Don't. Drop. The. Baton.

I've been thinking about Summer all day and didn't realize what today's date was until Lori reminded me. The holidays always throw me out of whack. It's funny, because I woke up feeling sad and drove through the cemetery this morning. Something drew me. I guess in the back of my mind I must have known it was the one month mark since she went home to Heaven.

I miss her, miss knowing she's there to talk life with. Often I will pick up my phone to text her about something Pastor Chris said, or a song or something funny I think would make her laugh. But then I catch myself. I can't imagine what it feels like for those that were with her every day.

So, what now?

This might sound strange to some of you, but...

Since her passing the imagery of a relay race has been in my mind. Specifically the passing of the baton. There were things she talked about doing; ministry she wanted to do. Things I shared her passion for. She talked about having a "healing place," where broken people could come and find hope, acceptance, love and wholeness through Jesus.

She never had a Place, but she carried it with her wherever she went, especially over this last year. I've heard stories from people she came into contact with at the hospital. When she felt bad she would still stop to pray for other people or share her testimony or speak words of encouragement. Even the parking attendants knew her and asked about her often. Said they missed seeing her when she stopped coming for treatments.

A couple of weeks ago I had a flashback. Picture this: a scrawny, yet tomboy-ish, 7th grade girl. At Georgia Washington Jr. High School, P.E. class, in a pair of ugly purple gym shorts, no shoes, only socks. I guess it was the track-and-field portion of the curriculum, because it was relay race day. I was the last leg for our team and the girl passing me the baton was...slow. The other team passed off the baton for the last time while I waited. Finally, I took the baton, but my opponent was a good third of the way around, ahead of me.

But...I ran like the wind. I ran like the wind in my white socks and caught up with her. Not only did I catch up, but in my white socks, no shoes, on a track formed by traffic cones in a grassy field, I overtook my opponent and won the relay race. Yes I did. Then I fell over wheezing and coughing and feeling like jelly. I remember it well. My P.E. coach was shocked. And can you believe she did not offer me a spot on the track team? But I digress.

The point is when that memory came back to me, I felt the Lord tell me that's what I am to do now. Summer has passed the baton to me and I am to take it and run like the wind. I am to run my race with endurance and perseverance, run to win, and when I get to the end I will pass my baton off to someone else and they will run. And on and on it will go until the Final Finish Line is set and we don't have to run any more. I'm not the only one this is true for, though.

If you knew Summer and God used her to touch your life, then there is a sense in which she has passed a baton to you as well. Did she change the way you parent your kids? Then keep loving your kids and then teach someone else what she taught you. Did she help you get rid of baggage and hurt in your life? Then continue walking in freedom and help someone else find it. Did she introduce you to Jesus or teach you something about how to know Him in a new way? Then introduce someone else.

If anyone has made a spiritual deposit in your life, take their baton and run with it. Steward well what you've been given. There's a verse in 2 Timothy where Paul tells Timothy to, "entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others...to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well." We all have a baton to run with and, in a way, we can carry on, or finish, what someone else has started. This is God's way.

Just to seal this in my heart, last week I went to meet Sandy Brunson at the cemetery to show her where Summer's plot is. Through a series of events I ended up driving her to her house, and as we drove down the street a young girl came running out of her house to get something from her car. Sandy said, "That girl was in the Olympics." I said, "Really? Wow." She said, "Yeah. Her event was the relay. {Pause} She dropped the baton." I said what a shame that was, but still, even that she got there was amazing. That's a lot more than I could do. I thought what are the odds that this series of events would take place, to get me on Sandy's street at that exact moment, for this girl to come outside, and...

Then it hit me. "Ashley. Don't drop the baton!"

Whoa. I'm listening.

I believe I will be in Heaven one day, and that will be amazing in and of itself, but I don't just want to get there. I want to have run my race, "in such a way as to get the prize." (1 Cor. 9:24) I want to have done everything God had for me to do, love the people He called me to love, serve where He wants me to serve, keep the faith and bring glory to His name. I want to leave nothing undone.

And within that I believe there are some things that Summer dreamed about doing that I need to live out. I have no idea what that looks like, but I do know that I can't get caught up in regrets, and wishing I had said this, or done that, or whatever, which I find myself doing sometimes. I have to keep my eyes fixed on the finish line. And RUN.


Is God Good Enough...

A few days ago Riley and I went to run some errands after school. She asked if we could get some ice cream at Chik Fil A, so, because I'm such a fabulous mom, I said yes. She had hardly gotten started, when out of nowhere she started asking me these deep theological questions.

For instance, how could God really lose His life, if He knew He was just going to come right back alive? If God is in Heaven and He lives inside of us, does that mean Heaven is inside of us? How is God three?

See? Deep questions for a 6 year old. Those were just the warm-up questions to the one that leaves me wondering if God was really the one doing the asking. That question she had a little trouble formulating, but finally she asked,

"Is God good enough that He does what everybody asks Him to? Is He that good"

Immediately, the answer that came out of my mouth was, "Actually God is good enough, He is so good, that He doesn't give us everything we ask for. God knows what's best for us, for other people, for the world, so sometimes He has to say no to things that we think would be really good. He knows things we don't know and sees things we don't see."

It hit me right upside the head.

Is that what He wanted it to do?

I know that truth, in my head, but somehow it wiggled its way further into my heart. Sometimes what we want is good. But what He wants to do is far beyond anything we could ask or imagine. In the moment of a "No," it can feel like a hard pill to swallow, but if we could get an eternal perspective, I believe we would come into agreement with His will and allow His power to work within us.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  to Him  be  the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20, 21 NASB)


What I Would've Said (Part 2)

This is Part 2 (If you missed part 1, and you care to read it, click here)

This is where I probably would have gotten fired up and long-winded ;)

The last thing I would have told you was this: No matter what this circumstance looks or feels like from our perspective, SHE WON! Don't you ever think otherwise. Not for one split second. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and as much as I miss her, I wouldn't bring her back from His presence. It's where she longed to be.

If you didn't know her well, you need to know that Summer had the heart of a worshipper - full-on, didn't care what anybody thought, worshipper. And she loved Jesus. Like, really loved Him. Psalm 16:11 says, "You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever." She's home now and she's experiencing the fullness of Joy, pleasures forever. Selah...pause and think on that for a minute!

Winning...overcoming...has nothing to do with our circumstances changing. It has nothing to do with getting our way. Our hope isn't in any earthly answers, but, rather, it's in a future place. Victory doesn't lie in a cured illness. Victory is found in the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts. Summer's real victory on earth was that she never wavered in her testimony of who God is.

She and I talked several times about the fact that if she were to die from cancer, the thing people would probably question most is God's goodness. You need to know that God is always good. If you could have had a conversation with Summer at the end of her life, she still would have said, "God is good." Cancer is bad, but God is good. She never questioned His goodness or His love and that is what carried her. She had an intimate relationship with Him, long before she ever had cancer, and that's why she wasn't shaken.

What she would want most for you, whoever you are, is that same intimate friendship with God. You can have it and it's where the power to make it through this life comes from. Don't wait for life to get hard or for a scary diagnosis, seek Him now.

She lived a life fully surrendered to whatever God would have her walk through, and she was willing to do it - for you. For the opportunity to point you to the Hope of this world. To take advantage of the spotlight to share her testimony, so that you might come to know Jesus, for the first time or in a deeper way. Hear me, loud and clear - I do not believe that God gave her cancer, but He did allow her to take that journey. And she did it with dignity and with confidence that no matter what, He would never let go of her, or her family. I hope you have that same confidence.

I could not be more proud of my friend. She did it. She finished strong. Cancer did not overtake her. She overcame cancer by the blood of the Lamb and by holding fast to her testimony about Jesus. And I cannot wait to see her again!


What I Would've Said (Part 1)

I didn't speak at the celebration service for Summer due to my propensity to collapse in a heap in emotional situations. That's probably exactly what would have happened. Either that or I would have gone waaaaaay over my two minute allowance and gotten in trouble :) I thought Elizabeth, Lori and Chris Spradlin spoke beautifully, as did Pastor Chris. The service was exactly as it should have been. This blog is really where my voice is, for now, so I thought I'd tell you what I would have said, had I been able to stand before you on Tuesday.

First, I would have told you that she was the most amazing mom I've ever seen. My first indication of that was not long after I met her, with the end of the school year approaching. She talked about how excited she was to have her kids home from school all summer long. I thought, whaaaat?!?! That's just weird, right? Honestly, most moms I know sort of dread those summer months, because after the first two weeks the kids are bored, arguing and driving them crazy. That's why Staples has that back-to-school commercial where they sing, "It's the most wonderful tiiiiiiime of the year!"

But, she loved every minute with her babies and always had positive things to say about them. It was her influence that began to change my heart toward my kids. I'm a better mother because of her. I've got a long way to go, but I'm not where I was. There's no telling how many other people can say the same thing.

Second, I would have told you what a great friend she was to me. This is where I would have fallen apart. She knew everything about me - my past, my fears, my successes, my dreams - everything. She always encouraged me and spoke words of life over me. In fact, there were times she would say things about me that I knew weren't true at the moment, but she was speaking to my potential. That's just what she did. She believed that if she said it enough, I (or whoever she was talking to) would begin to believe it and then become it.

Summer was also my PR person, at times, when others couldn't see past my awkwardness. If you have spent any amount of time around me, you know what I'm talking about. She'd say I was awesome, whether I was or not.

Unfortunately, she put up with a lot from me, too. I had lots of insecurities and quirks, but she just kept on being a friend, spoke truth when needed and prayed faithfully for me. In fact, she prayed for me whether I had asked her to, or not. It always struck me when she would say, "I was praying for you this morning, and..."

The most precious moment in our friendship came at a time that God was showing me some things from my past that were holding me back. Some things I believed about myself that weren't true. I sat at the bar in her kitchen, covered my face and confessed things that I was ashamed of.

She didn't even flinch, but said, "Ashley, uncover your face and look at me." She looked me right in the eyes and redefined me with her words..."That's not who you are. That's not true." Then she said, "Do you want me to tell you something I've never told anybody?" And she did.

There is nothing like being fully known, yet fully loved and accepted. That was Jesus in her, reaching to me. I'll never forget it. We had a lot of moments like that and it went both ways. Sometimes I was in need and sometimes she was. That's why God tells us to confess our sins to one another - that we may be healed!

Her friendship healed a lot of things in me. She was a gift and I'm so thankful I had the privilege of knowing her and calling her friend.

(Part 2 may show up tomorrow...I told you I would have gone over my 2 minutes!)


Being Still...

As the swirl of activity has died down over the last couple of days, I have found that my awareness of my emotions has only increased. I keep looking for something else to do, some other way to serve, some way to keep busy. But I know that what I need to do is be still. Or as still as I can be and carry out my responsibilities (and, obviously, still serve). It makes me wonder how much of the busy-ness of our lives, in general, serves to avoid feeling something or dealing with problems and hurts. We are not helped by not feeling the feelings, whatever they are. I tend to stuff much of what I feel, but there's no stuffing this grief.

Understand this, though: my faith is not shaken. I trust God as much today as I did a month ago, and maybe more than I did a year ago. He is good. At all times. As I blog through this, however, I won't be fake. I don't do fake. So, when I say God is good, I really believe it. When I say I'd like to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head, that's true, too. Those two things can coexist and I think it's okay. For now. If I'm still saying that in two years, we can talk :)



This is what I saw when I looked up at the sky after the service for Summer. I turned to Lori and pointed out the huge cross shape to her. She reminded me that Summer's friend Elliot, who died of ovarian cancer in May, used to always take pictures of crosses in the sky. It was her "thing." You better believe I think God put that there for us. Or maybe Summer and Elliot did. Who knows ;)