This next blog post has been giving me a bit of heartburn the past few weeks. First of all, I experienced my first bit of writer's block since we've started this journey. Blame it on the hormones, morning sickness and fatigue I suppose. Sleep-deprived Ashley can write, but hormonal Ashley cannot. When the right idea finally came to me, I then struggled with how to write it down. I have talked about this topic over coffee with girlfriends, but I feel like that's so different than typing it out for everyone and anyone to read. It's easier to explain yourself in person than it is over the internet. Maybe I should start a vlog, but then I'd have to start showering ;-)
I'll just start and act like we are sitting in a cozy coffee shop sipping cappuccinos. Except in my current pregnant state, I'm drinking cold chocolate milk and eating the chocolate chip muffin. So, I'll let you be the hip one with the cappuccino.
I'll start out blunt. I went almost two solid years where I didn't know if God was hearing me. I didn't know if He knew who I was. And it's wrong to say this, but to be completely honest, I didn't know if I was "good enough" for Him to listen to me and give me a response back to my prayers. Talk about the enemy shooting arrows directly at a person.
Speaking of arrows, during this period of time, there were other sharp arrows being shot at Colby and I. New parents trying their best to navigate some new harsh realities. It felt like the arrows were coming in hot from all fronts; like there wasn't a topic that didn't come with a punch or a defeat. I hate to sound negative or ungrateful, as there is much, much more pain on this Earth than what we endured during this time. But it was a season of impact and adjustment, uncertainty and fear, discomfort and restlessness.
The prayer I lived by during this time was a simple, "Lord, please speak to me and please let me hear you." I prayed it CONSTANTLY. I was so scared He wouldn't speak to me, and I was also so scared that I would miss His response and direction! That would be just my luck - God telling me what to do or opening a door, and me whizzing on by it or not noticing it. Have you ever had that fear before? You're so obsessed with getting an answer or a direction, that you're terrified you'll miss His response? Lord, please speak to me, and please let me hear you!
During this journey, the way I prayed changed entirely. I still always prayed my simple prayer, but what started as methodical, diligent and formal prayers, turned into constant conversations. I talked to Him like a friend. He knows what I'm thinking all of the time, and He's always with me, so it only made sense I verbalized everything with Him. I prayed constantly throughout the days, talking to Him as if He was in my passenger seat in my car and at the work desk next to me. Another blog post for another day, but changing my prayers changed my entire relationship with Christ.
Then there were countless nights I quite literally cried out to Him, begging for help. Surrendering all control and all of me to Him, I'd break down, "Lord, I can't do this with out you!" and "Please, Lord, I need you! End this, please!" Many desperate, broken prayers into the dark at night and alone in my car.
I'd wait in silence for answers. I'd look to my left, look to my right, read into everything...desperately trying to find His direction. I looked for anything to be a sign. Again, not only did I want Him to speak to me, but man... I did NOT want to miss it! Weeks, months...nothing. No signs. No voice of God talking directly to me. Heck, I would have taken a strike of lightening (but would have preferred a nice little handwritten note)! Was I missing it? What was happening? Cue the thoughts of insignificance.
I am amazingly blessed to have close girlfriends not only walking closely with Christ, but acting as His hands and feet here on Earth. Faithful, passionate women with hearts on fire. Their fellowship and sisterhood is pure gold, and I truly look up to them and their faith. During this time, however, I couldn't help but feel a pang of... envy? Confusion? A little bit of disappointment? When we would chat, some of my girlfriends could nonchalantly say something like, "God told me XYZ," and "God was really telling me here ABC," and "I felt that God was pushing to 123." Some of the sentences ended with more commonplace occurrences, while some ended with more specific direction to issues going on in their lives.
I remember vividly thinking, "Wow, God is communicating regularly and directly to this person, and even about some pretty normal, day-to-day things. I've been praying HARD for over a year, crying, begging for help, and I feel like I'm just over here waving my arms like a psycho!" In fact, at one point, I left a coffee with a girlfriend, got in my car, and said out loud, "Down here! Right here, Lord! Hello! I'm talking to you, too! Why are you talking to her but not me?"
During this time, I was also seeing a spiritual counselor who was immensely helpful and encouraging. I remember sitting in her over-sized, tufted chair, feeling so incredibly small, asking what I was doing wrong. Asking where God was, and why some of my friends were good enough to get answers and direction, but I wasn't. I felt hot silent tears, but also shame. She explained to me that God speaks to everyone differently - through the Bible, through fellowship, directly, through song, through praise - and speaks to everyone at different times. But that I am never alone. Your relationship with Christ is unique, as you are unique. Christ knows everything about you and everything that is to come for you, so He has a specific way to speak to you and a specific time when He will speak to you. Comparison is a dangerous game, as we are all children of Christ with different stories and different paths. God is all-knowing, and we are not. That's where faith comes in.
I remained diligent in prayer, I thought that was all of the faith I needed. I never gave up praying and never gave up hope, so yes, that is absolutely faith, but I didn't fully trust Him. I didn't fully trust that He was paving the path before me while walking alongside me on it. So in addition to hope and faith, I added trust.
Colby and I were over a year into this hard season when we began reflecting one night on what we had been through as a couple and individually. We realized how much we had grown as a couple during this state of adversity. I'll be honest, in the beginning of this season, we fought a lot. We didn't know how to handle what was happening, and to be really honest, marriage was not fun. It was exhausting, and we both felt so alone. It sucked.
However, at some point, we went from putting our problems on each other to giving all of our problems to Christ. We were praying constantly and praying together. We were leaning on each other, supporting each other, listening to each other and making hard decisions together. We were on the same page. Let me repeat that - because this is huge for those who know Colby and I - we were on the same page! Our young marriage had endured what some seasoned marriages have yet to go through. Then Colby said something that night of reflection I will never forget:
"I would go through this all over again with you if it meant our marriage would always come out this strong. God meant for this to happen to our marriage."
After that night, my entire view of the season changed. God was with us the whole time, changing our hearts individually and strengthening our marriage. It was all part of His plan, and the Lord was actually so active and so deliberate in everything that had happened. God is good. All good things are from Him. And it doesn't get much better than a marriage filled with unconditional love and support.
I started glorifying our Lord and giving Him thanks for our hard times. Literally, I thanked him for our problems. I thanked Him for the growth in our marriage and for having His hand in everything, always. I genuinely and purely started to trust God no matter what His end plan was - if He spoke to me or not, if He took all of our problems away or not - whatever His plan was, I didn't care, because I knew the good that would always come from Christ. I knew He was going to always be with me and take care of me and my family. I. Just. Let. It. Go. It was such a relief to arrive at this place. It was like taking off my obnoxiously heavy, middle school backpack, and it was a place of peace.
I kid you not, after about a month of arriving at this place of peace, I heard from God. Directly. And I broke down right there in Panera in the pick-up line. I couldn't believe it. And I will NEVER forget it.
Since hearing Him speak to me, God has abundantly blessed us, and has been working so incredibly boldly in our lives. Many prayers have been answered, and we are watching His work unfold. We aren't meant to understand all things, and I'm sure we don't want to understand all things, but He is revealing to us His timing and showing us why some things had to be a certain way. And it's awesome. What always blows our mind is how God's timing has been nothing short of absolutely perfect. I now understand why I had to wait to hear from Him. And I also understand He doesn't always reveal these things to us, so I am especially grateful. To look back at the past three years and the work Christ has done in our lives brings Colby and I to tears.
This post is really long-winded, but I thought it was important to share, as everyone is going through something at any given time. I hope that my story offers some sort of help or hope to those feeling alone or not heard. I promise you that Christ not only hears you, but He loves you and is for you! He doesn't want you to trudge through this on your own. As humans, we aren't designed to do that! He is with you and working in your life in some way. How, when and if He reveals that work to us is what we need to trust and be at peace with.
In this amount of time, I imagine you would have drank four cappuccinos and I would have eaten three chocolate chip muffins, so we might need to wrap this coffee date up. Next time's on me!
"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
"By joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." - Romans 12:12
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." - Philippians 4:6
"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." - Deuteronomy 31:8
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." - Romans 8:28