Tag Archives: struggle

Moving Forward

There are times when I am reading something familiar and suddenly it hits me in a new way. This usually happens when I am searching for an answer to something specific. Last week I was reading through some of my Bible study notes and came across this familiar passage in Mark–it’s told similarly in Matthew and John when Jesus walks on water. It’s one of the first Bible stories I learned as a kid and, like most other kids who grew up in Christian households, I even tried walking on water once or twice (my faith wasn’t strong enough for success though. Shocking, right?). Despite the familiarity I have with these verses, I found they broke straight through to my heart, so I thought I’d share some of those insights.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash
And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded. Mark 6:46-49

Sometimes it takes being alone to see clearly

This passage takes place right after Jesus fed the 5000 men plus unnumbered women and children. Verse 46 and 47 state,

"And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land” (ESV).

Instead of basking in his newfound popularity, Jesus withdraws to the mountain to pray. There is something beautiful and profound about a period of isolation in which you can reflect and seek the Lord’s will. Though there is value in seeking community, equally important is the value of being alone with the Lord.

The problem? Alone can be scary—especially if you are struggling with anxiety and fear. That’s probably why many of us seek to fill our isolation with whatever noise we can find: social media scrolling and posting, Netflix binges, radios turned on high, podcasts, etc. While there is nothing wrong with any of these things, when we use them to replace the silence needed to hear from God, our alone time becomes much less productive and our vision remains cloudy. When we take a step back from the noise, even if it’s just in our own heads, and seek God, our vision clears and we can move forward with a greater purpose and direction.

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Sadly, few of us will sacrifice our time to seek this communion. Jesus could have pursued the momentum created by the miracle of feeding such a large crowd. He could have moved on to the next town immediately, bringing the crowd with him, a following that would rival a 1977 Grateful Dead concert.

But he didn’t.

Jesus knew two things. First, that fame and popularity fade and second, our healthy relationship with God is the only thing that sustains and grows us. I sometimes joke that I function a lot like a cell phone battery. I’m great in the morning, full of energy and ready to go, but by the end of the day, I’m running on empty and need to be alone to recharge. BUT if I really want to make the most of my recharge time, I need to plug into a power source and there’s only One who can offer what I need. Making alone time with God a priority shouldn’t be optional, it should be our priority if we want to move forward. 

Headway is still progress even if it is painful

Although we don’t really use the term literally very often, headway refers to the forward movement of a ship or boat, especially when it is slow or difficult. More often than not, life presents us with difficult situations that slow down our forward movement. What strikes me about verse 48a is the wording. It says,

“And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them” (ESV).

Sometimes in life it feels as though we are fighting the wind. Like an invisible force is pushing against us, hindering our forward movement. It’s exhausting and painful and makes us feel incredibly alone in our suffering.

The good news?

We’re not alone. Sure, those in the boat are fighting hard and putting all their energy into their next step, so it’s hard to see the bigger picture. If we zoom out though, we see that Jesus was still there even when they felt alone and maybe even abandoned in their struggle. In those moments when you are fighting through a storm or struggle, you have two options: give up or fight through. I’ve weathered enough storms in my 35 years that I can understand the temptation of giving up. Of just letting the wind have control to take me where it chooses. That option isn’t the best, though. You either drown, get blown off course or you end up back where you started, beginning the fight all over again, which really is twice as exhausting. Probably why the rest of the verse is so powerful:

And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea" (ESV)

When you are in the middle of a fight, it feels like it will never end. Looking back though, you realize that it’s the darkest moment–right before dawn. Right before you give up that light breaks through. I’m not much of a night owl, but I get up stupid early and there is nothing more hopeful than those moments right before the sun breaks over the horizon. It provides that extra push and energy that helps you keep moving forward. That’s why I love Kierkegaard’s saying:

Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards

Søren Kierkegaard

Keeping our focus ahead, continuing the fight and remembering we are not alone allows us to keep our head in the game to make headway no matter the circumstance. After all, just because the wind is against us doesn’t mean we can’t make progress.

This past year has been a hard one. I see all the memes about the struggles of 2020 and it’s a very real fight for many people, but despite all that, we can still make progress as a society. Personally, I’ve struggled for many years against a war that rages in my mind. My anxiety can be a veritable nightmare and every day I have to make a choice about whether I’m going to give into it or if I’m going to continue to fight against it to make progress. I was joking with a friend of mine over text the other day and the exchange went a little like this:

The truth is, stretching is a painful process, but it’s really the only way we can grow and experience the Lord’s grace and mercy. Even if we want to stomp our feet a little along the way.

Just because you can fix something doesn’t always mean you should

Maybe the most profound part of this passage was in these five words:

He meant to pass by them...

This is the very end of verse 48 and honestly it makes me pause. I’ve asked that question more than once over the years: why does God seem to pass people by? We know he is all-powerful and nothing is out of his control, so why doesn’t God just stop all the pain and suffering?

I don’t have an answer to that, in case you are wondering, but I do know that sometimes Jesus allows for our suffering for reasons we may never understand this side of heaven. Life has taught me that our suffering allows us to appreciate our blessings a little more. It builds strength and character and overall can make us better humans. Since we are broken and we live in a broken world, that might be part of the answer, but I honestly don’t know for sure.

Photo by Dana Luig on Unsplash

When I put it into my own context, I can understand that just because I can fix something for someone else, sometimes it’s for their own good to figure it out on their own. That’s really where true learning happens, after all. Take toddlers, for example. We could make their lives so easy by carrying them everywhere. But they have to take their own steps and fall down a few times before they learn how to walk. If they don’t complete that process, then they’ll be handicapped, not helped. I wonder if that’s what God is doing for us sometimes. I’m not stupid enough to make that a blanket statement, but I wonder if that might explain some things sometimes.

The Choices we Make do Matter

Even so, that shouldn’t stop us from crying out to the Lord for help. Because let’s face it, our father is compassionate and Jesus has a greater love for us than we could ever understand. That’s why I love how this ends.

 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out (vs. 49)

Isn’t the ‘but’ conjunction fabulous? I love how much three little letters can shift an entire narrative. Though Jesus was going to do one thing, the crying out shifted his intentions. Changed his mind. This just reminds me that our choices do matter. I was watching the new show Virgin River and I really liked what one of the characters said about fate:

Fate is a collection of everyone’s choices.

I’m definitely not a fatalist. Sure, God knows the outcome, but our choices make a difference in how and why things turn out the way they do. It cycles back to the give up or fight through debate and lends perspective on how prayer can change everything. Jesus had intended to pass them by UNTIL they cried out to him. He could have helped them from either shore, but instead he joins them, a physical reminder that he is always with us.

Because he is. Even when the wind is against us and the struggle is painful. He remains, just waiting for us to cry out and invite him into the boat to calm the storm.

Spiritual Struggles : My journey through Psalms (94)

I have, like many people, struggled with anxiety and depression for a good part of my life. It is where the enemy targets me—especially in moments where I am basking in the glory of God’s light. This time of year, November-January, is always the hardest. The days are dark and long. The stress is high. Each day is a battle, a spiritual one.

A few nights ago, around ‘fall back’ time, I had a dream. To the average person, this dream seems mundane at best…stupid at worst, but here it is:

My good friends got together. They did not invite me, I just happened to stumble upon them at a park where they were gathering. They greeted me with smiles and told me the plan. Of course, I was invited, they were glad I was there. But I knew I was an afterthought. 

I walked away. 

A couple of them followed, but wallowing in self-pity, I didn’t return. Instead, I watched the gathering like an omniscient ghost. Every good friend I have ever had, met, or spent time with was there.  Illogically they were together and having a great time without me, even though most of them didn’t know one another. 

Later, I flooded the bathroom–I’m not really sure how that fit into the dreamscape, but I woke up startled and confused, breathing in the anxiety of my dream.

My friends. My Family. The people I do life with. I know they love me. Intellectually I have no problem accepting this. Yesterday I had an amazing time hanging out with some of the people who have been with me since elementary school–clearly not a place of anxiety This dream was stupid, yes, but it also is very telling about my fears. 

But then…

I had dinner with a friend of mine and I said something pretty stupid. My extemporaneous delivery in conversation sometimes is terrible, and my comment was meant as a joke, but based on her reaction I realized it was not life-giving, it damaged hope. I felt bad. I’ve obsessed over it for a few days now, even though I know she immediately either forgot or forgave my insensitivity, I still sometimes struggle with the feeling that one wrong move and all my relationships might just crumble.


I fear many things, but rejection is pretty high on the list. Even when I’m with people I love and who I know love me, a part of my mind is always battling against the whisper that I am unwanted–that I don’t fit in and I should stop trying to.

I fear being an afterthought. Forgotten. And worst of all, being isolated in my own head because I allow these fears to become realities.

Because the fact is, sometimes I do allow it.

Psalm 94, of course, spoke to me after a night of restless dreams. Verses 18-19 read:

When I said my foot is slipping, your love, O Lord, Supported me. When Anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy.

The fact is simple. We all have a choice–to lean on God or let the world support us. The world will always let us down. No matter how much our friends and family care–they are only human and they make mistakes. We simply can’t count on them to sustain our life force the way that God alone can.

Don’t get me wrong. Friends and family are important! Jesus had 12 BFFs that he did life with, but even Jesus asserted that we must leave them and trust only in God.

Only then will we find consolation for our weary, fearful souls.

I found this graphic to be simple, but effective. It helps me, so I’m sharing it in case your spiritual battles are equally mind-blowing.

I can’t control every subconscious fear, but I can put God in control, and listen only to his voice. When he is my foothold, then the fears can never control me.

What does your name mean?

I used to hate my name.


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