Thursday, April 30, 2015

when love is bigger than the whole wide world

I've been telling everybody I see about the backhoe.

"It's coming tomorrow, Ben's going to transform the backyard," and a smile stretches across my face.

When it arrives, I can't help but call you first thing. "It's here! Hurry home!" It reminds me of those first few days after we were married, and any time we were apart was torture. I know a man can't love a machine, but, your roots run deep. Roots that I love. You love working the earth, being out on the land. I know a piece of you is missing since we live here in the city.

You come home late, 6:00. No need to eat dinner, you get right to work. I drag all the kids around back to see you in action.

Your movements are sloppy at first, jagged. "It takes some getting used to!" you chuckle.

I watch your face as you calculate each movement. You discover how much motion is needed to get the results you want. The rate of your mastery amazes me. In a very short amount of time you are proficient, as if you have always ridden on this machine.

The kids want a ride. You don't bat an eye. They each have a little bit of you in them, which I love, and can't wait for their turn. Ephraim was especially interested and pulling all kinds of levers! You concede, "There's hope for him." The corners of your eyes wrinkle up into a smile of pride. If he's lucky he'll grow up to be just like you.

It gets dark, we call it a day, and you're up before the sun the next day. The kids and I spend the morning playing by your side, watching you work. When we talked about the future we talked about days like this. It's something we've always dreamed of and its here.

I love you, Ben. When people talk about what they are looking for in a mate, they talk about specifics: attributes, habits and hobbies. But you, when I ask you what you, specifically, love about me, you say, teasingly, "I love you, specifically." Your heart is open and wide, that is how you see the world. My heart is drawn to notice details and little things, but I love you, specifically too.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Photography Creates Gratitude

How do you notice joy?

I got up early-- too early, 3am. But for some reason it was a happy hour this time. I sat down and wrote for a few hours and thought. I took a shower. Cheyenne woke up a little early, and I asked her if she wanted to go on a little walk.

Morning hours are incredibly beautiful. I love the soft light, the quietness of the world. You're alone with the birds and the beat of your heart. I love taking morning walks. Unfortunately I'm not a morning person-- and except by some stroke of magic I'm not out in it as often as I would like.

Cheyenne excitedly puts on her shoes and we walk around the block. My hair is still wet from the shower. We say a quick goodbye to Ben working in the backyard, who's already so focused he hardly notices. I bring my camera which hangs awkwardly at my side.

Textures and small details start to stick out to me. Click goes the shutter. I feel a little pretentious. What am I, a nature photographer? Can't I walk around the block without having to document everything? But my heart starts to change and beat a little faster. Through the lens I see something I didn't before--- joy.

It's been a long, dark winter for me. Many of the patterns and habits that keep me centered were slowed to a trickle. I didn't realize this was one of them. Through the lens of my camera I can see, again, things that I love. It's details. It's beauty. It's gratitude.

Taking pictures doesn't need to be about showing a sliver of your life to others or your technical skills. It can be about noticing. Getting up close and personal and saying I am grateful for this. I notice this, and I am glad it is here.

I am going to give joy and gratitude my attention and hang up embarrassment. I know where true happiness lies. And it's here to stay.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Writing: A Skill for the Kingdom of God

I have 65 drafts of posts for this blog. Does that drive you neat freaks crazy? Creativity of any form takes on a life of its own once it's ignited. Ideas come when you least expect it, or at inconvenient times. The ideas can be fleeting, a passing thought, just a brief glimpse into something more, or deep musings that are daily on my mind.

While I catalog my ideas, I'm learning the process of writing as well. I'll write a whole post and then decide it's in completely the wrong tone. These are usually ones filled with half-truths or judgmental comments that I find not consistent with who I really am. For when I figure this out better, I say, for when I have more Truth to say, and less judgments.

I constantly have the phrasing of things on my mind. While I'm in the middle of sweeping the floor and I'm pondering (always pondering), an idea for a great way to say something or a better way to explain a concept will come to mind.

But the inspiration to write, the confidence in my own abilities ebbs and flows. It might come in the morning while my kids are running around, but I know if I wait until I'm "ready" it won't come back. While I'm in school or very pregnant the ideas stop flowing, or slow to a trickle. I sometimes force myself to write, even when I know the product will be poor. It's essential to me.

Writing is how I learn. It's how I process my world. It allows me to creatively give life to the thoughts swirling around in my head. I never imagined writing would become something I crave. I am a writer.

But writing is more than simply something I enjoy doing or a personal reflection exercise. God communicates to us in written form. He needs great writers in His kingdom, people to convey the truths he's planted in their hearts. I don't always feel I do him justice-- in fact I know my writing is not perfect. But I can put away my pride and realize that stumbling and falling is the only way to really learn and get better-- by doing. If everyone was able to adequately express why they do certain good things, and do it in a way free of judgment and instead uplifting and inspiring to others, how much we would learn. This is why I try so hard to communicate, why the phrasing of things occupies my thoughts and why I want so badly to capture it.

And still, I'm very poor at it. But I have noticed through the years I've been keeping this blog, I am improving. So while my writing is personal and introspective, a way of learning and reflecting for me, my ultimate goal is to communicate to others. I feel God's love deeply, and know He wishes me to write so that others can feel what I feel, and see what I see. When written effectively, we can see the goodness of God in someone else's life and thereby find the goodness in our own. In my grandmother's prose I find this kind of inspiration, but her impact is only felt because she took the time to learn to communicate. It is God's hope that we all do the same.

What ideas and stories do you want to write down in order to bring others closer to Christ?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An open letter to a dear friend

Dear Mary,

I've written to you before now to tell you how much you mean to me, but I want my children to always know what a special place you have in my heart. So I'm writing a letter to you here, even though you will probably never see it. Social media's not your thing, you live life pretty much disconnected, which I love about you.

It's been four long months since you have moved away. I have always known you were a good friend, but I scarcely realized how much you meant to me until you were gone. There are so many things I love about you and admire about your personality, it saddens me we don't get to be a big part of each other's lives anymore.

I loved your companionship. I loved that our kids could play together in my messy house and I never felt the need to impress you. I loved that one of our kids would start screaming and we could both smile because if it wasn't your kid, it was mine. I loved that our kids loved playing with each other, and were each other's best friends. I loved that we could swap tantrum stories and middle-of-the-night stories and everything in between. I feel empty without it Mary, no one can replace you.

I love your support. I was nervous to tell you that I was going back to school, nervous that it would change our relationship, or that you would see me as different than you. You didn't bat an eye when I told you, and you'll never know much that means to me. And through all of the juggling you stood by me and you were proud of me for doing what I knew the Lord wanted me to do. From the bottom of my heart, I am grateful to you for that.

I love your compassion. You were constantly serving me, asking me what you could do to help. You and Matt babysat for me many times when I was pregnant with Ephraim, times when I didn't think I could go on, and you would come in and rescue me. I have learned so much from you. One time I met you at the park so you could watch my girls while I went to a meeting for school. I started sobbing, the weight of being a student-mother heavy upon me, and I was embarrassed. You so gently embraced me and encouraged me with my burdens. I hope to give to others the gift you gave to me that day.

I love your kind and gentle manner. I often recall memories of you in my mind when I try to deal gently with one of my children. I see your sweet family sitting in a row at church, your children lovingly obedient to parents who kindly teach and guide (although you probably wouldn't agree with this statement!). I love your soft-spoken manner and the deliberate way in which you speak.

I love your unworldliness. You and your family love to live simply and found happiness without frills or fanfare. We never talked about movie stars or the latest this or that. I love that. I love that about you. I love the choices you make that make you different than most. I feel comfortable around you, not judged and not unique.

I love your honesty. I love that we can share with each other our struggles and our trials and feel safe. I love that you let me be a part of your life in this way and I love that you are a safe place for me.

We may never live close to each other again, Mary. But know that I love you, I appreciate you, and I am forever grateful for your friendship. You cannot be replaced, I feel honored I get to call you my friend.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Our Dreams of Tomorrow

As a little girl, I imagined adulthood, motherhood. I knew I would arrive there one day, and everything would be as I imagined. It would be blissful. We'd look like one of those families in the conference Ensign. The hours I spent drawing families, kids-in-a-row, would come to life, complete with the horse in the backyard.

This image has been on my mind lately. What would 13-year-old Ashley think of my day-to-day activities? If my teenage self were to come visit this life "A Christmas Carol"-style, how would I react?

Most of us, I think, when we answer this question turn toward the negative. I'm not as carefree as I thought I would be. I'm overly consumed with day-to-day tasks.

Despite my tendency to turn towards the negative, I've actually found hope in this "Christmas Carol" image. I can see that the joy is there. It's already there, I'm simply not giving it my whole attention.

It is true, the messes, the emotional roller coaster, the to do lists, the grown-up tasks I was naively unaware of as a teenager, those are still there even though they weren't a part of my daydreams. But they do not drown out the joy, the happiness that comes with building a family, growing up and moving forward.

It's hard in the thick of it to see the joy everyday. I do have instances of clarity, days I love or moments I cherish, as we all do. A struggle I've faced in this phase of life as stay-at-home mom to three kids at home is that everything is the same. The same to do list. Day in, day out keeping little people happy and capturing joy when life is a mess.

But looking at my life through the lens of my 13-year-old self has given me new understanding. It allows me to put gratitude back in it's proper place. I can have peace every moment, and not just during some of them. I can sincerely say I am "living my dream." I can take the time each moment, every day to thank the Lord for what my life is and what He has given me. How awesome is it that I have three little personalities in my house? How funny are two-year-olds? How great is it to see a 4-year-old try out new talents? How happy to share a joke with the man that I love? Asking these questions won't make the laundry and the dishes go away, but it will be a lot harder to be overwhelmed by them when I am constantly enriched by these happy thoughts. 

What joy would your 13-year-old self find in your current life?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pictures of Moments and People I Love

Ben installed a brand new toilet for us. Ephraim, our"facilities manager" loved overseeing the project.

I was sick one day and stayed home from school. Cheyenne said, "Don't worry Mom I will take care of you."

Visiting my sister in Vegas for Easter

These pictures are from back in December at my brother Dillon's wedding

My mom and her sisters. I love these wonderful, kind women.

Ashley, my sisters Bethany, Haley

Ben and my sister's husband Austin

Our girls with Heather & Austin's girls (Katie and Eliza)