This is My Story – The Early Years
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
It’s been exciting to see some new readers and friends here! I was going to write a short introduction but recently realized that some I know in "real" life don't know my story. The introduction morphed into a mini-series about my life. I tried to keep it short and sweet, really I did, but being wordy is my downfall.
So, hi! My name is Ashley! I was born in Fort Worth, Texas during an ice storm. My parents were living there as my dad was completing seminary to become a pastor. They didn't have family close by, but God gave them an amazing support system through friends who truly understood was it was to not only recognize needs, but meet them. You could say that those couples were my first experience with extended family. Through the years, God has continued to bless my life with people who have been or are family by every definition but blood.
Shortly after my birth we moved to Oklahoma. They served in three different churches during our time there.
I have two siblings – my sister, Kelsey (who's three years younger), and brother, Wesley (who's six years younger). While we were growing up, they were very close to each other. I was more or less the bossy older sister who they affectionately nicknamed “Felicity.” (If you’ve ever watched “Tales of Avonlea” you will understand. If you haven’t watched it, you should!).
Right before the beginning of my second grade year, we moved from Oklahoma City to a small, rural town in the southwest part of the state. I had the opportunity to go back for a visit several ago, and you can see pictures of the place where most of my childhood was spent.
No family is perfect and ours was not an exception. Still, I have many wonderful memories from childhood. My parents worked hard to provide and care for us. We had many fun times together. They love God and did their best to teach and model what it is to have relationship with Him. They didn’t do it flawlessly but (and I find such hope in this now that I am a parent) God graciously used those shortcomings for good in that it ultimately pointed me to Him. But I’ll tell you more about that later…
I loved living in our town and never wanted to leave. But, deep down, I knew that wasn’t a reality. We would never be the family that had been in one place for generations. One day, when I was twelve, my parents asked to have a talk with us. I was so sure that they were going to tell us that we would be moving to a different church and was ready to handle it. Instead, they told us that God had called our family to serve as missionaries overseas.
I was floored. Never, not in a million years, would I have guessed that to be the big news. The world as I knew it was, in my preteen opinion, shattered for-ev-er. And, in a way, it was. I can say now that it was for my good but the preteen me was in the "depths of despair."
That moment is my first memory of being truly angry with God. I could understand and respect my parent’s love and devotion to follow Him, but I didn’t think it was fair that I had to go too. After all, it was their calling, not mine. I didn’t want to leave my friends, school, or the activities I loved. As far as I was concerned, they could just go without me.
There can be little room for doubt that God’s hand was in the move as He opened many doors marked “impossible.” One of those doors is that our mission board had a rule that families with children my age could not leave for first time global missions. It was deemed to be too much change and difficulty for a child at that time of development. God made a way – much to my dismay. Despite it all, shortly after turning 13, we headed forward.
We spent our first three months at a missionary training center in Virginia. Thirteen year old Ashley probably would have said that it wasn’t “too bad” there as we lived with other families. The mission board had a lot for the kids to do and see. Everyone bonded after an epic breakout of lice. Someone even made shirts for everyone with a blown up picture of the pest and the words – “We’re a close nit family.” The day everyone became aware of the epidemic was the day my mom was in the hospital for kidney stones. She came home to find her “joyful” 13 year old’s hair had been chopped off since the lice was so bad. To this day, I can’t think about lice without cringing!
Here is a picture of my new ‘do after having lice!
My dad is an avid lover of history. After the training was complete, he thought it would be a marvelous idea to see the country and drive to our next location – Quebec, Canada for a year of language school. We spent several weeks of quality time together in a little white minivan viewing the Eastern United States. We saw many amazing things but I didn't appreciate it at the time. I’m sure my dad was glad to see the sights, my surly face in the rear view mirror did nothing to improve the view.
We laugh at the pictures and videos taken from that trip and the year in Quebec because, in most of them, I was wearing a hideous green hat (my attempt to hide my hair), an oversized Veggie Tales t-shirt, and an expression that would be most fitting for a mug shot (I would show you if I had a picture on hand)!
Eventually, once we had seen enough of the country (or my parents had their fill of hearing their children bond in the back seat), we made it to our home for the year. As a thirteen year old, there were a lot of changes happening. I was going through all those things that young teens do physically, I got braces, a new school, and I was supposed to learn a new language.
I’ll never forget the first day at the French-speaking school. I stood in front of the building armed with my one French phrase, “Je ne parle pas francais” – “I don’t speak French.”
I went from having many friends to a few. Ok, well, one. A French-speaking student, Judy, went out of her way to be kind. We could barely converse, but she did the talking for us and it just worked. She looked out for me as best she could.
For the first time in my life, I experienced what it is to feel ostracized, socially awkward, and be bullied. One group of girls found it particularly amusing to ask me for the time of day. I would struggle to find the right words and they would laugh and say things that were probably better left incomprehensible. I was frustrated that others perceived me as ignorant due to the language barrier. Ironically, I am grateful for that experience now. When I come in contact with someone struggling to speak English, I have an understanding and compassion for them that I couldn’t otherwise.
I spent a lot of time wishing I were anywhere else. One day my Dad laid it out as gently, but firmly, as he could. Quebec was our reality and I could wallow in self-pity or choose to make the best of it by enjoying the experiences we would never have otherwise. I knew he was right and that moment was a (small) turning point for me. I still wasn’t loving life, but I figured I could take advantage of some of it. My parents did everything they could to make it a good, memorable year for us. One thing they did was buy season tickets to the ski slopes and the memories on them are my favorite from that time.
I haven’t been to Quebec since, but would love to go back someday. It’s a beautiful city with much to see and do no matter the season. In the summer, you can walk the streets of the “old city” and see all of kinds of artists and musicians. In the winter, there is a winter Carnival and ice sculptures that are big enough to walk through.
We finished the year of language school a little more cultured and experienced. But there were new challenges ahead...
We were headed to South America!