Life Lessons from a Cactus 🌵

This past week I have been studying rocks and soil with one of my online students from China. We learned about topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock. And spent some time talking about why topsoil is so important for plants to grow. Did you know that the uppermost layer of the topsoil is called ‘humus’ and it contains lots of nutrients for growing plants? Or that the topsoil itself retains more water than the other layers making it the ideal landing spot for the roots of small plants just beginning to grow?

At the end of one of our lessons on soil we had some extra time and I began asking my student what strange or extreme plants she had heard of. She talked about tumbleweeds and water lilies. Then, I began to show her the small cacti I keep in my apartment and to challenge her to think about how a cactus might be able to grow in a desert area without much or any humus- that rich dark soil that most plants need to thrive. Without hesitation she was able to give an answer. And after showing her some more plants and a small cactus painting I had done we moved on with the conversation. It was fun to make a personal connection with the lesson and to have real live cacti to show her!

So the next weekend as I traveled out of the city my mind was still meditating on the ideas of how plants grow in less than perfect situations. And then I stumbled on something I hadn’t noticed before: these cacti sprouting from an old, dead cactus that had given them new life as it decomposed on the desert ground. The whole area was full of these large, dead cacti. Each one sprouting new life after the first spring rain that had come in weeks. The water had activated these little sprouts and some of them were already growing quite big! And that’s how I learned that not only can cacti survive in areas with no humus because they need little water. But they also survive by recycling the nutrients they do have- the old pouring into the new what it so patiently took from the imperfect earth it was planted in. Those years of growth and pulling out water and nutrients from dry, rocky ground weren’t wasted. They were used as a starting point for the future cacti generations.

Several cacti sprouting from a much larger one

And so I present you with some life lessons I learned from a cactus. (And from my very clever student who inspires me to think more deeply and teach more passionately about otherwise boring topics like soil.):

Life Lesson #1: We won’t always be planted in humus.

There are a lot of people out there who try to sell you the idea that if you work harder and have a good attitude then good things will always come your way. More specifically in the Christian world we can buy into the lie that if we serve God and act good enough then we will have an easy life full of blessings. And often when we say blessings what we mean is a life where we have all of our needs met based on what we think we need. But the truth is that this life is hard. It will bring with it moments and seasons when we feel anything but abundantly blessed. When things we thought we needed God shows us we do not. A good friend often told me that if I didn’t have it, it’s because in that moment I didn’t need it. Not just with material things, but with anything I think I can’t live without apart from God. Things like a good church, a thriving ministry, a tight-knit circle of friends: all of these are good things that I should seek to cultivate and find in life. They’re the humus that helps me grow spiritually in an ideal situation. But I won’t always have them. When I moved to another country it took years for my church home here to really feel like family. Friendships wax and wane as we move through seasons and sometimes we are in between tight-knit friendships for quite a while. Put simply, we all go through moments that are more like desert sand than a comfy layer of humus. But the nutrients we gathered in the good times, along with God’s grace, will see us through times when we find ourselves in less rich soil.

Life Lesson #2: Persistence and Perseverance through drought will never be wasted.

When we choose to press on and remain faithful through those dry times it makes us stronger. And while we may not see the fruit of our labor in this life, new life is coming.

These were some of the smallest ones that we found growing.

Life Lesson #3: The quality to which we live our lives will inevitably affect future generations.

If I spend my drought and desert days persevering I will be a blessing to those that come after me. If I waste it, refusing to take from it what good I can, future generations will find that they have to start with nothing when I could have provided them the chance to start building over a legacy that began long before them.

Life Lesson #4: Don’t wait for perfection to do something.

For those new little cacti the humus was never there. They could have waited for better soil but it may have never come. Instead of waiting for their perfect situation to happen they chose to began a new thing with what they had. And that new thing was well worth the risk it takes to start something in an imperfect situation. Likewise you and I shouldn’t wait until we are perfectly prepared to act. We must act now with the preparation we have and trust that the best is yet to come.

Life Lesson #5: Wait with hopeful expectation for the rain. It will come.

The best is yet to come. No drought last forever. I have no idea how long those old cacti lay on the ground without soil or rain to nurture them. I know it was for long enough that they hardly looked like cacti by the time I got to see them. But there they were just waiting for the rain to come. And when it did, they were ready. I’m willing to bet that they always knew this would happen. That’s why they had held on tight to the water and nutrients they had absorbed over the years. Because they knew the rain would come sooner or later. All they had to do is watch and wait with patience.

I took this little guy home.

I think I would make a poor cactus. I’m not very good at waiting. And I’m even worse at hoping while I wait. But I hope that I can learn to live out these 5 lessons as life goes on…un día a la vez. One day at a time. And I hope you will join me on the journey. For us, for you, for future generations who will have something to build onto when our journey on this earth is done. Just like a baby cactus. 🌵

I brought home a total of 3 cacti from the spot I write about. The succulent was bought at the local market (more pictures below).
The cactus in the yellow por was growing out of this one! As you can see, it’s in pretty bad shape on the outside but was still green and full of water on the inside.

Which life lesson was most relatable to your current season? Do you think of yourself more as a baby cactus or as an older one who has already weathered some seasons of drought?

Until next time,

Ashley 💕

Input Before Output: And How to Manage in a World Driven by Content Creation

Influencers, new content, ring lights, followers, reels, live streams. If you have no clue what I’m talking about you probably don’t spend a lot of time on social media networks. If you do, then you know that we live in a world that has created so many unique opportunities. Average people are rising to fame in a matter of mere hours after posting a silly video, funny meme, or controversial take on a hot topic.

As a writer I spend time looking into what I need to do to get my work ‘out there’. And one of the things many agents and publishers are looking for now are writers who already have a platform. They want to know that if they choose to publish your book you have hundreds or even thousands of people already watching you and waiting in line to buy it.

In all of the professional and amateur advice articles I have read and reels I have watched one theme remains central: content creation. It’s simple: if you aren’t creating content there is nothing to be discovered, liked, and followed by the masses. A lack of content means missed opportunities to grow your platform and become an ‘influential’ person in your sphere of ‘expertise’. It can be easy to fall into the world of simply putting things out there time after time in the hopes something will eventually strike a lucky chord. But is it really okay to just put stuff out there?

The two extremes would be to say: yes! or no! But, being the creative that I am, I’m going to say: maybe. But you don’t have to take my word for it. 😉 (Reading Rainbow, anyone?)

How creating content is good: It is true what they say. If I never type out the words in my head then they will never be read by people like you. Taking it a step further, if I believe I have something to say worth hearing then I want to make it as appealing as possible. I want people to want to hear the messages I am proclaiming. Having a good setup, taking thoughts and forming them into consumable content, these aren’t bad things. Platforms allow us to think together, to empathize with one another, to learn from those who we may otherwise never even know exist. I have learned a lot from authors and even fellow WordPress bloggers that I have discovered through having my own blog. There is definitely merit in putting something out there and watching it grow.

How Creating Content is bad: Let’s say I feel really passionate about a subject. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, reading up on outside sources, and forming an opinion based off of experiences. And now I want to share that with others. Great! But what about the times when there isn’t much going on in my mind? Or when I feel so passionately about something that I throw research and critical thinking out the window and say exactly what I feel like saying? Not so good. Discipline is important. Consistency is important. But the type of content we create also matters.

So what’s the deal? Are we supposed to create all the content or not? I think the key to open the proverbial door here is simple: input. What are you putting in? Is it equal to or surpassing what you attempt to put out? Is it relevant to the things you choose to revolve your content creation around? If you choose to write about cooking but have eaten out for the majority of your meals in the past month you may find it hard to think of cooking content to work with. You could look up a new recipe online to write about. But if you haven’t actually made it and eaten it then what is your content really worth?

I think the application is obvious here and there’s a common metaphor we use for the concept: you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you are not filling yourself with relevant, quality input then your output will be poor quality, fake, or altogether nonexistent. So how can you manage the pressure to be the ultimate content creator with the need have your own cup filled? Here are a few things I have found work for me in keeping the input/output balance:

  1. Take full advantage of those full cup days. There are days when inspiration strikes. In my case it’s writing. I feel like I could sit and write for hours. I think of a million topics to touch on and what I want to communicate about them flows effortlessly from my mind down to my fingertips. I used to sit and write during these moments of inspiration but would lose all memory of my inspired ideas as soon as I had to leave my writing to attend to a more pressing matter. Now I know that even if I can’t write all 10 blog posts in one day I can at least add those ideas to a list of drafts for the future. Because there will inevitably be days when I want to write but don’t have much to write about. I also learned to put more than just a title because I went back to my drafts list too many times and thought ‘What on earth did I have to say about this?’ as I stared at a list of titles I thought were catchy at the time but were actually just confusing.
  2. Set limits and stick to them. ‘Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.’ God has always known that we need a day of rest. Yet most of us challenge him, sure that we are the exception and know how to handle working 7 days a week. The challenge with content creation is that it can be done any time, any day, any where. But just because it can doesn’t mean it should be done. I used to try and upload an Instagram post daily. I would waste hours trying to take the perfect picture, right the perfect caption, connect with potential readers. It was exhausting. And the worst part was that I almost always fell into the Instagram black hole on Saturday. The day I was supposed to rest. Posting on IG isn’t work so I didn’t think it would be a problem. But it quickly became clear that I needed those Saturday mornings for filling up my cup much more than I needed them to grow an audience. So I put a limit: No posting on IG on Saturdays. Period. Limits help ensure that we make the time to get input and that we don’t accidental spend that time being absorbed in trying to create.
  3. Be a picky consumer. You are what you eat. Or so they say. When I read fiction I want to write fiction. When I read my Bible I want to tell others about what God is teaching me. When I don’t read at all I rarely have much to say. Or at least much that I find is really worth hearing. Making sure you are getting input- being filled- is the first step. But make sure you are also paying attention to what it is you are being filled with. For this is just as important. I would rather create no content at all then fill the void with icky things that do not represent my mission at all. As a Christian this means that my first source of input should always be God’s Word. If I am his ambassador and my aim is to point others to Him, then what better words to be full of than his own? What better love to know than His? I don’t have to worry about getting a bad bite or rotten food when I am consuming his word.
  4. Find your input niche. Being an author I also enjoy reading novels. I enjoy following other bloggers and especially single women. There is a sense of community and of understanding. It helps keep me balanced and reminds me that I am not the only voice. There are other experiences, other levels of maturity, other ways of creating content that fill me up. I am not and never want to be the one and only content creator in my niche. So it’s important to fill myself with inspiration from others who may be similar to me. This doesn’t mean I follow every single female blogger or read every IG post by an author. I choose to consistently read content from those that I feel most align with my vision and encourage me when my glass is getting low. This is my safe place. Where I am reminded that what I write about is important to others too. That my voice is not alone in an echo chamber. That together we are helping others know and learn too. Find those people that encourage you and make you feel more full. And don’t be afraid to unfollow those who don’t.
  5. Lastly, love what you do. I can’t imagine becoming a reviewer for horror films. I don’t watch scary movies and don’t like to. I would never want to spend my time telling people which horror films to watch when honestly I could care less if they don’t watch any horror films at all! Don’t create the content that you think the masses need. Create the content that you need. Make it attractive, accessible, relevant when you can. But one of my favorite things about being a writer is being able to go back and read my own words long after I have forgotten when I wrote. On a few occasions I have even discovered something that I wrote without realizing it was mine. As I read I found myself immensely encouraged- she knows what it’s like. She gets me. And when I arrive at a point where I realized it is my own writing I can’t help but smile at how past me was able to trick future me into being encouraged by her own words. Create the content that you would consume. The content that those who are picky, have limits, have found their niche would choose. Because in the end your content should be a reflection of you and not of our content crazy culture.

Many of you reading this are a part of my ‘input niche’. My safe place where I know I my glass can be filled. Thank you for being ‘my people’. I’d love to hear from you as well! What content are you creating? And what advice would you give a content creator in this content crazy world?

Singleness and a Servant’s Heart

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:10

Not too long ago I wrote about The Gift of Singleness. If singleness is a gift from God, given to us by his grace, then are we not to use our singleness to serve others? But what does it really look like to steward singleness as a God given gift?

Our culture and perhaps many of us would say that singleness is a time of freedom. We still have work, ministry, school, and other responsibilities that vie for our time, but we don’t have to worry about taking care of children or being present for a spouse. This frees up space in every aspect of our lives in a way that is distinct from life after marriage and children. We are often encouraged to take advantage of this time by pursuing further education, traveling to new places, learning new things or picking up useful hobbies. All of which can be good things and may well serve our future family and ministry in ways we may not even see just yet. But if we aren’t intentional about serving others this focus on making the most of our freedom, rather than propelling us towards maturity can sometimes lead to a less positive result: unbridled selfishness.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Galatians 5:13

Without the proper focus and discipline, singleness, rather than a time of developing skills and talents for the purpose of serving others can be a time when we grow accustomed to simply living for ourselves. For example, our money is ours to spend how we please. We need not worry about providing for someone else or making sure they approve of our latest purchase. But will we use this freedom to tithe and give generously? Or develop the habit of indulging in things we want while neglecting to care for those in need around us? Our time is also ours. Will we choose to spend it doing the things we want or offering it to others? Even our skills and education can serve our own means and purposes: be it ambition for money, recognition, or growing a following on a social media platform. The reality is, being single and focused on yourself is accepted and even encouraged by the ever more individualistic society our world is rapidly creating. And yet, as it so often does, God’s word calls us to something far greater than serving ourselves: serving others.

Maybe it’s okay to take that trip, sign up for that course, or invest in that hobby you’ve always dreamed of trying. But will you also give sacrificially to those in need? Use your gifts to bless someone else? Put aside the chance at payment or recognition to esteem another better than yourself? By God’s grace singleness doesn’t have to be a time when we fall into the comfort of living selfishly, it can become a great time of growth and in cultivating selflessness in our heart and our actions.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 4:2

How have you been serving others recently? During these difficult times have you found ways to use the gift of your singleness to bless someone in a different stage of life? What talents or interests do you have that you enjoy using to serve others? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Singleness and the Desire for Marriage

From the time I was a child I just knew that I would get married. Dreaming of my future husband and the nearly perfect life we would have together was never an ‘if’ sort of thing. It was always a ‘when’. It wasn’t until college and hitting my twenties without ever having dated that the doubts started to pop-up. I could tell you it was gradual but the truth is something in me just clicked and I suddenly felt utter despair at the truth that I may never get married. Perhaps it was passing the age that I had scribbled onto my timeline as the one I should have met my husband by, or the stinging disappointment of being tricked by a young man I deeply admired. Truthfully, only God knows what it was that set my heart on a different course, but from that day on the if become much more of a burden than when ever was. 

I wish I could tell you that I read a good book or had a good chat with the Lord and surrendered it all to him. But that would be dishonest. The truth is, I began a downhill struggle that would go on for years before I finally learned to trust God and accept his daily grace. As a big picture visionary type woman, not being able to see the overarching plan for my life and relationship status was enough to send me reeling into self-pity. And let me tell you, it’s not a pretty place to be. And it certainly wasn’t God’s will for me. However, in his never-ending faithfulness to his beloved he walked with me through my questions, my doubts, my struggle to balance having faith in Him to give me the desires of my heart and believing that He is still good even if he doesn’t. 

I feel that often, well-meaning married believers paint a black and white picture for us single women. And sometimes they can’t decide which color they should paint in, making it all the more confusing. Perhaps it is because they too struggle to reconcile faith and contentment. For me there has only been one way to find balance between faith that brings hope and satisfaction in him: daily grace. One day at a time. Whenever I feel myself spiraling into the frustration of is it ‘if’ or ‘when’ I ask myself these questions:

  1. Has God given you everything you need for today?
  2. Are you able to serve him through your singleness today?
  3. Can you be glad and give thanks for all that he has blessed you with today?
  4. Can you make it through today by trusting in Him, with your circumstances just as they are? 

The answer is always yes. I am always able to think of at least one thing to be grateful for, one way I can serve the Lord as a single, and never have I truly gone without something I need. The reality is, maybe I can’t trust him for my entire future right in this moment. But I can trust Him for today. And truly, that is all he asks of me. And it is all he asks of you, dear sister. Can you trust Him today? And wait with hopeful expectation for his provision for tomorrow? 

Take some time to talk to Him. To ask yourself these questions. And begin to see life one day at a time. It makes all the difference. 

Singleness and Sanctification

One of the main reasons given for Christian marriage is sanctification. There’s no denying that living with and loving another human being shows you all the icky stuff about yourself and tests your ability to show grace and mercy to others. It also makes sense that secret sin is a lot less likely to be secret if you are in a marriage relationship. It’s hard to hide your faults from someone you spend every day of your life with. But we know that God desires for all of us to be sanctified even those of us who are not-yet-married. So are we forever destined to be immature, unholy Christians?

”Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” -Hosea 10:12

Notice that the time to seek the LORD and sow righteousness is NOW. Not when your circumstances or more given to producing righteousness in you according to human wisdom. Then how does a single Christian actively pursue sanctification?

  1. Pray. As believers, more often than not our first action is prayer. James 5:1 says that he who lacks wisdom let him ask. If you ask the Holy Spirit to show you areas where you need to repent and grow he will do it. And he will also give you the wisdom to know how.
  2. Have the right attitude! If you go about seeking growth thinking you can do this all on your own or if you don’t see any need for growth at all you will never be willing to take the following steps and invite God to bring about real change in your life. Humility is the starting point from which real maturity and wisdom can flourish.
  3. Don’t do it alone. Singleness, my friends, contrary to common belief does not equal loneliness. I’d dare to say I am on average a lot less lonely than many married women in the world. Why? Because having people physically near does not necessarily mean being known. If you are not actively cultivating genuine community then you may well be surrounded by many and known by few to none. There is a degree of convenience in being able to go to a spouse and ask for help. Singleness does require an extra measure of intentionality. Especially if you live alone. But deep relationships, vulnerability, and speaking the truth in love are all completely possible. And vital for our sanctification. Maybe there is no one in the house to see your sin nature manifest in disobedience or a lack of spiritual discipline. But if you confess to a trusted and wise friend they can be your eyes even from afar by checking in through phone calls, messages, and direct questions over coffee. What’s more, if you are actively seeking out ways to receive this kind of accountability and feedback, it hopefully means you are receptive and willing to take it in and apply it. Something that can nurture growth much more effectively than having someone at home who sees you, calls you out, and is met with defensiveness or denial. Work hard not to be that person as a single. And I’m willing to bet it will give you the tools and humility to not be that person when you find yourself married either.
  4. Trust and obey. Have faith that God is working for your good: bringing about transformation and change in you that will point others to his glory. And listen to what he says. God speaks to us through wise friends, mentors, his word, prayer, sermons, and a variety of other means. When God is clearly telling you to trust him and be obedient: do it. If we obey in the little things we will be more sensitive to his voice and guidance in the big things. And the path he leads us on will always result in our being more like him and more sanctified with each passing day.

In summary, sanctification during singleness is not only possible; it’s God’s will for us! Trust that he will always give you the tools necessary to live out his will. Cultivating an attitude of humility, learning to build community, and obediently trusting in God’s plan for your life will serve you and those around you not only now but wherever (and with whomever) God may lead you in the future.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 4:3

Singleness and Gratitude

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Perhaps as a single it can be easy to think and talk about all of the things we are lacking. For women, maybe it’s coming home and knowing you won’t have a shoulder to cry on or a warm body to hold you. Maybe it’s facing the struggles of routine house maintenance, making big decisions alone, or wondering if you’ll ever be able to have your own children. For men, maybe it’s knowing that when you get home there’s no warm meal or soft smile waiting for you on the other side of the door. Or not having someone to share your successes with or an encourager when you feel like a failure. Being single comes with its difficulties. Walking through life as a single is no easy or small thing.

I have sat down at countless tables in countless places with single women to talk about our unmet longings: for a husband, a best friend, a sense of belonging, and the ability to make a home with someone else. While expressing the desires of our hearts to the Lord can be good and healthy, we can’t just let our focus stay there. So when that sense of weariness or desperation begins to well up from deep within, and we’re tempted to ask God why, what can help us hold back the feelings of despair? Gratitude. The antidote to weariness and doubt is always gratitude.

As singles, I’m sure we’ve thought of a million different things we would be thankful for if we were married. But there are a lot of unique-to-us-singles things we can be thankful for in our present circumstances:

  • The neighbor who helps us with that tricky thing our dad would always do, and that we thought our husband would (fixing water pumps, hanging heavy pictures, taking the car to the mechanic’s, etc.).
  • The friend who’s always willing to grab coffee and listen to us cry as we tell the same breakup story for the thousandth time.
  • The availability in our schedule to BE the friend mentioned above.
  • Emotionally availability: because we only have to think of ourselves we have all of our capacity to love at our disposal. (Let’s be honest, romantic relationships are a lot of work and take up a lot of energy.)
  • Financial freedom: clearly we are called to be good stewards. But covering living costs for one person is a lot easier than paying for two…or five.
  • We have the ability to love and serve Christ with all of our time, money, and talents.
  • You can listen to whatever music you want without earphones.
  • No one wakes you up while you’re sleeping.
  • You can have unplanned sleepovers with your friends and stay up late into the night having girl talk (or guy talk?).
  • You can attempt to learn to play an instrument and no one will suffer from the awful sound of you ‘playing’ your favorite song over and over again.
  • You can make big (and small) life decisions without having to consult someone else first.
  • God truly is sufficient and you get to be a shining example of that!

Some of these things are serious, others a little more light-hearted. But truly, if anything has allowed me to change my heart from desperate and bitter to satisfied and content it’s thankfulness.

Singleness is not what I would choose for me. And maybe it isn’t your first choice either. But God has shown that he truly is good. And he has given each of us so very much to be thankful for! So when you’re tempted to think of all the good things you would have in marriage and all of the bad thing about being single, flip the switch! And remind yourself of all the great things life holds for you now.

The Truth About Discipleship

There’s a saying I’ve heard that goes something like this: People won’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care.

As far as I know, this isn’t taken from scripture. But life experience has taught me that it is often very true. I can scream at the top of my lungs about all the things I am right about and you are wrong about. Or I can post it all over my Facebook wall, twitter feed, and instagram stories. But if you don’t really know me and know that I am speaking to you, will it ever really matter to you what it is I am saying?

I think we can see examples of this in the Bible as well. Jesus came to change hearts and give eternal life. Yet he often started by meeting a need. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, listened to those who society had pushed to the outside. And through those interactions he also declared truths that seemed outlandish and hard to understand. But still, they listened. Not everyone that Jesus helped or preached to really believed him. But the few who did found man who not only wanted to share his knowledge with them, but who knew cared for their very hearts and souls and bodies.

There are many books and sermons on using Jesus as a model for discipleship. In missions training they taught us to care for physical needs first. We were to share the gospel after providing food, shelter, and necessary care. But often this model looks at ministry in the light of one person who has all the need and another who has nothing at all. It assumes that the discipleship will happen across cultural and socioeconomic lines. And certainly in many cases it will. But the idea of caring doesn’t end (or perhaps even begin) with those we like to call less fortunate than us. And I believe it goes far beyond making sure someone is fed and clothed. Why? Because we are called to be a Family.

On my newsfeeds and as a listening ear privy to ongoing conversations I have noticed an age old trope being played: young versus old. Many a young believer has spoken out on social justice or other issues, making use of the platforms we have been given in this day and time. And many on older believer has replied in dismay at the young person’s thoughts and opinions. This is, of course, nothing new to our time. But now we can all see it played out through a string of comments for the world to see. And what is it that I see exactly?

To be frank, I see a lot of people eager to show just how much they know. Now and then I see someone who wishes to show how much they care. But most oft they are the exception. I could say this all surprises me, but truth be told it doesn’t. I think that rather than a new phenomena unfolding before our eyes it is merely the more visible format of what has long been happening in churches.

We are missing the very thing that we are called to do: discipleship.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the people who have made the biggest impact in my spiritual life aren’t those who told me how to act. But rather those that acted according to their convictions and let me into their life enough to show me how I can more wisely live mine.

Did you get that?

They didn’t change my life by telling me what they know.

They changed it by showing me that they cared.

Now this isn’t an all or none arrangement. Inevitably I went to these very same people to ask them for advice. When certain topics arose I listened intently, eager to hear the perspective of someone I admired and respected and who I know cares for and respects me. In other words, I cared how much they knew because I knew how much they cared.

So my point is this:

Younger generations: seek true mentors and friends who invite you into their lives before trying to change yours. Gravitate towards those who are more focused on their relationship with the Lord than yours or anyone else’s. And when you ask them for advice, listen. They won’t always be right, but many times they will have wisdom from experiences that you simply do not.

Older generations: before assuming that younger generations don’t want to listen because they are stubborn or misinformed ask yourself: have I loved this young person before today? Have I shown them I care in a very clear way? Have I invited them to observe my life and be a part of it in a way that shows them I respect them just as I want them to respect me? If the answer is yes, speak! If not, pray about wether the Lord is calling you to invite this young person into your life and guide them with your example.

The truth is discipleship isn’t a program, a set of activities, or something you do when you’re a church leader. It’s loving, caring, and guiding others out of an overflow of what God is teaching you as you walk with him. So before you try to correct or argue with someone you’ve never truly cared for, remember, they probably won’t really care what you have to say if you haven’t truly shown them that you care.

And one last word of advice: remember that you are making disciples for the Lord. Not disciples of yourself.

In grace and peace,

Ashley

One Day at a Time

When I first began learning Spanish in 9th grade there was a song that my teacher played for us. It was the first Christian song I learned in Spanish. It wasn’t my usual style of music but the words stuck in my head. When I went off to college, I would find myself wandering around campus alone, quietly singing the words of the song. Usually on days when life felt particularly tough or uncertain. Then I left for the mission field. Once again, this same song carried me through the days when the only certain thing seemed to be uncertainty about what the future would hold. This past week I traveled to a small town about 3 hours outside of Oaxaca City. While there, I attended a church service of about 20 people. Many songs were sang, but there was one in particular that encouraged my heart…Un Día a La Vez. And, as you’ve probably guessed already, it’s that same song that has been with me since I first began this journey of trusting the Lord to lead me to unknown places, to learn an unknown language, and immerse myself in an unknown culture.

The title of this song is the name of my blog. It’s the subject of at least two other posts I have written. And as I write about it today I am reminded that it’s so much more than a catchy tune or a happy coincidence that keeps popping up in my life. It’s the greatest lesson God has taught me. Uncertainty is perhaps the greatest tool he has used to grow my faith in Him. I have often chosen unconventional paths. And it hasn’t been easy. Saying yes to the things I have mean saying no to many other things that to human eyes look better.

At times I have wondered if it’s worth it. If living in uncertainty is a mistake. Or a sign that I am doing something wrong. Most people aren’t quite able to put me into a pre-existing category based on experience. Am I a missionary? A student? A teacher who just likes to travel? The reality is I have more often than not chosen to take the road less traveled. And that confuses people. Sometimes it worries them that I live without certain ‘necessities’ (I have learned along the way that what we deem necessary is often very relative and for many would be a luxury). And on more than one occasion I have been offered other opportunities that from a financial or social standpoint seem good. But as much as I pray about those good opportunities that sometimes present themselves, I never quite feel that they are right.

But what I have found is that the longer I embrace the unknown and truly learn to trust in Christ to live one day at a time, the deeper my sense of joy and love grow. And rather than feeling lost or afraid, I find myself more and more focused on the purposes he has for me, and less distracted by my own pursuits of success or comfort. Where I once felt the need to have a well thought out plan and to be understood by others, I have now learned to trust that he will provide and that wherever he leads me will hold joys far greater than those I leave behind. When I live my life one day at time, each and every day holds its own value and beauty. I am able to live in and enjoy the present rather than worry over what has been or will be. And I am able to live my life faithful to Him, even if it looks a little strange to everyone else.

So once again, here’s to trusting Him, un día a la vez. Because truly, it has been and will continue to be the best thing I could ever do with this life he has given me. And I am so very grateful that He has allowed me to grow in my knowledge and love of Him as each day goes by.

One day at a time, My God,

is what I am asking of you.

Give me the strength to live

One day at a time.

Yesterday is gone, My God,

And tomorrow perhaps will not come.

Help me today,

I want to live, one day at a time.

My translation of a couple of verses of the song. 🙂

Family

Recently a friend asked me an interesting question. She said, ‘What’s something, besides what you’re doing right now, that you feel really excited and passionate about doing in the future?’

It didn’t take me long to come up with my answer. It’s one that’s sat in the deepest parts of my heart and the highest shelf of my mind for a while now. I want to have a family. I want to be a wife who supports her husband, encourages him, and loves him in a way that makes his jaw drop because the way I love him just makes no sense outside of the power of the gospel (a very realistic goal for myself in marriage, I know).

And I want to have children. I’m not too keen on the baby stage. But little humans make me laugh and bring me joy. They’re so honest and sincere and say the funniest things. And the chance to help guide them through learning and to lead them to the Lord: that sounds fun! Challenging, Exhausting. Like the scariest task I could ever set out on. But fun. However, as I opened up and shared with my friend this desire (that sometimes feels a bit like a secret, or something I shouldn’t talk about because people will think I’m discontent in my singleness) my mind also went to a new place. And I began to tell her how in some ways I feel that the Lord is already giving me this blessing. As I teach my kiddos on Sunday morning or study the Bible with a younger believer, I’m raising those spiritual kids. I’m laughing and crying and being amazed at the thoughts that develop in their minds and spill out of their mouths in the form of words. And I have the pleasure of being a part of their learning to walk with the Lord.

I always thought the place for me to learn about family and how to do it right would be in the context of me starting my own, biological family. But God has placed me into a context far from that. I’m far from my birth family and have no prospects of starting a new generation in sight (shoutout to all my single ladies!). But what God is showing me is that this too is the best place to learn about family. He’s building a family for me. But His way of building is teaching me a few important things:

1. Earthy marriage is not the ultimate goal or the most desired end result and singleness is not a punishment.

2. Children really are from the Lord.

3. Christ is sufficient.

4. Christ made us to live in the context of family, and he gives ALL of us the chance to do just that through his body: the church.

For the longest time I’ve struggled to find that good and right balance between my longings and my reality. How can I be content in my singleness and still have faith that God will give me what is good? I think, by his grace, he’s finally led me to that ‘sweet spot’ of rejoicing in the now and having hope for the future. It doesn’t mean I don’t wake up some mornings or fall asleep some nights wondering ‘God, why did you choose to do it this way?’ It just means that I trust him even though he does. That I believe, even in my unbelief, that God is really, truly, actually good. And how can I not believe it when I think of who He is and all that he has done for me?

Maybe for you, it isn’t a lack of a biological family that makes you fear, but one that’s riddled with complicated relationships. Or maybe you’re the only believer in your family, and it feels like you’ll never have the joy of pursuing the Lord with the other people in your home. Perhaps it’s the fear that you’ll bring the messiness of your birth family into the new one you’ve begun to form with you spouse. Or maybe you have a great family but long to continue developing a fuller understanding of how that translates to a local church. No matter where you come from or where you are, you can trust the Lord to teach you what it means to be a father, mother, sister, brother, son, or daughter. Because he has brought you into his family, and he is, after all, the original creator and designer of the whole thing.

“So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” ~Romans 12:5

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” ~Proverbs 17:17

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” ~Colossians 3:15

An Atypical August

As August begins I find the world around me bracing for the transition of summer into the back-to-school frenzy. For many summer is their time off or at least the time of longer days and a couple weeks of vacation. For me summer was unusually busy. I went from teaching online in the mornings to teaching both mornings and evenings. I have been planning VBS at my church and trying to transition the ministry from online to in person and back to online again as COVID cases rise and fall. This summer for me hasn’t held any beach days, stay-at-home vacations, or special times of deep rest and relaxation. So as everyone else is ramping up to get started with a new school year and dedicated work time I am looking forward to finally having the busy summer months behind me.

And I suspect that with COVID I am not the only one that finds my seasons a little upside down and backwards this year. Perhaps you too are feeling it hard to embrace the back-to-school and let’s-plan-out-the-rest-of-the-year mentality. Maybe this summer hasn’t been much of a vacation for you. And that’s okay. As I looked for a verse to meditate on today Ecclesiastes was not on my mind. But when I saw it, I knew. This is the truth I need to remember today. Not just as I transition from July to August. But as I began to question what this next season will bring. Perhaps everything will change. Perhaps nothing will. Or the more likely outcome is that some things will shift but life overall will remain the same.

If you don’t have big plans for August, if you aren’t even thinking about plans at this point in the year, then know you are not alone. Not all of us are in a season of planning and increasing productivity. Not all of us are coming off of a restful vacation feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to take on the world. Don’t allow the season of those around you to apply the pressure of forcing yourself into the same season as they’re in. For one thing is certain: God knows exactly when the seasons in your life will change. And he knows what each season brings. So whether you are heading into a stereotypical busy August or finally winding down after a hectic summer: trust Him. For he cares for you and he has a purpose in whatever season you are in. 

Happy August! I’m cheering you on and wishing you the best in whatever this new month brings!

Blueberry Picking: An Introverts Reflection on Life After the Pandemic

Exhaustion seems to seep down all the way into my very bones. This body that has been the source of so many of my frustrations just keeps going- even when it’s tired and battered and bruised. My mind feels tired too. Not the kind of restless tired that kept me up at night during the lonely weeks and months of isolation. But the kind of tired that feels like you’ve been gathering perfectly ripened blueberries for so long and it’s finally well past time to stop and eat a few. The mind- like the blueberry bucket- is full of sweet little treasures: moments, feelings, looks, a smile, kind words from a friend. But it’s hard to really soak it all in- to get that sweet, satisfying taste of blueberry flesh just popped into your mouth and warm from the sun. As an introvert, coming out of quarantine is a lot like going out to the biggest blueberry bush you’ve ever seen. It’s thrilling and fun and there are SO MANY sweet blueberries. The bushes have been untouched- the blueberries unpicked- and now there are so many that not even 5 minutes into picking them and your bucket is overflowing. Heavy it weighs on the hands that are no longer accustomed to the simple task. Joyous the thought of tasting so many sweet blueberries once again. Necessary the discernment to realize that when your bucket is full- even when it happens really fast- it’s time to head back inside and carefully wash those blueberries and prepare them to be stored. It’s beautiful to see and taste these blueberries. But we’ve grown a little less able to handle so many at one time.

My advice then, dear blueberry picker, is don’t let your bucket overflow to the point that those precious blueberries begin to spill. Take what you can and no more. For tomorrow the blueberry bush sits still, waiting and full of more blueberries. And after all- the best part about blueberries is savoring each and every one of them.

There is a certain peculiar satisfaction in being all peopled-out. For it means that- just as we should be- we were at the very least peopled. My heart tends to fall to the extreme end of introversion. And having too much time alone seemed almost a fictitious idea until I experienced long lasting isolation. At first my creative, introverted mind flourished. I found myself diving deeper into my creative outlets like writing and photography. But sure enough, there came a point where my creative juices were no longer flowing. I had no stories, no feelings or conversations or situations to process. Nothing was flowing out quite simply because neither was anything flowing in. And it was at this point I began to know a new type of exhaustion. I find myself tired but restless. Unmotivated and uninspired but unable to truly give my mind the challenge it so desperately longs for. Emotional and social boredom made me weary of days where my intuition and perception into hidden beauty served me little. For the first time I began to feel a touch of anxiety. It seemed that life would be this way forever.

But then the world shifted- or at the very least I did. As I came back to the world of social interactions and to people I found myself overjoyed to put on a happy face and greet old customs and friends. And now I face that more satisfying kind of exhaustion- the one that is achieved by working ones intuitions, mind, and senses. The one that makes me feel alive when at last I am alone again and free to practice the art of post-interaction discerning. My mind has become my escape- the one it has always been. Rather than the pandemic induced prison that isolation had so terribly kept me in.

Suddenly my introversion feels like the great gift it has always been. And I am ever so grateful to feel a little peopled-out once again. Like picking blueberries, I will happily feel my bucket with social interactions. But when my bucket gets full, it’s time to head home and empty it out again.

Local

At the beginning of the year several of my social media friends hopped on the ‘word of the year’ train. I planned to get on too but never quite made it past the platform. Today I began listening to Emily Freeman’s podcast The Next Right Thing. In episode 173 Emily talks about how to journal using just one word. But she also recognizes that not all of us chose our word in January or even want to commit to one single word for an entire year. But she says something revolutionary: you can choose your word now- in May of this year. And it can be for a month, for a week, or for today. And as I listened to Emily’s words I felt the freedom to make my word for this season in my life. It’s a word I have already been meditating on. It’s one that keeps appearing and reappearing day after day, week after week. Local.

Local can mean a couple of different things. It can be an adjective to describe things within my vicinity. A local café, a local vendor, a local artist. It can also be used as a noun: a person can simply be defined as a local. It’s something I became again as I returned to my hometown for 3 months at the beginning of this year. It’s something I will never quite be in the city I call home. It’s something that describes where I want to be and where I feel God calling me in ministry right now. For all my willingness and all my plans to reach the world with what I have to offer he has been gently whispering to me: just stay local.

Staying local isn’t glamourous. It isn’t even always inspiring. And it certainly isn’t what I feel my peers and critics will be impressed with as I choose it. But it is what I need. It’s what those around me deserve. It is what God is asking me to choose- to focus on the here and now instead of the constant call to be and do it all. He’s calling me to serve the church I go to, that I have just began to attend again in person over a year after the start of the pandemic. He’s calling me to reach out to those that others may not have time or the heart for. He’s calling me to use my voice- to share my words- but first and foremost with those with whom I also share my life and my home with.

Will other people read these words? Perhaps they shall. And it’s okay for others to be inspired by what God is teaching me. But my time, my energy, my first priority is not to grow a bigger platform or to make myself known the world around. It’s to faithfully serve in the here and now. To take the steps I need to take and trust that my words will fall on the ears of the right readers.

Too often I bend to the pressure to be more. To be better. To be known. In a world where connecting seems easy and growing a platform is expected it can be extraordinary to simply do the ordinary: be local. Local living and serving should never be the thing we strive to outgrow: but the thing that gives proof of our sincerity, our readiness to serve a bigger (or different) audience, and the constant in our lives that will always keep us grounded. May I never grow a platform reaching others far away if I’m not first faithfully serving the ones right around me.

Serving as a missionary has given me a fuller definition of what this whole thing really means. The fist and most important thing any missionary needs is a local church. One who is willing to send them out to do work in other places. Places that though for the church will be foreign, will become quite local for the missionary themselves. Jim Elliot understood this when he penned his famous words: ”Wherever you, be all there.” Paul understood this when he was sent out by his local church to travel to new places. And when instead of just passing through and dropping off his business card he stayed for a year or a few. He became a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles. In other words, Paul became a local. No matter how much we learn or how much we think we know, we will never be too big or too smart or too wise for local ministry and local life. No matter how strange or how familiar we find the place we are in we are called to be there through the outpouring and investment of our lives.

As I come out of this pandemic with my fellow man I come being changed to appreciate more what is just outside my door. It’s hard to feel the need to travel to distant lands when the one you are in has so very much to offer. It’s hard to spend you time investing in fame and fortune when you are so deeply invest in your ordinary life that it truly is your greatest pleasure.

For each one of us life is full of many seasons. And in this season I long to embrace all that is right here in the present. All that could be overlooked as everyday and ordinary. All that for me is simply local.

Not Alone

2020 was a hard year for so many of us. I can’t imagine there are many people whose lives are truly untouched by the events of this last year and a half. I am certainly not one of them if they do exist. I spent the better part of 2020 and the early weeks of 2021 cooped up in my city apartment and completely alone. Some weeks I was able to visit with friends. Other weeks my only human contact was the cashier at the grocery store or the uber driver who delivered my food that day. Life felt pretty grim. Normalcy seemed like in unreachable dream too far up in the atmosphere to ever come back down to my level here on the ground.

Not everything in my life was bleak. I was getting to know my sweet boyfriend, beginning to pursue writing a little more seriously, and spending more time doing things I loved. But between the bright moments of feeling passionate about these things I love most of my days were spent wondering around my apartment until I plopped onto my couch or into my bed to scroll away another pointless day in isolation. My screen time rocketed because suddenly my entire life was online. Church services, Bible studies, prayer meetings- it all blended into the same: screentime that did little to meet the spiritual and emotional needs I had which only seemed to grow as time went on.

And then something changed. I flew back to the US for what I thought was a 3-4 week long trip. Upon my arrival I stayed with a family friend and for the first time in almost a year had daily human interaction. It didn’t take long for my depression and anxiety to ease. I won’t say life was suddenly perfect or that I no longer struggled. But the change in circumstances brought about a change in me, too. Suddenly needs I had forgotten were even there were being met. It’s amazing how the littlest things can change your entire day: having someone tell you good morning before they head off to work, cooking for family and friends and sharing a meal together, or even just the simple fact that there is someone living and breathing under the same roof as you who you can talk to at any time.

My trip stretched into almost 4 months rather than weeks. There were days when the weight of having my life here and being there felt heavy. And days when I still felt a little bit depressed or a whole lot anxious. To a degree our problems follow us. But those days and moments became the exception. I found that most days were good. That the bleak moments were the spots in between and not the overwhelming majority of my time awake. And what made all the difference? I was not alone. I was surrounded by healthy company. And while better circumstances didn’t solve all of my problems, it did make my life a whole lot more meaningful. And a lot better, truth be told.

The day before I left Oaxaca 4 months ago I got a new roommate. Now that I am back we’ve been living together for about a week. And I can honestly say I am grateful. I am grateful that the Lord provided me a refuge in the form of my friend’s home and company. That he healed me where I had been hit the hardest by this pandemic. And that upon my return he has continued to make sure that I am not alone.

I don’t know what the future holds or what plans God has for this next year. But one thing I do know is that I am more convinced than ever that when God says in Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone this very much applies to woman too. We need community. We need each other. And as we venture out into the world once again I am sure there will be many new challenges to come. There will be moments when going back to life as usual feels awkward or unnatural or even exhausting. But little by little it’s important to make sure we find ourselves back out in the world again. Too many of us have spent too long making it through on our own. And now is the time to say to each other ‘You are not alone.’