Coming Home & Bike Riding

Sept. 12, 2016

“ASHALON! ASHALON! EH! You have returned! Welcome home!”

Such sweet words I have heard time and again since hopping out of the truck in Bundibugyo on Friday afternoon. Such unforeseen moments of grace in ministering to my weary heart. I am home, indeed.

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This ridiculous view can be found on the last leg of the journey from Kampala to Bundibugyo. The beautifully stunning Rwenzori Mountains. (Eyes are always peeled for Maria and the von Trap kiddos.)
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Have you ever seen such a sky?? Bundibugyo sunsets will always be some of my favorites.

I made it to district just in time for weekly team meeting, which happens every Friday afternoon. Following team meeting is always pizza night! We rotate responsibilities for making enough dough and sauce, gathering all the toppings, and working the brick oven. It’s one of my most favorite team traditions. This particular Friday had jet lag running through it from start to finish, but teammates made sure I made it where I was supposed to be and fed me along the way. It takes a village, people.

Saturday was spent touring the mission property. Most of it hadn’t changed much, but there were definitely some key additions since 2014 — the biggest being the construction of the new Apprentice housing complex!

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This is considered the “main/shared space building” of the Apprentice housing area. I’ll be living in what will ultimately be the shared office, and the two other short-term girls will live in the adjacent building. More adjacent buildings are hoped to be completed as funding is made available.

I remember rumblings of this project happening “sometime in the future” last time I was here… So it was 100% surreal to see them in person. The Lord has provided abundantly in making this a reality! It will provide so many opportunities to house visitors and short-term teams from all over. It also welcomes more space to host local friends and family and build genuine relationships with our neighbors here.

The Apprentice housing is set to be completed in October, so I’m currently bunking with team leaders Josh and Anna Dickenson. They have some gracious spirits, people…. because I know I didn’t necessarily travel lightly. Best news: their precious 6-month-old Daniel and I have become fast friends.

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Josh is a proud Florida alum, and he never misses a recording of a game. Snapped this picture right after I heard, “Alright, son. Time for an educational moment.” Chomp, chomp indeed.

Sunday morning was a sweet reunion with Bundimulinga Presbyterian Church in Uganda, which I had frequented during my last time here (if I didn’t join the students at Christ School for their Sunday morning service.) Many local friends have called Bundimulinga home for years, so it was a morning of smiles and greetings and hugs and welcoming. I did unintentionally put my offering in the bucket designated for the men instead of the one for the women….. But, I mean. Could always be worse. Especially with me.

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Baby Daniel and BFF Vian at church

I think the coolest and most humbling moment so far has been seeing and holding the New Testament translated into the local language of Lubwisi — a project that’s been in the works for decades, pulling in the dedicated hearts and minds of Americans and Ugandans alike to make known the truth of Jesus while instilling dignity to the local language and culture. This has been prayed over for many years, and the result is still crazy for me to wrap my head around. Look at it!

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!!!!!!

I now get to walk around with my own Bible and a New Testament in Lubwisi. No more limiting the ability to read scripture to those who can read and speak English. This is their own heart language. All hungry souls can now be fed. That’s a cool thing, folks.

And today was spent reacquainting myself with Nyahuka village and surrounding areas. I can count at least three instances where people have recognized me before I even saw them, and came running as soon as they realized I was back. The love and excitement I’ve experienced from my Ugandan friends and family have been the biggest gifts so far. The absolute best. With each reunion, I’ve been reminded that Jesus left his home.. his heavenly throne.. and willingly entered into our mess, and he did so with abundant humility, grace, and unmatched love. I’m convinced it’s the only way to do this cross-cultural life. Jesus, guide my steps.

The people of Bundibugyo have extended so much grace in welcoming me back here. In some ways, it’s been a lot like riding a bike. Some things I can never really forget once I learn, and the familiarity has helped me in this adjustment tremendously. But there’s also so much newness and change that I haven’t been part of, which is to be expected, but it also has humbled me in all the best ways. Please pray for these people and for me as I strive to show love and humility amidst my wobbliness. I’m by no means here to be perfect, and I thank Jesus for that.

On Wednesday, our team will head to Fort Portal (about a 1.5-2 hour drive from here) for our annual vision retreat. We’ll spend four days praying and thinking through what this next year of ministry will look like: How can we all serve more intentionally within our areas of service? How can we grow to meet even more needs than we’re already striving to meet? How can we better connect people back to the local church? How can we partner with the local community to create sustainability? As Team Leader Josh has said many times, our goal is to work ourselves out of our jobs. Serge is unique in that way – we strategize ways to spread the gospel of Christ through living as he lived, which means entering into this place fully and intentionally, living on mission with humility and grace to serve the people of Bundibugyo through skill sets and relationships. All the while pointing to Jesus and maintaining the integrity of this beautiful culture and people group.

This is never done quickly or without mistake. Would you pray for us as we enter this retreat? That the Holy Spirit would clearly guide discussion and prayer for each of our ministries, that the team would use this time to grow closer together during this season of transition, and that we’d all remember why we’re here in the first place.

Thank you guys so, so, so, so much for your constant messages of encouragement and support. Officially one week in! I’m tempted to hit the ground running, but I have a history of assuming too much too quickly. I’m totally a recovering perfectionist, and I’m totally learning the art of balance in this craziness. Phew.

Sorry for the novel. 🙂 All my love to each of you.

Ashland

“You are most welcome here in Uganda.”

Friends! I’ve made it to Kampala safe and sound. Totally jet lagged and sleep-drunk at first, but safe and sound. I even made it with ALL of my trunks and bags! If you’re familiar with my last trip over here (or with the way life goes for me in general), you know the significance of this small victory.

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This, dear friends, is what 25 hours of travel looks like. Yikes.

In the picture above, I’m sandwiched between the two Sarahs of team Bundibugyo. Sarah Crane is on the right, and she’s a dear sister-friend. Did my heart serious good to be tackled by her at the airport. Sarah Wentworth is on the left, and she’s joined the team since I’ve last been here. It’s been a joy to get to know her the past couple of days! They’ve both taken such good care of me.

People keep asking how my flights were, so here are some fast facts:

  • 3 planes
  • 18 hours physically sitting on said planes
  • 2 layovers
  • 3 Colgate wisps in various airport bathrooms + 1 change of clothes
  • 1 hour of turbulence that made me fear for my life (tropical storms = subpar flying conditions)
  • 5 airplane meals
  • 2 movies + 6 sitcom episodes
  • 1 confusing moment when a Dave Barnes song was played over the intercom
  • 20 minute wait in the customs line for a visa
  • 4 bags that all arrived when they were supposed to. A Ugandan miracle.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better journey. I could feel the prayers, you guys! One precious friend told me her mom woke up randomly at 4am, calculated that I must’ve been beginning my second leg of the trip, and prayed for me until she fell back asleep. To say I have an army of prayer warriors fighting for me would be an understatement.

Then I crashed at the hotel and slept until 11am. That was a gift, honestly. The 24 hours following were spent taking care of logistics here in Kampala. I got a Ugandan SIM card for my iPhone, exchanged cash into shillings, bought a 5-liter jug of water to keep in my hotel room for drinking and brushing teeth, found a couple sweet surprises I never thought I’d find…

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The most tangible way Jesus has said, “Ashland. You will transition just fine. Look, I’m easing you in.”

…bought a dress…

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Fit like a glove. Had to.

…Found a random sign that sums up my entire life too beautifully not to share…

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…Just in time for me to try to take my first shower on this continent only to find that the water wasn’t working. Worked fine for both Sarahs a few hours before this moment. Sarah Crane: “Ashland, honestly. This is amazing.” Me: “I don’t have any words.”

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The employees at our hotel showed up at the room holding a bucket full of water to compensate. It was the perfect “welcome to Africa” moment for me. I have since taken a real, non-bucket-bath shower.

And that’s about it! Your arrival recap. My emotions were a little rocky when I first got here, but sleep has proven to be the magic medicine. It also helps immensely knowing I have so many faithful prayer partners loving me through the hard stuff. Today I had a very real moment of knowing without a doubt that this is where I’m supposed to be right now. The Lord did not have to give me that peace, but he chose to. We serve a good Father.

Kampala has been great for transitioning, given the availability of salads, iced coffee, the occasional KFC if I’m feeling really homesick, and the quality of room and board. I know I won’t get these things for much longer once we head to the mountains, so you guys can rest easy knowing I’m eating ALL the things. No complaints here. Jesus has provided more than I even knew I needed.

Tomorrow we’ll stock up on groceries and other items we can’t find near us on a regular basis; and on Friday morning (the middle of Thursday night CT), we’ll drive 6-7 hours west to our Bundi home. Then I’ll finally connect with the rest of the team! I’ve gotten so much iMessage love from them today, and I know it’ll be a sweet reunion.

Praises:

  • Smooth travel with no unforeseen problems or hiccups
  • Arrival of all bags on time
  • The comfort of seeing familiar teammates’ faces with huge welcome signs waiting outside baggage claim
  • More communication ability to my people stateside than I thought I’d have
  • Finances being processed without any trouble
  • Minimal jetlag so far
  • A decent iced coffee

Prayer requests:

  • Safe travels to Bundibugyo from Kampala on Friday
  • Continued affirmation that Jesus is guiding me here, especially when my heartstrings and emotions want to pull me away from that truth
  • Intentional times of rest as I gear up to head to a week-long vision retreat with the whole team next week

When I stop and think about how GINORMOUS my sending family is, I get overwhelmed and tear up in the best way. Every time. Maybe it’s residual exhaustion, maybe it’s Jesus reminding me that I’m never in this alone. My love for you all stretches around the globe and back.

The next time you hear from me, I’ll be home in Bundibugyo!

-Ash

 

 

Deployment Day Eve

First of all, I’m realizing right in this moment that I never formally announced it…….. but I am OFFICIALLY FULLY FUNDED!! The faithfulness of our Father has never been more tangible. It’s real. It’s happening.

I actually board a plane (several planes) tomorrow. TOMORROW. 25 hours of travel starting at 1:35pm central time.

Nashville –> Detroit –> Amsterdam –> Kigali, Rwanda –> Entebbe, Uganda

route
I’ll go from blue dot to yellow star, with a couple stops along the way. 🙂

And honestly, you guys… I’m brain dead. It’s been a whirlwind of transition this last month and goodbyes have never been my strong suit. This has truly been the beginning of relearning (again) what it feels like to have Jesus meet me in my weaknesses. For every sweet moment of excitement, there’s definitely been a bitter one that’s left a brutal sting. You can rarely say yes without saying no to something else, even if temporarily. It’s the worst feeling.

And then there’s all the last-minute shopping…

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Momma Shan actually using those phone things in Target to achieve a real objective.

And the packing….

before
Before Adrianna Carter showed up.
after
AFTER Adrianna Carter showed up and literally found me in a puddle. She then packed everything for me. This is what 18 months of life looks like.

I’m set to arrive in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, at 10:20pm local time on Tuesday the 6th (2:20pm central time here). I’ll have smiling faces and open arms of dear friends waiting for me right outside baggage claim, and then we’ll head to the hotel and I will CRASH. After a few days in Kampala stocking up on things, a couple teammates and I will load the car and begin the 6-7 hour car ride to Bundibugyo.

As I’m writing this, I’m fighting off tears. Please pray for the emotional roller coaster that’s hitting full force tomorrow. How I long to be back living life in the East African jungle; but oh, how I hate leaving my people.

Also, pray that the travel goes smoothly with all bags/trunks in tow. That’s very much on the forefront of my brain… bags have a way of disappearing when one changes planes 3 times.

And pray for my closest Nashville community here. If I know they’re being lifted up in prayer, my heart will rest easier.

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People came and went all day. Here’s a few towards the end of the night.

I’ve said this many times before, but thank you. Thank you. You’ve walked alongside me, prayed for me, prayed for my people, partnered with me financially, met logistical and physical needs along the way, fed me, caffeinated me, and loved me so much better than I ever thought possible.

Tomorrow begins a new season of trusting Jesus to reveal himself to me in the rural mountains of west Uganda. I’m buckling my seatbelt, but I need y’all to do the same.

We’re in this together, after all.

 

Yours faithfully,

Ashland

 

Stingrays and Support Raising

There’s no graceful way to intro this post. I tried Googling “inspirational quotes about poisonous ocean creatures,” but shocker: those don’t exist. Probably for good reason.

I’ll just get right to it. Yesterday, I had a lot of firsts.

  • First time I had a stingray barb enter the ball of my foot while wading in 3 inches of ocean water. I didn’t see it, hence the “stepping on it” part, but was later informed that the stingray was the size of a beach ball.
  • First time I experienced excruciating pain that shot its way up my leg and into my entire body, which led to the first time I used every cuss word in the book within a 45-second period (sorry, Mom).
  • First time I hyperventilated, which apparently causes you to lose all feeling in your arms and legs. But that’s neither here nor there.
  • First time I’ve actively tried to come up with a way to cut off my left foot using a beach umbrella and a plastic sandcastle shovel.
  • First time I begged a stranger on the beach to call an ambulance, even though I was fully aware how many dollars it would cost.
  • First time I’ve seen real panic in the eyeballs of a beach medic. Someone probably needs to check and make sure the poor guy’s recovered, now that I think about it… He was not okay.
  • First time I’ve seen Adrenaline Gage, who I think could’ve chunked me across town straight through the hospital doors if it meant my screaming and sobbing and inexplicable pain would stop. He’s the real MVP.
  • First time I rode in the back of an ambulance with a guy named Matt who found my roly-poly vein and stuck me for an IV on the first try, even as we’re air-born because we hit a speed bump too quickly. He gets a gold star.
  • First time Morphine did not work for me. I lost my mind even more dramatically after that; and Gage chose that precise moment to distract himself by befriending the ambulance driver. “So, how long ya been driving ambulances?”
  • First time my foot, which now resembled a purple Peep marshmallow on steroids, was X-rayed to make sure there was no barb stuck inside of it. (?!!??)
  • First time I was acutely aware that I was wearing nothing but a swimsuit in the ER; first time to be too medicated to care.
  • First time I answered the man in the scrubs by saying, “Yep, pain is a solid 10 out of 10” without hesitation. He then said, “Well, no sh*t. This pain is supposed to be comparable to childbirth, if not worse… So at least you know you’ll be good there.” *Thumbs-up Emoji*
  • First time I FaceTimed Mom from the hospital bed, waved and grinned in my medicated state, and told her I’d “be in touch.” (Gage promised he’d update her along the way.)
  • First time I told the nurse I would leave Sacred Heart Emergency Room IF AND ONLY IF their bucket of hot water came with me, because soaking my foot in it was the only thing that disintegrated the proteins in the stingray venom and ultimately eased my pain. If you’re confused by that, don’t worry. I was too, so I obviously Googled it to check the validity. I’m sure Doc appreciated that.

Which ultimately led to….

  • ….the first time I’ve ever Googled “inspirational quotes about poisonous ocean creatures.”

I honestly am just fine. I learned A LOT about stingrays and their defense mechanisms, including the fact that there are only an estimated 2,000 stingray attacks each year in the U.S. Was anybody surprised that I was one of those 2,000 for the year 2016? Of course not. Ridiculous occurrences have a way of following me around.

Did I learn the importance of shuffling into and out of the ocean in order to scare off any hidden stingrays that may be lurking under a thin layer of sand?

YOU CAN BET YOUR BOTTOM SAND DOLLAR, FOLKS.

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Just your average week at the beach on 30A.

Moral of the story: avoid stingray barbs with every fiber of your being, unless you’re in the business of strengthening your prayer life. And I’m only a little bit kidding.

Now. Onto the second tidbit of information that is just as mind-blowing:

The next morning, I  woke up from a hydrocodone-induced slumber to an email saying that I AM 92% FUNDED FOR MY 18-MONTH TERM IN UGANDA! 

Excuse me, WHAT? Serge requested that I be at 90% by July. I was at 50% on June 23rd. I am in complete and total awe in this moment. Forget the stingray… Our Heavenly Father called me to Uganda, and he’s sending me there. He’s sending me there through you guys!! Humbled would be an understatement.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

If you’ve told me that you’re wanting to support financially but haven’t signed up yet, let me direct you to this link real quick –> we’re so close!

What a 24 hours. I think I felt every emotion known to man, but today I’m immensely thankful for modern medicine and miraculous provision.

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Only 8 weeks until I’m back at my Bundihome with these crazies.

Another exciting update? Bundibugyo, Uganda is finally getting the New Testament, Genesis, and Jonah IN LUBWISI! Their local language! This is beyond life-changing for so many, and it’s a very tangible answer to a prayer that’s been prayed for decades. Check it out here: http://www.thetask.net/bwisi/lubwisi-new-testament-printed.

Thank you for loving and for praying!

All my love,

Ash

The Bundi-Bound Breakdown

Alright, team.

Right now I’m picturing a huddle spanning across all American time zones. A ginormous gathering to get everyone on the same page.

SO. Everyone, grab a seat. Game time is quickly approaching. Are you ready? I AM SO READY.

As many of you know, I’m moving to west Uganda in early September to join a team from Serge. I made a little announcement a while back, but I’ll give a brief recap real quick: I’ll be working for a local secondary boarding school (known as Christ School), primarily executing tasks and dreaming up strategies dealing with public relations and donor relations. I’ll also be pouring into the lives of female students by leading a small discipleship group, help with a little student recruitment, and maybe even spend some time developing student leaders. Best part? I’ve been before! Christ School and the small district of Bundibugyo, Uganda was first introduced to this Tennessee native back in the summer of 2014. God did a serious number on me through that place and its beautiful people, and I long to return.

Many of you have listened to me ramble about this far off country that I love so much. Many of you financially supported me the first time I went. Many of you are already financially supporting me in this second endeavor. Many, many, MANY of you have prayed for and encouraged me in countless ways. Not sure I’ll ever be able to thank you enough.

Many of you have also asked, “Ashland. Where are you at right now? In this present moment? What do you need? And this, my friends, is my favorite question. It reminds me how big God’s team is and fires. me. up.

My biggest and most pressing need is financial in nature, specifically in the monthly pledges department. Most of it stems from a timeline my team on the ground would like me to honor as best as I can. The breakdown is a little tedious; but follow me, here…. In order to attend the annual team vision retreat and map out goals, logistics, and hopes for this new position I’ll be filling (happens mid-September), I need to be en route to Uganda the first week of September. In order to complete the Ugandan work visa application process in time, my sending organization needs to begin that process in July. And in order for them to begin the process, they need to see me at 90% funded.

In short: I need to be at 90% in less than a month. 

Now… Do I have the utmost confidence that it’ll happen? Yes. We serve a faithful God! He’s given me plenty of tangible reason to believe that. But do I also feel the need to update my people as much as possible? YES! Look, I even made a pie chart for you.

supportchart

Good news: I’m only lacking 30% of my funding, if I include all of the (incredible, amazing, humbling, beautiful) verbal commitments I’ve received. I’m still praying for God to raise up 1 supporter at $200/month, 5 supporters at $100/month, 5 supporters at $50/month, and 5 supporters at $25/month.

Better news: People are excited about what I’m doing and have told me they intend to financially support me in an effort to support what’s happening at Christ School! Look at all that red! Financial promises left and right. That’s huge!

Best news: I’M OVER HALFWAY THERE, PEOPLE! God is proving time and again that he wants me there. He’s rallying the troops for me, and it’s been nothing short of amazing.

If you haven’t gone through the donation process but have told me that you want to (or even if you haven’t told me), I’m about to tell you how to do that.

The best way to begin the partnership is to click here! (Easiest and fastest option by far.)

If you’d like to meet with me to talk about this some more, please call me! Or message me and I’ll call you! There are few things I love to talk about more than this, so reach out anytime. My cell phone is 901.517.8499.

Lastly… keep those prayers going, guys. I’m approaching a transition season, and those are rarely smooth or painless. It doesn’t diminish my heart for going in any way, but kicking comfort and routine to the curb is no small task. I couldn’t keep moving without y’all.

More posts to come. Thank you for loving me!

Thanks for huddling, team. Ready…. BREAK.

 

News + A Theme Park Analogy

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad put me on my first roller coaster.

The whole family was wandering around Libertyland, an amusement park in Memphis that doubled as Dad’s way to pay off college tuition back in the day: He played the fiddle in a band. I’d been plenty of times before.

But this time I was eyeing a wooden track as cars zoomed past at lightning speed over and over again, so mesmerized that I eventually stopped walking. My neck started cramping from staring that high up for so long. Finally, Dad said, “Alright, let’s go. We’re doing it.” And 8-or-9-year-old-me said, “Wait, HOLD UP.”

Buuuuut it was too late. Suddenly I was walking again.

He waited with me in line, held my hand in line, patted my back before I stepped into the car, and climbed in the seat next to mine. No doubt my eyeballs were wider than coffee table coasters. Then he leaned over and said, “It’ll be scary at first. But I know you’ll love it, Ash. Just trust me. You ready?”

“Ummmm, no. Yes?? I don’t know!?!?” Then we were off.

A lot happened in the 3.5 minutes that followed, but make no mistake: I LOVED IT. My little legs were jello when I got off and clumsily ran back to Mom and baby sisters, and my eyes were still as wide as they were before I pulled the bar over my head. Except the fear was gone, and it was fully replaced with joy. As a matter of fact, I trace my current love of jaw-clenching, stomach-dropping, smile-inducing roller coasters back to this day. To this decision to trust my Dad.

I found myself dancing with this deafening fear because I learned to first rest in the knowledge that everything would be alright. Because Dad said so, and because he was right next to me the whole time.

********

As 2016 kicks off and winter is threatening to rear its ugly head (very much a self-proclaimed Winter Weather Weenie), I’m reflecting on how my Heavenly Father often chooses to teach me things about Himself through the split-second decisions of my earthly father.

Primarily: trust.

That He knows me better than anyone else. That He knows my heart, so therefore it’d be okay and even wise to trust Him. Even though Especially because 2016 is shaping up to be quite the transition year.

Here’s where I announce that I’m actively working towards returning to Bundibugyo, Uganda this coming fall.

If you’re new to this part of my story (and maybe wondering if a cat just walked across my keyboard?), rest assured: Bundibugyo is, in fact, a very real place. A place that’s broken and beautiful and struggling even more than you are right now as you try to pronounce its name. A place that has proven to love well yet is quick to point fingers. A place where the sun beats down to reveal stunning rainbows yet is often overwhelmed by darkness. A paradoxical reality far too complex to explain here, but I do not hesitate say this confidently: for every ounce of hardship present, Jesus is working and moving with twice the power. He has NOT forgotten Bundibugyo, Uganda. Not a chance.

I had the privilege of witnessing all of this firsthand two years ago, and I’m humbled to accept the offer to return. I’m humbled to know that the Lord isn’t finished guiding me through the stumbling blocks of multicultural ministry. That He isn’t finished using Bundibugyo to shape me, break me, mold me, encourage me.

And I’m excited to follow Him back.

For 18 months, I’ll be partnering with Serge and joining their team as they do life in Bundi, a small village nestled in the western-most Ugandan region of the Rwenzori Mountains. I’ll specifically be working with the local secondary boarding school, Christ School Bundibugyo, which is where I spent most of my time two summers ago. No doubt I’ll end up wearing multiple hats there… but more information to come on that later.

Bundibugyo_Map

Austa

For now, I just wanted to send a little update. And humbly ask for prayer as I dive into the support raising process, because it reintroduces a (biblical, but still uncomfortable) level of vulnerability rarely found in any other circumstance… and if you’ve been here, you get it. Because who actually likes depending on other people, am I right?? Should be a grand ole sanctifyin’ time.

Many of you supported me either financially, prayerfully, or both the last time I went. This post doubles as an extension of grace and thanks for YOU. I would never have begun to imagine the reality of Bundibugyo without your faithful partnership. Because of you, the Lord worked immeasurably within my own heart. Looks like that was just the beginning.

More posts and more details to come, and I’m genuinely pumped to share them with you.

Roller coasters, man… Here we go again.

********

“Thou hast given me a fixed deposition to go forth and spend my life for thee; If it by thy will let me proceed in it; if not, then revoke my intentions. All I want in life is such circumstances as may best enable me to serve thee in the world; to this end I leave all my concerns in thy hand, but let me not be discouraged, for this hinders my spiritual fervency; Enable me to undertake some task for thee, for this refreshes and animates my soul, so that I could endure all hardships and labours, and willingly suffer for thy name.

But, O what a death it is to strive and labour, to be always in a hurry and yet do nothing! Alas, time flies and I am of little use. O that I could be a flame of fire in thy service, always burning out in one continual blaze. Fit me for singular usefulness in this world. Fit me to exult in distresses of every kind if they but promote the advancement of thy kingdom. Fit me to quit all hopes of the world’s friendship, and give me a deeper sense of my sinfulness. Fit me to accept as just desert from thee any trial that may befall me. Fit me to be totally resigned to the denial of pleasures I desire, and to be content to spend my time with thee. Fit me to pray with a sense of the joy of divine communion, to find all times happy seasons to my soul, to see my own nothingness, and wonder that I am allowed to serve thee. Fit me to enter the blessed world where no unclean thing is, and to know thee with me always.”

– Valley of Vision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricycle Races & Other Lessons from Kids

“ON YOUR MARK. GET SET…. GO!”

Their game faces are on and they shoot down the driveway on their tricycles. Brothers like to race, especially if they’re under the age of 10. Trash-talking is inevitable.

“I’m gonna beat you, Wesley! I’m older so I’m faster! I’m gonna win!”

“Nuh-uh, Jackson! Miss Ashwyn, come push me!”

“Hey, no cheating! Miss Ashland don’t let him cheat!”

I’d like to remind you that they’re on tricycles. Pretty sure I can walk faster than either of them are peddling. But I still see beads of sweat on both of their faces as they push on towards the mailbox, towards me. I’m crouching and hiding laughter at this point. Cuteness overload can’t prevent the “base” from performing her duties: They need me to hold one hand out to determine who would win while keeping my eyes on my watch to announce their times. They’re trying to beat records, here.

Five-year-old Jackson is so close, but stops for a second – his glasses are sliding down his nose and need adjustment. He realizes his little brother isn’t directly behind him anymore.

“Hey! Where’s Wesley?” (That slight lisp. My heart.)

Then I’m laughing out loud because three-year-old Wesley has stopped halfway down the driveway and is peddling his tricycle in circles. Literally going ‘round and ‘round and ‘round…. giggling the whole time. I start walking up the driveway towards him. Wanted to make sure he hadn’t forgotten how to steer.

“Wesley. Bud. What are you doing.”

“I’m spinning!”

“But Jackson is about to win!”

“I know, but I’m SPINNING! Watch me, Miss Ashwyn!”

He’s spinning so fast that for half a second I’m convinced he’ll fling himself off the plastic contraption into the nearby bush. Wouldn’t be the first time. But he’s thoroughly enjoying himself, paying no mind to the race at all. Next thing I know, Jackson is visibly upset. His brother clearly isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

“Wesley, no! You’re supposed to be racing me to the mailbox! Stop spinning! You’re not supposed to be spinning and laughing right now, Wesley!”

But Wesley can’t even hear his brother over the sound of his own giggles.

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Have you ever had a moment where everything seems to pause for a minute to truly get 100% of your attention? Moments that hold a lot of truth begging to be recognized. A giggling three-year-old handed me one right then.

As I stood there watching Wesley, I was suddenly really thankful for a Father who doesn’t hold a stopwatch at the end of a man-made race.

He doesn’t sit there waiting for the winner to arrive to declare him better than everyone else. His hand is outstretched, yes… Anticipating the arrival of his children, yes… but he’s not in the business of seeing who gets to the corporate finish line first. His hand is outstretched to remind us that we’re not put on this earth to race each other, so life doesn’t have to be about out-doing someone else. Or about comparing ourselves to someone else. Sure, aspects of this life are bound to include competition; there’s no way to escape it altogether. And because of that, his hand is only outstretched to guide us.

We’re here to love people. What a beautifully freeing concept.

And I’ll go out on a limb even further, here: What if we’re called to rejoice in the Lord no matter where we are, no matter what we’re doing, no matter where we fall on the I-have-my-life-together scale? Fellow unnamed graduate at the commencement ceremony might have had a career handed to her before a diploma was handed to her. She faces the exciting transition from school to work before others and the next stage of her life is secure, but does that mean everyone else is “behind”? Depends on who you’re asking. Jesus says, “Not so much. I just have different plans for her.” He’s shown me that joy and thankfulness are skills that we’re called to master because they bear patience and peace.

This season of life has given me plenty of practice…

Be thankful for your home, Ashland.

Be thankful for your community, Ashland.

Be thankful for your passions, for your education, for your experience, Ashland.

Be thankful that I don’t compare resumes, Ashland.

Be thankful that I am enough. And I am faithful.

Yep. Speaking as someone who’s hellbent on planning every aspect of every day I have on this earth (as if I know anything…), it’s so easy to lose sight of that perspective. Especially when embarking on a hunt for the “what’s next.” But with that perspective comes freedom to stop pressuring ourselves to do better faster. We’re free to spin around in circles on our tricycle for a few minutes. We’re free to be thankful for it. It doesn’t have to mean we’ve forgotten how to steer. And maybe, if we’re as fortunate as little Wesley, those around us might stop to marvel at a joy that doesn’t make sense by the standards of this world. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even see the source of our joy and want in on it.

I really don’t remember this nearly as often as I should. Wish I remembered it more.

Ending with a piece of Dad’s wisdom that helped inspire this post: “We’re human beings, Ash. Not human doings. Stay motivated, but pay a little less attention to where you’re going in order to really see the people you meet along the way; because that’s where life happens. And trust that he’ll get you where you need to go.”

So here’s to learning how to be thankful for the awkward in-between. To being patient while I actively look toward what’s next. To a God who guides and intercedes. And especially to kiddos with lisps that remind me of all of these things completely unintentionally.

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Jackson slowly inches back up the driveway toward his brother. I can tell he’s torn between finishing the race and seeing what the giggling is all about. He gives in to his curiosity.

“Hey, I wanna spin….”

“Come on, Jackson! It’s fun!”

Take your time, boys. You’ll both get to the end of the driveway eventually.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:15-17