The Poetry of Earth

This weekend we spent a lot of time outdoors. Brett teaching Boo about her paddle on Fontana Lake:


Bryson City Outdoors (BCO) has paddle boards you can rent right at the Finger Lake.  Brett, tiny Maximus, and one of Brett’s BCO partners Ben and his dog Lager:


When Brett was about 10 feet away from shore Max jumped in and swam for it with an audience watching from shore. I’d say he’s a brave little guy…but really I think he’s more crazy.

Yesterday we hiked to Andrews Bald. The drive up 441 to get there is pretty amazing in itself (it starts at Clingman’s Dome):

drive up

It’s about a 3.8 mile hike roundtrip. A little rocky in places but a great moderate hike for almost any level if you take your time. I love the balds because you can see for miles and miles, there are no trees obstructing the view. Sometimes I can’t believe places like this exist, pretty much untouched by humans except for the narrow trails we’ve left:


Logging the hike in our “nature” journal:


I keep a journal because I’ve found that if I have the intention of writing things down I see more. My mind looks for ways to describe a place to someone else. I love this line from  John Keats:


I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but my own takeaway is that the earth is itself poetry. This place has been pretty much the same for thousands if not millions of years. It will outlive us all a million times over (unless we get sucked into a black hole filled with asteroids.)

Sometimes I’ll pick up a rock or a flower or notice a new tree or animal and wonder: What if I’d never seen this? And it starts a continuous process of looking a second time, and then a third and soon I’m pulling apart a patch of clovers to see what world lives underneath that I may have been missing. And there’s a whole world underneath. 

When I was younger I wanted to be a forest ranger. At some point that dream was shifted and molded into a career path that wasn’t necessarily my own. Not that I want to be a forest ranger now, but isn’t it an odd thing how we shift our innocent, passionate young dreams into what we think will be more acceptable and secure?

All the big people are simple, as simple as the unexplored wilderness. They love the universal things that are free to everybody. Light and air and food and love and some work are enough. In the varying phases of these cheap and common things, the great lives have found their joy…so simple we are, so little we want, we are wise and will get what we want… -Carl Sandburg, in a letter to his wife 

And then today I’m sitting outside with my dogs because I can’t feel good about myself if they are locked inside staring out the window. And there’s the drone of a yellow jacket hovering nearby and I’ve decided to be a little more tolerant because there must be some use for the yellow jacket right?  I can’t think of one but surely there is some important task for the yellow jacket. I’ve slowed my pace of life and I wonder if it’s possible to gain momentum while simultaneously slowing down? I remember learning in school, maybe in physics, that it takes like 25 miles for an aircraft carrier to stop moving because of the force.

Anyway, onto some kind of point here. If you’ve never visited a bald…you need to. Because when you get there you’ll stand above the whole world and I think you’ll get it. And maybe you’ve felt that before. Up in those kinds of high mystical places, or maybe it was on a long stretch of white beach. My friend Jodi calls it a whoosh.  I think it’s where fear and hope and reverence and joy all collide at once.

And sometimes, like poetry, you can even find little galaxies of stars there:



Honoring and remembering all who have died serving our country, fighting for our freedom, sacrificing everything. I don’t even have words big enough to express the oceans of gratitude. It never seems like enough. So in small words: thank you. 

Boo at the Vietnam Memorial

A Landscape Plan

Since we moved in to our house in January we’ve been thinking about what we want to start working on as far as yard projects.  I used a combination of Google aerial maps and Zillow to create my own drawings of the property…and I have been sketching over transparencies with a china pen as I work through ideas. I like to think long term…like what would we have to start doing now that we can also keep adding to over the next few years:


We have a great blank slate to work with:


We took down a lot of trees to remove any that were in danger of falling on the house:


The power company took down a bunch too, and then kind of left a big ole mess:


Now we’ve got firewood for life, and our friends got a lot too:


The only gardening or landscaping I’ve done up until this point is digging up all the spring bulbs once their flowers fell off, dried them and stored them to replant at some point. I’ve still got a few more to save before the earth mover comes in:


Like these gorgeous Tiger Irises. I wrote this on Instagram about them: In floriography, the language of flowers, the purple iris symbolizes wisdom. The iris in general symbolizes faith and friendship. In Ancient Greece the purple variety was planted over the graves of deceased women to summon Iris, the messenger of the gods, to help guide the journey between heaven and earth. Also an iris: the Fleur-de-lis.

tiger iris

Oh and Boo planted a fairy garden:


We have a wood swing ready to go up:


And then there’s the depot. My plan is to make it a potting shed and have it be the backdrop for a garden.


Maybe I’ll actually get something to grow. My moss and succulents and potato plants are looking pretty good so far. I love this potting bench that Brett made me out of some reclaimed barn doors and 2 saw horses from Habitat. At the rate my moss is growing I’ll have about 4 feet of it in 4 years. It’s like watching water boil:

My theme is mountain-cottage-Japanese-ranch. Catchy, right? I like a little of everything. I like to dream big with a big plan and start small. So maybe one day we’ll have a curved gravel drive lined with trees, large boulders with plantings around them, pea gravel walkways, a garden kitchen and little niches here and there.  Oh and evergreens, hydrangeas, juniper and those pretty Japanese maples. And maybe some lavender. If anyone wants some poison ivy or poison oak we have a lot of that already, I’ll be working on replacing that little by little.

Here’s what I’ve been inspired by…I’m pretty sure if I throw all of this in a blender and I’ll get mountain-cottage-Japanese-ranch-Narnia:

       Follow Ashley’s board Mountain Landscape Inspiration on Pinterest.

And I’m always open to great ideas and suggestions. I know zero about landscaping. I just wing it and pick what I like and try to keep it as DIY as possible.

Read more about The House on Hospital Hill here.

Linville Landscape

We went to Linville last weekend for Mother’s Day. The mountain my mother lives on is right across from Grandfather. We always like to drive all the way up to the top to see the views. There used to be a house on this point, but just the foundation and a few pipes are there now.  I hope nothing ever is rebuilt there:


It’s always nice to visit Linville because the temperature is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler than where we live because of the change in elevation. The trees haven’t even realized it’s spring yet! Boo playing on the porch with the dogs:


A gorgeous sunset at Wildcat Lake in Banner Elk:


My mother and Boo went exploring one day Brett and I went off by ourselves to explore a few yard sales. We love treasure hunting. A few finds:

Vintage Coffee Tins. The kind you used to have to open with a key!  We watched The Prize Winner from Defiance, Ohio two nights ago and I was able to point this out for Boo when Woody Harrelson was opening a tin of Spam with the same contraption.

coffee tins

I think this is an old military issue drafting set. Not entirely sure. It says property of the government on it, doesn’t even look like the tools have been used. Any ideas?

drafting set

An toy accordion. Still works! I haven’t been able to figure out the year yet because I can’t find another Emenee that’s aqua or turquoise. Maybe 1960’s?


A really old Bayer aspirin tin (fifteen cents!) and a book of poetry (1947) filled with pressed flowers:


I’ll enjoy them for a while and then it will be time to pass them on and look for new things.

A Letter to My Daughters

It happened.  I knew the day was bound to come but it just snuck up, and I wasn’t prepared in the slightest.  One day it was not a thing at all and the very next it was ALL the thing and my heart was not ready.

Having three daughters, the oldest now 11, I have wondered how its first occurrence would go down, preparing myself to have wise answers for my girls and to be able to listen gently as they expressed their hearts to me.

However, when the day actually came, my wise answers left my brain, my gentle listening skills turned into, “I’m so mad I could punch someone’s throat,” and I just wanted to undo what had been done, forgetting it ever happened.  It seems there is no turning back now.

She was called fat.  My oldest darling daughter was called fat.  I was so caught off guard.  And because it’s not good parenting to punch others, especially as a Small-Town-Pastor’s-Wife, I gave my best to her in that moment, but it truthfully hasn’t left my mind since.  I keep trying to check back in and make sure she knows, that she knows how breathtakingly beautiful she is, but deep down I feel so ill prepared for her next time, and then it will be my next daughter’s turn to experience the same heartbreak.  I wish I could absorb it all on behalf of them.

Can’t us Mamas shield and protect, keeping our babies safe always and forever?

Maybe this occurrence has shaken my heart more than I had anticipated it would.  Maybe, perhaps especially, it forces me to ponder this moment for myself.  I was the same age.  I was in the same grade.  This moment for me has been embedded into my mind for 25 years.  Before that day, the thought of viewing myself as fat had never crossed my mind, but since that day….I have thought it over more times than I care to admit.  Somehow shame and embarrassment began to feel more natural than seeing myself as beautiful.  I starred in the mirror longer after that, adjusting my outfits and checking my complexion, and feeling more zoned into my body than ever before.

It tears at my heart and soul to think that she will now transition toward this very same thinking.

So…as her Mama, I am transitioning toward a new thought pattern once and for all.  I am committed to embracing a new self identity for my darling daughters.  Knowing that I am raising three girls in this pressure-filled culture, and not embracing myself, may open the door for more self-doubt in their lives than I care to risk.



To my Darlings,

Here’s what I know about me, your Mama:

I am His Beloved.
I am fearfully, wonderfully, and specifically made.
I am known deeply by my Abba Father,
And the Masterpiece within me is only revealed when I love myself just as I am.
This world cannot be touched as powerfully if I do not allow the story within me to unfold.
My life story showcases each one of you; that is my honor.

Here’s what I know about you, my Darlings:

You are His Beloved.
You are fearfully, wonderfully, and specifically made.
You existed in the very heart of God before I ever laid eyes on you,
And the Masterpiece within you is only revealed when you learn to love yourself just as you are.
You are enough; not if, not when, but simply because.
You are my beautiful, strong, and courageous daughters.
You are my dearest loves and I am your Mama,
And I love you heart and soul.






A note: I thought this post from Jodi was perfect to honor today’s  LOVE FLASH MOB over at Momastery, where you can donate (any amount!) to directly impact the life of one of these “sHERos.” Click here to read more! I’ve donated in honor of two sHERos on my mind today: Ariana and Nina. Will you donate? Thank you! Love, Ashley


Books on Writing

A few books on my shelf. I think of them as my writing support group:



Chapter after Chapter by Heather Sellers
“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. If it doesn’t work out, you’re heartbroken, but you move forward and start again anyway. You have to. You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing. There are no guarantees. ” 

Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg
“Let some of the good writing go. Don’t worry. There’ll be lots of it over time. You can’t use all of it. Be generous and allow some of it to lie fallow. What a relief! We can write well and let it go.”

Keeping a Journal You Love by Sheila Bender
“You might want to write Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” inside the front cover of your journal as a reminder of the value of solitude, both the solitude in which the world springs forward into your senses and the solitude in which you recollect the happening.”

Courage and Craft by Barbara Abercrombie
“You have a deep well inside you filled with memories, thoughts, feelings, fantasies, observations. You have everything necessary for your writing. Now you just need to get our of your own way and avoid curbs. 

Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger
“Write against patterns. Go against the devils. Write what you never write. Lie. Validate what you don’t validate. Indulge what you don’t like. Wallow in it. Write the opposite of what you always write, think, speak. Do everything against the grain!” 

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me… I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life… I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I’ll ever have.”

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

Leaving a Trace by Alexandra Johnson
“It took years of keeping journals to trust a simple fact: like life in transit, the writing inside is often fragmented, messy.”

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
“Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.” 

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath
“I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…”

Page after Page by Heather Sellers
“Writing is a ton of work. It’s exhausting. You can hardly do it when you are tired – it’s that hard to do well. It’s a way of life, and you have to really hard inside yourself. It’s like cleaning house – fun to have finished, less fun to do. Writing is not always the answer. It’s not always right to say to people: “Yes, you have a great story. You should write it.” Maybe you should write. Maybe not. Are your friends telling you to write? Do they know what’s involved with that? Are you feeling you should write? Why? You don’t have to write.”



Step Into My Shoes

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was another child, so I picked an 8-year-old girl from Ethiopia. Same age as Boo. No, she’s not coming to live with us, we just now sponsor her through Compassion International, a child the same age and born in the same month as Boo so that she can relate a bit more.

If you have kids you should sign them up for the free magazine Compassion Explorer. I found out about it recently when I attended the Orange Conference. It’s opening Boo’s eyes (and ours) to the poverty of children across the world. It’s so easy to forget what’s outside your own neighborhood. Inside the magazine are country-specific recipes, biographies, devotionals and crafts. Reading it in the form of a children’s magazine has peaked her interest exponentially:

Boo: His father only earns $22 a month!

compassion explorer

There is a kit you can order with a family devotional journey that includes a map of Uganda, videos, Bible-based devotionals and family projects. That’s what we have. You can find it here as the family toolkit. There is also a kit for larger groups.  We are excited to start doing it as a family.

Please also consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. 

Subtle hint: It would be an awesome Mother’s Day gift (that’s what kind of meaningful gift I would like).



This Dog

Max just cracks us up…all the time. He’s definitely settled in just fine. He jumps in the shower with Boo. He darts around the house like a maniac. At night he charges like a bull to get under the covers and then throws tantrums in his sleep.



And Diesel is just as cantankerous as ever. He won’t let us take his photo because he thinks he’s getting too old. He is over 100 years now. Almost blind and missing all his teeth. He wants you to remember him in his youth (or until he gets a makeover).

What Hangs in the Balance

Last week I was invited to the Orange Conference by my church. I said yes, not quite knowing what I was even saying yes too.

As I rode in the bus with people to sessions that were off the main campus I constantly got the questions: Are you a youth pastor? What is your role in the church?  My answer was always: well…I’m not in leadership, but I do greet on Sundays!

And one man I sat with on the bus said to me: I’m going to take what you’ve said and turn it around for you. You are in leadership….because you are here.

We both shared the size of our churches…his was huge, thousands of people and mine was: well, I’m not sure but I think I hand out about 62 bulletins each Sunday. So maybe 100 people?

And then I shared with him what made me proud about my church:

The gossip around town is that our church loves people, but that it doesn’t teach the Bible. 

I think that’s the best compliment a church could ever receive…because one visit would show that our church does actually teach the Bible. And you’d know in the first 3 seconds that we love people.

This was one of the quotes that I shared recently on Instagram from the conference:


First of all way too much breaks my heart. But what breaks my heart about the church? When people feel unwelcome or lost. The unloved are the ones who hang in the balance.

And our church loves people.

I invited someone to church last year, mostly because he said that he didn’t agree with the theology of our church. Then he said that he hadn’t stepped foot inside the church since the “hymnals and pews were removed.” So basically he’d never been to our church. (The invitation always still stands.)

Jud Wilhite said this:

No one unchurched cares if your church is missional or attractional.
Just have a heart for those who aren’t there.
We were rescued to be rescuers.

Dang that’s good stuff. Is attractional actually a type of church?

When it comes to theology personally I don’t have to reconcile my religion with my conscience. Nothing is that black and white for me. I live in the questions and lead with love. My friend Debi said in a sermon recently: To get it right is to know that we probably have some of it wrong.  At the conference my pastor was wearing a t-shirt that read: Religion Kills. Yeah, it does…and sometimes just by turning someone away with our judgement and labels.

And I’m always asked: But don’t we need to confront people about their sin? Well, my answer would be no. I’m pretty sure they know their own sins. And no one should ever be singled out. And I have too many questions about sin to ever confront anyone else but myself. I always liken it to being asked to lunch and the conversation starting out with: Ashley, we need to talk about the way you dress.  I might smile and chit chat but I’d secretly be thinking: WHAT-THE-HAM-SANDWICH.

You know who hangs in the balance? Dynamic pastors and their churches who are bringing together the unchurched. With love and encouragement. And without judgement. Youth pastors who are creating environments where kids enjoy coming to church, and making it a safe place for them to be themselves. It breaks my heart when I see people trying to discourage them. Our church pastor recently wrote two articles on love and forgiveness in our local paper. Letters streamed in to “correct” him. Some Christians can be real a-holes when they put their minds to it.

Our church’s gutters are falling off, the thermostat inside has read “BROKEN” for as long as I’ve been there and we only were recently able to purchase new Orange curriculum because of a donation. But our church is known for loving people. Every person is welcomed in. Every kid is fed breakfast on Sunday mornings because they might not have it otherwise. The church has firewood cutting days in the winter to make sure people have heat (people still burn wood for heat here!) There are baby showers to make sure that expectant mothers have the supplies they need. Skateboarders aren’t chased off from the parking lot. People flow through our doors that have never been to church before…because they feel the authenticity and they leave with hope. And they aren’t invisible. Last October, at an event the church held downtown someone said “I don’t go to church, but if I did, I’d go to yours.”

My 90-year-old neighbor visited recently to invite me to her church. When I told her I had already found one she said: oh that’s so wonderful you’ve found a place. I’m so happy for you. She was just wondering if I needed a community. When I tell people I go to The Grove I love seeing what their reaction is.  I mean, there’s not always a reaction, but the most amusing responses have been:

The Grove doesn’t really count as church. It’s church-light. 
That’s the church they took all the pews out of right?

I hope if there’s gossip about me it’s that I love people. 

And I’d also be okay with:
She doesn’t really count as a Christian. 
That’s the girl that has all the gay friends.
She’s the one that hangs out with all the wrong people.
She has a past. 

She’s a little bit of a lost soul, all over the place.
She writes blog posts in incomplete thoughts. 




P.S. Sorry all the formatting on the blog is out of whack. Undergoing a little construction.




It feels all too normal to hear of tension among women.  When we gather together it seems emotion, drama, tension, hurts and expectations just supernaturally appear-naturally.

Little girls grow up and change and mature, pursuing their passions and dreams, discovering who they are, but even among this growth and obtaining of wisdom, the struggle to LOVE and be LOVED by each other, other women that is, exists as a hardship for many.

Why do we withhold love from each other?

Women.  For as beautiful and gracious as we are, we can certainly flip our lids as swift as a second.  It hurts my brain to think of how many regretful words I’ve slung without thought or reflection.  It’s embarrassing to take ownership of those moments that are just the far opposite of God’s heart and His love.  We’ve all been there.

When recently discovering I was headed to the mountains of Guatemala with a team of 10 women and 5 men, my nervous heart had concluded there was just not a chance this was going to turn out with much success.

When tension, emotion, and drama are all heightened with traveling for ten days out of our comfort zones, this was a sure-fire recipe for disaster.  I even asked my small group to be in prayer specifically for the dynamics among the women.  I was in anxiety overload.

Now having been home a few months, I sit and reflect and can hardly write words without tearing up.  These WOMEN, all nine (& myself making ten), every last one of them, brought to the table their full selves, their full hearts, their bravery, empathy and strength, and I am floored with my admission that I was wrong, way wrong.

I watched these women dig deeply, far away from their families and comforts.

I watched these women breathe deeper, taking in the souls and stories of the widows and orphans in the village of Xeputul, GUA.

I watched these women come alive, seeing God in their eyes and smiles.

And I watched these women give and serve and love to no end.

The movement of the Kingdom of God was so tangible I could reach out and touch it and it was ushered in by a seemingly unlikely group of women.

Mission drew us together.  Mission kept us together.  Mission inspired courage and kept the nonsensical drama at bay.


Perhaps, and maybe especially, when we as women, in a society that keeps us bent toward comparison, competition, and cattiness, throw our hands in the middle on mission, we begin to tap into the vision God had for us ALL along.  When we come together for something more grand than ourselves and when we connect our hearts with mission and with purpose, we will get a glimpse of God’s Kingdom showing up here on this earth.

When we come alive, God’s power is visible.  When we come alive together, an eruption of God’s power is visible.  And that’s what this world is longing for.

If in fact you happen to find yourself surrounded by an unusually large group of women, don’t panic, find mission, and watch the movement of the Kingdom of God touch this earth.