Year Two. 

I have officially been in Charlotte for two years. 

Wow.

Some days it feels like I just left home and other days it feels like I have been here for years and years. I am so thankful for the 23 years I spent not in Charlotte, but I am also so incredibly grateful for the 2 (and however many more the Lord sees fit to give me here) years in Charlotte. 

What has happened in year 2, you ask? Well…

  • I checked off a few things on my CLT bucket list like: going to the Billy Graham Library (7.16), going to the Mint Museum (3.17), and going to a Knights game (5.17). 
  • I started (8.16) and completed (6.17) my second year of teaching Kindergarten. 
  • My women’s small group met in my house for most of my second year in Charlotte. We decided to end it (for good reasons) in April. I’m grateful for the relationships that were formed from that time. 
  • I taught Sunday School (10.16-5.17) to the 1st-3rd graders at church with my sweet friend, Michelle. 
  • I had visitors–Elizabeth (7.16), Kasey (8.16), Emma Kate (10.16), and Kaila and Scout (2.17), as well as my parents a few times. 
  • I took a Skill Pop class on hand lettering (4.17).
  • I suffered through the death of my grandmother with sweet friends who prayed me through three hard weeks. 
  • I started volunteering at the hospital (5.17). 
  • I said yes an incredible amount of times but also started to say no more often, which is a good thing, honestly. 
  • I finally visited downtown Davidson (8.16 & 10.16)!
  • I fell in love with Park Road Shopping Center– Blackhawk Hardware, anyone?!
  • I read more books than I could count. 
  • I started to branch out in ways I’d never planned on or dreamed of doing. 
  • I went to Boone (11.16) with a bunch of girls from church. 
  • I hosted an Olympics party (8.16) which made me (for the first time) really feel like I had true community in CLT. 
  • My roommate, Rachel, moved in (8.16), and we had people over for game nights, a Christmas party, meals, and more. 
  • My friend Jordan and I threw a bridal shower for Rachel and Jordan’s roommate, Lauren (6.17). 
  • I planned lots of birthday dinners, attended more than I planned, and was blessed to have a sweet one thrown for me. 
  • I dined at plenty of new restaurants–all probably introduced to me by my sweet friend Aubrey. 
  • I spent lots of time at my friends David’s and Kelly’s house–where I now have a signature dessert I MUST bring each time I come (according to their kids). 
  • I decided that Trader Joe’s has the best flowers, Harris Teeter is still my least favorite grocery store, and made it blatantly obvious that I love Publix maybe a smidge too much. 
  • I ate many dinners prepared for me by someone else because there are so many sweet families at OBC who include me in their lives. 
  • I walked through some weird health things with a sweet community group who has faithfully prayed for me and supported me over the last tear. 
  • I sat (and thankfully still sit) under some incredible Biblical teaching at OBC. 
  • I watched Friday Night Lights and The Office for the first time. #TexasForever #MichaelScott
  • I answered the question, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?” with a resounding and confident, “Charlotte!” 

Old Insecurities

Whenever I come home, whether for a holiday or for a wedding or for whatever reason, old insecurities creep back in. I’m home right now, and I’ll be honest–those same struggles that I feel like I have somewhat of a hold on when I’m in Charlotte have managed to find their place back in my heart. These only seem to come about when I’m alone, when I’m not with my parents or friends. And, well, today, because of a few plans changing, I’m pretty much alone all day.

And Satan is trying to take advantage of that.

I decided to run an errand this morning, and when I pulled into the parking lot of Publix (I know, I know), I felt that old feeling in my gut that I used to feel when I lived here. Who would I run into? Because, I’ll more than likely run into someone I know. What will the conversation be like?

No, I don’t live here anymore. 

No, I’m not seeing anyone. 

Yes, I love Charlotte. No, I don’t plan on moving back home anytime soon. 

I know, I know. Augusta’s great. But, I had to move. 

I love Augusta. It’s where I grew up, where I went to college, and where some of my dear loved ones still live. I enjoy catching up with friends, eating at some of my favorite restaurants, and not at all feeling overwhelmed when I drive downtown (sorry, uptown Charlotte, you just really overwhelm me). Someone I was speaking with this week sort of dissed Augusta, and even though I chose to move from here, it rubbed me the wrong way.

This place is home. But so is Charlotte.

I wander around the grocery store, waiting for someone to pop out from an aisle. Someone who will remind me of a failed relationship or of a hard time in my life. Someone who will bring up old memories, old pain, old insecurities.

I’m not saying that there won’t be and that there haven’t been hard times during my life in Charlotte. Moving to Charlotte didn’t solve all of my problems or insecurities. I still struggle with some of the same things I struggled with in Augusta. I’d like to say though that how I respond to those insecurities has changed.

Disclaimer: not always. I’m still learning, still being sanctified. But I’d like to think that most of the time it has changed.

Instead of wondering who will walk around those corners (for the record, the only person I saw at Publix was my parents’ sweet neighbor who works there) or if I’m good enough or worth it, I started to name the people God has provided for me in Charlotte and the things He’s taught me while living there.

I just finished Messy Beautiful Friendship (if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I’m slightly obsessed with this book) by Christine Hoover. One of the things she talks about is how, at times, women can get super emotional and forget the friends they do have (she explains this much more eloquently than me). I know that I’m prone to do this, and I like what Hoover says she does: she names. Out loud or on paper, she names the friends she has.

So today, after I left Publix, I came home and named. In my journal, I wrote a list of the people God has provided for me in Charlotte (and I’ve been thinking of more and more all day who I didn’t add to the list–I’d forgotten some of them!) I wrote down the lessons the Lord has taught me and what He’s teaching me. I thanked the Lord for what He’s doing, who He’s provided, and reminded myself yet again that He is faithful.

I’m so faithless and so forgetful. It’s easy for me to let fear of man and the insecurities I’ve had for years creep back in. We are all “prone to wander” and “prone to leave the God [we] love”. I’m choosing thankfulness and naming to remind me of God’s faithfulness and provision.

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

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’ve 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 🙂 ), 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.

 

 

The End in the Beginning

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see how they would be at the end of the year when we get them at the beginning?” my principal asked me on the last day of school last year. “We could see how they would turn out, how our efforts would be worth it. Don’t you think?”

I nodded. Agreed in the moment during the quick conversation that she was having with me as we stood by the buses and waved at students as they drove off for the last time–until August. Sure, it’d be nice to know how they’d turn it. Wouldn’t it?

I’ve often thought that. Not just about my students, either. Wouldn’t it be nice to know the ending of this or that when it starts? Through the midst of trials, through the balancing of learning how to be yet still desiring how to “ask, seek, and knock”. I’ve wanted to know the end in the beginning.

I’m a sucker for happy and redemptive endings. My friend Kasey is one of those people who can read or watch or look at something that would seem somewhat dark and find the beauty in it even if–most especially if, actually–there isn’t a redemptive or sweet ending.

That’s not me.

It is rare, and I mean incredibly rare, for me to watch something or read a book that won’t have a good ending. I like to know the end in the beginning. I like to know that the two main characters will fall in love and live happily ever after. I like to know that the underdog will rise up, win the championship. I like happy endings.

I guess the beauty in all this is that we, as believers, already know the best ending of all time. We know that Christ has won, that He has defeated death. That is a beautiful ending. It is a privilege to know that in the beginning. To know exactly that He’s beaten Satan, and that when He comes back or calls us home, our ending with Him will be the most precious of endings–and the most glorious of beginnings.

But, what about this life we live while we ache for eternity? What about the endings to the chapters we’re living right now? I know that I’m teaching for another year, but I can’t see much past that. I can’t see past twenty-four. What will twenty-five look like for me? Will Charlotte be where I live out the rest of my days?

I don’t know what the chapter that hasn’t closed yet is for you. For me, it’s being single. It’s wondering if this is how I’ll live the rest of my days. Other times, it’s wondering if I’ll ever write that book I claim I’m going to write. If I’ll teach for thirty-five years or just three. It’s hard to know what’s next. It’s hard to imagine what the end will be. It’s hard to know if all the hard work we put into our lives on a daily basis will ever pay off.

There are two lines from two different songs that keep playing over and over in my head. The first is from an old Caedmon’s Call song called “Table for Two”. The line is: “And You know the plans that You have for me/And You can’t plan the end and not plan the means.” The other is from “Sovereign Over Us” by Aaron Keyes: “You are working in our waiting, sanctifying us.”

I can’t get those promises out of my head, and I don’t think I should. I don’t know the end–or the means–but He’s planned them, and He’s working in our waiting, sanctifying us while we can’t see any of what’s going on. Isn’t that such a great thing to know? To be able to rest in Him, in His work while He plans the end, the means to get there? I’m not saying I don’t still want to know how it’s going to end, but I am saying that I’m thankful that He sees it all, and that He knows the end.

Because if it were all left up to me, I know the end wouldn’t be near as good as whatever it is He has planned for me.

 

When God Answers Prayers…

I don’t wring my hands. It sounds like something my grandmother would do, and not that I don’t want to emulate my grandmother, but I just don’t wring my hands when I’m nervous. I guess if I had to say what I do when I’m nervous it would be that I play with my hair, but if you’ve known me for even half a second, you know that I play with my hair all the time. But, I don’t wring my hands.

Except for that night.

I’d visited a number of churches before I visited Oakhurst. I wasn’t even convinced that I wanted to go to Oakhurst, but I’d read time and time again about trying a church out for a month before making a decision. So, that’s what I was doing. I was desperate to make friends and to find a church home, so I was willing to stick it out for thirty days.

No matter how awkward I felt.

I’m not sure there was anything that could fully prepare me for adulthood, for moving to a new city on my own, and for church “shopping”. It was awkward. It was hard. It’s not easy giving the same spiel Sunday after Sunday to people you may never see again. I’ve joked that I wish I could have a mini biography tattooed to my forehead so that I wouldn’t have to keep saying it. But, really.

Anyway, after attending Oakhurst for two Sundays, I went to the women’s Bible study on a Wednesday night in November. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that if I wanted to be connected, this was something I needed to do. I don’t remember most of what we talked about that night (sorry, Carrie!), but what I remember most was the peace I felt that this was the place where God wanted me to be.

See, when I decided to move to Charlotte, I began to pray for a handful of things. In the car. In the shower. When I did my quiet time. One of them was that I would be plugged into a church that was multigenerational. It was one of the things I enjoyed the most about my church growing up, and I believe there is an incredible amount of wisdom gained from generations older and generations younger than me. I do think that there are churches that are solid, even if they are mainly an older congregation or a hip, younger crowd. However, something that was important to me was having a church with multiple generations.

Enter Oakhurst.

At our Bible studies, one woman teaches then we break up into small groups and discuss the message. That first night, I was in a group with four other women–one, a young grandmother, another, a mom of twins who are young teenagers, a third, a young mom with three (now four) kiddos all under five, and the fourth, a woman who is a few years older than me and is married without kids. Four other women. Four different generations.

I wrung my hands, and I cried that night. In our small group. Tears that required our group leader to dig into her purse and get this girl she’d just met a tissue. I’ve never been that open that quickly, but I’ve never physically felt the presence of the Holy Spirit that strongly before either. This was the place I was supposed to be. These were going to be my people.

Five months later, and I’ve come up on the anniversary of interviewing for my job then being offered my job. This past week, I was struck with a couple of thoughts: 1) how different my life is here than I thought it would be, and 2) how good God has been during this journey. He’s answered prayers. He’s been with me even while it’s been hard and lonely.

It’s not so hard or lonely anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have nights where I eat takeout by myself while watching episodes of Fixer Upper on my DVR. I’m not surrounded by people all the time, but, I can honestly say, I’m really starting to enjoy my life here. God’s given me people to do life with and to learn from. Just last week, I only had one night where I wasn’t doing something with someone from church.

It’s easy to get frustrated and to act on emotions. I cried so many times during the fall semester, thinking about how I’d never make friends and how moving to Charlotte was the worst decision I’ve ever made (I’d really like to know where my dramatic side comes from, because it’s definitely not from my mom or dad). But, one of the things God is so, so, so good at is how things work out in His time. One of my favorite songs from All Sons & Daughters is called “For Your Glory and My Good”. This process, this journey, this move to Charlotte has been all about that–His glory and my good.

What a faithful Father we serve. What a magnificent God who answers prayers.

In ways like I never thought He would but in ways that are so much greater than I could’ve ever imagined.

 

Enough.

Have you ever cried in church?

I’m not talking about tearing up at a wedding or letting a few run down your cheeks at a funeral. I’ve done that plenty of times. Almost every wedding and every funeral I’ve attended, there have been the tears.

I’m talking about the waterworks. The kind that require digging tissues out of the bottom of your purse that you’re convinced has a black hole because right when you need the tissues, you can find everything but them. The kind that do that whole snot coming out of your nose, incredibly unattractive thing. The kind where you can’t even talk because of the tears building up in your throat.

Have you ever done that? At church?

I have. Twice. Since December. It’s getting old.

I prayed hard and long about the church I would join when I moved to Charlotte. I prayed for specific things, but one of the things I prayed for was that it would be multigenerational. OBC is definitely that. On any given week, there has to be a span of at least eighty years from the youngest attender to the oldest. I find this so encouraging and am thankful the Lord answered that prayer.

Most days.

One of the things that I think I tell my friends about my church that I love the most is that the older women (and men, but not the point I’m trying to make) are incredibly intentional. I have been “pursued” by multiple women, prayed for, encouraged, and more. I’m so thankful for the relationships that have been born out of such a short time.

These women are all in different stages, but one thing they all have in common is that they are moms. They are moms to three, four, five kids, wives to godly men, and women I’m blessed to call friends. Other than the fact that we are Christians and go to the same church, we don’t have much in common. They’re moms, and I’m, well, even though I feel like a mom eight hours a day, I’m not.

I’m a single teacher whose likelihood of becoming a mom anytime soon is about as probable as it snowing in Miami.

Not just becoming a mom. Becoming a wife, too.

You know what–it hurts to watch families at church. Physically and emotionally hurts. They have what I want, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I don’t have it. I know their lives aren’t perfect. I’ve been in their homes and around them enough to know it’s not always greener on the other side.

But, that doesn’t stop the hurt. It doesn’t stop the questions. It doesn’t stop the late nights of crying out to God about why my life is the way it is while others’ lives are so incredibly different. It doesn’t stop the snotty-nose, gut-wrenching cry sessions I’ve had during the middle of worship at church.

I’ve had enough.

Enough tears to last me a lifetime. Enough of wondering what’s wrong with me. Enough of asking God why this is happening to me, what I did or didn’t do to get this life. Enough of questioning the choices I’ve made. Enough of not taking advantage of the life that God has given me.

Enough of wondering if God will truly be enough for me if I never get married and have kids.

I’ve had enough.

I’m throwing in the towel, so to speak, and I’m on a journey to do single life well. Yes, it sucks at times to be alone on a night like tonight (ahem, Valentine’s Day). Yes, it’s hard to show up to weddings, showers, and parties alone. Yes, I still cry myself to sleep some nights.

But, I’m done asking why.

He IS enough for me, even if I never get married or have kids. He is all I will ever need, and He is the only one who will ever truly satisfy me. If the Lord so graciously blesses me with a husband and children, He will still be the only one whom I can completely rest in, trust in, and be content in. Because He is enough.

And He always will be.