whether or not Your lips move

You speak to me

life fermatas August 20, 2013

fer·ma·ta noun \fer-ˈmä-tə\: a prolongation at the discretion of the performer of a musical note, chord, or rest beyond its given time value; also: the sign denoting such a prolongation —called also hold

In the musical world, fermatas designate to hold the note or rest longer than usual. The definition above says that it is at the performer’s discretion, which is often true. But in a chorus the length the fermata is held is up to the director. The chorus singers watch the director for that moment when he or she releases them from holding the note or rest and signals that it is time to move on.

Life is full of fermatas, isn’t it?

There are times when we are watching God… just holding on… waiting for Him to signal that it is time to move on. What do we do during those prolongations?

We keep singing the last thing we knew to sing. It can be tempting to move on to the next part of the music when it feels right or when we just get too tired of holding the same note. But if we do that, we will miss out on the beauty of experiencing the music the way it was meant to be sung. If we take things into our own hands instead of being faithful in the most recent thing to which we were called, we could miss out on experiencing the fullness of what God had planned.

We keep our eyes on the Director. Contrary to popular opinion, sometimes God does give us more than we can handle. There are many reasons for this but I believe the primary reason is to reveal to us that He is an endless supply of strength from which we can draw. So when you think you’re out of breath from holding that note, know that He is there offering for you to breathe in deep from His Spirit. (Cool fact: in the New Testament, the Greek word for spirit and breath is the same.)

We trust that whatever comes next will be worth the wait. Sometimes in choruses we sight-read, meaning we perform without having previously rehearsed or sometimes without having even seen the music beforehand. We watch the director even more closely in those times. The same is true during life fermatas–even though we don’t always know what the next part looks or sounds like, we can trust God that it will be magnificent and what is best for us.

So… hang on. Keep breathing. Keep leaning on Him. And know that whatever is coming, one way or another it is going to end up beautiful.

 

here we go… December 20, 2012

Filed under: calling,faith,family,parenting,positive things,sacrifice — Ash @ 4:10 pm

I’ve embarked on a new adventure: work at home mom.
That’s right–I’ve had a baby and I’ve quit my full-time job.
I had a million eloquent things to say about it all over the past several weeks, but I can’t remember any of them right now. I think these verses kind of sum it up for now, though:

“Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19, HCSB)

I’m eager to see what God has in store for me and for our new little family. To say life has been different would be the understatement of the year. To say it has been the most difficult time of my life and yet also the most amazing, fulfilling, and joyful time would be the understatement of the decade.

So… here we go.

 

this is for you. July 22, 2011

Today I defend my thesis.

It took me a few months to write it… I have been preparing to write it for about 2 years… and my whole life has led up to it.

Today I will be asked why I chose the topic I did. And this is my answer, the one I must write out right now while I can’t stop the tears and can’t speak coherently. I’ll have to save coherent for later when I’m on the phone with the graduate research council.

Why did I write “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Does Prevention Exist for the Potential Molester?”

I wrote it for every friend and family member I have who was molested, sexually abused, touched inappropriately by an adult or another child, or exposed to pornography at an early age. I wrote it for those who have entrusted me with their stories of these incidents, so many now that I have lost count. I wrote it for their broken hearts and stolen childhoods. I wrote it for every adult who has never, ever told anyone what happened to them, because they aren’t sure that it wasn’t normal for everybody and they aren’t sure that it is really that big of a deal. I wrote it for those who have told, and who have been disbelieved. They suffer depths of nightmares that will take years to unravel if they seek help again at all.

I wrote it so parents can be educated and know how to protect and educate their children. I wrote it so those parents can know that if their children are molested, sometimes it isn’t their fault as parents if they have done everything they possibly knew to do. Some parents need to know that they did the best they could with what they had. Other parents need to be arrested and rehabilitated so they can learn how to be parents.

I wrote it so that maybe someday we can stop the cycle of abuse that exists in this nation, and so that these evil deeds can be brought to light. So that counselors, social workers, law enforcement officers, law makers, judges, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and ministers can perhaps be educated about the unique and devastating effects of sexual abuse for children, so they can save a few from the destruction of their sexuality and self-concept. I wrote it so that more research will be done into the mind of the molester and what can be done to prevent recidivism but more importantly, to prevent the first offense. I wrote it so that maybe someday curriculum to educate children and adults about abuse prevention will be taught in multiple venues and in multiple sessions, so that every parent and child is equipped. I wrote it so maybe someone will investigate the underground pedophile rings and enabling groups that exist in this country, the ones that operate online and in the sex industry. Especially the ones that are protected by the ACLU and the first amendment.

I wrote my thesis to discover if something could have been done to prevent me from ever having been molested. What signs were those teens and adults showing that someone else should have recognized? What should have been done? What help could they have sought and at what stage of their progression into child molesting? The people around me did the best they could with what they knew, but these persons still slipped by. These were people they trusted. They were very good deceivers, and now I know some of the reasons why–they had been down a long road of damaging experiences themselves, they likely had some psychological illness, they had slowly traded in rational thought for distorted thinking, and they had become skilled manipulators. And nobody ever made them get help.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

So, why did I write this thesis? I wrote it for me. But even more so, I wrote it for you. The victims who are still living as victims. The victims who are living as survivors. The people who love those victims and survivors. The children who right now are at risk.

And yes, even for those who fear they may become child molesters. If you fear it, this is a sign there is still time for you to get help.

Was writing this thesis painful? Yes. There were things I read in research that literally made me sick. But was it worth it? Yes.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

This is for you.

 

 

I shouldn’t be alive. September 25, 2010

I’ve been fairly open about my childhood experiences and past traumas among friends, family, and church family, but not so much online. I don’t think it is wise to put too much about yourself out there for the whole world to have access to. But the more I learn about child development for my master’s degree and the deeper I dig into different types of research, the more apparent it becomes that my past experiences will play a part in my destiny.

Without airing the gory details, I will let you know that I was neglected and abused as a child. Some of that abuse was sexual, and it happened more than once and came from more than one adult. I have always had vivid memories of parts of that abuse; God has mercifully allowed my subconscious to block the rest of it. I went through most of my life overcompensating for the feelings of powerlessness, fear, abandonment, and helplessness that stemmed from those experiences. I “learned” that being alive meant being in constant danger on some level and that I was on my own. Later I would learn that, too, was a lie. Praise God that He had His hand on me from an early age and had instilled in me a love for Jesus and His Word practically from the time I learned to talk– otherwise you’d likely be reading the blog of a staunch atheist.

People with a past like mine are several times more likely to commit suicide, have 30 or more sexual partners, be drug addicts or alcoholics, and be abusers themselves. If I’m doing my reading right, the “post traumatic stress” sexual abuse victims experience can parallel what war veterans experience. As I look at these statistics of what is “normal” for someone with my experiences, I become more convinced that there is only one reason I am alive. One reason I have an ounce of compassion in me. One reason I am able to rise above all the (insert choice word here) I have gone through in my almost 30 years. And that reason is JESUS. God’s love and grace.

I think that it would be easy, and even expected, for me to use all the trauma of my past as a REASON not to believe in a loving, protecting God. I bet some people would expect it and maybe even think I had a right to it. But you know what? God didn’t MAKE those people do those things to me. Did He allow it? Yes. For only reasons He knows and perhaps has yet to reveal. But, as I live, I trust Him. I can’t always explain it. But I do.

I have had personal, close encounters with the living God that are undeniable. Beyond and through what I consider to be the total truth of the Scriptures, I have personally experienced peace that is totally and completely illogical in the face of my past. I choose to forgive the people who molested and hurt me, even though there are days I would rather not. I am not living in denial of the things that have happened to me. I am forced to deal with that reality nearly every day. The only explanation for my being alive and my being effective in any sort of way is because the power of God is in me through the Holy Spirit.

I still have problems. I still struggle with this stuff. There have been times that all I can do is scream bloody murder because I can’t handle “it,” whatever “it” is. I may always wrestle that demon of depression, but after each match it stays down for the count a little longer. Studies show that I may always have overactive fear responses and not handle stress as well as a “normal” person, which can lead to chronic health problems (anyone who knows me can see that is true). But I know that ultimately, I win. Because God wins. And I’m not talking “end times” here, although that’s obviously true. But I mean in the here and now– in whatever length of years God chooses to give me on this hunk of dirt we call earth. I have to cling to this– that He has a purpose beyond what I can understand for all the awful things I have experienced in my life. That He will use me in someone’s life– yours– to point the way to Him.

How the traumas I experienced will play out in my destiny… I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I know I have a choice in the matter though, at least as far as my attitude and response. What Satan intended for evil, God can use for good. I can allow the memories and facts to weigh me down and render me useless. Or I can use them to help myself and others.

I’m gonna have to go with the latter.

 

I want my crayons back June 28, 2010

So lately I have had this indescribable desire to be creative. I am a creative person (all people are in some way or another) but there are certain things I am not so great at, like painting. But even in college I would get a coloring book and crayons now and then, especially around finals!

Recently with my Mosaic ladies we had a creativity workshop led by two lovely, beautiful, and insanely creative friends, Lisa and Trae. They pointed out how our Creator God empowered us with the ability to create. Trae read a quote out of a book that really hit me. Basically it said that whenever we get restless and bored with life, it may be our inner Kindergartener saying we want our crayons back. We want to be encouraged and empowered to create, like we were when we were kids. Why did we ever stop being taught to imagine?

It’s interesting. I used to love to write stories. Even from a very young age, Anne of Green Gables was a hero of mine for many reasons, but mainly because she wrote stories and was a teacher. When I was in elementary school, I would write these crazy tales about my hamster’s secret nightlife. After my family and I were in bed, she would go on adventures to the animal mall, and she had fabulous accessories she’d don before heading out. And of course the stories were illustrated.

I can’t tell you how many ‘books’ I wrote as a young teenager. Spiral notebooks were my constant companion. Admittedly, many of my tales were more like retellings of whatever Babysitters Club Super Special I’d read most recently, only cast with my friends and me and slight adjustments to the plot. But I still had a great time writing them. I never finished them, though.

Then came high school AP English. Four years of it. By the time I graduated my desire to write had all but disappeared. I would write poetry here and there, especially when I was depressed, but no more stories. No more hamster escapades. No more outrageous summer vacations for me and my friends. No more hours wiled away with daydreaming and imagining and pretending to be Anne Shirley. The creativity in that area had been sucked away. Wilted like a flower long neglected.

So. I’ve been rediscovering this passion for stories. I don’t know where it will take me. I guess I’ll let you know. I read so very little fiction (only about 3 or 4 writers). But more and more I have learned that fiction is almost truer than nonfiction, if that makes any sense. There are things you can say and do with a “fiction” story that communicate more truth than any “nonfiction” way of writing ever could.

I’m finding other creative outlets as well. It kills me that I don’t have enough time or energy to do musicals right now, but I will return to that stage. I’ve nurtured a growing interest in fashion design ever since Project Runway season 1 aired (and I’ve watched every episode since) and am hoping to learn how to thread my sewing machine soon. I’ve become my own (quite amateur) makeup artist over the years, and recently fell in love with the book Making Faces. I learned to decorate cakes when I was a manager at Cold Stone, and am getting to take a fondant class in a couple of weeks. I started scrapbooking at least a year ago (and true to form have not yet finished even one album).

I keep uncovering all these reminders of my fleeting attempts at different creative endeavors, and fight the temptation to get down on myself for not finishing or excelling at any of it. But my how fun it all has been.

I think I got a couple of my crayons back.

 

Culture Chameleon? June 2, 2010

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(1 Cor. 9:19-23, The Message)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Paul sought to be “all things to all people” so that he could build relationships with them and hope that they might trust Jesus. I particularly like the way Peterson paraphrased it in The Message (see above). Even though Paul had the freedom to do whatever he felt was necessary, Paul modified his behavior so as not to offend the people he was with. When he was with the Jews, he wouldn’t go eating a big slice of ham, even though he had the freedom to do so. When he was with the Gentiles, he wouldn’t berate them for not being circumcised and expect them to be like him.

So was Paul a “culture chameleon,” changing his stripes depending on who he was with? Weren’t we told in youth group that this was a bad thing? Haven’t we always been told that we should stand out and be different and not look like the world? Aren’t we supposed to be pointing out the errors of the world and making a difference?

I think this is really a “both/and” kind of thing. Balance is a beautiful thing, is it not?

We have to live our lives in obedience to what God has asked of us. Each follower of Christ has a special calling on his or her life, certain groups of people that he or she will be most effective among, and personality traits and talents that will support him or her in those particular endeavors. None of us is just like another. Generally speaking, we will have the same message but a myriad of ways of conveying it. My unique voice and point of view will resonate with people that perhaps yours won’t.

At the same time, however, that doesn’t mean that I can be a total jerk to certain groups of people (followers of Christ or not) that I don’t particularly like or agree with. It doesn’t mean I can come down on you for hanging out with them. It doesn’t mean that I pass judgment on you and question your every word and move if you have felt called to love that group of people. I have to trust God enough to let Him be the Holy Spirit to you and not try to take that role myself.

“But what will people think of me if I hang out with (insert group of people here)? Won’t they think I’m one of them?” Well, maybe. Jesus got called all sorts of things and people thought all kinds of incorrect things about Him simply based on who He spent time with. So yeah, people (even other Christ-followers) may label you something you aren’t. They might assume you’re “sinning” right along with the group of people you’re trying to love. But their opinions really can’t stop you. Not if you are following God’s call on your life to reach them.

Besides, you’re not going to be taking on their way of life; you’re going to “keep your bearings in Christ.” The point is, you will be entering their world to “experience things from their point of view.” You’re going to attempt to see things the way they do. You’re going to try to empathize with their feelings. You’re going to try to figure out what motivates them, what hurts them, what offends them, what makes them joyful. You’re going to spend a lot of time with them in order to reach this goal. And in the process, you will have earned the right to be heard. They just might actually believe you when you tell them you love them, and that Jesus does, too.

At the same time, you’ll need to remember that not everybody is going to understand what the heck you’re doing. You’ll need to find your self-esteem in God and not people’s approval. You’ll also need to deal gently with the people who misunderstand you, and be aware that there may be certain things like particular actions or phrases that are offensive to them. Know your audience as best you can, and do everything you can to live peaceably with all people (Romans 12:18).

Wow. This is a tough balance. Be true to who you are and your mission in Christ AND at the same time be mindful of who you’re with? Stay true to your calling, not walking on eggshells around those who judge you WHILE still being sensitive to them? Definitely an ongoing, developing balance that only the Holy Spirit can bring to a person’s life.

So. Maybe being a “culture chameleon” isn’t such a bad thing. Some people call the art of knowing how to communicate truth without being offensive tact. Most of us could probably stand to have a little more of it. Maybe we could get so good at it we could even be accused of “speaking the truth in love.”

 

Dealing with Loneliness May 28, 2010

This is a repost from my other blog, Keep Him or Dump Him?

On this blog we talk a lot about being the kind of women we know we can be, and not settling for anything less than the best in our relationships.

If you’ve been on that journey for even a short amount of time, you’ve probably come to realize something. It’s a lonely way of life.

It can get lonely when you feel like surely you must be crazy for holding out for the “right” guy. You might have even been called “too picky” and told you need to lower your standards. Nobody’s perfect they tell you. And you know this, but you also know that you are worthy of the deepest love and respect possible in a relationship with a guy. And so you continue to hold on to hope as best you can.

It can get lonely when you see another girl partying and hooking up with few consequences, while you continue to wait. She seems to have so much fun. But you know that even if her body isn’t showing the effects of it, her mind and emotions are taking a beating that she may not be aware of—or that she just isn’t equipped to acknowledge. Somewhere along the way she was tricked into thinking that this is the way it is done, this is who she is, and this is how it is supposed to be. It can be very tempting to want to try her way of doing things. It can also be very tempting to set yourself up on a high horse above her. Instead of judging her or joining her, you decide to love her and be her friend.

It can get lonely when you’re the last one of all your friends to be in a serious relationship. You find yourself surrounded by couples and feel like the third wheel. You may even begin to scrutinize yourself and think there is something wrong with you. You feel like you have to choose between bitterness of soul and just accepting reality. You fight the temptation to just go out and find any guy willing to fill the void in your life. But you realize that when you draw your strength from God, you can think a little more clearly and try to keep your eyes on what’s really important.

It can get lonely when you are being pursued by men that you know are totally wrong for you. You get tired of always saying no. You might begin thinking that you should just go ahead and take what you can get. You might start thinking that God is holding out on you and this is what you have to choose from, so why not just go for it. But you are reminded that God has good, exciting plans for your life and choose to focus on that instead—even if it is a daily battle to do so.

I speak from experience on all of this. “But Ashley, you’re a happily married woman now, and therefore I am going to stop listening to you.” (I remember totally tuning out married women’s opinions at one time in my life, too.) Yes, but I have a very good “emotional memory” and remember very, very well the way it felt to be alone.

I didn’t always handle my loneliness very well. Often I was very immature about it. I’d avoid friends who were in happy, healthy relationships because it just put a spotlight on what I didn’t have. I would totally ignore the advice of happily married women because my jealousy painted them as being totally out of touch with the real world and what it was like to be single. I manipulated guys for their attention and affection to fill the void in my heart, but didn’t understand that this was what I was doing.

Finally I found a decent way to deal with loneliness. I guess that after a while I just got tired of being miserable. I started taking a good look at myself to evaluate who I really was. It was painful and not fun. And—you guessed it—it was still lonely! But I was at least learning to be a little more content with it. I had a lot of alone time with God because I didn’t really have much of anyone else. I ended up reading the Bible a lot, journaling a lot, praying a lot. And after a few months of it, I realized that I was becoming a different person. And I kind of liked her.

I need to point out that just because a woman is married, it doesn’t mean she is never lonely. Loneliness has more to do with your soul than your relationship status. It comes and goes, often staying longer than we’d like. But sometimes a little loneliness is OK. When we are dealing with it in appropriate, healthy ways, it can be a tool that helps chisel us more into reflecting the image of God.

What are some ways you have dealt with loneliness?