Tag Archives: Dreams

Return to Me

I was ten or eleven years old the first time I had what I would consider a prophetic dream. Not that I am a prophet or in anyway make claims to that, but this particular dream was recurring. I lost count of the number of times I would wake up in a cold sweat and silent tears running down my face throughout my teen years. I can’t remember sharing it with anyone at the time, but I may have and just don’t recall it. What I do remember is the feeling of being trapped in this endless cycle of dreaming and feeling like I had no control over it when I closed my eyes. It was so vivid and I dreamed it so many times I still remember it 20 some odd years later.

I hear yelling. Not screaming exactly, but yelling and chaos. Suddenly I’m gripping the side of this sloping hill. My hands held tight to a clump of grass and my knuckles are turning white from exertion. The yelling hasn’t stopped, but all around me I see people tumbling down this hill into a pit below. The pit is engulfed with flames, sometimes they look like a campfire, and sometimes they glow blue. I can’t feel the heat and I’m too afraid to look down, but I know it’s yawning beneath me and waiting for me to let go. Next to me, someone else falls. It’s someone I know; I can’t see their face, but I somehow know that I know them. I reach out to try to catch them, but our fingertips barely touch and they fall away. This happens again and again, person after person falling into the pit. My fingers ache and I feel like I’m slipping. But I never fall. I always wake up, scrambling away from the pit and watching everyone I love slip away.

I type the dream now and my palms are sweating. Just reading it probably makes you wonder what about that dream was so traumatizing to me as a kid. It’s not really graphic and there are more unknowns than knowns within it, but the palpable, choking fear I couldn’t shake at the time, still feels tangible somehow.

I blame the Left Behind series. They were super popular at the time, and a kid version even released when I was about 13. Fiction? Sure, but for some reason I really internalized this fear of being one of the ones left behind. I feel pretty certain this is where the fear began, but where it ended, I didn’t quite expect.

The Prophet

Not a lot is known about Joel, but this short book (only 3 chapters) reveals a lot about the Lord and our relationship with Him. During Joel’s time, the people of Isreal experienced a literal invasion of locusts that ate up their food supply and threatened to wipe them out entirely. It was devastating for the land and the people. And it wasn’t just one instance; it was recurring. Joel lays it out for them in chapter 1 verse 4 when he addresses the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the destroying locust. Some scholars even believe it was multiple years, as it may be addressing the life cycle of the locust. Others say it’s just multiple swarms back to back to back. Either way it’s not just 1 devastation, but 4. FOUR.

Utter destruction of everything.

Loss. Heartache. Tragedy.

The people want to know why. They are begging for an explanation.

And God heard them.

God chose Joel to speak to the nation in their time of crisis and give them a deeper understanding. He didn’t explain why the locust destroyed everything and left them with a lack of food or provision. I mean, we already know why the world experiences such devastation and loss, don’t we? Natural disasters such as these are a direct result of sin and death being introduced by humanity for humanity, and because we live in this broken world we will sometimes experience tragedy and loss that are inexplicably hard.

No, asking God “Why are you doing this?” in the midst of tragedy is not our best question. That gets complicated, and messy and because we don’t know the bigger picture and we aren’t God. Even if He answered us and broke it down into cause/effect, we would likely not understand. The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

As it turns out, this book really isn’t about the tragedy at all. Joel addresses it, but it is less about that and more about the people and their heart postures toward God.

The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

You see, the people had gotten distracted. They were sinning and disobedient. They were ignoring God and doing whatever they wanted. Whatever felt good.

Then, when tragedy struck, they wondered why God wasn’t there? They kicked him out of their lives…and then wondered where He was.

God didn’t send Joel to give an explanation. He sent them to offer the people restoration.

Despite their attitude and sin, God still claimed them as his own. One of the great things about our God is that no matter what, God over and over again proves how He loves and cares for His people even when they repeatedly screw up.

Even when they don’t love Him.

Through Joel, God uses the locust tragedy as a symbol for what awaits the people if they do not turn from sin and return to Him. It encompasses the bigger picture, and as such applies beyond this one tragedy. As humans we sometimes let our pride blind us from the truth: Life is fragile and we cannot control it.

And the real message is this: Return to me.

The Promise

Joel 2: 12-13 is worth your time to memorize. I’m still working on it, but it is a direct promise from the Lord to His people:

Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

Joel used the locust tragedy for his message, but doesn’t it also apply to financial ruin? Lost jobs? Global pandemics? Chronic illness? And a myriad of other tragedies that exist in this world. The things we use as excuses to separate ourselves from God’s love and care? The things we blame on God?

This isn’t to say that their specific sin caused this to happen. Please hear me when I say I don’t believe that sinning will give you cancer etc. I’m speaking overall, sin in general, the introduction of this into our world broke it and even the best of humanity suffers as a result.

It also doesn’t promise that if they stop sinning and return to God that they will never experience tragedy again.

No, it’s not saying that at all; really returning to God isn’t about us or what we get out of it. It’s more about the character of God and acknowledging that he is worthy of our devotion.

The flip side of that rings true too. Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world. Ultimately, returning to God will redeem us and, though not always in this life, will reward us beyond our wildest dreams.

Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world.

Joel even gives us a road map, a process by which we can return to God:

  1. Acknowledge sin
  2. Be sorry about it
  3. Confess and pray/fast
  4. Bring in accountability to avoid sinning again
  5. Cry out to the Lord

By doing this we can be prepared to fight our real enemy. Spiritual warfare rages all around us all the time, and our weapons are fasting and praying — together in a holy assembly— everyone calling out to the Lord and placing God at the head of the army. We need to be prepared so the Enemy can’t turn us away from what is right and important to God. The Enemy strikes when we are the most vulnerable, when these tragedies threaten our very souls. BUT if we are prepared we can stand up and stand strong behind the Lord no matter what the Enemy throws at us. When we are operating outside of his protection, when we are caught off guard, that’s when we are rendered powerless and we fail. That’s when the real tragedy happens.

Separation from God.

Sometimes…and most tragic of all…Forever.

My dream seems pretty straight forward, right? A lot of people I know falling into a pit of fire? Come on, that’s straight out of symbolism 101.

Except, things aren’t always what they seem.

I don’t remember how old I was the last time I had the dream. I’m not sure, but it ended differently. Do you want to guess?

This time…I let go.

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

That’s right, I let go and fell right into the fire.

I didn’t wake up in fear, though. I wasn’t burning up or in hell as you might have suspected (as I might have suspected). Instead, I woke up feeling calm and reassured.

And that taught me something important.

That dream taught me that sometimes holding on is a mistake. We think we know what is right and true. We think we see the bigger picture. We think we have to save everyone around us, when all along we just need to let go.

Let go of our anger.

Let go of our pride.

Let go of our hurt.

Let go of our need to know why.

Let go and let God consume us. Let him refine us. Let him redeem us so no matter what we can rest assured that He is good. He is worthy. He is in control.

Let go and let God consume us.

The Artist’s Way Week 1: Monster’s Hall of Fame

My Creative Stifling Monster Hall of Fame

  • Me

Of all the monsters in my life, I am by far the worst. I have been my own worst enemy for as long as I can remember. I have wonderful friends and family who have pretty much always been supportive of my dreams. In fact I can’t remember a single time someone telling me that what I want to do or be was a bad idea or that I might fail. I was the one who decided (as a realist) that writing ‘wouldn’t pay the bills’ and maybe I was listening to main stream society, but I made that decision. I knew I couldn’t—or that I didn’t want to try to live off it and I was good at teaching so Poof! Teaching career. And don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, and I’m a wonderful teacher, most days, but my first love has always been writing. I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t writing or telling stories. I convinced myself though that it wasn’t viable.

But, what if it could be?

  • A guy who in middle school ranked my “prettiness” on a scale and let’s just say I didn’t measure up to his standards

I know I’m not a super model, but when I was in elementary school I was a confident kid. I was out to conquer the world. I had loads of friends, and I was pretty extroverted. I was the first to make friends with new kids, and never allowed anyone to sit by themselves in the cafeteria. And then Middle school came and I was still that same girl…


I asked a boy to a dance.

And the boy said, “Well, on a scale of ugly to pretty Ashley falls right about here.” It was pretty close to the ugly side.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am aware that this is one child’s opinion, but I do realize that this is the moment when my personality began to change. I became less extroverted, I was no longer the center of attention (nor was I trying to be the center of attention), and quite frankly I preferred the shadows from there on out. I was ashamed. Not only of my physical appearance, but of what I created and did as well.

As a friend of mine once wisely said, middle school is quite a bitch and it’s a miracle any of us survive. If we could press a fast-forward button and skip ahead we’d all be happier people probably, but none of us would be the same. And quite frankly these experiences are what make us who we are. We can’t divorce ourselves from our pasts, or our past monsters (and quite frankly compared to other people and their monsters, I got off quite easy), but we can learn from them and move forward—fighting to become men and women, artists, we want to be.

  • Q from middle school who either didn’t like more or I perceived that she didn’t like me—either way I felt stifled as an individual and persecuted as a result.

I have always been a teacher’s pet. And maybe that’s why Mrs. Q didn’t like me. Some people don’t like kids who are constantly trying to please adults. But again, it was middle school and by this point, I think I was feeling persecuted by pretty much everyone. Sometimes I wonder if Mrs. Q actually disliked me as much as I felt like she did. I’ll never know though. She passed away not long ago, and I never asked her. Regardless, in her class I didn’t feel free to be creative, or open, which was ironic because many people who had her would say the opposite. They loved her style and how she helped them to open up and become more creative people.

  • My school system

My school system was small and had few resources for creative outlets. We had music and some art, but that was about it. I would have really thrived had I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class or even drama in high school, but I didn’t have that option, and that feels like a shame to me.

  • The NC Voter

For not fighting for the educational system more. For not making it a priority and for taking the wind out of creative outlets in schools and in teachers and in individuals who are trying to fight for these things for students and for the future.

So who are the monsters of your past? Who stifle your creativity? How do you plan to overcome them?

The Artist’s Way: Week 1–Ashley is an Artist?

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.


Recognizing you are a shadow artist.

I never really considered myself an artist. Creative, yes. Unique, absolutely. Quirky, you betcha. But, artist? When I hear the word I think of crayons, colored pencils, watercolors, paints, pottery, you know creators. Dreamers.

I’m more of a realist. A perfectionist.

What I am, I suppose is a shadow artist.

During Nano this year I met a woman who is very sure of who she is. Carenna has a plan; she has a family, she has a career, and she has it all pretty much figured out. So when we, by chance, started communicating again and it came to light that she would be teaching a class on writing, I said sign me up! The primary text we’re using: The Artist Way. And I hesitated—The Artist’s Way? Am I an artist?

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize writing as a kind of art—I’m not separating writing from that, but in a lot of ways calling myself an artist feels almost unauthentic. Except for writing, I don’t have an artistic bone in my body (not for lack of trying—I just don’t have the talent for it). But this course is for writers, so what do I have to lose.

Nothing. And really, as I’m starting to discover, I have a lot to gain including a new perspective, which is what this blog is really about after all.

So over the next 8-12 weeks I’ll be tracking some of the tasks, and activities I go through during my journey down the artist’s way. Some of them are personal, so I won’t post about them, but some are reflective so I will and perhaps, by the end, maybe I won’t be an artist (or maybe I will) but at least I’ll be more secure and will improve as a writer and that certainly is a goal worth pursuing.

Protecting your shadow artist

“Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse. This happens in any number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists; beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends. In short, the fledgling artist behaves with well- practiced masochism. Masochism is an art form long ago mastered, perfected during the years of self- reproach; this habit is the self- hating bludgeon with which a shadow artist can beat himself right back into the shadows.” JULIA CAMERON

In my first activity, Cameron encourages steps toward positive affirmation. So, I wrote 10 times “I, Ashley, am a brilliant and prolific writer,” but as she warns as these affirmations are written the negative will also emerge and instead of burying it inside, I should write them out and deal with it. Though a little uncomfortable, it was a way to pull myself out of denia  l and address underlying issues. I’ve included an image of my admissions, not so that people will negate the negative emotions, but to affirm to myself that they don’t have the power over me I’ve let them have for so long.

Negative beliefs are exactly that: beliefs, not facts. JULIA CAMERON

The next step is to turn them into more positive statements. So, not only did I rewrite the statements, I wrote them in a much stronger penmenship. Cameron encourages to use these affirmations as a conclusion to the morning pages exercises. I hope I can keep up with this for the next 8-12 weeks and really see a difference in how and why I write.

An affirmation is a positive statement of (positive) belief, and if we can become one- tenth as good at positive self- talk as we are at negative self- talk, we will notice an enormous change. JULIA CAMERON

Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. JULIA CAMERON

I don’t do anything unless I can do it well. Accepting that I could be bad at something is hard for me, the perfectionist. How do you put yourself out there knowing you’ll be bad at it?

You take an art class—or like I’m doing next week—a cooking class. My first artist date! Wish me luck!