Happy.

Today, I am happy.

Those of you that know me at all are probably thinking, Aren’t you always happy? Sometimes I don’t always know how to respond to such comments. There is so much joy in almost everything we encounter on a daily basis. While moving out of Nocona, Texas last week, there was so much anxiety in my body and my heart. It was in my spirit that I found joy. Packing up after a two year teaching adventure, you find memories in everything. While putting pencil skirts in boxes while sweating in the ever-present Texas summer heat, memories flooded my mind of all the students I have met and had a chance to help – whether with grammar and spelling or to encourage and show them that they have more inside of them than the people around them can comprehend. While packing my poetry books and my beautiful classic novel, I couldn’t help wondering if they got what I wanted to teach them – that they are wonderfully created. That they each have a purpose. That no matter how well they do in English class, they are good at something. Even if they couldn’t write in complete sentences, some were geniuses in math. Or science. Or farmwork. Or welding. Or waiting tables. I think back to my time in high school. I think of the teachers that encouraged me and told me that I was good at something. I remember the ones that made me feel stupid. But, I choose now to listen to the voices and to remember the comforting notes of my teachers on my tests and my essays. I choose to remember Mrs. Struck’s voice in Ready Writing and Mrs. Wallace’s notes on my creative writing pages in Film Criticism and three years of English. I choose to remember Coach Wolf questioning my interest in international missions, then encouraging me through the way he treated me. I am thankful that these teachers invested encouragement and respected my gifts without demeaning me when I failed. Packing up my classroom, I prayed that I had followed in their footsteps. But, I had prayed that every single day of my Nocona teaching career, and God does not tell us to go somewhere without giving a purpose for the journey.

Lately, I have been seeing how all that has happened in my life – and even in the lives of other people that I know – is for a reason and I know that this sounds cliché. The saying goes, “Everything in life happens for a reason”. I’ve always been skeptical of this. Haven’t you? I mean, I’m a Romantic and I should just accept and love the idea, but it just seems like going to the toilet doesn’t do much for your life’s purpose. Maybe it does. But, one thing I do believe now is that the tough things that I’ve been through – that you’ve been through – have sculpted me into who I am now. This is another cliché that I’ve found to have some truth to it. Our experiences define who we are.

When I look at my dad and I remember when he was in a coma, I’m reminded of how that experience has shaped me – both for the better and for the worse. I’m probably still learning and finding out how that time in John Peter Smith Hospital and then at Baylor Rehab my senior year in high school was for a reason. I saw my family touch others as they watched us press forward with Jesus as our comfort – and I saw how our church changed and stepped up for us and for Christ’s purpose. I know there was a purpose for others, but it was hard to find the purpose for my life. But, watching how my dad – rebuilding his brain and his body through every kind of therapy, and then continue to go on and run even more marathons than he did before his car accident – has persevered through every trial and how he is still the same amazing man now that he was before… well, that has inspired me. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I have joy every time I look at him. Not only is he alive, he is smart and kind and strong. I find joy in who he is and that he is still here to be my dad.

When I look at my mom and think back on the past year and think about her cancer and surgery and chemotherapy, I remember that it was hard. I remember that my worst nightmare had come again – to my mom now as it had with my dad – and I recall how my life changed for a couple of months and I had to give everything once again for God. But, just like with my dad, I look at her now with joy. I have seen her strength in the easier times of our lives, and I have seen her strength even when she was weak from chemo. And the verse sticks out to me clearly: “when I am weak, then I am strong”. How true that is for us. And the thought and realization of this truth through all that we have been through gives me joy.

All of this gives me joy.

Yesterday morning, at 5:10 am, I arrived back in Auckland. Having my best friend and my boyfriend with me makes me happy. The thought of who they are and the strength they have in Jesus gives me joy. Kumara hummus with roasted pumpkin seeds, then church where we first did something together outside of Bible study, then salt and vinegar chips, then kayaking seven kilometers from the Harbour Bridge to Okahu Bay… yeah. That makes me happy.

Through everything in life, yes, I always have joy. It is different from “happy”. But I feel blessed and lucky today to be truly, completely, and undoubtedly happy. My cares and worries do not define me today. I give them away. And my life from the time I was born, through high school and college, through traveling the country and the world – everything up until now makes sense together. Sometimes, we go through the hard times to help others. Sometimes, we go through the hard times to become who we are meant to be – who our God wants us to be for Him.

I hope that wherever you are sitting and living right now, that you find joy. I wish for you happiness, but I pray that above all, you find joy and peace in all things – whether good or bad, whether sad or happy. I pray you have joy.

Sincerely,

Ashley Ruth

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