Category Archives: Live it

Finding your Purpose

Some people are blessed enough to discover their purpose early on. others have a little more searching to do before their purpose becomes clear. Some people think they know their purpose only to discover later they never really had a clue. And for some, their purpose changes throughout their lives. Suddenly. Without warning. Completely transforming their lives.

Some accept their purpose.

Some run from it.

Others fear it.

Regardless, we all have a purpose. 

I was a very morose teenager. You know Eeyore?  We would have been best buddies. As such, I wondered on a pretty regular basis why God spoke to others and not to me? I drew the conclusion, falsely, that he must play favorites.  After all, how did one get chosen to be a favored disciple? There must have been hundreds of Jewish boys in the area when Jesus began his ministry, so what was so special about these 12?  In my mind, they must have done something to earn the favor and pleasure of God. It was the only thing that made sense. None of them were particularly smart (Jesus literally had to pull them aside and explain the allegory in his stories). They had average jobs, at bets–some below average (I mean, come on, no little kid dreams of growing up to be a tax collector, Matthew!) They weren’t a bunch of hot studs who made up the first boy band (at least I don’t recall hordes of women and girls following them and screaming when they flashed a dimpled grin their way).

So God did play favorites.

Um. No.

The more I grow in my faith and the older I get, the clearer it becomes that God is not playing favorites. He chooses those for great purpose whom he knows will choose to listen to his voice (with the exception of maybe Jonah, who chose to go in the opposite direction when he heard the call, but that’s a story for another day).

Those who chose to accept their purpose, those called by God, those who listened and obeyed, they received great favor from God, sure. They also experienced great heartache and did not live lives of peace. They had HARD, blessed, purposeful lives.

So what does this mean for us? For you and me in this life filled with distractions that threaten to snuff out our purpose before we can even fulfill it? I think it means 3 things:

  1. We must be willing
  2. We must be ready
  3. We must be disciplined

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We must be willing

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When Jesus called the 12 disciples, he didn’t wait around for them to make pro-con lists.  He didn’t let them go home and ask for permission or discuss it with family, friends and mentors.

He called.

They went.

Mark 1: 18-20 is clear Come follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired me and followed him.”  (NIV)

Jesus knew who was willing…he singled them out. He called. They went. No questions asked.

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We must be ready

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Not everyone is ready when God calls them to a purpose. It’s a sad fact of life. I mentioned Jonah earlier.

Jonah 1:1-3a reads: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me. But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. 

God called. He fled.

In Matthew 19:16-22 a wealthy young man sees himself as a successful leader. A good man. He has kept all the commandments and set himself up as a leader in the community. Then he asks Jesus what else he must do. Jesus tells him in verse 21 If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. 

Notice this is the same command he gave to his disciples–and they weren’t all poor. Tax collectors, for example, were notoriously wealthy and corrupt. Yet this young man “went away sorrowful” in verse 22; he wasn’t ready.

Fortunately, God can redeem our purpose even when we rebel. Jonah may have spent 3 days as fish food, but his purpose was fulfilled in the end. The young man chose not to give his all for Jesus, but at any point, he could have changed his mind and Jesus would have accepted him on the spot.

We have to be ready when Jesus calls. We have to be ready to go. We have to be ready for our lives to change radically.

We have to be ready.

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We have to be disciplined

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Being willing and ready is actually the easy part, believe it or not. Being disciplined. That’s the tough part. To be disciplined you must be trained. You must be controlled.

How?

Just like a soldier must be in shape, we also must be physically trained. We must treat our bodies like the temples they are, putting as many good things in as we can and saying no to as many harmful things as possible. In today’s world with ready access to harmful images and music, and shows–a simple drive to the grocery store to fill up the cart with junk food, or a quick trip the drive thru (#guiltyascharged), is not a disciplined life choice. I’m not saying you need to be ready to run a 5k (but kudos to you if you choose that route), but I am saying that discipline is not always fun, but to fulfill our purposes we must learn what is good for us and what will end us in the belly of a fish for three days (metaphorically speaking, of course). Because once you are swallowed, you have to work your way through a lot of yuck.

BUT

You can make your way through the yuck to the other side of grace with a little bit of discipline.

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Living in your purpose is not an easy task, but it’s what we are ALL created to do–whether we know specifically what that is or not.

God doesn’t play favorites, but he does show favor to those who are willing, ready and disciplined.

Are you?

Moving into the New

Can I just be a little vulnerable here for a minute? I’m really not too good at this, so bear with me.

I have always viewed my mind a little like a filing cabinet. I’ve been really good, most of my life, at compartmentalizing. This part of my life goes in this nice, tidy little box (it’s me, of course, it is nice, tide, color coded, and labeled). And that part of my life goes in this box. Home, School, Work, Church, Friends, Family–each in its tidy little place. For that matter, I have file folders and dividers for each part of my life. All carefully and prudently cataloged.

Yes, I am aware that might sound insane, but that is what my mind has always looked like. It’s how I function. To respond to someone, I have to dig through to the right file, so it takes me a little longer to process than the average person. And sometimes, it drives people around me insane. Sorry…well, not really. It’s who I am.

Lately, though…and this is where my heart moves to my sleeve now, people….my filing cabinets are in disarray! Especially things I thought I had carefully filed and archived, they’re on the floor of my nicely ordered mind and, to be frank, it’s a hot mess. I went out to dinner the other night with some really great friends and just burst into tears–twice. These friends are amazing and made me feel loved and not like a total geek for having a slight break down. If you don’t have friends like these, you are seriously missing out. The point, however, is my nicely controlled world has turned into chaos.

But you’d never know it just by looking at me. On the surface, I’ve got it figured out. I’m pretty put together and I really own my…quirkiness.

Yeah, I do. I own who I am, but I do not have it all figured out. Bless! I doubt I ever will, and that’s okay, but it got me thinking about a lot of different things. How people present themselves to the world, but their minds are still a mystery. God knows us, but sometimes, we hold out our hand and say, “Hey God, I know this is a mess, but you don’t need to worry about me; I’ve got this” and we frantically try to gather up our loose ends and stuff them back in filing cabinets or…shudder…under beds and in closets. If you can’t see it, then it ceases to exist. Right?

God’s standing there like, “Really, dude? You’re going to try to clean this all up yourself?”

And we do. Or we don’t. Either way, it’s still a mess.

And then, I had this really cool experience during GraceLife’s week of prayer and fasting this year.

When we started, I wasn’t really sure what I was praying and fasting for. I felt compelled to do so, but I didn’t really know why. Maybe it was peer pressure. Maybe it was guilt. But definitely, it was God. I spent most of the week praying for others and that was great! I really got out of that mess in my mind and focused on others’ and their needs. On the last day, I read Isaiah 43 as a part of my daily reading plan. Really, there was nothing special for me while I was reading, but then I started praying—it was a very specific prayer for something I want. Something that kind of is responsible for that mess in my mind (but only kind of). And then, I heard it. A whisper from God. 

For I am about to do something new.

New is good…but maybe a little earth shattering. Okay. Very earth shattering and new definitely screws with my nice little filing cabinets. A few years ago, I thought I really hated change and new, but then I came to the stark realization that I NEED change and new in my life. It disorganizes me and forces me to grow. Yeah, it’s painful (sometimes excruciatingly so), but I need it. So this whisper was not unwelcome, but it was surprising, especially when He continued with:

See, I have already begun! Do you not see it, dummy? 

I know what you are thinking. God did NOT call you a dummy. Well, actually I swear that’s what I heard–but it wasn’t insulting it was just kind of a push on the shoulder with a sly little smile. And maybe a wink. And that image of papers fluttering to the floor around my filing cabinets burned itself to the back side of my retinas. Like it all had to be laid out on the floor for me to see and wade through with HIM before I could truly see what He was doing for me and in me.

Whoa. And then he finished with: 

And then he finished with:

I will make a pathway through the wilderness [or, rather, chaos]. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

A few more papers might have shot from filing cabinets with those last few words. And there I stood, watching them flutter to the floor at my feet.

But instead of frantically trying to gather them all to me, I am now sighing.

And crying.

And healing.

It’s beautiful. It’s painful. It’s a mess. And I don’t really understand it at all (hey, I’m smart, but I’m kind a dummy sometimes too…I hope that doesn’t offend anyone; I’m just being honest).

Fortunately, I don’t need to understand it all right away, I just need to keep moving forward. With Him. Into something NEW.

Because He makes all things new.

Even you.

 

What does your name mean?

I used to hate my name.


Ashley


I spent most of my life hearing ‘names are important’, ‘names have meaning’, ‘names are valuable’. So I asked my parents why they named me Ashley.

I knew what my sister’s name meant: Katherine ‘pure and clear’.  Beautiful.

I knew what my brother’s name meant: Justin ‘just, upright, righteous’. Now that’s a meaning with a punch of purpose.

Mine? Sure I knew mine too: Ashley ‘from the Ash Tree’. Uh…what?

My sister worked as a missionary. A teacher of children. A spiritual guidepost for kids and teens.

My brother became a lawyer.

What was I supposed to be? I can’t grow a plant to save my life. I even killed Bamboo.

Okay, I know what your thinking. I don’t actually believe our names control our destiny, but I do see a correlation between names and purpose and I think God is pretty clear about that too.

So you know what my parents told me when I asked them? They told me Ashley was a pretty name and, at the time, unique.

I struggled to see purpose in that. Especially since the 1980s saw such an explosion of baby Ashley’s that I was always one of 3 Ashleys in my class.


Ashley C. 


Frustrated, I grew irritated every time the Bible recorded or mentioned purposeful naming because, to be honest, I felt left out.

I know that’s irrational.

I know my parents didn’t mean anything by it.

Over analytical, as always, my name and identity felt empty. Hollow. Meaningless.

Until I started to look at it differently. It’s probably why I love subtext as much as I do. When I started seeing myself as multidimensional, it opened up a new perspective and it helped me see my identity much more clearly.

People sometimes call me Ash.

What an image that puts in your mind. Useless grey dust. Gross.

Except, ash isn’t useless.

I’ve always had a fascination with the phoenix. Somewhere along the process of growing, maturing and finding my identity, I realized that ashes actually hold potential. power, beauty and subtext.

You see, a phoenix has a unique talent. It goes through trials, but what appears to be the biggest trial of all, death, never actually destroys a phoenix. Instead, when this mythical bird bursts into flames and collapses in what appears to be a useless pile of ash, it rebirths a new phoenix–it’s still the same bird, but it’s different. New. Not destroyed, revitalized.

And did you know that Ash tress are actually used as symbols in ancient mythology? Guess what they symbolize? Yep, rebirth and revitalization.

JRR Tolkein said, “from the ashes a fire shall be woke. A light from the shadows shall spring.”


From ugly to beauty. 

From dark to light. 

From the ashes. 

From the Ashley. 


What better destiny could a person ask for than to wake a fire where there was nothing seemingly worth saving?

I am a fire reviver.

I am a phoenix.

Now, I embrace to perspcetive shifts that help me see beauty where there was once only grey dust.

And I couldn’t do that if I weren’t


Ashley


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Wacked in the Head

I used to think I did not like change. To me, it was a 4 letter word not to be embraced, said or envisioned.

Then I realized I NEED change.

I need change because it gives me purpose and helps me set meaningful goals. What I don’t like is unexpected change. I need it, but I want it to be on my terms.

But life isn’t like that.

And God doesn’t work on my terms.

I do exactly what Lysa Terkeurst says in the book Uninvited:

“I’m forever making suggestions and predictions. It’s as if I’m saying to God, ‘Here’s the plan, and, trust me: it’s really good, God. So if you could just bless all this…don’t mess with all this…just bless it and we’ll be good.'” (53)

But the thing is, when I do that I’m putting a limit on God. I’m suggesting that I know better than he does how to run the world. Or at least my world.

And I don’t want to run the world. I’m not a supervillain. It reminds me of the 90s TV show, “Pinky and the Brain”. Every episode Pinky asks the same question: “What are we going to do today?” And Brain responds: “What we do everyday; try to take over the world.”

As if two tiny mice could actually accomplish this goal, let alone doe the job well.

Ridiculous!

But aren’t I doing the same? I think I’m the “Brain”. Every day I try to take control from God and run things my way as if I could be more successful than He!

Ridiculous!

The other day, Rachel and I took a day trip to the beach. We were really excited, but woefully unprepared. Despite our intentions and plans, we quickly realized if we didn’t have a little shade, we would both be fried by the time we went home.

So I bought an umbrella thinking this would solve all our problems.

We had plans. First we tried with our own strength to get the pole down in the sand.

Negative.

So we dug a hole.

Negative.

Then we piled sand around the pole.

Negative.

Then…nothing we planned worked and we were at a loss. What a waste!

Until a kind stranger came to the rescue. He had the tools to drill a hole for us. And the kindness to help show us the error of our ways and point us in a more successful direction.

If only we’d asked for this direction first, then we might have saved ourselves a konk or two on the head.

When the stranger drilled a hole, it worked. Despite all our plans and tries, we wouldn’t know the outcome but someone who knows more than us did.

God’s a little like that.

When we try to work things out all on our own and in our own way we get wacked in the head with an umbrella and strangely we often don’t realize that our efforts are, well, ridiculous.

The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and expecting a different result.

So maybe it is time to stop the insanity and give up the “Pinky and the Brian” mentality. Maybe it’s time to let God drill the hole for us and well…

Be God.

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What God Taught Me in Slovakia

Shut up and dance with me.

While this is a lyric to a rather popular pop song by Walk the Moon, it is also the most valuable lesson God taught me while I was in Slovakia this summer. Actually, to make things more interesting, He continues to teach me this lesson at home, which is why I haven’t actually been able to write about Slovakia until now.

Now I realize that the pop song is more about teenage hormones than spiritual enlightenment, but God is pretty cool and can speak through, well, anything, including this.

I have a serious problem. I am nearly thirty-one years old and in my heart I think I can out plan God. I have a plan A, a plan B, a contingency plan for both plan A and plan B and just in case those don’t work out I have a backup for those.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but that’s pretty much how I’ve lived my life. Risk managed and assessed carefully.

That’s the way I started out the summer. I planned carefully for every English lesson for my class. I talked it over with the right people. I printed out the materials. I had it all packed perfectly. I knew what the plan was. My plan.

And then God told me to Shut up.

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Cassie and Karolina at KECY site

Did you know that God says shut up? He does. I mean, I think people put God inside this box and think that he is super polite all the time with like fluttering eyelashes as He says ‘Be still, my child.’ And sure. He says that. But how many children do you know always listen to that tone?

Sometimes God has to get real. And he DID. He told me straight up to SHUT UP.

Now, when God tells you to shut up, my advice is…shut up. Because I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t. At first. I kept trying to plan and arrange and ignore…

But He said it again.

Shut up.

I had run out of plans. At a loss, I did what I was told (finally). And that’s when I heard the rest of God’s command.

Shut up and dance with ME.

That was kind of a shock. Because I am NOT a dancer. I move my head a little to a beat. And every once in a while when I have maybe a drink or two I’ll shake my white girl hips a little, and look absolutely ridiculous. But I have the rhythm of a three legged sloth so I DON’T DANCE.

Shutting up was bad enough, but dancing?

But here’s the thing. God wasn’t asking me to shake my white girl  hips. He wanted me to dance with HIM. If you know anything about dancing, you know that it can be beautifully sexist (oxymoron?) and all a woman truly needs a strong male lead.

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Laura Troutman, Sarah Troutman and Ashley (me!) Carmichael in Bratislava (Picture credit to Sarah and Will Troutman)

Oops.

Shut up and dance with me had nothing to do with MY abilities or MY plans or even MY wants. God simply wanted me to shut up and let Him lead.

And when you let God lead—You shut up and let Him just move, you realize just how awesome He really is. God’s going to move when He wants to. I saw evidence of that in Slovakia in the Slovak leaders, in the students, in the changes, in the conversations—both English and Slovak—, in our American team, in traveling God moves. The thing is when I shut up, HE gets the glory HE deserves and I actually get to dance with Him, not around Him.

And then He taught me about myself, about what it means to communicate and be godly. He showed me my heart. He showed me others’ hearts. More importantly I listened as He spoke.

And a funny thing about dancing with God…once you start, you just don’t want to stop. Now that’s a destiny worth pursuing.

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KECY camp 2016 in Prozina, Slovakia