The Sweetest Birthday Gift

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates, Missions, Photography

I wake up to my favorite girls surrounding me, singing happy birthday with a plate of eggs, cinnamon pull apart bread, along with coffee made just the way I like it. I spent an hour in the Word and dressed for the day, doing my hair and make-up all in enough time to be out the door at 8:30. It was the last day of Holiday Kid’s Club (VBS) at Impact Kids and I helped run it with a few of the other interns. I was exhausted by lunch and the day wasn’t even half over! Rich and Michelle Franzen (founders of Impact Africa) surprised me with a triple chocolate mini-cake and all the kids sang happy birthday to me, I felt so special.

But that wasn’t all God had planned for my birthday.

That afternoon we visited a children’s hospital. What I saw was gut wrenching, jaw dropping, and tear spurring.

Row after row of cribs resembling cages full of children connected to oxygen tubes, many with stitches on their head and broken legs. While in America we would elevate your leg, South Africa is drastically different. With the kids here a bracket is screwed into each child’s knee to keep it elevated, restraining them from most movements a child would want to make. The extra crib piece on top holds the leg elevated but restrains from a parent reaching to hug their child, only a hand can be held. As we gave them simple toys and gifts their entire face lit up like Christmas morning for many of your children (or sometimes how you feel yourselves.)

Children's Hospital

These photos barely scratch the surface of how I felt that day. I hope they move you as much as they moved me to take them.

My favorite part of the day, though, was meeting a little boy whose name is so long and mispronounceable I will simply name him Samuel. This little boy looked at me with the biggest droopiest brown eyes, moaning as he breathed. I stuck my hand through the crib and rather than grabbing my finger, he clutched onto my arm. I couldn’t leave this little one, this was the reason I was here. I approached a nurse and asked her if I could hold him, she quickly replied, “Of course!” I turned around and picked this little boy up, his eyes lit with hope. I held him close to me and his arms wrapped around mine, I’d never felt a clutch so strong from someone so young before. He reached up and stroked my neck and his eyes began to droop. How long had it been since this little one had been held? Before we left I fed him, the other nurses tried unsuccessfully and nodded for me to try. I picked up the spoon, scooped up the food just the same as them and Samuel opened his mouth, willing to receive from a loving hand. Having the opportunity to pray over Samuel’s life and speak into it was the best birthday present I could ever have received. I know that this little one’s life was changed, but so was mine.

Botswana Adventure!

Missions

It was 5 am. I woke up to do my devotions and started beginning my day. 5:45am our leaders pull up into the driveway with a bullhorn to announce we are going on a surprise trip to…Botswana! We have 15 minutes to pack and fit whatever we can in our backpack. The house becomes ablaze with activity, girls scurrying from one room to another, gathering toiletries, sleeping bags, and clothes off the line from doing laundry the night before. We finally make it in the van and start the 5 hour trek to the South African/Botswana border. We finally reach it and go through customs, then walk the border to Botswana!

Impact ME 2013

The first afternoon spent there we get to know our hosts, Michael and Heather Walker. They are missionaries with Word to Africa and specialize in discipleship (bible study) with those who have a hunger for God. They drive us through some of the “neighborhoods” essentially that they work in. We spend the rest of the day getting to know them and understand the ministry. The next morning we wake up and ride up to one of the mountains, clearing a picnic area for Word to Africa’s 21st anniversary picnic! With blisters quickly forming, we finished the job and broke for lunch. After lunch we set out to clear a field and pitch a tent for church. It was sweaty, hard work but with teamwork we accomplished it with enough time to go back to our rooms and clean up for a big dinner with all the local missionaries working with Word to Africa! Many of them poured years of experience into us, opening our eyes to see the different strategies and many different viewpoints of a missionary.

 The last day of ministry we went out into the neighborhoods to get to know the people in this culture and it was so good to talk to them! As we approached three woman washing dishes we began to talk to them and they opened up to share they all needed healing. When it came time for us to pray and we had finished, one woman spoke up to say, “We are blessed because you came to visit us.

“It was like a place where people had lost hope.” Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Jesus went to the place of no vision, no hope, spreading the truth to all who would hear it. When we went out to do ministry that is exactly what we did. It was such an anointed time! We were able to share with several people, learning about their community. We poured into one woman who by the time we left she not only understood God’s love for her but also acknowledged his ability to heal her!

God did amazing things in Botswana and Impact ME not only made a difference but I personally saw how it changed me as well!

The Refining Flame

Challenge & Revelation

After so quickly finishing the book of Hosea I read the next book, Joel, just as hungrily. My soul cried out as I read the words on the page.

1:19 “The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and the flames have burned up our trees!”

He is our only source! He took the nothing I had and burned it, only to replace with something better. No other place of rest is better than His.

2:3 “Fire burns in front of them and flames follow after them.”

Burn away all my impurities, Lord.

“Ahead of them the land lies as beautiful as the Garden of Eden.”

He takes us away for a purpose, only to lead us to something better.

2:4b “They charge forward like warhorses.”

Ready for warfare, fasting is a time of intercession; in our physical weakness he makes us spiritually strong.

2:12b-13 “Give me your hearts. Come with fasting…Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God. For He is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.”

He wants your heart, longs to know your every desire. Don’t always deal with things outwardly, look at where God has been working on you. He does not want to hurt us or be an evil father! All he wants to do is talk to you!

2:19,26 “Look! I am sending you…enough to satisfy your needs. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you.

Every day I’ve been hungry and He fills me with His words and with His grace. When I’m physically hungry He fills me as well. It really is a miracle!

Hosea has become my favorite book in the Bible (up to date). The restoration and love He pours out on Israel, even after deserting Him, is inspiring.

The Lord has shown me so much and I wish I could share even more but with the whirlwind of a surprise trip to Botswana its taking me a little longer to show you all God has been showing me. Next time I have internet I’ll be sure to tell you all about Botswana and the amazing time we had over there!

Lots of Love,

Ashley

His Relentless Love

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

The fast is going so well! Here is all God has been showing me the past couple of days:

Hosea 11:4 “I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love.”

The Lord is literally plowing up the ground of my heart while I seek Him. This verse I clung to, just as I held onto His love. So many Christians hold hope in His love and kindness. What would you do if you had nothing to hold onto? Many people literally have nothing. Those in the squatter camps don’t even have a job to provide for themselves. What a place of desperation. I can only image being that desolate. We hold onto his grace, his kindness, his love. That is what gets me through my day, knowing He is beside me at all times giving me wisdom and guidance. But what if I didn’t have that?

Hosea 11:8-11 “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you..or demolish you? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. For I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return…I will bring them home again,” says the Lord.”

12:6 “So now come back to your God. Act with love and justice and always depend on Him.”

13:5-6 “I took care of you in the wilderness in that dry and thirsty land. But when you had eaten and satisfied, you became proud and forgot me.”

We are always depending on Him. Not just when we are desperate, not when we need him at a dire moment. Without the grace He supplies none of us would be where we are now. It was not our hard work that got our foot in the door to the position we are in now, it was God’s favor. He took care of us when we had nothing, nursed us to health and yet so many times we take what we need and walk away. We say we are where we are at now because of ourselves and what we did yet we would have nothing without Him. God still pursues after us and desires a relationship, though.

Hosea 14:4-5,7-8 “I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to Israel {Ashley} like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel {Ashley} will blossom like a lily; it will send roots deep into the soil. My people {Ashley} will again live under my shade, they {she} will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.”

All of us have strayed from God’s voice at one time or another. But God heals our hearts from the wounds we’ve incurred running from His sweet voice. He renews us and cultivates us as we grow and our response is becoming closer to Him. He takes us to that place of rest and answers our prayers. He cares for us, always supplying nourishment and tangible evidence that we’re growing in Him. Seeing where He is taking me in my relationship with Him is astounding. Every day He showers with more love than I can imagine. He supplies all my strength; He gives me the words to speak when I know nothing.  While fasting it can be hard when you don’t have very much to eat. The hardest part of this fast was being in the squatter camp having only juice and water that day with little strength. Your energy can become very low after trudging on the uneven ground, up and down steep hills, back and forth through the rows full of shacks, occasionally crossing a river to the other side, leaping from rock to rock. Thank you to all my supporters, friends, and family for your prayers and donations as well! There are so many testimonies I’m ecstatic to share the testimonies we’ve had already with you, they are coming, I promise!!

Who I Am in Him

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Last night God led me to Hosea. He not only broke down walls but healed my heart as well.

Hosea 2: 14-20 “I will win her back again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.”

He is jealous for me, eager to pull me away from all that distracts me from Him. Even something as simple as food can pull me from time with Him. This week he is leading me to a dry place where He can speak tenderly to me, telling me all His intimate secrets, like a Lover’s whisper.

I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.”

The very place that is dry and empty He will turn into an oasis, open to others to receive peace, healing, and restoration.

“{18-20} You can live unafraid in peace and safety. I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine.”

He supplies peace to relieve my stress and safety to battle all evil that may befall me. He will always be just, ruled with relentless love and compassion towards us. He is faithful – every promise He makes He keeps. I am His and just as He proudly proclaims it over me, I boast of my dad who never lets me down.

This morning He continued to work in me and open my eyes.

Hosea 6:6 “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”

8:13b “to me their sacrifices are meaningless.”

What an amazing verse to meditate on all day. So many times people go on a fast and just sacrifice the food. They work on their self-discipline rather than their identity. Something we learned in leadership class today:

Character: our identity + our emotional security + our core values + self discipline

Our priorities should be in that order because we are human beings not human doings.

Identity: being before the Lord, becoming like Him.

Self-discipline: out of the overflow of my heart is connected to my doing.

God has been working on my identity in Him immensely. I’m beginning to know Him even better. After reading this verse I was challenged – God doesn’t want this to be a situation where I go without. He wants me to grow. A lot of times, when I’m hungry especially, I can be grouchy. The Lord really challenged me to walk in love even when I’m irritated, even when I’m overwhelmed, even when I will be hungry.

Strong in the Father

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Getting ready to start a juice fast with some of the girls this week and I’ve been diligently seeking the Lord on His will for this. He spoke to me and showed me nothing like I’ve seen before, just as He always does.

Daniel 9:3 “I turned to the Lord in fasting and in prayer..{20-25} As I was praying, Gabrielle…came swiftly to me. “Daniel, I have come to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given, and now I am here to tell you what it was for you are very precious to God. {10:11-12,17,19} You are very precious to God. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your god, your request has been heard in heaven. “How can someone like your servant talk to you, my Lord? My strength is gone and I can barely breathe.” Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. “Don’t be afraid,” He said, “For you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke those words to me I suddenly felt very strong.”

Daniel knew his city was in danger of being destroyed and so he began to seriously intercede on their behalf. Fasting is a time of intercession and instead of ignoring his call, Daniel stepped up to the plate. God stepped behind his action and worked through his faith. The words Gabrielle gave to Daniel continually repeating how precious He was to God is so inspiring. What a reminder that every time we pray the Lord hears as well! “Your request has been heard in heaven.” God doesn’t ignore us, He listens to our words, takes note of every thought.

This passage encouraged me so much in my decision to take part in my first week long fast. The times I’ve spent with the Lord so far have been so uplifting but I kept feeling a wall. There was something more. When one of the girls approached me telling me she was taking a week to fast and asking me to join, I knew this was what the Lord was telling me to do. After reading in Daniel the next day, it was set in stone. God can move in anyone. Fasting is not the only way to hear God better. For this season I feel this is what He has for me. Taking this time before we have a lot of teams come in and seeking Him on how to more effectively minister, its a time to set myself apart. I am very precious to God. He hears what I say and in my request, He sent an answer. “Don’t be afraid,” He said, “For you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke those words to me I suddenly felt very strong.” He gives me the strength. Not just while I’m on the fast, but every day. He’s going to take care of me, all the time. 

SA sunset

Love the sunsets God designs for me 🙂