God is Not Dead

Last Friday, at 4:00 a.m., I received a frantic phone call from my best friend. Her spouse was being life-flighted to a hospital in Houston. He had suffered a massive brain aneurysm. I immediately made arrangements for my husband to take care of our two boys and headed to pick her up. Two hours later we arrived to what would be the longest weekend of our lives.

Families sit gathered in their corners of the ICU waiting room, hopeful for good news about their loved ones that never seems to come. A doctor walks in and a hush falls over the room. We all sit quietly and try to keep it together when a family falls apart as the doctor tells them their loved one will never wake up.

The hours tick by. We watch this happen over and over again, knowing everyone in this room is here for the same reason. Knowing their pain, because we feel it too. The feeling of despair and hopelessness, for ourselves and these strangers we now share a bond with.

Some families talk loudly and angrily, wanting answers. Some pray even louder, asking for God’s intercession. Some sit with blank stares and tear-stained faces. We all wait.
In the late hours of the night, when the waiting room is closing and only a few remain, something beautiful happens.

A lone woman sits quietly in the corner crying, her head bowed. One family gathers in song with their hands in the air as they ask God for strength through praise and worship. Their voices grow louder and the Holy Spirit descends.

The lone woman gets to her feet and wanders over to the family singing. Involuntarily, her hands go into the air and she joins in their song. The circle opens and she walks in as it silently closes around her, enfolding her in comfort and peace. I watch with unshed tears as, in a mere heartbeat of time, they become family, no longer strangers.

Regardless of the different colors of their skin, despite their circumstance, or maybe in spite of it, these strangers will forever be connected. A common ground is found and love overflows as grief finds another soul to torment. Amidst tragedy, God destroys boundaries and humans remain.

 

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Lead Your Children In the Way They Should Go

I want to share something that has been on my heart for quite some time. I am speaking directly to divorced parents – or otherwise known as divorced if you have a child & were never married – as is the situation with me and my ex (Bobby).

Put your children first.

I cannot stress this enough. The lessons you will teach your children have no bounds. Bobby & I haven’t always agreed & it hasn’t always been easy; but, I can say we’ve always put Bryce first. So many times I have seen the rewards of that hard work. Like when I hear Bryce tell Ryan or April he loves them in front of me or Bobby. Like when he draws family pictures & includes all of us with a caption that reads “the two best families ever.” Like today, when Bobby & April sent home a birthday gift for Kade.

An original drawing by Bryce Wiley. <3

An original drawing by Bryce Wiley. ❤

God doesn’t share with us why He does the things He does. What He does tell us is to lead by example. Lead your children in the way they should go – and that is in the way of all that is right & good. In the way of love & respect.

I love that Bryce is comfortable telling the step parent he loves them in front of the parent. It shows he has no fear of hurting or angering the parent. It shows mutual love & respect. It reflects what a family should be. I love that Bobby & April (& Mrs. Rose) always try to include Kade as well, despite him not being “theirs.” I love that they not only put Bryce first, but Kade as well.

I am so thankful to have Ryan, who supports open communication between me & Bobby. Who is the best stepdad I could ever hope Bryce to have & an amazing father to Kade. I am thankful for all he has taught me about parenting & loving without boundaries.

THIS is what God calls us to do. Lead by example. Harsh words, anger & hatred do nothing for you or your children. Forgive, move forward & communicate. Teach love & respect. God will reward your children tenfold.

Special thank you to Bobby, April & Mrs. Rose from Kade (& us) for the birthday gifts.

Minibeast in the Making: Celebrating 3 Years of CrossFit

Apparently, time flies when you’re having fun. August 22 marked my 3 year anniversary at CrossFit Bridge City & it completely slipped by me. This might be, in part, to school starting, chaos ensuing and all hell breaking loose in general as we dive head first into yet another busy school year.

August 22, 2012 - my first social check-in for CrossFit!

August 22, 2012 – my first social check-in for CrossFit!

Plenty has happened in three years. My husband & I went through a lot of marriage counseling. After years of fighting, we finally met our goal together – crossing the finish line at the Spartan Beast to complete our Trifecta. (I would totally add that to the “let’s do it again” list!)

After 3 years, our Spartan Trifecta is complete.

After 3 years, our Spartan Trifecta is complete.

I’ve lifted a ton of heavy weight (pun intended), done 10,000 pull-ups and thought I might die on more than one occasion. I’ve had plenty of struggles and PRs (personal records) along the way. Like finally learning to do bar muscle-ups. That’s a moment I will never forget! I felt pure giddiness when I managed to get on top of the pull-up rig for the first time. (For real, I kicked & screamed with excitement like a little girl.) Ring muscle-ups are another story….but stay tuned, because I don’t give up easily.

Bar muscle-up practice!

Bar muscle-up practice!

Before CrossFit, I was just getting started on my fitness journey – which I’ve come to realize is my journey to self discovery. I was weak, uneducated about the human body, nutrition and my abilities. I was full of self doubt. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or the person I would become. I didn’t know CrossFit would change my life.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but that is exactly what happened. CrossFit changed my life because it changed my perspective. I hate failing. Funny thing is, failure is common in CrossFit. And I do it – a lot. I still don’t like it, but I’m learning it’s not a bad thing.

Failure is one step closer to success.

Failure gives you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes, to become better. Failure gives you the chance to refine your skills, to improve your technique. Failure encourages you to go back to the basics, to educate yourself further. It is in the process, where you ultimately find success.

Ring muscle-up drills.

Ring muscle-up drills after failing them in the CrossFit Open.

Because of CrossFit, I am a strong woman. I am a healthy body. I am a renewed soul. I am a changed perspective. I am a success. Because of CrossFit, I can accomplish anything if I’m willing to fail a few times first.

But CrossFit wouldn’t be possible without my support system. Thank you to my husband, Ryan​, for always supporting me – especially on those days when I didn’t believe in myself. Thank you for not letting me wallow in self pity when things didn’t come easily. Thank you for pushing me to be more, in all areas of my life. Thank you for believing in me. You’re still the strongest man I know & I love that you’re mine.

Thank you to my CFBC Rooster Crew who keep me accountable & make the journey fun. I couldn’t do it without your witty humor and unfailing support at 5:00 a.m. You girls still amaze me!

Thank you to my coaches for having patience with me as I gripe my way through learning a new skill or conquering a fear. Thank you for continuing to provide me with opportunities to learn specialized skills – like Olympic lifting & gymnastics – from the best in the business. Thank you for yelling at me when I needed it.

This is only the beginning!

Making the Little Fierce: R.A.D.

Last week I attended a R.A.D. Systems training. R.A.D. stands for Rape, Aggression, Defense and it’s a course designed specifically to help educate people on the very real danger of sexual assault (commonly known as rape) and how to avoid it. For two days, our group of ladies learned about awareness, prevention, risk reduction and avoidance. We also learned some basic hands-on self defense training.

RAD Training

For me, the scariest part was fighting (yes, for real) the guy next to me in this photo. At 6’5″ and 282 pounds, he had a definite size & weight advantage on me. (I’m 4’10” and 114 pounds.) After several hours of instruction and drills, they put us through different scenarios where we were required to fight our way out of a precarious situation.

I was petrified.

I’ve been small my whole life. It’s something I’ve just kind of accepted. (It’s not like I have much choice in the matter.) That being said, I’ve also let it get inside my head on more than one occasion. Give me a CrossFit workout with wall balls? I’m totally going to complain & claim I have a disadvantage. Put me in a dark alley with a guy 168 pounds heavier than I am? I might just change my mind about my fighting abilities.

But, I did it!

I was definitely scared & more so than I thought I would be considering I knew this was just a simulation – but I did it. I managed to fight my way out of choke holds & being restrained from behind with my arms pinned down. I was able to fight this guy off several times and even land a few good punches in the process. Before last week, I had no idea what I was capable of. Today, I feel much more confident in myself were I ever to be put in a dangerous situation.

LittleFierce

R.A.D. offers courses for women, men, kids and seniors. I encourage everyone take it, especially women. Without a doubt, I genuinely feel like this course could save your life. For those in our area, it’s offered free by the Beaumont Police Department. A fair warning, though, they are in high demand and space is very limited. I recommend contacting Sgt. Cox to get on the list for an upcoming class. Side note: Classes are limited due to funding. If you know of a business willing to donate, please refer them to Sgt. Cox as well. Those not in southeast Texas can find a R.A.D. training location on their website.

March 8-14, 2015 is NO MORE Week. NO MORE is a national movement to raise public awareness and engage bystanders around ending domestic violence and sexual assault. I encourage all of you to use this week as an opportunity to educate yourselves on sexual assault and domestic violence. And then, find a R.A.D. class and get signed up!

 

Growth Through Challenge

Sometimes it’s easy to feel defeated. It seems as if everything is stacked against us and no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to get things on the right path.

The thing is, these times usually catch me off guard. Over the years, I’ve built a mental barrier to stress and chaos. Growing up in a household with eleven people, I was used to things being a little chaotic and not everything always going according to plan.

As I grew up and acquired my own set of responsibilities, I tried to maintain some sense (okay, a lot) of control over my life.

I schedule every second of my day. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist in my world. It’s not that I want to live my life like this (at least that’s what I tell myself). It’s just that I feel like I have to. It’s about control. It’s about the fear of something being out of place. Of not getting everything done. Of letting someone down, especially my husband or my children.

I need it all to be perfect. Or I may fall apart. And then God reminds me I was never really in control to begin with.

The past couple of weeks have been rough. Many things – not on my schedule – have taken a toll on my mental barricade. From getting in a wreck, to having a sick child, to finding out my husband may need surgery again. And just when I think I had a grip on everything, a pebble tipped the scale & it all came tumbling down.

Deep down I know it’s not something that would normally bother me. But for some reason, this particular thing did me in. It made me angry – and ugly, if I’m being honest. It made me a version of myself I don’t like. One I don’t like others to see.

I’ve broken down and cried over silly things. I’ve blown up about completely justifiable things. I’ve had to apologize at least twice for my behavior. I’ve scolded myself daily. “Get it together, Ashley. You can do this.”

We don't grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges.

I know this is just something I am working through. I know I will be okay. God will take care of me, like He always has. But sometimes, it’s hard not to lose it. It’s hard not to throw my hands in the air and scream, “Why me?!”

And then I see why – because I’m stubborn. Because while God knows I can handle a lot, He also knows I still need Him. He knows that one day, I am going to put a little too much on my plate and I’m going to be overwhelmed.

Truth be told, I have a tendency to take my relationship with God for granted. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’ve never doubted the existence of God or His love for me. Even in the darkest times of my life, I’ve always had this overwhelming sense of truth that it was going to be okay. That God would take care of me. And He’s never proven me wrong.

I think because of that, I don’t talk to Him as much as I should. I don’t visit Him every Sunday like I was raised. It’s almost as if I tell myself I don’t need to – because I know He’s got my back. I tell myself He knows my heart. He knows how I feel, despite my lack of telling or showing Him.

It’s time like those lately, when I’m reminded just how much I need Him. It’s also in those times when God reminds me: He made me in His image. I may be stubborn, but His love for me far surpasses my determination to do this on my own. He knows I’m busy, but He’s not going to let me slack on our relationship.

God does know my heart – better than I do myself. I think that’s why He speaks to me in a way He knows will get my attention. For it is only through challenges when I truly acknowledge my failures. It is only in those times when my eyes are opened to the progress I have yet to make. God isn’t just watching out for me when I need Him. He’s here daily, ensuring the salvation of my soul.

It is during the challenges, though, when He’s speaking to me. He’s saying, “Come to me. Let me give you comfort and peace. Let me handle your burden today. You need rest my child.”

God doesn’t give us struggles so He can be reminded of our need for Him. He allows challenges in our lives so that we may be reminded of our need for Him.

Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

I live by the motto, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Some may have the misconception that I don’t believe in failure.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I fail. Often. And failure is necessary in life.

It’s what reminds us we’re human. It’s what reminds us we need help along our journey. It’s what reminds us to pray. To seek knowledge and understanding. To grow physically & mentally & spiritually.

It is in the midst of those failures and hardships when God is molding us into the people He knows we can be. The people He’s calling us to be. And truth be told, God always has way bigger (& better) plans for us than we ever have for ourselves. The key is trusting His timing. His will. The path He has chosen for us.

Three years ago, Ryan and I began our Spartan journey. We went into it with no expectations. I had only recently began running and really had no idea what I was getting myself into. After running our first Spartan, Ryan and I decided we wanted to go for the Spartan Trifecta (running three races in one year – Sprint, Super & Beast).

Not quite a Trifecta...

Not quite a Trifecta…

Fast forward 6 Spartan races later and there’s still no Trifecta medal around our necks. So what happened? Simply put, God had other plans.

This Saturday, we will run the Spartan Beast for the third time, at last completing our Trifecta. After many, many, many miles of mud, obstacles, blood, sweat and tears, I couldn’t be more ready. And yet, I’m also a little anxious about finally finishing this task we set out to do so long ago.

For Ryan and I, obstacle racing became our marriage counseling & completing the Trifecta became more about us spending time together while teaching our children what it means to never give up.

Sometimes in life it’s hard to see beyond the obstacles currently in front of us. It’s easy to find reasons to give up on those things we’ve said we’d do. We begin to second guess ourselves. To wonder if we’re on the right path. And then God gently nudges us, reminding us why He’s called us to whatever path He’s chosen for us. Guiding and teaching us along us the way.

We are all capable of great things. But only through struggle and yes, even failure, do we finally reach our goals. When we learn to embrace our struggles for what they truly are – God working in us – we find the journey that much more rewarding. After all, it’s the journey that has brought us to this point and will bring us through our adventures yet to come.

Do or do not. There is no try.

Bullying is a Learned Behavior & We Have the Ability to Stop It.

As an adult, I stand a whopping 4 feet 10 inches tall. Growing up, I was teased constantly about my height and can recall countless occasions when I would come home crying over the latest nickname I was given – shorty, shrimp, midget. Despite my mother’s attempts to calm my frustrations, it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school when I finally began to stand up for myself.

As I was digging through my locker prior to lunch one day, I realized my lunch money had been stolen. The guy who had a locker next to mine wasn’t my favorite person – and known for doing drugs. Upon questioning him if he stole my money, he said, “What did you say bitch?” Astonished, I looked at him and calmly asked again, “Did you steal my lunch money?” He replied, “I didn’t take your money bitch,” and then proceeded to shove me. Trying not to lose my temper & hoping if I sounded harsh enough he would leave me alone, I responded, “Don’t f*#ing touch me.” At this point, he shoved me again – and I lost it. As the adrenaline overcame me, I grabbed him by the throat & shoved him with all of my might into the lockers and said again as I held him in place, “I SAID don’t f*#ing touch me.”

I will never forget the look of surprise on his face that little me – at least a foot shorter than him & a girl, no less – was able to shove him into the lockers and hold him there while I gave him a piece of my mind.

Needless-to-say, I was paid a visit by the school’s Vice Principal that day. After relaying my story, I was free to go back to class without punishment. It turns out, standing up for yourself when you’re being bullied is 100% acceptable – within reason.

At the time, I didn’t realize what an impact that fateful day would have on me. To be honest, it wasn’t until a few days ago that it even crossed my mind again. From that moment on, I began standing up for myself; but, it wasn’t until my own son was dealing with bullies himself, that I realized it had been a turning point for me.

Fast forward a few years and my now 9 year old son, Bryce, is dealing with bullying. Within the past couple of years, he’s had at least 5 separate encounters with children bullying him. On one such occasion he was on the ground in the fetal position as a little girl kicked him in the ribs, simply because Bryce didn’t want to play with her. That same girl’s little sister pushed my youngest son, Kade, into the swing set – giving him a black eye – because he had a toy she wanted to play with. Two days ago, those same little girls and their youngest sister held Bryce down as they jumped all over him. Coincidence that both of my boys were bullied by a family of bullies – on three separate occasions? I think not.

Bullying is a learned behavior and we have the ability to stop it.

Just as children learn manners from their parents, they can also learn to scream, tease and bully from their parents as well as those around them. This isn’t to say all kids who bully have parents who are bullies themselves. However, it is our responsibility to be mindful of our own actions and how they affect our children. Are we unintentionally teaching our children to bully when we tease them for things? Are we unintentionally making them a victim by telling them to not let what kids say bother them?

Bryce & Kade

As one of nine kids, I had my fair share of teasing from my siblings. And to some degree, it was completely warranted. I’m not the type of parent that raises my children to be the constant tattle tale or have no backbone. I firmly believe that kids must learn to ignore harsh words. But that’s where I draw the line – at words. When my child is being hit, kicked, pushed or having things thrown at them, that’s when I have a serious problem.

I realize that parents, teachers and all those in authoritative positions, have an issue with kids tattling. I realize it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the truth as well as the severity of the situation; however, I also believe that it is our responsibility to put a stop to bullying, whether it be with our own children or someone else’s.

As parents, what type of example are we setting if we aren’t willing to stand up and say something on behalf of our children? As teachers, what are they teaching our children by telling them to stop tattling? At what point does that “tattling” get recognized as reporting a problem?

By not demanding better of adults, how can we demand better of children?

It breaks my heart to see Bryce feel so defeated, despite how much I tell him what an amazing child he is. More so, I am outraged that my children are being hurt – emotionally and physically – because of bullying.

I don’t condone or encourage fighting; however, sometimes you have to learn to stand up for yourself. I’m proof of that. Rest assured if Bryce gets in trouble for fighting due to someone bullying him, I’m going to take him for ice cream.

In the meantime, maybe we can all start making a difference by opening our eyes and paying attention. There’s a line between kids teasing one another and bullying. We are meant to parent and protect our children. It’s our responsibility to teach them how to treat others and how to handle difficult situations. We can put a stop to bullying and it starts at home.