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Jeff and Ash with friends during Valentine's DayToday is Ashley’s birthday. I can’t tell you the specifics of what I’m doing for Ash today, but it should be pretty fun. She’ll be embarking on a scavenger hunt to discover what she’s actually getting for her birthday and what we’ll be doing this evening. (Keep checking this blog, as I’ll update it throughout the day, as she discovers more and more of what’s up.)

As she’s running around, trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together, we would do well to remember how much better we all are for having Ashley in this world. She’s such an encouragement to so many. If she’s been a blessing to you, please wish her a “Happy Birthday” with a quick note in the comments section of this blog.

When I’m honest, I can hardly believe that I landed such an amazing woman. It was a “steal” if you ask me. This is the woman who danced at the SuperBowl, who graduated college Summa Cum Laude, who conquered the whitewater rapids of the Ocoee River with me (and didn’t fall out of the boat as I did), who let me belt out an off-key version of “My Girl” at the top of my lungs in a parking lot late at night in a poor attempt at serenading her (and didn’t call the cops), who sarcastically said, “Does this mean that we can play together?” when I first told her that I liked her, who let me awkwardly court her for a year through letters and infrequent phone calls, who put up with my immature pursuits of “finding a calling” and encouraged me in my walk with God the whole way.

A girl like Ashley Anne is hard to come by. In fact, she is a dream come true for any guy; I’m just glad that I didn’t miss the opportunity and let her slip away.

Ashley has fulfilled her commitment in being my “biggest fan” (part of her wedding vows) since we started sharing our lives with one another. Since then, she has served as my best friend and great confidante and been someone who is fun to be around, bringing life and joy to any situation.

Happy Birthday, Ashley. You deserve more than just one day in which to be celebrated. I love you.

(For those of you reading and following along, please wish Ash a happy birthday and share any way in which my wife has been a blessing to you.)

ashleys 26th birthday*Post-script #1: What Ashley “Got” for Her Birthday
Throughout the day, I gave Ashley a series of clues and hints that tipped her off to two themes: Italian food and dancing. The day began by my sending her to three hidden web pages with videos of me singing songs for her and then giving her a clue at the bottom of each page to the next part of the “scavenger hunt.” By the end of the day, she knew that she was meeting me at Buca di Beppo for supper, but when we got there, we got our food and immediately went home. A little perplexed (but not completely surprised, as I often do weird things like this), she went along with it.

When she walked into the apartment, she was greeted by friends, balloons, streamers, food, and a well-decorated apartment. We ate a hearty supper of pasta and bread, told Ash all the things that we loved about her, and spent the rest of the evening playing games. For dessert, we had make-your-own ice cream sundaes.

By the way… her super-secret present (other than the party and a copy of Footloose) was ballroom dancing lessons.

**Post-Script #2: I asked some of Ashley’s friends what they loved most about her, and here is what they said:

Some things I love about Ashley: her sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and her heart-felt prayers for those she loves; her gift of hospitality; her bass playing in the worship band; her decorating skills.  Happy Birthday Ashley! -Ron Ferguson

ashley goins birthdayWhat I love most about Ashley is… she’s my sister yeah! Best OLDer sis any one could have unless she is telling on me. -Ahron Cooney

What I love most about Ashley is she lives with a sense of excitement, which encourages me to do the same. She has a wonderful ability to offer a proper perspective on life and the ins and outs of each day. -Heather Johnson

I love how welcoming Ashley is to her friends. She is fantastic at including her friends in her life and being involved in theirs.  Whether it’s an invite for lunch or a Bible study, she has the ability to make people feel comfortable and at ease. -Vanita Joines

What I love most about Ashley is that she has His peace written all over her, and it’s comforting to me just looking at her! -Lisa Hart

What I love about Ashley is her smile. When she smiles her whole face lights up, and you can’t help but feel overcome with joy. Her happiness and joy is contagious, and she shares it with everyone just by the simple act of a smile. Thank you for being such a special part of our lives, Ash! Your friendship is such a blessing, and I hope you have a very special birthday… Love you, girl! -Jen Davis

I love how much Ashley loves Jeff.  Even though it’s obvious they are VERY different people, Ashley’s eyes and body language communicate the fact that she ADORES him.  Like that old prayer: “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am….” perhaps our prayer for Jeff is that he can live up to the love we see in Ashley’s eyes.  No pressure, Jeff!!! -Vince Wilcox

What I love most about Ashley is how she seems to really care about everyone in her world. No matter how infrequently they connect, she is totally engaged when the opportunity arises. Her smile is from the depths of her heart, too! -Sue Stutz

What I love about Ashley is the way she makes everyone feel like they are someone important and special to her. -Emma Meyer

What I love most about Ashley is her thoughtfulness. She has always been there for me when I needed her to listen or understand what I was going through. Even though we are far apart, her friendship still means a great deal to me. Happy Birthday Ashley!! I love you with all my heart. -Mary Cain

What I love most about Ashley is her willingness to share her heart. In her willingness to making herself vulnerable, she encourages and uplifts others. -Bob Stout

What I love most about Ashley is how much she simply likes people. Where I would make fun of anyone else that is as quick on the “like this” function of facebook, every time that I see her name in front of “…likes this”, it’s impossible to miss the reminder that she genuinely loves the people in her life and being a part of theirs. Oh, and her laugh, when she brings you a wire coat hanger, when you’ve locked your keys in the car but luckily left the window cracked open. –Joe Gomez

What I love most about Ashley is how she is always turning me on to such great music! -Zach Prichard

What I love most about Ashley is the fact that she is everyone else’s biggest fan.  She is constantly cheering me on and not seeking any acknowledgement whatsoever.  She is such a selfless servant in that way! -Paul Vasilko

What I love most about Ashley is her gentle and encouraging spirit. -Ann Clapp

What I love most about Ashley is her patience and willingness to seek God’s will, even when the going gets tough and it’s frustrating. She seeks His will above all else and waits for Him with all her heart. She is a woman to be admired. –Sarah Grant

What I love most about Ashley is her attentiveness. She is always fully invested in conversation.  Her laugh is to die for too! She always has a laugh that makes the whole world want to be as a happy as she is at that moment.  In summary, I heart Ashley’s loving attention that she gives to her friends, and I really heart her happiness!!  Happy Birthday Ashley! -Denise Jones

What I love most about Ashley is her tender heart.  I love (and envy) her ability to laugh and cry at the drop of a hat.  I think Ashley embodies what it is to keep your heart warm no matter what.  A warm heart that has risked big by loving big.  I’ve watched as God has been just a breath away as she’s faithfully given him her broken heart (Psalm 34:17-18).  She’s one of my heroes!! –Jerene Olson

What I love most about Ashley is…  she is like me!  ;o)  I love how she is very efficient, organized and detailed.  Whenever I had a question at Provident, I could rely on her to accurately and easily communicate to me the solution.  I also love how Ashley is caring and a great person to share and relate with and have girly fingernail painting parties with!!  -Jody Gray

Last week was full of adventure.  We came back from Georgia on Sunday and immediately started our week of house sitting for church friends that live about 15 minutes south of us. We love being able to help out, so it was a joy to serve the Faiths in this way.  Plus, it felt like a little mini vacation, staying in a nice home that had a projector for a TV, sleeping in an incredibly comfortable bed (I’ve never consistently fallen asleep so fast in my life!), and Jeff being able to drink coffee out of a french press every morning.  We even fell in love with the neighborhood.  But don’t tell any of our friends, because we’ve always said we’ll never move further south of the city.  Now… well, we aren’t so sure.  Oh, and we learned all kinds of responsibilities, too!  We learned how to feed fish and keep them alive (long story – – maybe they should’ve checked my references), feed a cat and keep her alive, too, and also water a garden and pick the ripe veggies.  I now have complete confidence that, if forced, I can sustain life and even survive off home grown food.

Before

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And nope, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.  We got a new dining room table last week!  We are so excited about this.  We bought a floor model, so it was a final sale but also a steal and in excellent condition!  It’s beautiful and came with all eight chairs!  It’s better than we dreamed.  Thank you Lord for answered prayers!  And it came at a perfect time, too, because my brother Ahron was in town.  His band S.H.A.R.C. (Serving Him a Risen Christ) was here to play a showcase, so we had him, his lady Kathy, and the drummer Adam for pizza.  We all sat around our new table, had plenty of room, were quite comfortable, and didn’t even have to make use of the leaf! 

JengaWhile they were here, we also enjoyed a few games, Yahtzee and Jenga.  As always, it is such a joy to welcome people into our home.  We are so excited about serving many more meals around our table to family and friends.  It’s so nice to now have the space to do so, because it wasn’t so easy with our previous one.

The other thing that has been something to look forward to lately is, Wednesday night church has been at our home this month.  It’s been a highlight of our week each week, to open our home up for fellowship and find something yummy to make (I the food, Jeff the coffee).  We love our church so much and have, for two years, waited anxiously to be able to return the generosity so many have shown us.  Thank you Lord for your blessings so that we may bless others!

Somewhere in between packing, moving and unpacking, I forgot to recap May.  So here is May and June in a nutshell!

May was a big month.  It was the climax of something we’d been anticipating for quite some time – – moving.   Well, and Marissa would probably like us to say that her 16th birthday was pretty important, too! 🙂  Seriously, though, it was good to be able to drive down to Alabama and help her celebrate.  But for the most part, May was devoted to getting this move done.

June was pretty awesome.  We finally got to see Coldplay.  (Insert a choir “ah” right about… here).  And we were able to have some friends over to help celebrate our new home.  Our church went on a retreat, and I got to experience rafting for the first time.  This is a must-do-again activity.  Oh, yes!  We were also able to go back to Illinois the last weekend in June to see dear friends get married.  It’s always a joy to attend a beautiful wedding like that.  And to see old friends and family is simply icing on the cake.

Man, what a great couple months.  And looking at them both condensed into two very small and precise paragraphs makes me realize how much we had on the calendar and wonder how it all got done!  But it did.  And I’m sure July will look very similar.