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.

 

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.

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.

My Spartan Journey: I Lived

My Spartan journey began in March of 2012 at The Gusher 5K. (You guys may remember Iram Leon who won The Gusher Marathon earlier this year & is also a recent Spartan finisher.) Having never run more than a mile in my life – if that – I signed up to run my first 5K at The Gusher since our office had a participating team. As it tends to do, life got in the way & I never prepared for the run. And, as luck would have it, a team member from our office ended up having to back out at the last minute leaving an open spot on the team. Genuinely thinking of backing out myself, I convinced my husband to join our team as a walker. Having had back surgery 3 months prior, I knew I was asking a lot of him, but I also knew it would be my “easy way out.” He would start the race running – that’s the stubborn man he is – but, I was convinced there was no way he would run the entire 5K. Which, of course, meant I’d “have” to walk the rest of it with him to show my support. *cough, cough*

Race day came and I was petrified. As we took off among the horde of people and my legs began to hurt almost instantly, it became clear there was no way I was finishing that race running. With only a ½ mile down, I looked over at my husband who was calmly running along and looked for some sign of him slowing down. Zero chance. (Must have been all those years in the Army paying off.) So, I continued to plod along trying to decide if I could somehow fake an injury. As we approached the 1 mile marker, I began to tell myself I just had to make it to the mile marker and then I could walk. (After all, that in itself was an accomplishment for me.) The mile marker came and went. My husband continued to run. Oh how I hated (and adored) that man. So we ran. And ran. And ran. As I crossed the finish line for my very first 5K, I felt like I had just run a marathon – mentally and physically. I was ecstatic! It was in that moment that a thought crossed my mind, “What if.” I hadn’t prepared and yet, I had finished my task. What if I had actually trained? What if I could really do this?

My husband, Ryan, & I after our first Spartan in Burnet, TX.

My husband, Ryan, & I after our first Spartan in Burnet, TX.

Fast forward 2 months and I found myself standing at the starting line of my first Spartan – the Sprint in Burnet, TX. Once again, I felt like I had made a very bad decision agreeing to endure such torture. The race started and I trudged along the course. My husband was with me every step of the way helping me over the walls, talking me through the running. I managed to only have to do burpees twice – the rope climb and the spear throw. Covered in mud from head to toe and completely exhausted, we crossed the finish line. As they placed a Spartan medal around my neck, I decided I could most definitely do this.

My husband and I agreed we wanted to go after the coveted Trifecta medal. We began to train and prepare by participating in as many races, bike rides and runs as we could. We even completed our first Tough Mudder and joined a local CrossFit box (shout-out to CrossFit Bridge City). We often joked that these races and training were our marriage counseling. (How true that turned out to be!)

We completed our 2nd Spartan – the Beast – in Glen Rose, TX that December. The day after returning home, I began to experience severe chest pain. Within a week, I found myself hospitalized and diagnosed with two pulmonary embolisms, commonly known as PEs – or blood clots in the lungs. The remedy? Blood thinners for a minimum of 6 months with the possibility of being on them permanently if they determined I had a blood clotting disorder.

Ryan & I jumping the fire to finish the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX together.

Ryan & I jumping the fire to finish the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX together.

As I lay in my hospital bed, the doctor tried to reiterate how much of a “big deal” my situation was. (Not being familiar with PEs, I didn’t grasp why they were acting like I was dying.) All the doctors and nurses seemed to say was, “It’s a really big deal.” Finally, the doctor decided to shoot straight with me. With a sincere look of concern on his face, he said, “You had two chronic PEs. One in the right that was completely blocking the artery and the left almost completely blocking the artery. We’re lucky we caught it. That’s usually fatal.” Later that afternoon, they sent in the hospital chaplain to discuss my will. (Let me just say from experience that nothing quite brings your life into perspective like the words fatal and will.)

These people are crazy! I am SO not dying today – I found myself screaming inside. What about my children? My husband? What about everything I haven’t gotten to do yet? “Can I still do obstacle racing?” I asked. With a look of surprise on his face, the doctor replied, “Well, I wouldn’t go climbing through barbed wire or anything.” Uncontrollably, the tears flowed. The idea of waiting my entire life to finally discover I loved something only to have it ripped away was devastating. Maybe I was dying. My husband stayed by my side, reassuring me that we would get through this together. And, get through it we did.

With only a month off from CrossFit and adjusting to life on my trusty blood thinners, I returned to the local box and began to push harder than before. In the beginning, every time I struggled to breathe, I experienced anxiety. In time, I began to distinguish the difference between the PEs causing me problems and me just getting my butt kicked by the WOD. But, with overwhelming support from my fellow CrossFitters and my husband and with my children as inspiration, I began to set personal records. Every day I grew stronger and more fit. Every day I got one day closer to that 6 month mark of required blood thinners.

My inspiration, Bryce (8) & Kade (4).

My inspiration, Bryce (8) & Kade (4).

Some days, reality liked to slap me a little harder than others. Like the morning I received a text from my co-worker telling me her sister’s husband died from a PE and that I’m “the only person she knows who’s survived it.” Or when we got the call that my husband’s great uncle had passed away from a PE. No one knows why God does things the way He does, or what His plan is for us. All I know, is that it wasn’t my time to die. For the time being, I still get to wake up next my husband and kiss my children goodnight. And for that, I am very grateful.

What feels like a million vials of blood later, we still don’t have an answer. The doctors have a few leads, but nothing solid. For now, I’m free of Coumadin and clear to conquer what I set out to do over a year ago – get the Spartan Trifecta medal. My husband and I are signed up for the Spartan Sprint in Kiln, MS. I have no doubt that when I find myself standing at the starting line, I’ll experience fear and anxiety. But I also know one thing for certain. I will finish the race. I will add another Spartan medal to my collection. And one day very soon, that will be the Trifecta medal.

Until then…..AROO!