It’s Tuesday and I’m not ready to introduce it yet (although a few of you have already found your way over there).
    fiftyone. fiftytwo. [53]. fifty4. fifty5. fifty6. fifty7. fifty8. [59]. 60! sixtyone. sixty2. sixty3. sixty4. 65! sixty6. sixty7. sixty8. [69]. 70!
    This is an old photo from my Project 365 that I did awhile back which perfectly describes how I’m feeling today – stressed and rushed. I’m going to listen to that friends’ advice because I do have a lot going on in real life. I’m working through some major changes which will shake up where I’m living, my friends group, my daily eating habits, my morning routine, my career, and pretty much everything else tied into all of that. In addtion to that, my Dad’s been sick and I’ve been helping out with my sister which cuts down a bit of my hustling and dream time.
    Right now though, there’s not a deadline. There is no finite date. Jon Acuff won’t be mad at me and say I’m never allowed to read any of his blogs ever again because I wasn’t able to get my new site up how I wanted to by yesterday. That’s just ridiculous. He has different things he should worry about. There’s a deadline for some of the other things going on in my life which I really need to figure out.  The whole situation is overwhelming like a nightmare of ending up in a Calculus Test unprepared.
    The reality is that sometimes, real life gets in our way and we have to attend to some other things first. It’s easy to focus on the one thing that we feel like we can control in a time like this. For me currently, it’s the layout of my new site. There are other things that I am desperately not in control of in any way. Those things I definitely can’t change because I’m not in control, but I am in charge of how I react to this situation.
    How am I going to react? I’m going to react by deciding to act on the things which most need to take precedence. I’ve got things I need to take care of. I’ve got things that I wish had already been taken care of. What can I do now? I can stop feeling rushed about things that don’t really need to take place now and focus on things that need to be taken care of more immediately. It’s time to focus on dealing with the real life stuff rather than a layout because at the end of the day, this real life stuff matters a whole lot more than the layout of a blog.
    What do you need to stop focusing on? What do you really need to take care of this week?

    Seeing Past The Excuses

    Ever had an excuse so brilliant that you had to listen to it? An excuse that seemed to speak so much truth that it was impossible to ignore? I have.

    My Favorite Excuses to be Wowed By:
    1. You don’t really have time for that.
    2. If it’s not perfect the first time, you should wait.
    3. What kind of value does that even have in the world?
    4. But he/she/they did it better than I ever could, so why try?

    Let’s Dissect This a Bit:

    1. You don’t really have time for that. Yeah, that could take like 30 minutes to 1 hour, but you have some emails to write so why not pop in a season of Friends and answer emails. You can turn off the season whenever you finish the emails and go do something else. The reality is that you will have answered those emails during the first episode and will still be watching when it’s time to put in the second DVD. You had time. 

    2. If it’s not perfect the first time, you should wait. Where is the standard of perfection here? Perfect for who? Is your college professor going to look over this work? Will there ever be a perfect time, place, situation or what for you to complete this? If I wait forever, will it ever get done? Probably not.

    3. What kind of value does that even have in the world? With so many idea people, storytellers, film makers, creators, bloggers, leaders, etc. etc. who am I to try to step into any of these roles? What can I contribute when others have contributed so much already? What area of expertise do I really have in the matter? I’m just a kid straight out of college still trying to figure out the world around me.

    4. But he/she/they did it better than I ever could, so why try?  I follow some tremendous bloggers. I follow designers who I could only dream of designing something that great. I follow four filmmakers who made award winning movies while on summer vacation during college. I follow photographers who travel the world and have I am surrounded by people whose lives seem to be so much more, so much deeper, so much more impactful than mine. Maybe those people should do this, not me. 

    You know what lives in these excuses and the questions that they back? Fear.

    This Fear doesn’t have to control you. You’re the one that gets to decide if it does. For me, it’s regarding my blog. I love to compare it to blogs when I know the stats in my mind aren’t real. Maybe if I do this or that to make it better. In reality though, I just need to write. Writing takes more time than I always want to give it. I want my writing to be perfect and if I’m not feeling inspired, I just can’t write. Writing could get me judged though. I judge my own writing against others who are more established and have written longer.

    Why haven’t I written in the past? I have accepted the excuses fear has given me.

    It’s time to write because I love writing. It’s time to blog because I want to be a blogger. I want to punch my fear in the face and do the thing I love regardless of the excuses. That my friends is what I am going to do.