26 in Year 26.

With my birthday being the first of the year, it is often a good time to reflect on the past year and make goals for the new year. This year, I have 26 “goals” (I’m not sure if all of these actually count as goals) that I want to accomplish. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Go to Europe with EK in the spring.
  2. Spend no money this year on clothes. (My exception will be in Europe/Europe related things.)
  3. Save money as often as possible.
  4. Invite someone over for a meal/coffee/to hang out with at least once a month.
  5. Establish/stick with a better and more consistent gym routine.
  6. Try one new recipe a month.
  7. Be as intentional with my Charlotte friends as I am with my out of town friends.
  8. Visit my out of town friends.
  9. Write more. (I keep this super vague every year, but I still like to have it written down for my sake.)
  10. Try to spend one month where I don’t eat out at all.
  11. Write letters/cards to 6 friends a month.
  12. Memorize a book of the Bible.
  13. Run in some type of race.
  14. Become a better teacher.
  15. Complete one craft/DIY project once every two months. (This side of me has been pushed to the back burner since college graduation, and I want to change that!)
  16. Spend one month social media free (no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter).
  17. Take some sort of non-work related class.
  18. Write in my grateful journal daily.
  19. Get rid of my cable plan.
  20. Cook more.
  21. Come up with a schedule for cleaning and stick with it!! 
  22. Become more biblically literate.
  23. Complete six acts of random kindness.
  24. Make my bed every day.
  25. Even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like it, stay faithful.
  26. Read twenty-six books:
    1. Making All Things New
    2. Rejoicing in Christ
    3. The Leader in Me
    4. The Envy of Eve
    5. The Bruised Reed
    6. L’Abri
    7. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
    8. The Hardest Peace
    9. Future Grace
    10. Fierce Convictions
    11. Keep a Quiet Heart
    12. Humble Roots
    13. How Does Sanctification Work?
    14. Tables in the Wilderness
    15. Hope Heals
    16. South of Broad
    17. It Happened on the Way to War
    18. Mrs. Kennedy and Me
    19. The Last Season
    20. Lean on Me
    21. Greater Than Gold
    22. Little Women
    23. True Feelings
    24. Christy
    25. Gilead
    26. 7 Men
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33!

My parents have been married for thirty-three years today. Everyone who knows them knows that they really and truly love each other, really and truly enjoy each other. I used to roll my eyes when people would tell me that my parents are “so cute”, but now I’ve come to appreciate it because I know it’s not so common. I’m grateful for the example they’ve set for me and all I’ve learned from them about marriage. Here are thirty-three things they’ve taught me about marriage, being an adult, and just life in general:

  1. Put the Lord first.
  2. Put each other second.
  3. Put your kid(s) third.
  4. Laugh a lot.
  5. Enjoy each other’s interests/hobbies. My mom goes to spin class with my dad not because she likes spin class but because she loves my dad.
  6. You won’t be broke forever. And if you are, you have Jesus and each other and that’s all you really need.
  7. There’s not a lot you can’t fix without each other and a good YouTube tutorial.
  8. This too shall pass.
  9. Show up. Be faithful, loyal, and committed.
  10. Saying no isn’t the worst thing in the world if it’s the best thing for you right now.
  11. Do what’s right for you, what God is calling you to do. It will probably look different than other families you know. But that’s okay.
  12. Sacrifice for each other.
  13. Sacrifice for your family. My dad does this often and is quick to do so. But my mom worked for years and years not because she necessarily had to, but because putting me through Christian school was what they knew was best for me. So she sacrificed her time to do what was best for me. I’ll always be grateful for that.
  14. Eating Mexican food once a week really is good for the soul. Two or three times a week doesn’t hurt either.
  15. Find the best deal you can.
  16. It doesn’t have to be brand new or namebrand to get the job done.
  17. Work hard.
  18. Be kind to everyone you meet, no matter how they treat you.
  19. Speak your mind, in love. Honesty really is the best policy.
  20. The beach really can be a lovely place, especially if you lather up in sunscreen and sit under the umbrella.
  21. Let each other have a quirky habit or two, that you don’t make fun of. My mom’s? Monitoring all of the levels of liquids of soaps, detergent, etc. in the house. My dad’s? His inability to walk by a room where a person is no longer present and not turn off the light.
  22. You probably can find whatever you’re looking for on Craigslist.
  23. You can also probably talk down the price of said item you found on Craigslist.
  24. Be committed to the local church.
  25. Go out of your way to serve others.
  26. Take care of the widows in your life, even if/when they don’t remember who you are.
  27. Don’t buy anything full price. There’s almost always a coupon for what you need.
  28. Stand up for your beliefs/convictions, even when it’s inconvenient.
  29. Guacamole is actually a pretty good addition to a chip or taco.
  30. Costco also has great deals and can be a fun place to wander around, especially if you live in Augusta. 😉
  31. The best way to go to the movies is to go to the $2.50 theater and to bring your own snacks.
  32. If possible, live at peace with each other.
  33. Love generously.

The Grass is Always Greener

During the summer, I made a trip home to see some friends before heading to the beach with friends from Charlotte for the weekend. On my way home, I stopped to see a friend and her children. I’m not going to be too specific as to give away the identity of a friend who doesn’t know a blog post is being written about her, but let’s just go ahead and state for the record that there was a newborn involved, which was the main reason for my stopping on the way home.

I hadn’t seen this particular friend in quite a while, so there was a lot of catching up to do. We talked about her life as a wife and a mom, her husband’s job, the house they’d bought in the suburbs, and how she was going to continue resisting buying a minivan for as long as possible. Then she asked me about my life, and for the first time in a while, I didn’t want to answer.

What did I have that would measure up to what she was doing? She was (and still is) investing in the future generation right there in her home. She prepares meals for her husband and washes clothes for her kids. She makes sure they are learning to share, to be kind, and all that they can about Jesus. She is what I’m sure plenty of us have in our mind when we imagine the “Proverbs 31 Woman”.

This is a friend who has been a friend for years and years, and to be honest, it was hard thinking that I couldn’t share with her what was going on in my life. And it wasn’t her–it was all me. I know that she never would’ve looked down on me for my singleness. Just the opposite, in fact, happened when I did start to share about my life.

I told her about trips I’d taken–my road trip up the East Coast last summer with Kaila, a trip to DC in 2016 with church friends, and at the time, my most recent big trip was our trip to New York over New Year’s. I went to NYC with people she also knows, so I caught her up on our friends’ lives. I mentioned how one friend of ours had moved to New England, and when I said we visited his place before going down to NYC, she kind of got this whimsical look on her face and smiled before saying, “Man, I wish I could do all of that.”

My brain sort of stopped for a minute. What in the world? SHE wants to go and do all of these things I’ve gone and done? When she has this super sweet life right in front of her? She wants to do these same things I’ve done?

I was floored, honestly. Did she not know what a sweet blessing she had right in front of her? Did she not know how many people want exactly what she has?

She does. And she did. And not because I went off on her about it, because that’s not the kind of thing that would’ve been helpful in the moment, especially considering her lack of sleep at the time.

We’re in two totally different places in our lives–hers involve wiping snotty noses, changing diapers, and losing lots of sleep. While mine also involves all of those things (thankfully the diapers are only in the church nursery or when babysitting), none of them are done for my children. My life involves many more road trips and spur of the moment decisions than hers does, but it doesn’t mean that her much more scheduled life is any better than mine.

It’s just different.

And while I still desire to be married and have kids, I’m learning to embrace the different. To be content in the different. And to not think that the grass really is greener on the other side.

Because apparently it’s not.

 

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

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?