How I Lost 30lbs Accidentally: Lifestyle Choices

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Once I moved from overseas to America, I hit the gym as soon as I recovered from jet lag. My Mom became my personal trainer and I pushed through the frustration of re-gaining ground I had lost. 

When I set foot in Chicago on my own, I had no car and walked over a mile a day. Running up flights of stairs every day to catch a train took its own toll.  I made the resolution when I moved out on my own not to have junk food in the house because I saw the weakness I had towards mindlessly eating. Eating out was a rarity since my budget didn’t allow it and I purposefully chose low-in-fat recipes.

I accidentally lost weight by setting standards for myself. I didn’t intentionally workout and kept eating out to a minimum. It’s not a magic pill, it wasn’t easy, but it made ground that I was able to continue going harder after weight loss and the fit image I had for myself.

I am in control of what I put in my body. Choosing healthy foods to consume rather than eating out every week is a choice. I don’t eat organic but I always eat a home-cooked meal. Packing my lunches also keeps me from over-eating or over-indulging. It’s about the small steps. Working out keeps my body fit but eating well keeps me healthy.

  Once I discovered how much weight I was losing, I reconfigured my budget and joined a gym. During my consultation the physical trainer gave me the most haunting advice that I will never forget. “The fat on your body is from unhealthy, processed food you’ve consumed.” You know what that told me? I am responsible for what I put in my body. I am not controlled by what I eat. Or how I look. Or how I feel. Once the weather warmed up, I began to ride my bike to work, a 12 mile trek. That was hard at first but it soon became something I craved! Weight training at the gym continues to build the muscle I need and the cardio I do during the day provides the necessary exercise.

Waking early in the morning ensures I work out and making it a priority has been a huge lesson in discipline for me! I don’t work out to fit a size; I work out to stay fit and healthy. 

In my first post in this series I talked about how my mom was my inspiration to start losing weight. I had thoughts of insecurity and was upset about how my mom was going to be smaller than me. There is nothing wrong with that. The thought was a subconscious revelation of the jealousy I felt at how happy I saw my mom had become. She was no longer controlled by her desire for food, or to be skinny! She was simply living healthy and working towards being fit.

Going through photos of myself and discovering my journey through pictures was hard. We all love the before and afters but what about the durings? Seeing my low valleys and high mountain tops saddened me a little. It was hard to see and remember how I had felt: so uncomfortable in my own skin because I had already seen my potential. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to lose weight and accounted it to not being able to go to the gym.

If you’re just starting this journey or my story has inspired you to live a healthier lifestyle, take baby steps and stay firm.  Allow cheat days and if you’re not ready to go it alone, bring a friend! Most gyms allow guest passes and LA Fitness gives ten of your friends a two week membership at the gym for free! Don’t get discouraged and keep an accountability partner to kick your butt in gear when you fall a little off track. 

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How I Lost 30lbs Accidentally: Photoshop Couldn’t Fix Me

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

After going from a size 14 to a 6 in less than a year, I started my Junior semester of High School in great shape. As my schedule filled, staying fit became less of a priority. Hanging out with friends every weekend resulted in junk food consumption and I slowly lost my ground. Every summer I’d hop back on the fitness train but it was never truly a priority.

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When I moved to South Africa for an internship, I couldn’t drive but was required to work out. I became inventive with what I could use to burn calories: volleyball, swimming, lifting bricks (I’m serious!) and what I absolutely despised: running. My commitment was on and off and I became bored and unmotivated. Discipline was dwindling and as the year drew to a close, I became more homesick. Homesickness resulted in snacking on popcorn and Nutella which resulted in a pretty significant weight gain.

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Working out at a gym every day during Christmas break, I developed habits and routines to help me stick to it when I went back overseas. Discipline began to decline once again 3 months in as I became busier and less active; I started to put weight back on again. This did nothing for my confidence. I could Photoshop my hardest for those photos on Facebook, but I couldn’t hide how gross I felt at times. I was craving an outlet of control and was using food verses working out.

Tune in next week to see how I accidentally lost 30 pounds and how I’m keeping it off!

Can’t Say Goodbye

Challenge & Revelation, Photography

Wow. The past year and a half has been quite a whirlwind! Thank you to you all who try and keep up with the small notes I have time to put up (as you can see, it’s been a while!) I’ve missed blogging about the events and people that I meet here in Africa but God has been teaching me a lot this season about living  in  the  moment.

Some of you may know but I’ll summarize for those of you just jumping into this quirky girl’s life of adventure. I have been with Impact Africa for a year and a half as an intern. My job is a bit of a catch-all but in my time spent in South Africa I have not only made friendships that will last a lifetime as well as organized trips for the orphan-vulnerable children we have at our schools in several communities and planned weekly crafts, stories, and picked up the large amount of food that feeds all (close to) 200 children! I’ve learned much about blog writing as I wrote blogs for the organization as well as leadership through leading mission teams and coming back to “guide” this year’s interns. (I say guide in parentheses because there were definitely times they were guiding me!) I’ve helped teach an English class we set up for people in the community to help provide better job options and battled through wanting them to desperately know English as well as questioning if teaching was in my future. I’ve grown in compassion as I watched people try to hold their lives together without Jesus and then turn to Him and begin the journey of learning to trust how great He truly is. I’ve also struggled with the thought of never leaving and keeping these people under my wing forever, but I know that’s not God’s plan.

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Today I am returning to the States to prepare and begin college at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Part of me can barely contain the excitement, the other can barely hold in the tears. As I alluded to before, this season has been a bit of a tricky one. I feel that every time a season ends God’s grace seems to pull back a teensy bit so you can see what living life outside of His will is like (just in case you decide to change your mind and do something else.) Even in the moments I wanted to run away from the situation at hand, God always provided strength. While I was humbled, He was exalted and that is what I live my life for: His glory.

Some people say when God shuts a door He opens a window, but I believe God gives us the choice at times. Both will work just fine, but one is closer to His heart. These past six months have been difficult, but God refined me in so many ways. He gave me the choice to come back or to go back to comfortable Ol’ America and I didn’t come back because it was easy. I came back because I knew this is what God has planned for the rest of my life: missions. In whatever aspect that may take. Thanks for journeying with me during my time in South Africa. So this is not good-bye. Missions is an overflow of the heart and that’s how I live my life now. And for South Africa? It’s just a, “See you later :)” Can’t wait to see the new adventures that await us!

Sangoma Meets Jesus

Missions

Two long weeks had passed in anticipation. The excitement was so thick you could feel it in the air as the interns walked into Kya Sands. Short, quick conversations and prayers were had with many people we came across. Two hours later, we had one more hour on the field and I knew just how to spend it.

After being in the community for a year, you quickly learn the places to avoid and who is where. Just before we left last year someone mentioned to me a sangoma (witch doctor) that lived right off the main street. At the time, a mental note had been made to avoid the house. It was scary at the thought of opening myself up to demonic activity because of what I had been taught years ago.

After leaving South Africa last year, something in my spirit whispered next year would be different. While on break Life Church prophesied over this year for increased flow of the Spirit and if the Lord healed last year, there would be even more healings for 2014! Taking a hold of that prophecy and speaking into 2014, this year began to be declared one of more healings, breakthroughs, and deliverance than last year. I stood in faith for increased faith and deeper relationship with Christ.

 As we began to walk back through the community we stopped at the same house I had run in fear from last year. Determined to not only show the interns what they were up against in the community and minister to this woman, a translator was quickly found once we realized she didn’t speak English. As we made small talk she mentioned she was a “traditional healer”. When we told her (us) the Americans did not know what that was, we asked if she would like to show us. She happily invited us into the corner where she would sit her clients while taking to the ancestors to “discern” what was wrong with them.

Questions were asked to extract information for the interns who were still a little shocked this was real life. She showed us her certificates and told us how and what she exactly did. When most people become sangomas it is usually because they have a dream of an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14b-15) or their family insists. When I asked her why she became a sangoma she told me it was because her grandfather’s spirit appeared to her and told her to become one. Later she told us any messages she “discerned” from the spirits were visions. When the question was asked if she believed in God and she said yes and then we asked if she believed the Bible was true she nodded her head. We shared the verse in (Ecclesiastes 9:4-5) where it explains the dead have no involvement with the present on earth. Nelly resisted a little and defended she did not dabble in those kind of things.

Like a light switch flipped on, God began to reveal the direction of the conversation was all wrong. We began to tell her of the one true spirit and what He did for her. As we told the story of the perfect man that God had sent, she was glued to the speaker, eyes fixed on me even though the translator was the one speaking her language. After the gospel was shared, she still was not entirely convinced. Our overpowering heart cry was for God to open up her eyes to see what was separating her from the Truth!

We told the story of Adam and Eve and how what looked like they weren’t anybody, separated them from God. As she heard about the snake, her eyes widened and her face fell when God told them they had to leave the garden. As I told her the plan God had and how he had sent his perfect son to die for her, she became more excited and drawn into the story.

We asked her questions to ensure she understood the story. She really connected with the story and began to tell us that she could now feel spirits fighting for her. “Pray for me that I would have a deeper desire for Christ and that he would show the True spirit.” As the group huddled around her, people began to come to her store to purchase things. She so passionately wanted prayer she did not stir to respond to the customers waiting at her shack. It was surprising because even the most earnest people we minister to answer their phone or talk to their friends while we talk with them.

What a divine connnection! So thankful for the amazing things God is doing in Africa!!

“I know Jesus died, but why?”

Missions

I held a salvation card with a woman’s phone number but no house number. After calling her many times, learning she has a different name than the one noted, and finally finding her shack I was relieved to see someone at home that I could have a conversation with!

I started to talk to her and I learn she is in a completely different profile than I thought. I don’t know how to relate to her and begin to hesitantly share the gospel, praying God will show me an open door. All I was confident in was that God was telling me to push through this rough conversation.

After talking about her family back home I begin to ask what she knows of God. She explains she knows Jesus died for her. I ask, “Do you know why he died?” She shakes her head no.

I began to share the creation story of how Adam and Eve sinned and that’s why God sent His son. She nodded her head and understood. I brought out a Gospel of John and gave one to her. I opened it to John 4 (one of my favorite stories to share). Up until this point I had needed a translator to explain what I was saying but as I told the story she completely understood English – The Gospel Came Alive!

I continued to tell her about how Jesus (a single man from a different tribe) sat down with this single woman from a disliked tribe. He wanted to talk to her and offer her something so special, even though he knew all of the bad things she had done. He didn’t care about the bad things, he still loved her. Porciah was shocked at how much Jesus loved this woman and as I told her how much he loved her, her eyes grew even wider.

As I asked if she wanted to know Jesus more, she grew hesitant. “Give everything to someone I barely know?” I understood where she was thinking because I had thought the same thing just a year and a half ago. I reassured her she could learn more about Jesus in the book of John I gave her, told her where our Bible study was in her area, prayed for her, and left.

God has a plan for Porciah and so many other people in the communities we work in. I am so grateful that I listened to what God was telling me and she now knows why Jesus died for her and that it is not about what she does for him or the bad things she’s done in the past, because all He wants is her.

Testimonies From George, South Africa!

Challenge & Revelation, Missions, Photography

Victoria Bay

Sedgefield Community

Photo Credit: Cori Bridgeford

Knysna, South Africa is a beautiful place and I’m privileged to have traveled there. While it has many accommodations much more like America’s it still has squatter camps. These were not just any type of squatter camps. Shacks built on hills overlooking the grand homes closer to the beach, the mist of the ocean waves visible from their very front door. In the three and a half months I’ve been doing ministry in squatter camps I had never seen a community so desperate for God. The very first house we visited that week, God did a miracle. We met three women, sitting outside the door and we told them about the crusade. When we asked if we could pray for them, they led us to their mother who couldn’t walk. A frail old woman, named Sarah, lay curled up in her bed, muttering a few words to her daughter which she would translate to us. It had been thirteen years since she had walked. Sarah was in a lot of pain and had many medications trying to take it away. “I believe in Jesus.” She told us, “I believe He can heal me.” Excitedly we prayed for her, expecting the God of the Impossible to do a great miracle.

When we finished praying we asked if she felt any different and she said some of the pain was gone. She walked from her bedroom to the sitting area – a walk she had not made in 7 years! Two days later we stopped by again and were able to get to know the daughter, Sophie, better. She told us of how she took care of her mother Sarah and her son who was deaf and had a type of autism. With no job, she trusted the Lord for everything she had. Selflessly laying down her own needs for those of others, the stress on her face was evident. We began to pour into her the strength the Lord has for her, sharing scripture after scripture, her countenance had changed from burdened to joyful by the time we left!

The last night I saw Sophie at the crusade with a little girl who had been with us since the crusade had started earlier that week. We all knew her well, seeing her and playing with her so often. “This one is a soup-kitchen child.” Sophie told me, “I gave her a piece of bread.. I have my own problems!” While this woman had compassion she seemed quite irritated, still holding the little girl. When I asked where her parents were she responded saying the father was dead and the mother had disappeared. “Is she staying with you?” I asked. “No!” “Where does she stay then?” I asked. Sophie continued to talk about the soup kitchen and all I could think about was how this four year old girl had no family and was apparently getting food from the soup kitchens.

There are children who have no homes. Who don’t know where their family is or where their next meal is going to come from. This trip not only made me grow into the faith God gave me for his healing but opened my eyes to see the deeper reality that these people live in every day. Please be praying for the seeds sown in our times of ministry and that the Lord would continue  to work on their hearts!

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Salvation in the Shacks!

Missions

We crossed the river in Kya and as we passed through a small walkway I met eyes with a woman. When she greeted me, I felt in my heart it was a divine appointment. She was an older woman from Limpopo, with her two granddaughters, listening to the radio to pass the time. I sat down and began to exchange life with her, learning her name was Katie and she had been here for three years. She turned off her radio and shared with me she used to attend a cult church back at home. “Do they give you Jocco tea?” I ask. {Many of the cult churches will pray over a tea and have you drink it – to heal what they said you were sick with. They also give bracelets, prayed-over Vaseline, and holy water to scare away evil spirits} She nods her head and I continue, “Does it make you better?” She contemplates for a moment and then shrugs her shoulders, “It makes you better from what they say you’re sick with.” I point out some people lie. “How do you know the “prophets” are telling the truth?”  “Some people make things up,” She tells me, “But others tell the truth.” I ask how she knows what is true and what is a lie. “Sometimes they tell me something will happen and when it doesn’t I know it is a lie.

Did Jesus ever use tea or bracelets to make people better?” I continued after a moment of letting her think, “Jesus prayed to God, right? He didn’t need any of those things because He knew God and His power.” I flipped over to a passage in Matthew, showing her how Jesus prayed with people, and because they believed in him, they were healed.

“Katie, do you know why Jesus died?” She responded, “For us.”

He saw Katie’s face when they beat him, he saw Katie’s face when they hit him with whips, he saw Katie when he hung on the cross. He did it for you, Katie.”

She looked at me with an expression of hurt, compassion, and slight confusion. Her face seemed to say, “For me?” I continued, “He died so that you could know him. He wants to talk to you and be your friend. When we sin, it makes a wall in front of our heart and keeps us from talking to God. God sent his only son, to die, so that he could talk to us. When Jesus died, he broke the wall that kept us from talking to God. He killed our sin!” A look of relief overtook her face as she sat back in astonishment. I waited a moment and then asked again, “Katie, do you know Jesus?”

“I’ve never seen him!” she replied. “I’ve never seen him like I can see you,” I touched her hand, “but if I called you on the phone, would you say, ‘You’re not real!’ because I wasn’t right in front of you?” She shook her head and laughed. “Because you can hear me, right?” I ask and she (still chuckling) agrees with me. “I’m real but you can’t see me. If I called you on the phone would you not talk to me because you couldn’t see me?” “No!” “Jesus is real even though we can’t see him. He wants to talk to you! But when we hear the phone ring we say, no, I don’t want to answer, it’s not real. It hurts him. We’re saying I don’t believe you.” “Mh, I understand.” She replied.

Katie, do you want to know Jesus? I opened to Romans 10:9-10 and read it, “That’s how we get to know, Jesus, Katie. We ask him into our hearts, we give our lives to him. Without God we would not be breathing right now, he is our life.” She nods her head and says, “Yes, I want to know him.” We were so ecstatic! As I prayed with her, introducing her to Jesus, her new life-long friend, she smiled.

Please be praying for Katie and the others that have accepted Christ this week. Pray that they are constantly being drawn closer to His heart and the lies of the enemy would not sway them in their faith of our amazing creator!

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