This morning, Facebook Timehop reminded me that 10 years ago today my dog and I were headed to the beach. Ahh the beach. I miss the beach. And I miss my dog. He passed away back in November, so seeing a picture of him when he was young and vibrant was bittersweet. I re-shared the photo and went on my way but then when I sat down to start my day - it all dawned on me.

Ashley S

Our trip to the beach wasn't just a regular planned family vacation. It was actually a dark time for me.

One day, like every other day of my adult life, I got up and got ready for work. I got dressed, drove in, and sat down at my desk. I was very unassuming of what was to come. After a few hours, my stomach was growling and I was about to leave for lunch when the boss called me in his office. We chatted and I came back out with tears in my eyes. He followed me with a box. I had to clear out my desk and turn in my keys. That week, half of the company was laid off.

I felt pretty low and wondered how we were going to make ends meet. I felt hopeless and like the layoff was all my fault. If I had worked harder or brought in more sales, maybe they would have kept me... But the truth was I was the last to be hired so the first to be laid off. The feelings of shock and inadequacy are there no matter what the circumstances.

My mom, cousin, and aunt had been planning a trip to Savannah, GA, and I desperately wanted to go with them. Before the layoff, my lack of vacation time stopped that dream in its tracks. After, the lack of funds were the issue. But, my mother - gracious as she always is - told me that I wouldn't have to pay for anything except any souvenirs that I wanted. She'd pick up my room and board. At first, I said NO. I need to job hunt and as a grown-up, allowing your mom to pick up the tab didn't seem appealing. But when she told me that I might never get the opportunity like this again, I succumbed not really knowing the wisdom in her words. I think the icing on the cake was that they all agreed I could bring my dog. He was a pretty significant part of my life. My unemployment kicked in and I did need a week to decompress.

So, we headed down south.

Ashley S

We had so much fun! We toured old Southern mansions. We met a pirate. We ate at Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons Restaurant (a lifelong dream come true). We met one of the oldest trees in the South. We laughed, and got annoyed with each other, and had bad coffee. We had delicious drinks, and read on porches, and ate great food, and ate terrible food, and went thrift shopping, and learned about US history, and prayed.

Ashley S

At the end of the week, my cousin Cody - a wanderlust by nature - declared that she wanted to keep going. The responsible (and much more dominate) side of me said it was time to wrap this up and head home. But the much meeker, live-for-the-moment side of me desperately wanted to join. I had no where to be and no one to look after. So, for once in my life - the wanderlust side of me won out and we traveled up the coast to Hilton Head, SC, where we sunned ourselves on the beach for a few days. We ate to-die-for seafood at Hyman's. We did more thrift shopping - which was a gold mine in the affluent city of Hilton Head. We saw more old houses and old trees and even meandered through some Civil War cemeteries.

Ashley S

Finally, it was time to head home - back to job searches and mortgages and real life.

Since that trip - 10 years ago today - my Aunt Rita and my dog have passed away. My Aunt Rita was one of the most important people in the entire world to me. She was my uncle's wife and was the only person with my mom when I was born since my dad was on a business trip across the country. I loved every minute I spent with my aunt. She was a joyful person who always made you feel loved. And my dog was my heart. He meant the world to me. Thinking about these two leaving my life is making me tear up right now. Actually, I need to go get a bucket because the big, fat tears are about to flow.

I realized today that IF I hadn't been laid off from a job I didn't really care for anyway, I would have never had the opportunity to go on that trip and make those sweet sweet memories with people and pets whom I love and miss. I would have never sought out this job. I wouldn't have been here for the last 10 years.

I believe that God has a plan and He worked it all out for me. Right now, everyone feels the devastating effects of the COVID-19 virus bringing our world to a screeching halt. Hundreds of thousands are laid off and many aren't sure if they'll have a job to go back to. Business owners have had to shut their doors and are afraid that they won't be able to reopen them. Our economy is at a standstill and though the government will supply some relief, we all know we'll never be the same.

Ashley S

But I believe that we are also experiencing things that we never thought were possible. We are spending time developing skills and creative experiences we never had time to explore before. We are creating sweet sweet memories with loved ones that we can treasure for always. We are finding ways to build each other up, be the helpers, share our resources, and connect.

It's a trying time for sure and I can't tell you that this doesn't suck because it most definitely DOES. I can't tell you that you won't face disappointment, frustration, financial strain, and loneliness. You probably will. I know I am. But this is one of the most pivotal points in recent history and a time for us to band together (while social distancing) and make it something great. And much like the Angel Oak, we will go on. We will persevere and much like all the other storms in our life, we will weather this storm too. Hopefully, in ten years we can look back and see the beauty amongst these ashes.

Some of you believe in a higher power. Some believe in the Christian God - some other deities or no god at all. No matter what you believe, we have all felt the heaviness of this year. My faith has been tested and it has been hard for me accept some of the realities I'm facing - and even harder to internalize what others are facing amidst this crisis. I had a completely different Bible verse written below as I was writing this but when I typed out the last sentence of the paragraph before this, I looked up the phrase "beauty for ashes." Isaiah 61 says this:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. -Isaiah 61

Wow...

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