Be Kind to Yourself

FB3A0124There are days when I see myself in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. I don’t like how my hair looks or I wish that my ears didn’t stick out as much, or that my stomach was flatter. I wish that my thoughts and words were kinder and that I was better at living for Jesus. I worry that people don’t like me and that my words are frustrating or annoying to them. I’ll be honest…there have been times in my life where I relive every little conversation, look, comment in my head over and over, overthinking how I could have done better or been kinder or wondered if I did something to irritated or bother the person. 
 
Sometimes I feel like everyone around me is confident in who they are and doesn’t struggle with self-esteem issues or putting themselves down. But I know that just isn’t true…we often go to pretty far lengths to hide our insecurities from the rest of the world. I don’t think that hiding those struggles is what is best for us though. Especially in this world of social media, it is so easy to compare ourselves to what others let us see….thinking that other people seem to have it so together, from their looks to relationships, to overall lifestyle. But that isn’t realistic.
 
And I know that. I know that what I see isn’t always the whole story. I know there are other people out there that struggle. I know that while I feel so alone, there are probably way more people than I realize that deal with the same thoughts and struggles as I do. But while I know this in my head…it doesn’t always help. Sometimes it doesn’t even help in the least. I still don’t feel good enough. I still feel like I will never measure up or be good enough. My hubby can tell me a million times that I’m beautiful and wonderful and sometimes it doesn’t seem true to me. 
 
And that’s because I am my own biggest enemy. My mother-in-law recently shared a song with me, “Be Kind to Yourself” by Andrew Peterson. And every time I have heard it since, I have been in tears by the end of the song. “You got all that emotion that’s heaving like an ocean and you’re drowning in a deep, dark well. I can hear it in your voice that if you only had a choice…you would rather be anyone else.”I think there are moments that all of us would rather be someone different. “How does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you. Gotta learn to love, learn to love, learn to love your enemies too.” 
 
And sometimes it’s harder to love myself then anybody else..I feel so broken so inadequate. But…“You can’t expect to be perfect, it’s a fight you’ve gotta forfeit. You belong to me whatever you do. So lay down your weapon, darling. Take a deep breath and believe that I love you.”As a daughter of God, you would think I would know this. You think that I would always be good at accepting myself, since I know my Father loves me no matter what. Sometimes knowing it in my head doesn’t mean I allow it to reach my heart. 
 
The picture of me in the mirror, on my wedding day, is a picture that I actually really like of myself. When I see this picture I remind myself that God sees me as even more beautiful than that (both on the outside and the inside). And yes I am imperfect and broken, but God loves me exactly the way I am so much that He is willing to spend the rest of my human life fighting with me to help me become more like Him. So please, if you struggle with your looks, or personality, or anything about yourself…Be Kind to Yourself. You look down on yourself more than anybody else around you does. Remember, that even if you don’t see it everyone else has their struggles too. And most of all that God loves you and wants you to love yourself. 
 
“I love you just the way that you are. I love the way He made your precious heart.”
 
“Be kind to yourself.
Be kind to yourself.” 

Our First Camping Trip

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This weekend we went camping at French Creek State Park in Elverson, PA. It was our first camping trip together and it didn’t disappoint. I had been eagerly waiting camping since we recieved our tent as a wedding present. We borrowed some other camping gear from my parents and headed out to meet with four of our other friends.
 
Camping is a pretty inexpensive way to vacation…especially for people on an extremely tight budget (like Phil and I). Obviously it can get pricey if you do things like buying a camper and other gear…but if you don’t mind a tent and cooking over the fire there are many places you can camp for less than $30 a night. 
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I grew up camping multiple times a year, but we always had a camper and more recently used a cabin. I was super excited to use our tent and to go camping for the first time as our own little family (with some pretty awesome friends). And I couldn’t wait to make mountain pies for the first time in years!
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The weather was pretty perfect this weekend…not too hot perfect for sitting around by the campfire and walking around with out getting to hot. We spent most of our time hanging out by the campfire, playing card games, and making food. I forgot how messy mountain pies were, but they were delicious! We also had pancakes, s’mores, and hotdogs and hamburgers. It was the perfect weekend-long triple date, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Binding Love

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Sometimes it’s easy to look around the world and feel overwhelmed because there is so much darkness and pain and it feels like you cannot do anything about it. It’s easy to get bogged down by the hopelessness; However we should NOT ignore the pain in the world…and when we as as individuals come together, lives can change. Currently it is estimated that over 45 million people are enslaved (trafficked) around the world. In 2012, when Audra saw a documentary about trafficking, it broke her heart. Audra didn’t put it to the back of her mind to forget about it or wait for someone else to do something. 

She immediately began praying and asking the Lord what she could do. And He led her to start Binding Love Scarves. Audra and the Binding Love volunteer team create one of a kind, upcycled infinity scarves. 50% of every scarf sold are donated to two homes (Eden House and House of Refugee) in Thailand. Audra and her husband (I knew both of them, when I was a child, before they were married) have four boys, homeschool, are involved in YWAM, and still maintain a very active role with Binding Love. 

Proverbs 3:3 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” -Proverbs 3:3 

The goal of Binding Love is to increase the awareness about the millions in slavery, to restore a heart of mission in volunteers, and to connect and care for the homes in Thailand. Both Eden House and House of Refugee are Christian run homes that are committed to creating a place of refuge and helping young girls. The money from scarves, other purchases, and monetary donations help to provideweeks school lunches, school shoes, or other meals for girls that have been brought out of trafficking and have dealt with abuse, neglect, and other painful situations. 

Binding Love scarves are sold at various locations in Pennsylvania, at events, and online. I am very excited to share with you that, just in time for the Fall Season, I am partnering with Binding Love to give away a free scarf (or two children’s scarves) of the winners choice! Head over to my instagram (laurenadenner) to see how to enter…if you don’t have an instagram you can follow my blog for an entry and will get one bonus entry for each person that you send to my page who follows my blog(let me know in comments)! Entries will close: Friday, September 21st and winner will be contacted. 

Also, please let this be an encouragement to you. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when you see problems, whether it’s trafficking, refugees, hunger, homelessness, bullying, or another really big problem. You are not alone…I have been there. But don’t give up hope, you are not alone. There are other people that care too…sometimes you just have to go looking for it. You can make a difference, whether it is buying a scarf, or starting an organization, or speaking up or writing about a problem!

Waiting For Friendship

C4D89EEE-6284-4EB4-8AE8-4B9C35FC74DFThere was a point in my life where I felt really alone. I had a few good friends, but what I longed for was a group of close friends who loved Jesus. Most of us have at least had one point in our lives where we feel alone; Or at least a period of time where we feel alone in our faith. I desired people that I could have fun with, but also who would spur me on and challenge me to grow. I started asking God for that around the time I graduated. And I thought that I may have found it, but turned out to be superficial and only lasted the summer. Began to feel even more lonely after coming home from YWAM and having to leave the group of people that I had lived with and grown with; I was now alone again. I continued to pray and once again made a group of friends that turned out not to be for the long haul. 

It wasn’t until I was at the beach for my bachelorette party with my cousins and bridesmaids sitting around me and praying for me, that it hit me. Every single one of them loved Jesus and they loved and cared for Phil and I. Now I have friends that aren’t Christians and I absolutely do not think that it is wrong to have really close friends that aren’t believers. But right now most of my really close friends are. Tears started pouring down my face as the realization hit me. Until then I didn’t actually realize that God had finally answered my prayer. 

A lot of these girls didn’t actually know eachother before the wedding  week, but my heart warmed to see how they got along and got to know eachother throughout the week. I was reminded again on the day of my wedding, as my new sisters and dear friends held hands with me and prayed over Phil and my marriage. I couldn’t ask for better friends-friends that I have so much fun with, friends that love Jesus and lift me up, but also friends that are very different than me and challenge me to know myself and my farther better. 

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The thing is, I didn’t know if I would ever find that. It sounds silly to say when I had my whole life ahead of me, but at the time it was huge. I was young (still am, but I’ve gained a few more years of experience) and trying to live for God, but felt like I didn’t have people with a similar mindset to help spur me on. And I couldn’t understand why God wasn’t answering my prayer…or at least why His response seemed to be “Wait.” This might be you right now. And you may have heard this before, but God DOES hear you. And He does care. Don’t give up hope. 

I still don’t know completely why I had to wait as long as I did for these friendships. But I do know that during those years I did a lot of growing. I made mistakes, I had some friendships that didn’t build myself or the others up; but I wouldn’t be who I am today without those times. God does have your (and my) best interests in mind. And He really does hear the desires of your heart. So if you are in that place, keep praying-but also take advantage of the time of loneliness to cling to God and know Him more deeply. That is one thing I wish I would have done better. Maybe you don’t really have close Christian friendships and that doesn’t bother you. I still encourage you to pray for God to send someone your way. Our walk of faith is not meant to be alone and you may be surprised to discover how much you needed it. 

Another thing I realized as I looked around at my friends praying for me, was that my friendships did not look the way I had expected when first praying for them. When I started asking God, I was looking for a group in the same area with the same mindset as me. But I have my cousins in Lancaster, a friend from Highschool, two friends from college (who didn’t know eachother in college), a friend from YWAM who lives near Chicago, and my two new sisters who live in Illinois. Some of them were just meeting. Some of the girls have different theological backgrounds and world views. 

But I wouldn’t change it for the world…because God knew what I needed so much more than I did. So don’t be surprised if it looks different than how you pictured it, but it’s okay because life often works that way. It’s okay to feel a little frustrated with where you are at OR even to ask God what’s going on. But don’t ever think He isn’t listening….because He is. Keep pushing forward and don’t give up. God might just be waiting for when you least expect it (but need it the most). And if you ever really feel like you need someone to talk to right now…feel free to send me a message. I would love to be there to listen ❤ 

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” -Psalm 37:4
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Why I write

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Over the past few weeks I have been thinking (and praying) a lot about writing and my blog. I’ve been thinking about if it is something I want to continue and get more serious about and what my purpose behind writing has been and what it should be. I started blogging back in 2012 when I went into YWAM and needed a good way to keep in touch with my supporters. I actually really enjoyed it and have been blogging on and off ever since, but not always very consistently. After coming home from Greece and thinking a lot about how God touched my life there and some of the changes I that want to come from my time there (see blog: Returning Home), I started thinking about my writing.

Did I want to continue blogging? What is my purpose in blogging? Is blogging the best avenue for my writing? If I continued writing and blogging…I want to take it more seriously, if this is an avenue that God has really given me to use, than I want to put more time and effort into it. But having all of those thoughts, I really wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to invest so much time in. And if it was something that God wanted me to focus on, presently. Not long after I saw a quote on a friend’s facebook status that rocked me to my core: “Powerlessness and silence go together. We…should use our privileged positions not as a shelter from the world’s reality, but as a platform from which to speak. A voice is a gift. It should be cherished and used.” – Margaret Atwood. 

It was one of those times that I knew, very clearly, that the Lord was speaking to me. One way for me continue processing and changing from my time in Greece is to continue writing. God has given me the ability to use my voice and I might not be a famous author and I might not have a ton of followers, but that doesn’t matter. God has given me a gift and He has given me experiences in which to share with others. I have an opportunity to use my voice as a platform to share my faith, to share what others who have no voice are going through, to share ways I am learning to live more passionately for God, and a way to be an encouragement to others

During this time as I have been praying and thinking, I have really been processing the best ways to take my writing more seriously and how to spend more time invested in it. And that being said, as you can already see, I have chosen to move over to a different website. This is a little difficult for me as I have a history and memories of the last few years on my other blog, but the website that I was using is not the most user friendly and hasn’t made a lot of updates in the last few years. I am excited for this new start with a much friendlier format for both me as the writer, and for you as the reader.

I have moved over the last few blogs from my old site, but other than that this is a new start for me. I am so excited to continue writing and sharing my life experiences and what God is teaching me (stay tuned for another post about why I write). I am so excited to have you here on this journey with me and I hope that I can touch and encourage you. Please feel free to leave questions and comments on this post and those to come and I’d love to have you follow me: Simply type in your email to subscribe and confirm email you recieve, and then you will be able to follow each blog I post.

Always,

Lauren Ashley 

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Lifejacket Graveyard & Refugee Camp

To say that this has been an emotional trip would be an understatement. While I am loving my time here and know that these are the moments God has created me for, it is not easy. My days have been an emotional roller coaster and I think I can safely say it has been that way for most of our teams. On Friday all of our teams took a break from what we were doing (and a transition for our teams to switch over) and traveled to Lifejacket Graveyard. Lifejacket Graveyard is basically a dumping ground not far from where refugees first began arriving on boats to Lesvos.

Looking over Lifejacket Graveyard I was so overwhelmed that I wasn’t even able to cry (and those of you who know me, know that is pretty untypical). I cried later on the bus ride home as I processed everything. Every single Lifejacket represents an individual life of someone who was fleeing their country in order to find safety, stability, and (hopefully) a better life. It was a blunt reminder that we often lump groups of people together in our minds rather than remembering that each individual (POCs in this case), has a story and life that is being effected by what is going on around them. Even I struggle not to lump people into groups sometimes, and I was reminded time after time of the thousands of individuals whose lives where uprooted and completely turned upside down. 

In the original plans for our time in Greece, we were not going to be in any refugee camps, but working with POC families in outside locations. After spending time in the camp, I actually wish I had more time in here and I am so glad God changed our plans to allow us to work in the camp. Don’t get me wrong…it probably would have been way easier emotionally to not step foot in the camp and to not actually see the living conditions that these families are living in. But the reality is that I will never truly understand what it is like to be a POC. I probably won’t ever go through even a quarter of the trauma that a lot of the people I met are going through. However, working alongside of these families in the camp gave me a glimpse of what their lives are currently like and some of the visible hardships that they are dealing with. 

Because lets face it…their situation sucks. Even when people were hugging me or smiling at me, I sometimes had to hold back tears. The situation is so complicated it seems completely hopeless that there could be a good outcome. Camp Moria is only designed to hold 2,000 people and there are currently over 7,000…with more people arriving almost everyday. I met families where there were 5 or 6 them LIVING in a 5 person tent meant for a weekend camping trip. I sat inside a ‘home’ (an isobox-medal container, maybe 8feetx16feet) an held a 1 month old baby girl while her mother insisted on making us hot chocolate and we talked to the other people living in there. A total of 3 families each with a mother, father, 1 infant under 2 months, and one family had a two year old…So there were a total of 10 people, 4 of of them being under two living in a box with only blankets to separate into separate rooms!!

I’ll be honest it could be worse…everyone registered there recieves 3 meals a day and I originally thought that it would smell a whole lot worse. It turns out that there is an organization whose sole purpose is to take care of toilets and make sure the sewage is drained properly… But if the funding was pulled for the food and toilet companies things would go downhill quickly. And yes it could be worse, however….how would you feel to travel all that way to escape violence, bombings, or threats upon your life and then be stuck in a camp where you were living in a box with 9 other people? Or to have no choice who your neighbors were and to always need to be prepared to for fights both physical and verbal or have your things stolen? Or to have 3 or 4 children under 10 living in a tent in 100 degree weather? Or only have one diaper a day to clothe your infant in? Or to not be able to get a job or send your children to school even if you had the money? 

Most of you would probably be horrified at the idea…I know that I am. Yet there are thousands of people, who for them, that is their current reality. Despite their circumstances and despite that they have almost nothing…they are still eager to give what little that they have. I was blown away by the hospitality and love that we are shown. Even when we are there to tell them that they need to make space for 3 more people in box that already held twice as many as it should, they still invite us into sit with them. They aren’t happy (understandably) with a lot of the news that we bring them…yet they understood that it isn’t our faults and still invite us to have coffee, chai, hot chocolate, or dinner with them as they try to communicate in broken English. Each family that I encounter breaks  my heart a bit more. 

Working in the camp we have  opportunities to do different jobs, like handing out meals, handing out sleeping bags to just arriving families, setting up and tearing down tents, negotiating with families to relocate them, cleaning up trash, working in the warehouse, or taking census of who is living where. I enjoy having an actual job to do that I know needs to be done for things to go smoothly (as possible). But even more I am  moved by the faces I am growing to know, their individual stories that I am beginning to hear, and see a bit of the lives that they are facing. 

I wish that I had something really happy to share with you…but as I write this, tears poor down my face and I feel so broken for these people. However I cling to hope…the hope of Jesus. He reminds me that even though I am overwhelmed by the amount of people here that I will never know their names. He does know their names…and he knows each story and each need, and each hurt. He loves them in ways that I can’t even imagine and He will continue to use His other children to care and provide for them and speak into their lives. 

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

Building Community

I look around at the families and the situations that many of the POCs (People of Concern-a term used for refugees and asylum seekers), and I see hearts that are longing for a sense of community and belonging. As human beings, this is something that we all crave (often subconsciously); Because this is how God has wired us, as His children. We are not meant to do life alone. For many of the POCs, their sense of belonging and of community is currently in shambles. I believe that originally the purpose of this trip was to provide an educational camp for these children and assess the educational needs, laying the groundwork for future programs. And while this purpose has not entirely changed, I believe that God has had some other things in mind for this trip, as well. 

Before I arrived, the group that was already here had a birthday party for all of the refugee children living in the building next to us (our neighborhood kids). These families had not had the opportunity to celebrate in community like they used too. They are now living in an area with others around them that could become a community; but they are living in devastation and trauma due to their past and current circumstances. One of mothers shared that us being here has reminded them to laugh and smile, it has reminded them how to play; We have helped them to forget their troubles and pain for a few minutes. My heart was truly touched, but also hurting when I heard this. The pain in their lives has currently made it impossible for them to work on building community (what is typically normal), but God has given us this opportunity to create times for them to do that. He is using us as the vehicle to create that. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-all the more as you see the day approaching”

Honestly, it is so hard for me to express my emotions and what is happening in my heart right now, so I am starting with the facts and hope that you can hear my heart behind it. I can already share with you that I know my heart will ache to leave these families and children behind. Almost every day we have had the opportunity to share a park program with them and get to know them better. At first, some of our team was struggling with not being able to do more educational activities, but as I toddler and pre-school teacher I am seeing so much value in what we are doing. Play and group activities can be so educational because we need to learn how to play, how to work with others, and how to relate in community as a foundation for further education. 

Each day we pick up some of the kids and their families and head to the park. Some families meet us there or come later. The second time that we did the park program, one family was already there…Early! Which is not typical in this culture. They ran up to us and the little girl clapped her hands and said “My friends, My friends! My friends are here!” It was enough to bring tears to my eyes. We play with jump ropes, balls, frisbees, and sometimes bubbles. It almost feels like a family get together or a block party as mothers, fathers, and even grandparents join us. Each day I am greeted with hugs and kisses and sincere thank yous from the mouths and eyes of the mothers and grandmothers. 

We have done different art projects like tracing our hands, making superhero masks, and paperplate fish. The kids also have loved singing songs with us. One things the kids have really enjoyed are our STEM projects that we’ve done like making balloon rockets, lighting up a lightbulb with lemons, and teaching them how to make play dough. Their eyes and their faces light up as we work on these projects; but not only the children’s eyes-also the parents. I’m pretty sure we made one of the dad’s entire days when he saw us working on th lemons; in his previous home he was actually an engineer and he was soo excited when he saw what we were doing with the kids. 

Telling the story of “The 10 Best Ways”

Each day we end with a snack and a story. Even the parents gather around to watch the story. Despite the fact that there is quite a large language barrier, the stories still catch their interest. I had the privilege to share the stories in our team each day. It has been SOO amazing to get to use my godly play storytelling experience (the same cirriculum our church happens to use back home!) to share with them the story of Abraham, the exodus, the ten best ways, and the parable of the great pearl.  

Our time at HOME looks much different, but is still a time of building community and giving families from Camp Moria the opportunity to rest and relax before returning home to the chaos of Moria. At HOME we sit outdoors under a porch at tables and set up centers. We typically had playdough, plasticity, coloring books, paper, legos, jump ropes, and sometimes did group singing or taught a game or two. Our original purpose was to be there for the children, but it turns out that adults need to play too 😉 Each day looked different as we had different groups and different amounts of adults and children. Sometimes we would be teaching English, numbers, letters, and colors, other times we would just be coloring with them, and other times we would be listening to stories. 

As many of you know, play can be so therapeutic; especially when working with different art mediums. I found our time at HOME to be a time where people came to rest and to process. Some drawings and colorings didn’t nessarily seem to have deep meaning, yet that isn’t to say they didn’t. I sat across from a 3 year old girl who spent a good 20-30 minutes drawing a picture full of little lines and dots in specific color and places on her paper. I watched her pause multiple times and look upwards to contemplate and then go back to drawing. I have no idea what her picture actually was of; and it hit me hard that maybe no one ever would-but she had drawn it very purposely and with thoughts and emotions behind it. Other drawings and colorings had very raw and open emotions behind them…there were moments that I had to walk away briefly because tears were pouring onto my cheeks. When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I think they typically mean a photograph. But in this case their drawings were worth a thousand, if not a million. 

This blog has ended up being so much longer than I meant it to be….I know that reading about what is happening here is not the same as experiencing it; I am honestly very impressed if you made it to the end of this blog. But thank you for sticking it out. Maybe this blog was more written for me to process than anything, but maybe if you are still reading this I hope that you at least have a small glimpse into my heart for what is happening here, for God’s heart for these wonderful people, and for the amazing (even if they seem small) works that God is doing here. God really has called us into community and I am so humbled that I has allowed me to be a part of helping to cultivate community and healing in the hearts of the people that we are encountering. 

The view from HOME 

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ”