Devotional Thursdays- Strength

Strength

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Some days, I get home from a big day with a lot of things happening and I wonder how I am still standing. In fact, some days, I get home, sit down and don’t get back up until I get myself into my bed. I am that tired. Those days are fewer and fewer lately, I’ve been working on not adding so much to my plate. (Growth!) Then there are days I wake up, think about all the things that need to be done and stress about how I am going to do it. I get new opportunities and stress about whether or not I will do a good job. 

Recently, for example, I was stressed about a new opportunity I had at work. It was something that I was so excited for. The day came for me to start and I was so nervous I didn’t know what to do with it. Naturally, I turned that nervous energy into stress and started stressing about things I couldn’t control or things that were already settled. I used that nervous energy to second guess my decisions that un-stressed Ashleigh already made. 

I was telling my husband about it and he sent me the sweetest message that included “don’t let the enemy get you down.” I was so wrapped up in my stress and felt discouraged before I had even started this opportunity I was excited for. All those decisions I was second guessing, they were decisions we made for a trip we are about to go on. All good things that I was starting to doubt because at the core of my stress, I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t qualified to do what I was told to do. 

That’s where God comes in and His word tells me to chill. Be strong, God says. Don’t be afraid, he reminds us. God goes with me wherever I go. I like to envision this as if I’m walking down the street with God and he is holding my hand guiding me. 

Write it Out

  1. Where do you need God’s strength?
  2. How can you work on allowing God’s strength work rather than your own?
  3. Where do you need peace? 

Adjusting to Change

There are thousands upon thousands of popular quotes regarding change. A lot of people try to convince everybody else that change is good. Then there are those that resist change like the plague. I fall in the middle that leans towards the resist side. I resist change because change makes me worry. Last week I wrote a devotional about worry and the number one thing that makes me worry is change. Sometimes, I believe those who resist change, are those who are content and see no reason that the change is necessary. I’m very content in my life, even in the storms. In fact, I feel like the crazier my life is or the more stressful my life is, the more at peace I am. However, this could be a conditioned response because I worry like nobody’s business when things are calm and good and normal seeming. I’m not used to calm, good and normal. 

Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by change. Divorce, terminal illness, moving, new schools, old schools, summer school, new friends, old friends, am I painting a good picture? What’s crazy to me is how I went through all that change growing up, with a constant revolving door of new information daily, and yet today, I fight against it. Today, I struggle with the adjustment. Perhaps, as a kid, I already knew there was nothing I could do so I just rolled with it. As an adult, I thought I can change all the things and if I was just ___ enough, I could change the outcome. A lot of lessons I’ve learned as an adult is from the mistakes of the adults around me growing up. Perhaps I viewed their mistakes harshly because I thought they could control all the things that were happening. They were adults! How could they not have control over the things that were happening? Now that I’m an adult, I’ve learned just how little adults have control over. I’ve learned that you make mistakes regardless of your control level or even knowledge level. The best I can do is make the best decisions with the information I know and pray that God will cover the rest. I’m sure the adults in my life were trying their best too.

That doesn’t make change any easier. I can go with the flow when I need to, but if I see change on the horizon, I’m instantly questioning why it needs to happen. Change forces me out of my comfort zone. Change takes away the control I think I have and that is probably why I resist it the most. Even though I know I have no control I have this illusion that I do. At least, I have a handle on things and things are going smoothly. Why do we need to change it up? I don’t need it to change.

I’ve said this before somewhere, but change is where you grow. Growing is a good thing, regardless of what anybody says. You don’t want to always be the same person forever, do you? I don’t. If someone came up to me today and said I was the exact same person I was when I was sixteen, I’d probably be slightly offended. Maybe even a little hurt. That would mean all the growth and work I’ve done over the past decade have done nothing and I don’t want to be the person that goes through something and doesn’t learn something from it. I don’t need to revisit the same lesson multiple times. I’m trying to nail the lesson the first time, you know?

So how do we adjust to change? How do we accept it and just allow the change to happen? For me, anytime I see change on the horizon, I start praying. I ask God for guidance and I ask for a willing heart to go with the flow. That is actually something I pray daily. I ask for guidance and the wisdom to know what I’m supposed to do when I need to do it. (Sometimes, I get really attached to my plans and still try to make every single thing happen the way I plan it.) When change is coming though, I know it is because God is allowing it. I have the freedom to trust is something bigger than myself and someone who sees the WHOLE picture. I only see the small amount of change coming and it terrifies me. God, however, sees how the change will effect me and how it will be good. God sees the endgame and the entire picture. God even sees the next round of change to bring you to the next step. 

A pastor I know once said that when you are living for God, you will live out your purpose. Every single change is helping me live my purpose. That is how I adjust to change.

What about you? How do you handle change? 

& Jesus

Long ago, on one of my previous blogs I wrote a blog post I titled “& Jesus”. I was planning on reposting it here today because I feel like it is a relevant reminder.

My life looks different than when I first wrote that post. A lot different. The past year has been one full of change, more change than I could have ever anticipated, expected or wished for. While I talked about change in the first edition of this post, it was nothing compared to what this past year has been like. In all this change, I have forgotten the most important thing I should be focused on. The one who controls it all- Jesus. In all this change, I am processing, worried about more change and wondering what is going to happen next. “This has changed and this has changed and this has changed” and I am waiting for the next “And”

I am not going to repost the original blog post, there is too much I would need to change so I am rewriting it and modifying it. The message stays the same though. Instead of worrying about what the next change might be, what the next “and” might be, I need to be focusing on Jesus- who I trust in all this change. If change is happening then God is allowing it. Change is good, as much as I want to fight against it sometimes, change is growth.

Viewing life in the view of “ands” and worried about what “and” might happen next isn’t the way to live life. Life isn’t one long run-on sentence. There has to be a period somewhere. That’s where I need to decide that end, and it ends with “and Jesus.” A and B and C and D and Jesus. This sentence ender stops my worry. It reminds me that in all this change, while it is surprising to me, it isn’t a surprise to God. If I trust God, then I need to trust in his plan. It’s so simple when I write it out and when I say it. Just trust. God hasn’t let me down before, He isn’t going to start now. This simple sentence, the trust, looks and feels so different when played out. The actions are not easy. The feelings are not easy. The actions are not simple. I wish they were, but they are not. So I need the reminder. I need to end my sentences with “and Jesus” to remind me to shift my focus and to remember what God has already done. I’ve already said it, God hasn’t let me down before. God isn’t the in the business of let downs. God’s plan is the plan I want in my life because I know His plan is what is best for me. I want the best.

I am so serious about this reminder that I even titled my book “& Jesus”. It is a journaling devotional that I hope encourages people to journal more. To use journaling as a way to talk to God. Journaling has been so helpful for me. I use journaling to talk to God, to lay out my hopes and dreams and seek guidance. It’s where I put action to the & Jesus sentence ender and include Him in my life. Journaling is where “& Jesus” lives.

Forgiveness

Growing up, I could hold a grudge. I could hold one like nobody’s business. I used to bank trust in the currency of promises. If someone broke a promise to me that was the end of the friendship, I did not care who you were. I even stopped talking to my mom for weeks because she broke a promise to me. 17-year-old Ashleigh thought she really knew everything. Granted, she knew a lot, but nobody really taught her about forgiveness.

I actually don’t know how I learned about forgiveness and how important it was. It probably has something to do with what happened with my mom. I didn’t talk to my mom for weeks, I dodged her calls. I refused to call her. If she was talking to my brother and asked to talk to me I said no and walked away. One weekend my mother was relentless. She called so much and asked to talk to me that I got tired of hearing the phone ring and just talked to her. Something was tugging at my heart that I was being slightly ridiculous anyway. So I talked to my mom, we talked out her promise-breaking. We talked about everything and anything. We spent the majority of that weekend talking to each other on the phone. The following Tuesday, my mom passed away. She had been sick most of my life, I already knew it was going to happen, I just didn’t know when. What if I didn’t talk to my mom that weekend? What if my mom passed and I never talked to her again and the last thing I had was me yelling at her for breaking a silly promise?

That’s the thing with holding grudges-it only hurts you. You staying mad at somebody doesn’t hurt them, they are going to keep living their life. It only hurts you because you are thinking about it over and over in your head. How many grudge holding people do you know living happy lives? I think about that time in my life, the days I could hold grudges and I was a walking oxymoron. I was getting mad at everything and snapping at anybody I could but I could always look on the positive side and I couldn’t trust anybody. I would expect people to bail on plans. I would expect them to and then get mad when they did. I was not living a happy life but I told myself I was because I’m an optimistic person and I always need to look on the bright side.

After my mom passed away, I started letting things go. I wish I could give examples of an exact switch-when I learned how to forgive someone. I still struggle with it, especially if the hurt comes from someone I love, I need to remind myself that forgiveness is important. Sometimes, I get trapped in allowing the offense or hurt swirl around in my head like it just bought a house up there. That’s when I remind myself that I forgive because I’ve been forgiven. Anything someone does to me is not worse than the sin I have daily against God. Yet, God forgives me every single time. If he can do that, I can forgive the guy who cuts me off on the freeway.

Forgiving also takes the weight off of me. I don’t want to be the person I was seven years ago, why should I be carrying around her hurts? That kind of anger takes commitment and I don’t have time for that kind of commitment. My plate is full enough, you know?

The bible tells us to forgive as the Lord forgave you. That is what I remind myself when I struggle the hardest to forgive, when I remember severe hurts from my husband that were years ago, forgive as the Lord forgave me. When I talk with God, I don’t see Him bringing up my past mistakes. I don’t need to do that to my husband or anybody else for that matter.

And if the Bible or God isn’t your thing, do you really want to have whatever happened 5 years ago sitting with you like you are old friends? Or do you want to look at each day with a smile knowing that the past is behind you and you have a future as bright as the sun?

Journaling to Talk to God + announcement!

How’s that for a title? About four years ago, I was doing some real hard work on myself. There were some things I really wanted to change about myself, things that have defined me my entire life. Parts of me that existed because of my upbringing but I knew I shouldn’t act that way. I knew they were not good traits about myself. These things were control and anger. I was so controlling and I was constantly micro-managing my husband and the people around me. I honestly have no idea why my husband stuck around with how awful I used to be. I knew it wasn’t right but I didn’t know how to just stop being controlling and angry. My fuse was so short and patience was a word I didn’t understand. So I joined a ministry at my church and started working on myself.

During this process, we were constantly told to journal as part of our homework. Back then, the thought would make my skin crawl. I didn’t want to write about my life. I didn’t want to write about my feelings. I didn’t even understand my feelings to be able to write about it. I was told by my leaders to try, just try and then keep trying.

Try I did. After a few semi-consistent days of journaling, I started to see the benefits. I didn’t fall in love with journaling right away but I saw that it took some of the weight off my shoulder. It made me feel lighter. Like the notebook and the pages were carrying the weight instead of me. Some times, I was able to write some things out and then walk away from them and they stopped weighing on my mind. Sometimes, I would vent out my frustrations and I would see that the frustration wasn’t as big of a deal as my brain was making it out to be. If it was something I didn’t think I could address with someone, I quickly saw that I could. It just took mapping out the whole situation on paper to see it. Sometimes, I think I get so caught up in my own head and focus on a single thought train or a single piece of the whole picture that the rest gets lost in my emotions. When I sit down with a pen and piece of paper, I noticed I started slowing down and actually thinking about the situation as a whole instead of the one part that hurt me or irritated me or made me feel some type of emotion.

Sometimes, while I was journaling, I’ve realized that I was the one in the wrong, even if I thought I was right in the moment of something. I usually think I’m right. In my journal though, slowing down and looking at the whole picture I would find that I wasn’t as right as I thought I was. Astonishingly, I was okay with the fact that I was wrong. I was also okay with going back and apologizing to whoever I needed to apologize to. If I just allowed myself to focus on the one part and the thought that I was in the right, I would have never realized that I’m not as infallible as I think I am.

Journaling is so powerful. I’ve written other posts about how amazing journaling is and how it is so beneficial. I believe these things from the bottom of my heart. In a world of speed and gotta get there now or gotta get it done right now, it is such a good thing to slow down. It goes against all of my natural instincts, but dang does it feel great. It feels great to step back from myself in a sense and see everything from a different perspective. When I journal, I don’t just list facts, I explain the why behind it. Why I felt a certain way, why that person might have responded that way, what I said before the thing that hurt me. When we are hurt, it isn’t because of one thing, it is like an onion, it has multiple layers. There is more than just the fact that someone said something that hurt me. When I’m feeling stressed, I’m not stressed because of one commitment or obligation or thing I want to do. I’m stressed because of other things and those other things are the things I need to realize. If I’m feeling stressed, it helps to know why to write it out and figure it out like a puzzle. Stress is not a good emotion, I don’t care what high productivity coach wants to argue with me, there is no such thing as good stress. I’ve lived with stress my entire life and I can promise you that it is not a good emotion. It does things to your thought process, to your body, stress can affect everything including your relationships. I think “good stress” is being mislabeled for motivation. You need the motivation to get something accomplished, you don’t need to be stressed about getting it done.

This is just how I got started journaling, someone forced me to try and once I saw the benefits, I never wanted to stop. I fell in love with journaling over time once I saw how it made me feel better. It’s like mental exercise. If going to the gym and working out is great for your physical health, journaling is the gym for your mind. It is so good for your mental health. This is why I believe everyone should be journaling.

As I grew in my relationship with Jesus and my faith, I’ve started to use journaling as a way to talk to God. Writing is something that I love and enjoy and writing can even be an act of worship for me. I feel God leading me when I’m struggling with a decision and I’m writing about it. A lot of time, while I’m writing, I’ll remember other things I need or should pray for and add them in as a prayer into my journal. It’s fun to go through my journal later and see what God has answered. I also use journaling to cement my faith in what I know to be true. Life can get hard and when storms hit, it is so easy to feel like God isn’t there. That is when I go back to my journal and look at the truths God has given me. The truths I have read in the Bible. I know who God is, I don’t feel who God is. Feelings can be misleading and influenced. Truth cannot be. That is why I journal and invite God into my writing sessions. I also keep a gratitude list of things I am thankful for. Sometimes, I forget all the good I have because I’m too focused on the hard stuff, the stressful stuff. Finding the things I’m thankful for is like finding the sunbeam through a dark, stormy cloud.

Now, I have a HUGE announcement. You might have already seen it on Instagram if you follow me over there but I am PUBLISHING A BOOK!

I still can’t believe I get to say those words. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and I never thought I would see this day. I wrote a journaling devotional designed to help you dig deeper in your relationship with God and get into the habit of journaling. My book is called & Jesus and will be released May 7th! You can preorder your ebook here. The paperback version will be available on May 7th. I am publishing through Amazon so Kindle is the e-reader but that might be changing!