For Writers: Behind the Writing

Below is a piece I wrote for Authenticity Book House and their Devotional for Writers series. Enjoy!

What if we wrapped our writing process in the blanket of worship? This question swirls around in my mind each time I sit down to write.

As the sun peeks through the window, I pull back my sheets and crawl out of bed. I sit and stare at my screen for hours. I scroll through Facebook. I watch the birds outside the window, stumped on which extended metaphor to choose. I re-read each piece again and again and again to remove every be-verb possible. How do I transform the grueling details into worship?

The matter of our hearts determines the substance of our writing.

The central issue of every parable in the gospel wraps around the condition of the heart. The actions matter. But the motives that fuel our actions and works direct our path.

What motivates you to write? Do you invite your Creator into your writing time?

Peek into Luke 18:9–14. Jesus discusses the actions of the Pharisee and the tax collector. What concerns him the most? Does the discipline of the Pharisee impress him? Does the sin of the tax collector anger him? No, he smiles upon the humility of the tax collector.

Glance further down at Luke 18:19–23. The rich young ruler scrolls down his list of good deeds. One by one, he checks each deed off the list, bundling up in the warmth of his pride. Christ challenges him to take off the weight of his possessions and free himself. Yet the young ruler decides his riches, rather than Christ, keep him warm on sleepless and lonely nights. Once again, Jesus consumes himself in the root of the matter—our hearts.

What lies at the heart of your writing? Meditate on these two reflective questions. Examine your heart and create habits to turn work into worship.

Who do you think of when you write?  We write to process pain, events, thoughts, and life. And we write to inspire and encourage others. But even these good motives fall short if our writing doesn’t wrap itself in worship to our Creator.

What purpose lies behind the writing? Do you wrap your identity in your work? Do you need to prove something to yourself or to someone else? These piercing questions dig deep into our hearts and have the power to cleanse our motives of selfish ambition.

Self-examination benefits our writing life and our spiritual life. We need to let our faith fuel our creativity and cover every detail of our writing processes. Then and only then, does writing turn into worship.

For Writers: Be True

Below is a piece I wrote for Authenticity Book House and their Devotionals for Writers series. Enjoy!

Be true. I preach this to myself daily. Whether I grab coffee with a friend, get to know a co-worker, or write a book, I must stay true. I write raw and honest stories for those held captive to the lies and fears of the dark ruler of this world.

I am a soldier for Christ; therefore, I resolve to wear my imperfections as his armor protects me. When I embrace vulnerability, I write true so others might find freedom.

I ask myself—do I write to impress others, or do I write to love others well?

Write true to Christ, to his fight for the lost, to grace, to truth.

Let me challenge you—mirror the surrender of Christ to the Father and devote every book, paragraph, and comma to your Creator.

Write true.

It requires humility, courage, and boldness.

A humble stance.

Do not think so highly of yourself and so lowly of others. Write with the humility of Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Phil. 2:5–8).

In all his divinity, Christ took on the form of a servant. The President of Reflections Ministries, Dr. Boa, defines humility as “the strength and understanding of one’s great dignity and identity in Christ.”

What does a posture of humility look like in your writing? Do you write out of fear and control? Or do you write out of confidence in your identity in Christ? Remember who you are.

A commitment to courage.

Courage stands tall and peers into fear’s eyes, piercing the depth of its dark soul. Put on the courage of Moses as he freed his people from slavery and stood up to Pharaoh (Ex. 9:1).

What are you afraid to write? Take courage. Write the vulnerable story that leaves you shaking in the knees. What if it frees a reader from a fatal lie? Write for the flourishing of others. Usher in the abundant life Christ promises.

A bold spirit.

Do not give way to a spirit of timidity, but speak with boldness (2 Tim. 1:7). Put on the boldness of Paul who fought for the world to know the saving power of his Holy God. He fought to the point of imprisonment and even to his death (Acts 16:16–40, 23:23–35, 28:16).

Who do you need to be bold for? What has the Lord revealed to you that needs to be shared with others? Don’t succumb to timidity.

We write true to fight for others, out of a devotion to Christ. We take our pens, and we put to death the lies, fears, and sins that hold us captive. We fight for those who know not the comfort of the Father’s love. We challenge and strengthen the exhausted believers. We write for the hopeless. We write for those entangled in sin.

Be true.

For Writers: Take Note

Below is a brief post written for Authenticity Book House and their Devotional for Writers series. Enjoy!

A couple months ago I walked through a dry spell. I dragged my feet like a crippled zombie.

I worked 40+ hours during the week and plus some on the weekends. I slapped on my makeup and exhausted myself over trying to put together a cute outfit. The only place I saw my friends was during an hour in church on Sunday mornings and a couple hours at home group.

Busyness leaves my writing life and spiritual life as fertile as cracked soil of the Atacama Desert. I run dry on inspiration when I get caught up in my to-do list. But when I slow down, drop after drop of inspiration waters my mind.

After February ended with all the conferences, projects, and work deadlines, I resolved to water my soul and created some time of sacred silence.

I turned off my TV to read and spend time in the Word. I signed up for art classes, refused to check my inbox on weekends, and planted the herbs I’ve been wanting to try.

I had lost sight of the value of rest and community. The introvert, perfectionist, task-oriented side of me didn’t realize how much the weariness impacted me as a writer and follower of Christ.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we find references of Christ walking away from the crowds to be alone in prayer. Christ took note of the people around him, listening not to just their words, but the condition of their hearts. He dove deep into the well of people’s lives.

Christ accomplished much in his three-year ministry, not because he focused on the task at hand, but because he focused on His Father and the people.

Take note of the world around you. Don’t passively walk through the crowds; soak in the people you meet. Get to know your waiter. Talk with your co-workers. Take out the headphones and rest in the outdoors. Turn off Netflix and open the fresh pages of a book.

As writers, how can we love ourselves and people well? Take note of the moments around us. Check out these three suggestions below.

  1. Schedule a time of silence. Turn off the computer and TV. Put the phone on “Do not disturb” mode. Use this time to read a book, soak in the words of the Bible, and kneel in prayer.
  2. Keep a notebook on you. Take note of what you see, what people say, how they inspire you, challenge you and make you think. Whether you go on a walk, drive to work, or grab some food on lunch break, notice the moments around you. What do you see?
  3. Ask questions. Get to know the people around you. What’s the story of your desk mate at work? How well have you gotten to know the parents of the kids your children go to school with? What’s your barista’s name?

As you take note of the world around you, you become present in the moment. This is a challenge to be intentional, to engage others, to take care of yourself.

This frees you to flourish, not just as a writer, but as a follower of Christ. Taking note of the people around you and the moments that pass by spills into your writing life, allowing inspiration and stories to bloom.

A New Adventure: Photojournalist for Children's Relief

Hey friends!

Did you know the Gospel writer Luke was essentially a journalist? It blew my mind when I learned this. Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of the Acts of the Apostles by shadowing the disciples, documenting their work, and interviewing them to get their eyewitness accounts of the life of Christ. His journalistic efforts and accounts in his Gospel and in Acts have changed countless lives over the centuries. I know they have certainly changed mine. But not only that they have inspired me on my journey as a journalist and storyteller.

I want to tell you about this journey and how God burdened me to do something similar to Luke – to be an agent for change by documenting the work of God around the world.

Let me step back a few years. By the end of college, I knew without a doubt that the Lord called me to pursue photojournalism for missions. With this conviction, I enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary in the Media Arts and Worship program. While I worked on my Masters, I sharpened my skills as a visual storyteller and developed a strong biblical and theological foundation.

A few months after graduation, I met Children’s Relief International, through a good friend who interned with them. I immediately fell in love with their vision, to take the light of Christ to the poor of our time. Their determination to accomplish this invigorated me, as well as their strong conviction that the poor deserve to have their stories told with excellence and with dignity. Our hearts for the Gospel and for the poor were aligned perfectly.

After a few weeks of prayer and consulting friends and mentors, I picked up the phone and made the call. I accepted the job. Now, I serve as their Photojournalist & Missionary for CRI.

What does this look like?

Before I explain my role, let me throw this bit of information in. One of my favorite things about Children’s Relief is that we work with national/local church leaders. In other words, we don’t just go in as foreigners to start our own programs, but we partner with national leaders and churches overseas to help them reach their community with the Gospel. This is where I come in – throughout the year I will travel to our different projects around the world to meet with our international staff. I get to sit down, listen, and document the stories of the Lord’s work – just like Luke.

To do this I need your help.

I can’t do this on my own and I don’t want to. One thing I love about support raising is the community that rallies around you. So I want to invite you to join my financial support team. I am 70% of the way there and would love to have you come alongside me in this. By partnering with me, we will create a ripple effect as we accomplish God’s work – like dropping a pebble in a pond. Like Luke, if we faithfully share our stories of God at work in the lives of the poor, than we too, in our own small way, can change dozens and dozens of lives for eternity. With photojournalism, we won’t just document stories, but we will document stories to change lives. All this to say- I am stoked and I would be honored to have you partner with me.

What can you do next?

1.     To join my support team, click here. You will find my name listed under "Missionaries". 

2.     To join my prayer team and receive a newsletter every two months, sign up here

3.     Have a question? Ask away. Email me at Ashley@childrensrelief.org

My Ethiopia Adventure: We Don't Need to Worry about the Hippos

It was a Sunday--the day before our long treks through the villages surrounding Bahar Dar. After church, we spent the afternoon playing tag and sipping on bottles of Coca Cola and Marinda. Thanks to the Italians occupying Ethiopia in years past, we munched on margarita pizza before we stepped onto the boat. After a couple hours, we glided across Lake Tana to visit a monastery on one of it’s islands.

As the coast faded in the background, we looked over the left side of the boat to see bobbing heads in the distance. Hippos spouted water, as if they were blowing their noses. The roaring engine silenced and we all pointed and stared at the hippos. As minutes passed by, the bobbing heads appeared to be approaching the boat. Knowing a hippo could easily chomp a body in half left the pizza digesting in our stomachs unsettled.

Nathan, Erin’s seven-year-old son, looked up to her. With a nervous shake in his voice, he said “Mommy, mommy, I am scared.” As the hippos inched closer, he scooched over to Erin.

Erin looked down at Nathan, rubbed the back of his life jacket, and said, “You don’t have to worry about the hippos.”

The engine rattled the boat, as we continued towards the island. The hippo family faded in the background.

I relate to Nathan’s fear of the hippos. Each morning I gradually wake up, as I hit the snooze button every nine minutes. Fear cripples me, leaving me wanting to escape into the comfort buried in the sheets and blankets of my warm bed. Fear attacks my thoughts, like a hippo chomping away at it’s next meal. My mind turns to fog as if blood rushed from my body.

Am I as good of a writer as they thought?

Did I take good enough photographs?

Am I a good enough daughter?

Can I really raise the financial support I need?

Fear after fear gnaws away at my energy. I drown in exhaustion. And then I remember…

I don’t have to worry about the hippos.

In the jaws of a hippo, even the meatiest human being snaps like a twig. But in a fight between a boat and a hippo, the boat wins out.

I can stare and point at the giant fear swimming out in the distance. It probably has the ability to destroy me and kill any and all of my hopes. But when I take a look around me, I realize that this fear can’t touch me.  Because of who’s boat I am in, my mind settles. 

Abby+Sam: The Proposal

Wow, what an absolutely incredible night. The fireworks didn't come until the sun went down, but the night was plenty vibrant and joyful while we set up for the big proposal. Sam contacted me just a few days before the proposal, asking if I was available. Now backstory, I remember when these two started dating in high school five years ago. When he told me he was about to pop the question, I was ecstatic! The day had finally come and I was so humbled to get to be invited in to capture the moments. 

Sam picked out the sweetest location: the top of the parking garage, where they watched the fireworks every year. This place was full of memories, and now he was about to top it off with one of the greatest memories yet: the proposal. I met up with their friends about an hour before Sam and Abby arrived to help set up and get a few shots before they arrived. When Sam texted us that they were on the way, we hurried real quick, moved all the cars, and piled into to the truck! 

Minutes passed by, they finally pulled up. I learned later, that Abby had already started crying in the car before they got out. She saw the balloons and the set up and knew what was about to happen-- the day she had been anxiously waiting for.  They walked over and well...next thing you know, there is plenty of crying, hugging, and she said yes! It was one of the sweetest proposal's I have seen. And of course I am tearing up behind the camera. Once she said yes, her friends burst out of the unrecognized truck in the parking lot. The air filled with squeals as they all jumped on top of her and hugged her. 

The proposal ended with an intimate group of their closest friends, champagne toasts, cheesecake and all things pink. So excited for Sam and Abby and their big day coming soon! As a photographer, it is an honor to be trusted to capture some of the most incredible memories to be made in someone's life. It was a special honor to get to capture this sweet couple's proposal. No Fourth of July fireworks could radiate quite as much as this couple! Here are a few snapshots. Enjoy!