All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Companions

Travel Ashley is very friendly.I don’t know what it is about traveling overseas that makes me want to talk to the people around me more, but whenever I am in an airport I get overwhelmingly curious about where people are going and why.When I first arrived at the Charlotte airport I sat down in a little restaurant accross from my gate and made myself comfortable. I ordered a sandwich and a glass of wine and started reading. I chatted with a group of older gentlemen and helped them figure out how the wireless charging worked (I am so totally down with the young people still). A few minutes later a woman sat next to me, chatting away on her cell phone and I went back to my reading.But not for long.Talking to strangers can be kind of cathartic. You know you’ll never see them again and you just start talking.Or in this woman’s case, confessing all your sins like a teenager at Mass the day after returning from beach week.I won’t air her laundry here, but I learned a lot about this single mother in the hour we spent conversing. And maybe I learned a little about myself too, because let’s face it. Traveling is fun, but the real point of it isn’t to simply see new things, but to experience life and become better for it.At least that is how I feel about good travel.And I hadn’t even truly begun yet.My flight to Florida was pretty uneventful. I had a middle seat but at 9:30, everyone was travel weary so there wasn’t a lot of extraneous conversation…unless you count the flight attendants. Young, hip and flirty. Not that I blamed them, one of their comrades was traveling on the flight and he was quite a nice looking young man, so these young women made sure he knew it, rather loudly which distracted me momentarily from the intoxicated woman behind me who laughed like Fran Fine (Drescher) from the Nanny.In Ft. Laiderdale I was picked up by my actual traveling companion, Aunt Vicki, and Uncle Ira who ushered me to their home in a whirlwind of hospitality and love.The next day we made our flight to Chicago and one harrowing bus ride (more to come on this) later we were in the international terminal ready to board the plane to Copenhagen. We settled in to our economy plus seats…and then down plops Paige in between us. And though we were still on the ground, this girl was already higher than the 30,000 feet we would climb.Through the “that’s so lit, ya’ll” and “I dunno why I’m going to Croatia, just seemed like a good idea” conversations she managed to spill wine all over my arm and blanket throughly soaking me through so as I disembarked I smelled like I’d had quite a good time on the flight, proving that looks and smells truly can be deceiving.And through it all I smiled because this is life. Its messy and filled with unusual, sometimes obnoxious, character whom God created and lived, just as he loves me, which makes each journey worth all the trips along the way.

Leaving on A jet Plane

Sometimes I marvel at the opportunities life just tends to sling my way. I am blessed with terrific family and friends. The most beautiful nieces and nephew and let’s just be real, I have one of the best jobs—sure I complain from time to time (who doesn’t), but I have a rewarding profession that isn’t just about what I do, but who I am.

And I get to travel!

I love to travel. Seeing new things, experiencing new things, and (oddly) talking to strangers is one of life’s surprising joys. I’m not really the kind of person who jumps for joy, but if I were the next two weeks would send me to Mars. Or maybe Jupiter.

My aunt invited me on a cruise that will take us all over Northern Europe and even to Russia! And let me just tell you I’m about as excited (and nervous) as a six year old set loose in a candy store with a hundred dollars in her pocket.

And so, I’m off. As per usual expect some updates (I’m a writer, I just can’t help myself), and hopefully some good stories (I’m eavesdropping right now…this is why I love airports) and some GREAT inspiration for my upcoming projects.

Because life is a Cabaret.

Authentic: Hagar

Generally speaking, I don’t love to play games.

When game nights are organized sometimes I will participate because it is a fantastic way to be social, but immediately I feel my heart begin to race and I question everything I say or do from the time I accept the invitation till the game night is over. It’s exhausting, like fighting a battle you know you can’t win.

I tell people it’s because I am not competitive and so competition makes me uncomfortable, but the more I think about it the more I realize that’s not actually true.

Truth is, I am actually very competitive. Not in the shout in your face, aggressive kind of way, but in the silently-beat-yourself-up-if-you-don’t-come-out-on-top kind of way. So I don’t love game nights, not because I need to win, but because I hate who I become: a prisoner.

The truth is, everyone is competitive. Since the fall of Eden, it seems every human is out to prove they are better, stronger, or smarter than everyone else…or at least than someone else. Although she may have had every right to feel self-righteous, Hagar allowed competition to transform her as well. As Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar had little choice in how she lived her own life. Subject to her mistress’s whims, she lacked control over most aspects of her life, but even she had an internal drive to prove she was better.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Made Servant

The first mention of Hagar is in Genesis 16, when Sarai has gotten tired of waiting on God’s promise and tells Abram that God must have left something out in their conversation: it’s a child from you, not necessarily from me. So, she says, sleep with my maidservant and we will raise that child as a fulfillment of God’s promise.

Modern 21st century women (and hopefully men) immediately hear the warning bells of competition start to chime. This woman who has been submitting to the authority of another woman whose name literally means princess suddenly has a chance to shine. Hagar gets pregnant immediately and then in verse 4 we see that attitude shift—that transformation that comes with the catalyst we call competition: Hagar looks down on, looks with contempt on, lightly esteems, or my personal favorite, despises her mistress.

What an ugly transformation.

And it didn’t do much for Sarai either. She immediately does what humans do: gets rid of the competition. In Genesis 16:5 she blames Abram for all the trouble between the women in the household, failing to see that the fault is not with any one individual but the culture that has been created through this one-upping lifestyle. Because when we place too much value on what we can accomplish and how others see us, we fail to acknowledge the one who created us. The one who formed us in His image—all of us—not to be better or prove ourselves (that’s how Satan was cast out of heaven, btw), but to love one another as He first loved us.

In a vain effort to restore peace to his charged home, Abram does not instill discipline or build community among his family, instead he taps out, giving Sarai free reign to treat Hagar in whatever way she wants (Genesis 16:6).

When we place too much value on what we can accomplish and how others see us, we fail to acknowledge the one who created us.

Let the rule book free games begin. And we all know how that ends. Rules exist for a reason in every competition: without them there will always be bloodshed.

Sarai does whatever it takes to put Hagar back in her place: maidservant made servant.

Being Seen

The point of competition is always the same: we want to be seen, loved and acknowledged for being good at something. For being the best. We thrive on the tangible affirmations, and Hagar is no different. She flees from Sarai’s abuse (after dishing out some of her own) to the desert in Genesis 16: 6-13. What’s interesting is the interaction with the angel of the Lord in this quiet place. The angel found her—she didn’t go looking for him, he came looking for her. He pursued her. She felt unwanted, unloved and unseen. He asked her where she was going, and it’s this moment of emotion that she subconsciously acknowledges she doesn’t know. I’m running away. Is all she responds.

Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash

What happens next is a little hard for me to understand and swallow, as a 21st century American woman, and yet I can still learn something valuable. That’s what I love about the Bible—I don’t need to understand everything, I just need to learn something about God who will then teach me something about myself. because the Bible isn’t about us! It’s about God. So, here’s the skinny:

  1. Running away never solves the problem. Not that I blame her, but when Hagar ran, she didn’t solve the problem. She actually created more problems: Where will I sleep? What will I eat? Where will I find safety? How will I care for my infant son? Running away seem like the easy solution, but instead of solving our problems, we usually just create more
  2. God requires submission from all of us if we are to live in his purpose. The word submission carries so many negative connotation that we balk at the word. The truth is, submission doesn’t mean powerlessness, it simply means obedience. God requires our obedience, which is why the world is set up in a kind of hierarchy. It mimics God’s purpose for us. The angel of the Lord sent Hagar back, maybe because she needed to learn the most valuable lesson of all: submission to authority. Sarai was mean to her, but Hagar was also responsible for this. Instead of gratefulness at her pregnancy, she chose contempt and created a climate of competition. Learning to submit is never easy when our sin nature demands us to be the greatest (isn’t that why Eve and Adam ate that fruit? They wanted to be equal with God?), but it’s the only way we can live in alignment with God’s will & purpose for our lives.
  3. Being known is more important than being the best. Often we think that we have to be the best or the greatest to be known, but the truth is those who love us best are the ones who have seen us at our worst.

In order to move forward, Hagar had to go back. I don’t think this means we have to live in the past, but I do think God requires us to deal with our past if we are going to build any kind of future with him. Hagar responds with gratefulness to the Lord who took the time to see and know her. Sure, the instructions were probably not what she would have chosen herself, but they were clear and given out of love. God didn’t promise her she would be the best, nor did he promise that her son would be the best, but He promised her hope and a future, as he does for each of us.

Moving On

Hagar spent a little over a decade in Abram and Sarai’s home as a maidservant and mother to Abram’s first born. So, in Genesis 21 when Isaac is born to Sarah and when Abram had become Abraham, Ishmael was about 14 years old. By this time , Ishmael might have been living under the delusion that he would be the child of the covenant and God had maybe changed his mind or something. After all—14 years had past and no baby had shown up. Abraham loved Ishmael. But then in an interesting twist, just like Hagar, Ishmael feels a certain amount of competition with this new baby. As the first born he feels he has the right to the promises and inheritance of Abraham, but as the son of a servant he has very little legal recourse. And so, he transforms into something ugly too…

He mocks a toddler.

The Bible doesn’t tell us why he is mocking the toddler, but I suspect it has something to do with just how close Sarah keeps Isaac to her—even in Biblical times a momma’s boy wasn’t exactly the tip top of the social pyramid. When the competition heightens, people get hurt. Sarah demands the pseudo family gets sent away.

Abraham loves his son, but he listens to God who tells him to send Hagar and Ishmael on—and so Hagar is forced to move on. Ishmael had to be around 16 or 17 by this point, but the language of ‘boy’ gives the impression he is much younger, and the fact that Hagar is still very much the one in charge and accountable speaks to the fact that it is she to whom God is speaking, not ‘the boy’.

When she thought she had it all together, there was no room for God. When she thought she had won in the competition with Sarah, there was no room for God. When her son mocked his half brother in a false sense of security, there was no room for God.

When she as at the end of her rope, feeling hopeless and helpless God shows up. Only then does he lead her into a new life and breathes life into the boy and his future.

And that’s when he shows up for us too—not when we are on top, or striving to prove ourselves, but when we humble ourselves and recognize that our place is at his feet, submitting to his will.

Permission to Create

I love my job.

I have been teaching for 12 years now, and while one some levels that is unbelievable, on others it feels almost as natural as breathing to me. I know that sounds really silly and maybe a bit cliche, but I was born to teach—in the classroom or in life, I can’t seem to help myself; if there is a lesson to be learned, I will try to teach it to you.

Whether you want me to or not.

So when I found out I would be teaching creative writing at my school this year, it was like being handed a beautiful gift. One that I treasured every single day since January.

Now don’t get me wrong, like all classes we had our ups and we had our downs, but giving students permission to be creative, unique and innovative in a world where standardization just about beats it out of them was refreshing for both me and my students.

Because the truth is, when we are kids we feel like creativity is our right, but as we get older it is almost as if we have to apologize for thinking outside that box.

That’s sad.

But when we are given permission to create, to think with our own minds, and to really explore what makes us passionate and excited…that’s when magic happens.

And magic happened this year, my friends.

At the end of the course…

  1. Students fell in love with writing
  2. Students found confidence in their own minds
  3. Students learned to give and receive feedback
  4. Students collaborated and encouraged one another
  5. Students became authors, and published a 250 page anthology of original works.
  6. Students became dreamers and learned to both build up AND compete with one another (well…this is a lesson we are still learning. It’s high school, after all).
  7. Audience, purpose, and tone became real as students understood for whom they were writing actually mattered in how they were going to market and sell their products.
  8. Students became teachers, and took me along for a pretty wild ride.

I have published two books myself now, and I am incredibly proud to have accomplished that goal, but I’m not sure that matches the feeling of having put together the amazing anthology for my students and watching them become excited about this journey we took together.

And that’s how I know I don’t just teach, I am a teacher.

So, I give you permission to create. Sculpt something, draw something, sing something, write something.

Because I believe in magic.

Do you?

AUTHENTIC: MARTHA

How did I get into this mess?

I’m sure this questions has wandered through your mind on more than one occasion, depending on your situation what preceded it could have been anything—after all one of our specialties as humans is getting in over our heads and trying to back out only to find ourselves sinking faster and farther.

For me, these are the words I utter when all the things I have said yes to come raining down on my head all at once and threaten to drown me in a sea of responsibilities. Because once I commit to something…I commit to it. Sometimes too much. The curse of perfectionism (yeah, I know it’s not healthy and somewhat sinful…that’s why I called it a curse) is the constant struggle of trying to do everything and trying to do everything right.

I like to be busy, but the downside to that is sometimes I get too busy and forget the things that really should matter.

Can you relate? Even if you don’t overextend yourself as much as I do, I feel as though we can all allow our busy-ness to get in the way of our healthy-ness.

Martha sure can.

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen on Unsplash

She was the epitome of allowing all that she was doing get in the way of her being. Because God isn’t a God of doing. He is a God of being. That’s why his name is I Am not I Do.

Family Responsibilities

We are first introduced to Martha in Luke 10. She lives in a little town of Bethany (about 2 miles from Jerusalem) with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus. This trio is, if not inseparable, at least incredibly close. Never is any mention of any other family made, so I can’t help but wonder, did Martha have a husband? If not, why? The text, Luke 10:38 tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. Does this house belong only to her, or is simply a reference to her hospitality? I don’t know. I like to think that she was a strong, single woman, but I know how unlikely that would be given the cultural context, but what I do know is that husband her not, she is recognized as an important part of Jesus’ story.

The whole account is recorded in Luke 10:38-42, and aside from the family relationships, we are told two things 1) Martha welcomed Jesus into her home and 2) she was distracted with much serving.

Because God isn’t a God of doing. He is a God of being. That’s why his name is I AM not I DO

Whoa.

I don’t know about you, but if Jesus came to my house in the flesh, I’d be a little distracted too! Not only would I worry about the smells and cleanliness, but I’d be super busy trying to keep him—and his entourage—fed and happy! Because let’s face it, Jesus didn’t travel alone and any time he went anywhere a crowd was sure to follow. Not only was she responsible for the comfort of 13 men (Jesus +disciples) I am certain others kept showing up. It is her home! As a southern woman, I can relate to the pressure she must have felt to make sure everyone was feeling comfortable and served.

But then, there is Mary.

Martha is working herself to a frenzy…and where is her sister? Sitting! Sitting and listening!

In Martha’s mind, she sees her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus and is burned up with anger. How dare her sister come into her home and act so selfishly?

Boy can I relate to that—Most of the time I love the busy life. I love serving. I love making sure that jobs get done that other people find unpleasant.

But every once in a while, I see someone else sitting…and typically it’s someone who hasn’t seemed to do anything at all to be helpful with whatever it is I am working on.

And there they are, sitting and chatting while I am running around doing, doing, doing.

I can imagine what was going through Martha’s mind—no servant’s heart, but anger and jealousy as she watches her sister do nothing. I know, because I have experienced the same—what started out as a selfless act turned into a need for recognition.

Becoming so distracted with serving that you literally forget why and who you are serving in the first place.

Well finally Martha has had enough and she orders Jesus to send her sister in to help. Yep, you heard that right, she gives Jesus an order.

I actually see this scene in my mind quite clearly as Jesus cocks his head to one side and studies Martha. He hasn’t even touched the plate she sat in front of him—because he’s been talking and teaching the whole time. He looks around the room and sees all the faces—these humans who are so hungry for him they also haven’t touched any of the food. In this moment of quiet they might nibble something, but most of them are eagerly leaning forward to see what he might say—after all it is this moment that might define the gender roles forever—are men the only ones who can enjoy and benefit from teaching while the women serve? Are women subservient? Second class?

And then he responds.

Stop doing so much, Martha. Stop all those action verbs—serving, working, troubling—stop doing and be with me more.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Listen then Serve, Not Serve then Listen

Jesus didn’t tell her that serving was bad. He just told her that she was worrying too much about things that don’t matter! That she needed to recenter her focus—less on what she was doing and more on who she was with!

In all her serving she had forgotten that she stood in the presence of Jesus.

She was so busy she almost missed it.

It doesn’t tell us how Martha responded. But given her actions the next time we meet up with her, I like to think she went a little slack jawed, then looked around the room and saw what Jesus saw.

And then she stopped to listen.

Why do I think this? Because Martha was also the sister who lost her brother, Lazarus. She sent for Jesus to come heal him, because she knew that he could, and then she waited. And watched. And nursed. And witnessed her brother die.

I have a sister. And a brother. I feel Martha’s struggles. I feel her pain. And while I don’t know if she is the oldest, I want to believe she is the middle kid given all her striving for perfection and acceptance. But it’s hard to say. Regardless, I feel this story on a deep and spiritual level. Watching someone you are close to—your brother—die and not being able to fix it is something akin to falling into a deep, deep well.

Down, down, down…

And then..

SMACK.

Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

From that well, you hear Jesus. And you call out to him, as Martha did in John 11: 20-21, Lord, if only. If only you had come sooner! I know your power. I know your love. If only.

And then she could have stopped, but her next words are why I think she listened in her own home early—why I think she listened.

Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. John 11:22

Hope. Even at the bottom of that dark well, Martha found hope, not anger and righteous indignation we saw earlier in the story. She found light. The light. And she reached for it, and professed her faith loudly, firmly and with conviction of one who listened.

Yes, Lord; I believe that your re the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. John 11:27

We don’t hear that profession of faith from a lot of people in the Bible, but Martha is one of them who states it firmly and without hesitation and it is recorded for all to hear and remember throughout history.

Yes, Martha listened, but her practical nature can never be denied (um, Jesus, she says when he wants to open the tomb, he’s been in there a while…it’s gonna, you know, smell pretty bad…)…and honestly, I find a lot of comfort in that. Jesus changes our hearts and our motivations, but each of us is unique and he doesn’t want to change that about us. He accepts our unique qualities and even encourages it.

It is, after all, Martha’s home Jesus returns to 6 days before the Passover, where she serves him—only days before he is to die. Jesus seeks those who seek to serve and honor him. Even if he does have to correct them from time to time. We are, after all, just humans.