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 across 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. Lauderdale 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.
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.
There are some times in life when you feel like life is moving forward. You get a new job. You meet someone new. You get married. A baby is born. You travel to a new place.
There are other times in life where you seem to be in a holding pattern. Nothing moves forward, nothing catastrophic pulls you under, you aren’t going backward—you are just…marking time. You get up. You go to work. You do your thing. You come home. On repeat.
I don’t love holding patterns. I find them a little depressing. No, not depressing. Frustrating. Kind of like, okay God, have you forgotten me down here? Kind of feeling.
But then I reflect back on times when life is crazy, moving forward and changing, and I realize that in those moments I was wishing for something a little more stable. I don’t like change…and yet I need change to feel like I’m really living my life. It’s one of those geeze, Ash, could you stop being so darn human for one second and just be satisfied with all the ways you’ve been blessed…kind of situations.
So the more I mark time in this holding pattern season of my life the more I start to realize it’s actually a blessing—“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) —or in the case of a holding pattern a season for every inactivity as well
A Time to Listen
I am actually a really bad listener. If I had a nickel for every time I said “huh, I think we’ve had this conversation before”, simply because I asked a question I should have already known the answer to, I’d be able to retire. Most people forgive me for this, because despite the fact that I have the same conversation sometimes multiple times, it is not out of malicious intent—and most people know I really do care—but I don’t always listen with the purpose of remembering or internalizing. I think this evolved as a way to keep me from losing my mind. I’m naturally very introverted, but on average in one day I have hundreds of conversations…that may be an exaggeration, but I’m really not sure that it is (math…I have 25-30 kids in each class and I try to personally talk to most if not all of them at least once during the class period, though I’m not always successful. Then there is the mornings when I open my room for students because I get there early before the library even opens and kids like to have a place to sit. I’d say a good 15 or 20 are in there, then at morning duty I talk to people in the halls, then at lunch my room is never empty. Never…so okay hundreds is probably an exaggeration, but still. That’s a lot of conversing).
The point is, I’m not good at listening, because although I have these conversations, listening but I am very good at hearing. (As a caveat I should say I’m not good at every-day listening, but when something is really important, I’m much better able to tune in and internalize what is being said).
Holding patterns are great for learning to listen. There aren’t as many distractions and honestly it’s a skill we all could use some practice at. This semester I’ve had the privilege of teaching a creative writing course, and it has been so incredible. Just having the time to actually talk and listen to seniors as they prepare to enter the ‘real world’ which, if we are being honest, they’ve already begun the process of by this time in the semester, has really shifted my focus. Sure, I’m in a personal holding pattern, but these young adults are just getting started and the listening I do…I mean, it’s great.
But that also gives me time to just listen at home to…if I can put away the distractions long enough (Netflix is truely evil in the sense that it can be such a time suck…and Gardenscapes…Heaven help me). God puts us in holding patterns sometimes to get our attention. It’s not that he has forgotten us, it’s that we have forgotten him and he just wants to give us the time to listen.
Get up. Listen. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen. Come home. Listen.
A time to kill
No, I don’t mean to plan out the serial murders of all those who have hurt you. I mean I time to kill self-doubt. A time to kill worry. A time to kill all those little lies that have crept into your consciousness during those busy times.
Sure, this kind of killing off should be happening all the time, but during the holding patterns they become more evident. That’s when you have a choice: listen to the lies, or kill the lies and replace them with truth. You’ve got the time to really build that truth storage, so take it.
Get up. Listen. Kill the lies. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen Come home. Listen. Store up truth.
A time to heal
Along those same lines, holding patterns give us time to heal from the wounds, changes, surprises, disappointments etc. of the moving forward time. It’s funny we don’t really think we are that wounded until we have time in life…a holding pattern…in which we can reflect. It’s in these moments that if we allow God to enter in we can start to heal.
Get up. Listen. Kill the lies. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen Come home. Listen. Store up truth. Heal.
And in that pattern, God reveals his wisdom, love and plans…that’s when I notice the healing really starts. At least for me.
A time to build up
A holding pattern gives us time to grow and learn. We aren’t as worried about time, people, or things so we focus on our own healing and growth. Organisms that can adapt, change, and grow survive. Those that can’t, don’t. God blesses us with holding patterns to give us time to breathe and adapt.
Get up. Listen. Kill the lies. Build up & store knowledge. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen. Come home. Listen. Store up truth. Heal. Build up knowledge.
Because the truth is, holding patterns can be frustrating or they can be blessings. It’s up to us (me, sigh) to decide how we are going to use each season God grants us. When we start to see the potential in every season, that’s when we truly start to live.
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.
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.
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:
- We must be willing
- We must be ready
- We must be disciplined
We must be willing
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.
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.
We must be ready
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.
We have to be disciplined
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.
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.
You can make your way through the yuck to the other side of grace with a little bit of discipline.
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.
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.
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.