We don't get to pick our family. And we don't get to pick our spouse's family. Family is simply put, a gift from God. (I know a good majority of readers are laughing or crying or both right now!) I know there are times when family feels more like a White Elephant gift than a gift to actually be thankful for. And maybe your family feels like a curse rather than a blessing. However, I promise that crazy family of yours is a gift and they serve a purpose in your life.
Last week, my sister and I were talking about dysfunctional families and how the way a family functions shapes the way children develop. And we talked about how much you learn from the relationships in your family. Forgiveness. Understanding. Patience. Acceptance. Love. So many lessons can be learned through family. We were specifically remembering huge fights we've had between us over the years and how we learned to forgive one another and then develop and maintain a relationship through the hurt. I never really thought about it in such delicate detail, but it made me incredibly thankful I had a sister to learn forgiveness, loyalty and love from over the years. I believe family serves a significant, specific purpose in our lives. The purpose of your family may be different from the purpose of my family, but each of our families serve a purpose.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, "Ashley Lucille you have no idea just how dysfunctional my family is!! The only purpose my family serves is to make my life a living hell". And you know what, you're right. I have no idea how dysfunctional your family is and YOU have no idea how dysfunctional my family is or is not. Thankfully I don't need to know the details of your family and you don't need the details of my family to realize family serves a purpose. God uses our families to carry out His purpose for our lives, no matter the depth of dysfunction embedded in our families.
That's not to say, this purpose will be without pain, frustration or a battle along the way. Whenever I'm particularly frustrated with family, I somehow find my way to the book of Genesis and read about Joseph. Joseph's life is so "complicated" it would be hard to truly capture the dysfunction without a long dissertation but I'm going to paint a quick picture of his family:
I could go on but I think you get the picture. Joseph was no stranger to the concept of a dysfunctional family. And yet a very unique thing happened in Joesph's life. God used Joseph and the experience with his family for an amazing purpose. God used his dysfunctional family to carry out His purpose for Joseph's life. Joseph was not defined by his family. His family was not an excuse for him to follow in their dysfunctional footsteps. Joseph's family was the reason he overcame so much in His life.
Genesis 45:5, 7-8
"And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you...But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."
(Note: Joseph is speaking to his brothers when he found them after they sold him into slavery. Can you hear the forgiveness and love in Joesph's tone?)
His dysfunctional family was the reason God was able to accomplish great things. Joseph ended up being a ruler in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Joseph ended up saving lives through the circumstances and lessons he learned from his dysfunctional family. (To understand the saving lives part, read the entire story in Genesis 37-50.)
So although we don't get to pick our families, our families also don't get to pick how God uses them in our lives. Your family may be completely functional and serve the purpose of unconditional love and support or your family may resemble something like what you might see on The Jerry Springer Show and provide endless opportunities for you to learn difficult lessons. Either way God is using your family to carry out His purpose for your life. And that makes family a gift to cherish.
Family, lessons and purpose,
I seem to be surrounded by pregnant friends or friends trying to get pregnant. And although I don't have kids of my own, I absolutely love the excitement around pregnancy and the joy that comes with being a mom. However, I find it interesting to watch mothers-to-be often contain or hide their joy and excitement until they deem it "safe" to share with the world. And while I understand the fear embedded in the many uncertainties that come with pregnancy, I wonder if fear is stealing our joy at times.
I have a friend who has miscarried more than once in the past; she lost a baby late in pregnancy and hasn't had a baby survive through delivery. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult her pregnancy journey has been. It's been hard enough to watch her live it. My heart breaks for her. And I cover her in prayer regularly. However, I have watched her transform her pain and loss into hope and it has been absolutely amazing. She's pregnant again and she refuses to let fear of losing another baby steal her joy in the experience. I rarely catch up with her outside of social media, so I'm not even sure she realizes how incredibly inspiring she is to others. I've shared her story and her journey with friends struggling through the same fears. She posted their pregnancy test results the day they found out. She said every day counts for them so they were basically breaking the rules regarding waiting to tell people. They waited in the past and it didn't impact the end result for them. So they are taking a different approach and it has been beautiful to watch. They've shared excitement in every step of the journey and although I imagine they do hold onto fear of the unknown, she's not letting that steal her joy. I wish all my pregnant friends could come to this realization and not hold back the excitement and pure joy that should come with having life form inside you. Heck, I wish my non-preggo friends would realize how often we let fear steal our joy in everyday life. Because at the end of the day, bad things are going to happen. The great news is there is nothing that will happen in this world the Lord will not see you through. He will be your strength and perseverance through the bad experiences And its how we persevere through the bad times in life which make the greatest impact.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you.
This is a great reminder for all of us. If we live in constant fear of the many "what ifs" in life, we lose out on enjoying life. So cast your fears to the Lord and soak up the journey. Celebrate the here and now and leave tomorrow, well...for tomorrow.
I should probably add a small disclaimer that I have no idea what it feels like to lose a baby or lose a child. I don't even know what it feels like to be pregnant. However, I've stood by many friends who have miscarried and I've cared for many dying babies in the hospital setting. And there is an unique heartbreak in putting a dying baby into the arms of a mother or father when your entire job is to make their baby better. So I confess, I'm writing these thoughts from a tender place of observation and not personal experience. For those parents who have gone through this horrible experience, I understand fear is very, very real to you. I'm just sharing an outsider's perspective and admiring one mother who has seemed to conquer her fear to live out her joy.
So don't miss out on the joy and excitement in life waiting for something bad to happen. And to my many pregnant friends...I am praying for you on this beautiful journey.
Pregnancy, babies and bundles of joy,
It's been an incredibly emotional week in the wake of losing a friend to a drunk driving accident. Yesterday I was a crying mess. I cried as I tried to work. I cried in the car. I cried at Walmart and Petco. Tears even ran down my eyes as I tried to fall asleep last night. The emotion of the week definitely got the best of me. Tears of sorrow and tears of anger.
Last night another friend from childhood summed it up best with a Facebook post reading "With one bad decision from a stranger, her future was taken from us in a heartbeat. I've been sad and hurt but more than anything I've been angry. Angry at a stranger." This describes the roller coaster of my emotions this week; emotions that have landed on anger. I'm angry at this stranger who stole her life and I'm angry at myself for the times in my past I was behind the wheel of a car and shouldn't have been. And I'm broken hearted because Caroline had so much living left to do.
However, my friend continued his Facebook post by reminding us we need to try and forget the drunk driver so we can elevate the memory of Caroline. The lives she touched (she was a teacher) and the fact she always marched to the beat of her own drum. And he is 100% right (Thanks Tom!). I've let myself focus on the evil in the situation and if I focus too long on this stranger, I'm going to lose the memory of Caroline. I'm going to miss the lessons she taught us. If I let anger dwell in my heart too long, the stranger wins. Evil wins. And evil never actually wins in the end.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently from him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more, though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
Sometimes I have to remind myself evil doesn't win in the end. I mean, I know that and I read that in the bible but I don't always live that out in a confident spirit. We are surrounded by evil people and evil things and it's so easy to get lost in your present circumstances, whatever they may be, and lose sight of the hope we have in Jesus. It's easy to focus on the evil but when we do not make a conscious effort to shift focus, we run the risk of anger and bitterness taking up residence in our hearts.
And Caroline would never have allowed anger and bitterness to permanently reside in her heart. She always moved on. She always moved forward no matter the setbacks. So I'm following her lead.
Tears, memories and hope,
Yesterday a friend I've stayed in touch with since Kindergarten died. A drunk driver hit her early Sunday morning. The news media refers to him as an "alleged drunk driver" however he has a prior arrest history including a DUI so I think we can drop the "alleged". A drunk driver killed my friend.
Everyone who grew up with Caroline is remembering her exactly how they should, as a shining star. A spunky, confident shining star. It's really hard to believe how quickly her light went out. And since a drunk driver stole her light from us, naturally every friend is asking others not to drink and drive. However, I have to wonder if people mean "please don't drink and drive" or "please don't drive drunk" because our society has a strange way of distinguishing between these two phrases. Public service announcement folks: there is no difference. They are one in the same. I learned this on my first date with my husband.
I'll never forget my first date with Chris. One of the things that first attracted me to him had absolutely nothing to do with his stunning good looks, his gentlemen charm or the fact he is a fighter pilot. Oddly, it had to do with the fact he had a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving and he wasn't afraid to put me in my place on the matter.
We met for a lunch date, just a simple burger and beer and then walked to a local brewery for another beer. When I went to get behind the wheel he boldly stated, "This isn't a dig at you but I'm not cool with drinking and driving." To which I responded, as many Americans would, "I've only had two beers." "Yes and that is two beers too many," he replied. He was right and he wasn't afraid to let me know. From that point on, we called a Taxi, Uber or walked whenever we went out and had a beer or cocktail. And this is the way it remains for us now. One of us stays sober and I mean actually sober.
I never went out with the intention of drinking and driving. Although extremely unfortunate, in America it's socially acceptable to have a drink and drive as long as you don't drive drunk. However, the line between these is so thin, it practically doesn't exist. I'm not sure why in the United States the "DD" is usually the person who drinks the least, instead of the person who doesn't drink at all. Are we not capable of having a good time without having a drink?
And for whatever reason, we worry most about getting pulled over instead of the real risks of ending someone's life. When we get behind the wheel to drive after having "just a few" drinks, we never think about the very real possibility of killing someone. We never think about the real possibility of killing an elementary school music teacher who was so bright, it's hard for family and friends to imagine life without her. We only think about ourselves...what will happen if I get a DUI? We are so small-minded we do not consider the real possibilities and consequences of our decisions. The consequences of having a drink and driving.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.
To think back over the times I probably shouldn't have been behind the wheel and think I risked killing someone every time I was in that circumstance, is scary, horrifying and embarrassing. And painful as I mourn the loss of a friend. It drives me to seek forgiveness from God and above all else give God thanks for protecting others from me over and over again.
I'm embarrassed to admit it took over 30 years and a rather crucial conversation between my now husband and I for me to redefine drinking and driving. The definition of drinking and driving is exactly that..having "a" drink, yes even 1 or 2, and getting behind the wheel. End of story. And as sad as this sounds, this was a big adjustment for me and took time for me to get used to (It's humiliating for me to admit this now but it's the truth). However, I'm so thankful to know I learned this lesson before I hurt or killed someone. Unfortunately, others haven't been so blessed. And it's times like these, when a friend has lost her life, I wonder why God protects some and not others. I have to believe God uses everything for His glory and good will come out of suffering (good in the God-sense not the human-sense). I believe this but it doesn't make the pain any easier.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24
"I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" - but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
I'm challenging you to not only make a commitment against drunk driving but make a commitment to not drink and drive. Support others around you who choose to go out and not drink because they are driving. There's something wrong with a culture in which we have to explain why we aren't having "one beer" when we say "I'm the designated driver." Let's commit to change that.
A commitment, a DD and Caroline,
To the many friends whom birthdays I've missed over the past five years or to the handful of people who I owe a "thank you" card for a gift or celebration, my sincerest apologies. The truth is, I feel like I'm finally coming up for air after five long years.
This past month is the first time in I don't know how long, I actually remembered extended family and friends' birthdays. And although gifts and cards may still be delivered late, it is the first time since I started graduate school back in 2011, I even remembered them. (#winning #finally) These past 5 years of my life have been a whirlwind. Between advancing my career, finishing my doctoral degree, moving several times and working through a few personal struggles in my life, life has been overwhelming, to say the least. And I wonder how many people have looked at me and thought, "Geez she's not very thoughtful or thankful. What an ungrateful (insert foul language)." And to the folks who may have felt this way, I'm so sorry. I wasn't ungrateful, I was overwhelmed. And sure, I wrote all the birthdays in my beautiful, over-priced Erin Condren life planner but sometimes your day-to-day life is too busy to even look at your planner.
Life is tough sometimes. And we each carry a different burden and deal with our burdens differently. It is easy to judge or think ill of someone for not living up to a societal or personal standard when you are looking in from the outside. However, when you are forced to walk a similar path, all of a sudden you understand. And if you are like me, you seek forgiveness for all the times you didn't understand. Or the times you judged someone for not living up to your standards. And you realize, standards don't actually matter in life. People matter.
It's a silly example compared to what I've dealt with the last five years and an even sillier example compared to the burden some carry right now. But when I went away to college and came home for weekend visits, I remember some of my friends being upset because I didn't spend enough time with them. I struggled to balance time with my family, my boyfriend's family and friends in the short 48 hours I was actually in town. Some of my best friends really struggled with it until they were in the same situation and realized "the struggle IS real." It's hard to balance the demands of friends and family - and maybe a few of us still feel this way. Family and friends put demands on you and you just feel like you can't keep up sometimes. These struggles seem so incredibly small to the load I've carried in recent years but it's a simple example of how looking in from another place, positions you perfectly to judge without empathy. Each person copes with life's load differently and you know what? I'm incredibly grateful we all cope differently because we learn to manage our life from one another. If we all dealt with situations or stress or struggles the exact same way, we would likely not cope well at all. So although the differences between us give room for judgement and hurt feelings, if we embrace a spirit of understanding we might find ourselves stronger in the end.
A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.
I'm so thankful the Lord weighs our heart and intentions and not always our actions. I would be in BIG trouble if God judged me on etiquette and/or follow through. How great would it be if we let go of all these standards and went about our lives believing others have the best intentions, even if they miss the mark occasionally (or for 5 years in a row). What if we lived being understanding of others and allowed the Lord to judge their heart and intention.
Happy Belated Birthday, a long Overdue thank you and a forgotten congrats,
I'm loving the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Go Team USA. Swimming, diving, gymnastics, beach volleyball...and all the other sports like handball - I mean, everyone deserves a chance at winning a medal, right? Last night I decided I would love to win an Olympic medal doing something...just not sure what that "something" is. And then I was reminded, I'm probably past my prime. However, if there's a 41 year old gymnast competing then maybe I have a chance.
Hold up...NO. I do not have a chance. And do you want to know why? Because I lack the motivation, determination and perseverance it takes to train like an Olympian. (Not to mention skill but even if I had the skill of Michael Phelps, I still would not be an Olympian.) Watching the Olympics is so much fun because it's the "Facebook version" of what it means to be an Olympian.
The (mostly) good times. In the not-so-good times, I would fail. I can't motivate myself to get up at 6a to run for 40 minutes every day or stick to a 12-week half marathon training plan. So no, I will never be an Olympian. (Excuse me, I need a moment to accept this...)
Okay, I'm over it. I will never been an Olympian. I'll never be "the best of the best" this side of heaven. However, being the "the best of the best" is relatively meaningless when you consider heaven. Those 20+ Gold medals around Michael Phelps's neck are meaningless after life on earth. His true identity, your true identity and my true identify will be revealed someday. And you either identify in Christ or you don't. That is all that matters. Steele Johnson and David Boudia did a great job highlighting this in their post medal-winning olympic dive interview. Check it out:
Let me stop and shout out a big "AMEN". I've never been prouder of two American Olympians. As I was searching for the link to this video clip, I learned they have given several interviews like this one in competitions leading up to the Olympics. And as interview video clips go, people across the world have butchered them for standing and speaking out about their faith in Christ. We praise the gay athlete for being true to his identity and celebrate Bruce "Caitlin" Jenner's ability to identify with his/her self...but we have a problem with two Christians identifying with Christ!?! The comments on the video clips are horrifying and heartbreaking. There is no quicker way to offend me and break my heart than to offend Christ or another one of my brothers or sisters in Christ. I don't use my beliefs to berate others and I certainly do not like when others do that to me. However, I know that my perseverance is in the hope I have in Christ. And I know that HIS love and sacrifice are so great that He even forgives and takes in the 'haters' posting on the video link, if they so choose to identify in Him.
Therefore we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not put to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, I may not be an Olympian but I've got something better than an Olympian medal. I have a Savior in Christ, who IS my identity. Don't be defined by something this side of heaven, identify with Christ for He truly is "the best of the best" eternally.
Medals, Olympians, and Christ,
Just a few reflections about everything God is teaching me in this life...a journey deeper into His purpose for my life.