Oxford, Days 3-5

When Emma Kate and I decided to stay in England for our whole trip, the first place we wanted to go to (besides London) was Oxford. We knew the history would be rich, and of course we wanted to see the streets where C.S. Lewis had walked. And apparently Oxford has something to do with Harry Potter, but I’m not cool enough to know that ūüėČ

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This was the super cute B&B we stayed at! Highly recommend if you’re ever in Oxford.¬†

I knew I would¬†like¬†Oxford, but I didn’t expect it to be so charming. We walked everywhere in Oxford, and every street seemed to be like a treat to me. The buildings were just so wonderful to look at, and the town was so charming. I so thoroughly enjoyed just wandering around in Oxford.

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Christ Church College was right beside our B&B so we got to walk by this sight a lot! How beautiful. 

We spent the first day sort of wandering about. We made our way to The Eagle and Child, where Lewis and Tolkien and other Inklings would meet and eat. We didn’t end up eating there until the next day, but it was fun to be able to find it. We also went to Evensong at Christ Church that night, ate our (only!) meal of fish and chips, and got a pretty good lay of the land.

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I finally got my red telephone booth picture!

We walked a lot the next day. We toured Christ Church, shopped for souvenirs/gifts/clothes, ate a surprisingly good lunch at The Eagle and Child, toured Magdalen College (where Lewis taught), traipsed through lovely albeit muddy fields, and enjoyed a fairly rain free day in England.

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Magdalen College

Next up…my favorite day of our trip!

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London, Days 1-3

In August, my friend Emma Kate came up to help me get ready for the first day of school and to just hang out for the weekend. We were putting folders together when I off-handedly mentioned that some friends of mine were heading to Ireland and England in the Spring and they’d gotten an incredible deal on tickets. We finished what we were doing, looked at ticket prices, and found that we could get the same deal the week of my Spring Break. That day, we sat on it–we talked with the adorable woman at Onward Reserve, went to REI to look at backpacks, and went to Barnes and Noble to read Rick Steves’s travel books. By that evening, we’d bought our tickets and were set to head to London in March!

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First picture in London!

We made plans and scratched them a handful of times, and we finally settled on staying in England the whole time. We split our time mainly between London and Oxford, but we also had about two days that were spent in Bath, Newbury, Castle Combe, Tetbury, Dyrham Park, and Hinton.

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Kensington Palace

We landed in London around 8:40 in the morning on Friday. By the time we went through customs, got into the Victoria station, got our London Passes, and made our way to the hotel, it was around noon. Thankfully, we had an early check in so we were able to head up to the room. Neither of us had slept any on the plane, but we wanted to try and stay up as long as we could so we showered and headed out for the afternoon around 1.

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Kensington Palace

We stayed right by Kensington Palace, so we headed there first. It was beautiful, and I especially liked the exhibit about Princess Diana. We were clearly still a bit out of it, but it was a good intro into the museums/tours we’d be taking over the next week. After we finished at Kensington, we headed to the Museum of London, where we didn’t spend a ton of time. We then went to John Lewis, grabbed dinner at Nando’s take away, and headed back to the hotel because we were exhausted.

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Nando’s was my favorite place to eat when I was in Australia. It didn’t live up to six years of memories, but it wasn’t a bad meal for our first night.¬†

The next day, we woke up early knowing that the day would be busy. We wanted to get the most out of our London Pass, and I can definitely say we did. We did Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, a cruise down the Thames River, and the Shard. It was an exhausting day to say the least. By the time we ate dinner before going to the Shard, we knew we were done. But, the Shard was worth it, as was the rest of the day!

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By far our coldest day there, but the sun did manage to come out that day at some points!

The next day was Easter, and we went to All Souls Church, Langham Place, with a friend of Emma Kate’s mom, who happened to know the mom of a friend of mine from church in Charlotte. It was such a wonderful Easter service, and the church was so diverse, which was such a sweet tiny taste of Heaven. Minus me dropping my bread in the communal wine glass for communion, I’d say it was a great morning. ūüėČ

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Our friend took us up for coffee in the hotel next to the church and it was so fun to look down at this view. What a wonderful memory!

After church, we headed to Oxford for the next couple of days, which I’ll write about more in the next post. Cheers!

Rich in Friendships

My friend Kasey came in town a couple of weeks ago, and in the midst of one conversation, she said, “Mom said to tell you hi. She also said that I was rich in friendships.” That phrase–“rich in friendships”–has stuck with me ever since Kasey said that. I thought, “That’s what I am. I am rich in friendships.” And over the last few weeks, I have truly seen how God has blessed me in abundance with sweet friendships.

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I feel like this year, there has been a constant theme rolling around in my mind when it comes to my friends. It’s that,¬†God has been so faithful to preserve these friendships.¬†I have been incredibly blessed with friends in Charlotte but also with friends beyond the area I call home. And God has been so kind and faithful to preserve those friendships.

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This year, I’ve been able to spend extended time with every one of my dearest and best of friends. I’ve been able to soak up sweet conversations that weren’t necessarily planned out at the beginning of 2017 but were some of the best and most needed for 2017. I’ve gotten to enjoy my friends in their homes and in mine and that has truly been one of the sweetest of gifts.

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I¬†know¬†it would be easier to not keep up with friends who live in Augusta, Atlanta, Greenville, TEXAS (hi, Kase ūüėČ ), etc. I’ll admit that there are days when I don’t answer the phone or don’t text back right away. My friends who live in a different city aren’t always first on my priority list because they aren’t right in front of me. That’s not to say they aren’t a priority, because I promise they are. BUT…

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Even in the midst of all of that, God has shown me how important it is to keep those friendships up, to take the phone call or to return the text right away, to go out of my way to see a friend even if it’s just for twenty-four hours. God has been so faithful to give me the grace to be a friend and to remind me that He’s put these people in my life for a reason.

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He’s also done something else this year when it comes to friendships. He’s reminded me that while He has given me some of the BEST friends who live far in a different zip code than me, He’s also given me some of the BEST friends who live in the same zip code (or maybe different because there are a million in CLT) as me. He’s shown me how to embrace these incredibly kind, faithful, and genuine friends who are sitting right in front of me.

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He’s blessed me with an incredible community of some of the sweetest and dearest of friends. These are the friends who you¬†can¬†call at 3 in the morning if you need to or the ones who you let borrow your vacuum because that’s called living in community with each other. They are the ones who rejoice with you when you rejoice and grieve with you when you grieve.

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These are also friends who may not be in the same stage of life as me. I have learned so much this year about the beauty of friendship–with women who are ten, fifteen, twenty years older than me. It has been so beautiful to me to get to call these ladies friends, even if they are wiping snotty noses or signing report cards in the midst of a conversation with me.

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I’ve been able to travel with friends to places near and far. We’ve gone on road trips and explored other cities together. We’ve chatted about life and the current struggles as well as the hopes, dreams, and desires we have for the future. We’ve laughed our way through countless meals, coffees, and more.

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These friends are also the ones who I get to see week in and week out at church, at their homes, or even at Ulta, Starbucks, Harris Teeter, or anywhere in Cotswold :). There has been something special to me about the daily/weekly routine of these friendships, of getting to walk through life with each other, and of getting to see growth in the little things and the big things that God is doing in our lives.

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To get to do life with these people, here in Charlotte, who love Jesus and love me is such a blessing. To get to see God preserve my friendships with people who don’t live in Charlotte is such a blessing. As Lucy Maud Montgomery writes, “I’m so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much.”

Amen.

unplanned

Nothing of the past few years has gone as planned.

I broke my ankle at camp, came home, then turned around and went to AUSTRALIA (the next summer–not with the broken ankle). Um, hello, so unplanned. But then God, in His kindness, let me spend two¬†sweet¬†summers at camp.

I graduated a year later than planned. No harm, because it meant that Kaila and I became BFFs. And let’s be real, y’all, God blessed be greatly through that whole process. And still does.

I moved to a city where I knew NO ONE. Again, not a problem because I love Charlotte, my OBC family, and ALL that God is teaching me here.

I sit at a Panera tonight, totally unplanned, because my internet is out. I brought a ton of work home to do, and then brought it to Panera, to hopefully complete, yet here I am pounding away on this space I’ve neglected for months. I feel as though–no, I¬†know¬†God is teaching me something about my plans because hardly anything has gone the way I’ve planned these past few years or specifically the past few months. Sometimes it’s been big things (i.e. those above) but other times–and honestly the ones that have impacted me the¬†most are the ones like tonight. The middle of the nights where I wake up sick, the dinners I have to cancel because of said bad internet (I’m looking at you, AT&T), the lazy Saturdays that get postponed because of babysitting or dinner offers, the books that don’t get read because of the books that are more appropriate for the time being, the household chores that don’t get done because of phone calls or friends who just need to listen.

The things that I tend to view as not important because they weren’t written down in my planner but the things that God calls¬†so¬†important.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–this need to be and do all the things yet somehow still connect with our Savior on a real basis and be open to all of the plans¬†He¬†has for my life. I’ll be honest–I don’t think I can and do and be all things to all people. I’m not that egotistical. But I do struggle with doing all of the things I’m called to do, all of the things¬†I’ve¬†planned to do. Especially when they aren’t always the things¬†He’s¬†planned for me to do.

In our student ministry equipping hour (Sunday School for those of you who grew up in the 90s, like myself), we talked about our daily fellowship with Jesus. And, as always, when I’m the one teaching/facilitating/leading small group discussions, I feel as though I get so much more out of it than those who are listening to me do. We ended our time talking about the things that distract us from fellowshipping daily with Jesus. For them it was a mixture of friends, technology, pets, etc. One of our students just said, “life” and I wanted to hug him because YES.

It all distracts me. Finances. Friends. Family. Fellowship. Community Group. Volunteering. Working. Insurance. Writing. Reading. Watching¬†The West Wing.¬†Going/not going to the gym. Traveling. Painting my nails (that’s so dumb but incredibly accurate). Shopping. Spending quality time with the people God has placed in my life. Ironing my clothes. Meal planning (my you pick two from Panera was definitely¬†not¬†scheduled for tonight). Podcasts. Visiting friends. Reading blog posts and articles. Serving at church. Preparing for anything that I feel the need to prepare for.

Everything distracts me.

We all have these grand plans that we go through life making. From the time we can talk, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. I’m guilty of cultivating this lifestyle–it’s something I’ve asked my students each year that I’ve taught (and maybe we’ll write about it tomorrow during writing time). We dream and daydream and desire a life that is written by us. A life that has a beginning and a really sweet ending. A life that doesn’t involve hurricanes or terrorist attacks or cancer or miscarriages or even something like singleness. Because, for me, I know that’s what it boils down to.

Singleness is¬†hard. But what is harder for me is accepting that my life may¬†never¬†go the way I’ve planned it to go.¬†Never.¬†

I’m not going to sit here and write a sad and sappy post about how I might be single forever. I’ve played that pity party card one too many times. I don’t know whether I will or won’t be single forever. But what I do know is that¬†I won’t.¬†

Those two words–really the words,¬†you won’t, have been going through my mind for the past 48ish hours. I was praying on Saturday, trying to get to this place where I blocked all of those ridiculous distractions out of my brain and just¬†listened¬†to God, but of course I only had about seventeen minutes to do so. But, God, in His infinite wisdom, used those words to teach me something. Something that just started to make sense as I sat here and typed.

You won’t¬†live a life you’ve planned.¬†You won’t¬†know what’s next.¬†You won’t¬†do everything on your to-do list, in your time.¬†You won’t.¬†

But He will.

I know it can be a bit of a cliche, especially in the Christian circles, but remembering that it is¬†all¬†in His hands is such a sweet comfort. It’s a promise that I forget so often, but I want to remember more and more, to mediate on each day. He is sovereign. He’s got me.

Even if–no,¬†when this life doesn’t go the way I’ve planned.

So, there’s that. There’s where I’ve been the past two/three months, trying to learn exactly what God’s teaching me all through fighting distractions and living a life that is so unplanned.

But oh so sweet.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, friend. Sorry for the rambling, but these thoughts just needed to get out. 
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He has said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled
Fear not, I am with you; oh be not dismayed
For I am your God and will still give you aid
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand
When through the deep waters I call you to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless
And sanctify to you your deepest distress
When through fiery trials your pathways shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply
The flame shall not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake
How Firm a Foundation, Norton Hall Band arrangement

Ebenezers.

I can still smell the mountain air. I can still feel the chill through my bones. I can still remember the view from the dining hall. If I had the opportunity, I could go back to that very spot and remember exactly what happened that fall morning. For me, that spot on the corner of the dining hall porch at camp is a sacred place. 

It’s one of my Ebenezers.

During the fall of my senior year of college, I sat at a picnic table at that corner of the dining hall porch and prayed my little heart out. I begged God to give me some direction, some wisdom–anything. I felt like everyone I knew had some idea of what they wanted to do, but I was so confused and scared. I did know one thing–that if I stayed in Augusta I would never leave Augusta.

As I prayed, the Lord spoke some truth into my life that I’ll never forget. He said:

Ashton.

I have plans for you. 

I have a city for you. 

I have a school for you.

I have a classroom for you.

Full of students who need you to love them the way you‚Äôve been loved at camp. 

I didn’t know then that God meant Charlotte or that God meant kindergarten. To be honest, I wanted to teach first grade in the same Christian school I went to most of my life. I wanted to live in my little house in the neighborhood everyone wants to move into in Augusta. Life was convenient and easy. But the restless feeling I had that year, well, I knew I had to move.

I probably wouldn’t have moved if I’d known all the struggles, all the tears, all the lonely nights, all the…the list could go on forever. I’m about to approach two years of living in Charlotte, and I’ll be honest. It has not been easy.

But it’s been so worth it.

And as I pray about what’s next, as I wait in another holding pattern of sorts like I did during my senior year of college, I’m going to look back to that cold morning on the DH porch. I’m going to remember how God used that conversation to draw me closer to Him and to learn how to really trust in Him.

At the time, I felt like that promise, that conversation with the Lord was about me moving on from camp. And in some ways, it so was. But as I look back on that time, as I look back on a weekend that will always be pivotal in my faith journey, I see God using that conversation as something else–as an Ebenezer of my faith. He used it then to get me to a place where I would be okay with leaving my safe place (man, do I miss it though). Now, He’s using it as a Ebenezer, as a reminder that He has me in the palm of His hand, He will never leave me or forsake me, and He’ll never let go.

What are some of the Ebenezers of your faith journey?

 

On Community

We sat around a camp that wasn’t the same one that meant the most to us. We sat in a circle, empty pizza boxes and half-eaten trays of brownies surrounding us. We watched the camp kids play in a new place–all they really ever need is a place to run around and maybe some chalk to write with¬†or some balls to kick. We’d caught up for the most part when things started to shift.

We were about to have a serious conversation.

Sometimes, I’m sure, those two words put together–serious conversation–have a negative connotation. Not so with my camp friends. These are the people where the filters came off and the walls come down, where the passionate and compassionate intermingle and so much grace is given. These are the conversations that made camp special.

These are the people that made camp special.

I hadn’t seen some of them in over a year, and a couple of them I’d only met once, maybe twice. One of them is one of my best friends, two others are dear to my heart–scratch that, they are¬†all¬†dear to my heart. They really are, even those I barely know. That’s the special and unique thing about camp people–you all share a bond because you all care about the same place. And not just the place–because camp was never about the place but about the God who did the work there in the lives of campers and staff–but about the camp family.

We all have those friends or family members who we don’t talk to on a daily or weekly or sometimes even monthly basis yet we can pick right up where we left off when we do see them. I run into one of my former teachers¬†every now and then when I’m in Augusta (and by every now and then, I mean about once a year), and it’s nice to chat with him and feel no pressure to keep in touch until next year. That’s the way it is with my camp community.

But the extra sweet part about my camp community is that even though I only did life day in and day out with them for two summers (let’s be real though, you live about THREE real life days in one camp day, so about a year, right ūüôā ), we jump right into the hard stuff. Sure, we catch up, but there’s no hiding, no skirting around the hard issues. This past time it was about community and the lack thereof in so many of my friends’ lives of real community.

It made me so grateful for my Oakhurst family, my community here in Charlotte. I could not have asked for a better community. They are thoughtful, kind, caring, and everything the Gospel calls us to be. They push me towards Christ, show me different parts of His character, and remind me constantly that He is love.

It’s just who God is. For two years, I saw that so vividly through my friends and family at camp. And right now, I miss that so much. I miss living my day to day life with them. I miss having spiritual conversations over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I miss living life¬†in¬†community.

However, I’m so grateful for where I am. For the people who love me despite of me. And while I’ll probably never have the privilege of living my life in the middle of the woods in Asheville, North Carolina again, I am so grateful for that community, too.

 

 

we’ll live while we’re young

lyrics from Johnnyswim’s song, Live While We’re Young

Can I just say HOW in the WORLD is January practically over? I mean, honestly, these last few weeks have simultaneously flown by and dragged on. But, I still really feel like just yesterday we were celebrating NYE in NYC.

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would really give a lot to be back on vacay

Anyway, this has been a pretty busy January, and it’s been a FULL one. I’ve enjoyed time spent with best friends and time spent with new friends, early mornings at work and delays due to ice/snow, 72-degree days and 16-degree days, meals at Charlotte favorites and meals at new Charlotte favorites, and so much more.

The Friday after my birthday, a group of some of the best women I know came out to my favorite Charlotte restaurant, Paco’s Tacos, to celebrate my birthday. It was the night it was forecasted to snow, so not as many people could come as originally planned. But, it was still so much fun! I’m so thankful for these sweet women, how they invest in me, and how they push me closer and closer to Christ.

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seriously love these ladies (plus others not pictured) so much

It snowed the next day, and while there wasn’t that much where I live in Charlotte, it was pretty. I did enjoy just curling up for most of the day, lying in my bed reading. The next day was by far the coldest day we’ve had here this year, but it was also one of the prettiest. I happened to be on the third floor at church that afternoon, and it was too pretty to not take a picture!

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Beautiful OBC!

The next weekend was MLK weekend, and my friends from college and I had a weekend planned to the LITERAL middle of nowhere, North Carolina. It was absolutely wonderful, but we were in the woods, no doubt. I don’t think any of us had planned that we would be so far from civilization (okay, real life, we had people not that far from us), but it was honestly just what this tired kindergarten teacher needed.

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Two of our other friends ended up not being able to come, but it really was a good weekend with the four of us (plus Scout). 

We spent the time sleeping in, making big breakfasts and excellent dinners, riding around the mountains, watching movies, playing games, and just catching up. It was really a sweet time of laughing with my bestie at the antics of the guys. Just knowing I could roll out of bed in my pajamas and not be judged is so nice. I mean that literally and figuratively. These are the friends of no judgment, and that is really such a sweet gift in friendship. Oh, and we watched Scout a lot of the time. I mean, how cute is she?

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Here she is thinking, “Aunt Ashton is my favorite.”

On my way there, I stopped in my beloved Black Mountain and got a treat from my favorite, The Dripolator (a place you should go to if you’re ever in Black Mountain). I got a little teary-eyed when I passed the camp exit (you can see some of camp from I-40 in the winter). I’m so thankful for where I am now, but I do really miss the sweet community that was formed in those summers.

BUT, NO FEAR, dear blog readers (a.k.a Mom, Dad, and Kaila), I got to see my sweet camp-turned-real-life friend, Kasey, on my way home. We met in Spartanburg (which I used to think had nothing until I traveled to Graham County, North Carolina) at The Farmer’s Table (another recommendation if you ever find yourself in Spartanburg). We talked about life and plans and dreams and goals. We laughed like we always do, and I’m so thankful for camp and friendships born from there.

I’ve been getting back in the groove, slowly but surely, and I’m really, really, really thankful for a few months that seem slow/unplanned. Last year will definitely go down as one of the best albeit busy, but there’s got to be something said of restful years, which is what this one, Lord willing, will be. While enjoying a slower pace of life these days, I’ve been able to check out some music I’ve wanted to and watch a few movies that have been on my list for a while. I’m not reading as much, but I have at least one recommendation so far. Hope you’re enjoying your spring-like January (for the record, we don’t have the heat on as I write this #cheap #broke #hotwinter).

January Media Recommendations:

  • 13 Hours: WOW. Incredible. Despite your political views and how they affect this story, this movie is incredible. Definitely one of my favorite “based on a real story” movies.
  • Johnnyswim – Diamonds: WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN ALL MY LIFE? Seriously. So good. I’m a little mad at myself for not listening to them earlier.
  • Finding Dory: We watched this when we were in Robbinsville, because, well, there wasn’t much else to do. And we wanted to see it. It was really good! Better than I expected, honestly.
  • “Find You Here” by Ellie Holcomb: Man, her songs always wreck me. Her new album, “Red Sea Road”, comes out next week, but until then, listen to this single. I have listened to it approximately 100 times in the 2.5 days I’ve owned it (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but still, it’s SO good).
  • How I Built This : NPR: I heard about this podcast from another podcast, and I listened to a couple of the episodes on my way back from Robbinsville. It’s a podcast about entrepreneurs, innovators, etc. The one with the Airbnb founder is really interesting, and I have added this to my go-to list for road trips.
  • New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp: My friend Kelly gave me this for my birthday, and WOW. I’ve had it six days, and I like it so much. It’s convicting, points you back to Christ, and is perfect for those mornings where I don’t have a lot of time. I feel like I’ve been wanting something like this for a while, and I’m thankful for it!