Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Influence Conference Meet and Greet.

Profile pictureHi there, Influence! I’m Ashley P. Dickens.

The world feels surprisingly small to me. Though I currently live in upstate New York, I’ve spent more of my life living outside of America than in it. I’ve found home everywhere from frozen Eastern Europe with her spiraling cathedrals and cobblestoned streets, to the thick, sweltering heat of sandy West Africa.  My heart beats wildly when I walk down the jet way to board an airplane—as though I’m doing the very thing that I was created to do. I’ve lived in some hard places where hope wanes and poverty crushes, places where Mamas have babies that will live and die hungry. Their faces and stories have arrested and engaged my attention in a way that nothing short of Jesus Himself ever has.

You don’t have to look far to see that the world has been badly broken by sin, and I ardently believe that Jesus wants to use us to restore it. That’s why I work for HOPE International. I spend my days helping people to invest in the dreams of those trapped in poverty, and if you want to see me get really excited? Ask me to tell you some stories.

I spend my nights experimenting with a winning recipe for white chocolate baguettes, and scribbling away on this blog. I write because it helps me feel. It helps me remember. It helps me avoid doing the laundry, and something about that just feels right.

Part of the conference I am most excited about:

You! I’ve been following Influence for years, and I’m so thrilled to get to meet you. Let’s you and I grab a cup of coffee together—I would love to hear your story!

One thing I wouldn’t leave home without:

My wedding band. SWEET FANCY MOSES, that’s one mistake I don’t intend to make twice! [I’m still sorry, Kellan.] Very nearly as important: a venti caramel latte. [I said I love flying—I never said I love early mornings…]

I can’t wait to see you next week! Until then, feel free to find me on Instagram and Twitter.

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Skirting the Edge of Scandal.

JCP_2338 bwMy Mama turned 52 yesterday.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t share that little nugget of information, given that women normally adhere to a very strict “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to obnoxious numbers like age and weight. However, it just so happens that Facebook announced her age to the watching world on account of the fact that she has yet to master the internets, and so I’m afraid that at this point the proverbial cat is quite out of the bag.

And really, I don’t think she minds all that much.

When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted to get my bellybutton pierced. Desperately. Unfortunately, those were the years that I fondly refer to as the dark ages, during which my Mama had an inexplicable affinity for startlingly big 80’s hair and dowdy jean jumpers. Never mind that it was 1997 and both had long since gone out of vogue. The potential coolness of a silver butterfly dangling from my naval was utterly lost on her.

My Dad was even worse. He simply furrowed his brow, rolled his eyes, and told me in no uncertain terms that nobody ought to be seeing my bellybutton anyways, so I certainly didn’t need any shrapnel in it. No amount of wheedling and cajoling and but-they’re-cute-ing could persuade my conservative, nothing-good-happens-after-eight-o’clock parents otherwise. Thus, it was firmly pronounced that the day I turned 18 I was free to desecrate my body however I saw fit, but there would be no vaguely whorish piercings a second sooner than that.  My best friend Melissa and I made solemn, little girl pinkie-promises to go get our bellybuttons pierced together on my 18th birthday, and settled in for what promised to be an impossibly long wait.

In a devastating turn of events, several years later at the end of 7th grade, my parents announced that we were moving from our little apartment on Ivana Kudri street in Kiev, Ukraine, to a yellow house in Budapest, Hungary. I remember crocodile tears filling my panic-stricken eyes as I looked at my Mother in utter disbelief and indignantly shrieked the only pertinent question: NOW WHO WILL I GO GET MY BELLYBUTTON PIERCED WITH?!

In a fit of dementia and good intentions, my Mama calmly looked me dead in the eyes, and told me to listen up. Honey, if you don’t have someone to go get your bellybutton pierced with when you turn 18, I promise that I’ll do it with you.

Like astonishingly dainty elephants, Peterson women never forget. And so April 19th of my senior year of high school found Cindy Peterson and I sitting in a rather suspect Raleigh tattoo parlor called Warlocks. And let me tell you, if anything in this world will force you to reevaluate the trajectory of your life, it’s sitting in a plastic folding chair at Warlocks staring at rows and rows of barbed wire tattoos.

My wise Father had long since given up trying to talk us out of the whole idea, having begrudgingly resigned himself to the sad reality that the trollops living under his roof could not be stopped from skirting the edges of scandalous. He had, however, made me swear on my college fund to get pierced first, confident that if I watched a blonde with an aggressively pierced face and rather menacing black gloves shove a giant needle into my Mother’s belly, I’d never crawl up on the table after her.

The next day I proudly marched into homeroom and showed off my VERY CLASSY silver butterfly bellybutton ring. [Sorry, Dad!] I’ll never forget my friend’s eyes widening as she gleefully gasped, Oh, Ash. Does your Mom know?

It was one of the great delights of my life to smirk back at her. Please. My Mama is my best friend, and she did it with me.

That’s my Mom. She’s a daring woman who drinks life to the lees, as Tennyson would say. She is a truth-teller, a problem-solver, a fighter and a chocolate-cake-baker. She taught me to love wildly, to lead with tender ferocity of spirit, and to always keep a secret can of fudge icing hidden in the back of the fridge for just-in-case purposes. She taught me to anchor my heart to the truth that God only gives good gifts.  And in a sensible world full of pressed khaki pants and 401K’s, she taught me that there was beauty and value in letting my imperfect flag fly.

So here’s to you, Mama. All 52, pierced years of you.

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Filed under Family, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00, Uncategorized

Top Ten Nuggets of Newlywed GOLD.

JCP_4509 bwKellan and I celebrated a year of marriage on March 2nd. My sweet husband planned an incredible surprise weekend in New York City, and we lived it up because hallelujah we made it! Reflections on our first year of marriage are coming later.

Today, in honor of one whole year, we’ve compiled a list of valuable pieces of information that NONE OF YOU MARRIED PEOPLE bothered to share with us before we said “I do”. [And here I thought we were friends!] On our wedding day, Kellan and I were blissfully ignorant of, oh, just about every pertinent thing that we needed to know about married life. Engaged friends: I want to spare you that same fate. So without further ado, I give you…

OUR TOP TEN NUGGETS OF NEWLYWED GOLD.

  1. Kellan discovered, much to his chagrin, that not all haircuts cost $9.95. Gentlemen, over the course of your married lives, there will be a great many things worth fighting about.  Look me in the eyeballs: this is not one of them.
  2. Bathrooms. Brace yourselves friends, this one is not for the faint of heart. Let’s just say that ONE of us is consistently indignant at a left-up toilet seat and pee-pee splashes, and ONE of us can’t see the counter top underneath piles of makeup and hair products. Our bathroom looks like it’s home to a horde of dirty, angry hobbits with a curious obsession with Clinique products.
  3. Kellan came to the rather startling realization that dishes don’t magically clean themselves. My darling husband grew up with a magical dish-fairy that I like to refer to as his mother. He was deeply upset when he discovered that she hadn’t followed our U-Haul to New York. [Come to think of it, so was I.] Free nugget: ladies, tell your husband that watching him do the dishes is the SINGLE HOTTEST THING THAT YOU HAVE EVER SEEN. You play your cards right, and you’ll never wash so much as a spoon again.
  4. Kellan was positively baffled to learn that dinner does not have to come from a can, box or packet. Related: ovens are not merely counter tops for microwaves, and can actually be used to cook. [This is not a joke. Before we got married, Kellan’s sad little microwave sat heroically perched atop the stove that he had never once turned on. At the time, I thought it was endearing. Now, I understand that the UNIVERSE WAS TRYING TO WARN ME.]
  5. I was alarmed to learn that there are people in the world that need something commonly referred to as “alone time.” Repeatedly checking on your spouse to see how their alone time is going will only prolong the whole, miserable ordeal. I’ve discovered the hard way that they probably don’t need snacks, water, or updates on current events.
  6. My sports-loving husband was both surprised and dismayed to learn that a magical button on our remote control could take us to TV stations other than ESPN. Also, in a rather disappointing turn of events, it turns out that “Cupcake Wars” does not, in fact, involve any bloodshed.
  7. Kellan made nice with an old friend that I that I fondly refer to as “baggage claim”. Oh, they’d parted ways years ago in the name of “efficiency”, but after a year of traveling with a woman whose hair products do not come in “travel size”, he and baggage claim are well on their way to becoming BFFs again. Engaged men, wrap your minds around this: for any kind of extended trip, she’s going to check a bag, son.
  8. Bless his heart, Kellan discovered that when he orders food, he needs to mentally prepare himself for me to eat any/all of it. And fries? Fuggedaboudit.
  9. We’ve decided that excellent husbands keep an emergency stash of chocolate. Y’all. This is Kellan’s SINGLE BEST nugget. Our earliest married days were a dizzying blur of late-night chocolate runs. Gentlemen, your wife won’t always buy it when she shops. She will earnestly tell you that she doesn’t want it in the house, and she will mean it. [And with Target photo-shopping the lady-parts off of poor, unsuspecting swim suit models…who can blame her?] BELIEVE THIS AT YOUR OWN PERIL. She will exhibit laudable self-control at the grocery store, turning up her nose at every double-stuffed Oreo and box of brownie mix that she passes by. It is YOUR job to understand that her remarkable resolve will inevitably crumble somewhere between 7:30 and 11:59 at night. And then? Well, joke’s on you, because nobody’s getting any sleep until that craving is gone.
  10. Finally, now that we’ve covered Kellan’s best nugget, I’m going to let you in on mine. OhmyLANTA. If I could tell a newly engaged woman only one thing, I would grab her by the shoulders, look her dead in the eyeballs and implore her to GO BUY A KING SIZED BED. I don’t care if you have to beg, borrow, or sell a kidney on the black market, you need to make this happen. This is, without a doubt, the best thing that Kellan and I did before we got married. I think a lot of engaged couples assume that they’re going to fall asleep snuggling every night, an idea so deplorably naive that I’m not going to dignify it with a response. When I fall asleep at night, the very last thing I do is a “bed angel” [think “snow angel” but on sheets] to make absolutely certain that I can’t touch Kellan. If my leg so much as brushes his, I kick until he rolls over to the six inches of allotted space that I have graciously bequeathed to him. Back of gentlemen: he found me first!

Married friends, what would you add? Don’t be shy—share for those poor engaged couples that still think that all of those little quirks are JUST SO ADORABLE.

Bless their hearts.

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Filed under Marriage, The love of my life., Then I found $5.00, Uncategorized

An Announcement Not About Babies.

photo (4)Things have been rather quiet around my blog lately because quite frankly, I haven’t had a hot second to sit down and THINK.

However, the show must go on and inquiring minds need to know, so here it is: we bought a house! A real adult house with our very own yard and our very own Home Alone basement that I shall refuse to enter for the duration of our time in New York. I can hardly believe that we actually took the plunge, given that I still feel like I am totally faking my way through adulthood. This is related but not limited to the fact that yesterday, my lunch consisted of frozen chicken nuggets in assorted shapes of small woodland creatures. Which is related but not limited to the fact that I am skimping on our food budget so I can buy a cute pair of earrings I found online at Anthropologie.

But really, if you think about it, food only lasts for a minute [unless we’re talking about Indian food, Lord help us all], but dangly earrings are FOREVER. I just know you understand, unlike my indignant husband whose heart happens to be made of COLD BLACK STONE. Fear not—every time he complains that he’s hungry, all I hear is, “You look ravishing, darling. I cherish you.

We’re actually pretty far along in this home buying process—we close tomorrow! And it’s not a moment too soon, because I leave at dark thirty on Thursday morning to go to the Dominican Republic with HOPE, conveniently leaving Kellan to fend for himself and move the rest of our things without me by Friday night. As soon as they place those keys in our hot little hands, we’re going to bid apartment life a bittersweet adieu and begin the arduous process of schlepping our worldly possessions across town. Hallelujah for that, because the little two bedroom number we’ve called home since we said “I do” is beginning to look like a pack of drunken water buffalos held a kegger in our living room, and if there’s one thing that I can’t stand it’s a mess.

Which, of course, bodes well for the upheaval of the next month of our lives.

Y’all come see us up here!

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Filed under First World Problems, Marriage, The love of my life., Uncategorized

The Ugly Place.

JCP_3649 bwY’all. MY HUSBAND.

We spent the weekend on a North Carolina lake watching the last vestiges of summer flicker and fade into fall, and Monday morning found two bleary-eyed Dickens hopping a dark-thirty flight back to Albany.

As I mindlessly scribbled a grocery list into my planner between flights, it hit me. Honey. Today is our six month anniversary!

Kellan grinned. I remembered.

Oh. Um, cool. Me too.

That evening, I made celebratory pie [my motives were one percent noble in that technically, Kellan does enjoy chocolate pie…and ninety-nine percent selfish because PIE.] and as we sat down, Kellan grabbed my toes.

Babe, you’re beautiful, but I’m worried about your feet. And gosh, your HANDS. I think we need to do something about this.

…come again?

Beaming, he pulled out a card. The chocolate pie of selfish-shame taunted me from the kitchen counter as I read the precious PS:

Those nails look like they need a little stylin’ to match the rest of you.

Y’all. That sweet man had called a local spa and spent HALF AN HOUR on the phone with a bewildered receptionist named Erin as he attempted to explain that he wanted to surprise his wife, and she liked “nail stuff”.

It’s hard to schedule a mani-pedi when you haven’t got the foggiest idea what in the world they are.

Kellan laughingly recounted how utterly baffled he’d been as the receptionist had explained a thousand different spa options [whatever a “french manicure” was, that was CERTAINLY out because AMURICA], and I melted into the floor because six months later, I love that man more than I could ever have imagined on March 2nd.

During our time at the lake, sweet friends made passing comments about our “honeymoon phase” status. Confused, Kellan and I mulled it over one night, and came to the unavoidable conclusion that we’d never really gotten a honeymoon phase. During one of our first evenings in our new Albany apartment as we unpacked boxes of clothes, we began to discuss how we ought to divvy up our closet. Before my wide-eyed, newly-minted husband knew what hit him, I was doubled over, wracked by uncontrollable sobs that seemed to have no end.

While I feel VERY strongly about having enough space for my shoes, clearly it had nothing to do with the closet.

Kellan was married to a woman who just missed her little brother. Who ached so badly and so deeply that she wanted to crawl into bed and stay there forever. There was no giggling, elated, blushing start to our marriage—we were rudely thrust into the raw ugly of it all from day one. Cancer had seen to that.

It has been precisely there, in that ugly, raw, aching, vulnerably helpless place, that I have fallen more deeply in love with my husband than I could have imagined on our wedding day. Before we were married, I fell in love with the man who made my heart flutter when he picked me up for dinner after I’d spent forty-five minutes carefully curling my hair. I have since fallen in love with the man who has held me on the bathroom floor as mascara poured down my face. The man who has stayed awake with me on long nights when nightmares left me too afraid to fall back to sleep. The man who spends time with Jesus first thing every morning, and prays for me last thing every night. I have fallen in love with the man who has learned to just ache with me over Ian’s death, because six months ago we became one person and Kellan signed on to hurt with me forever. And on the days when the lie that God is not good whispered, the truth of His goodness always rang louder because evidence of it stood in front of me sheepishly holding flowers.

Please don’t get me wrong—our marriage isn’t perfect. There’s nothing more defeating than reading about another perfect marriage, and if that’s what you’re looking for you need to find another blog because there’s no perfect to be found around here.  If your marriage needs a good fight, we can certainly give you some pointers. It’s probably the only marital advice we’re qualified to give at this point of our lives! But Kellan Dickens is such a very, very good gift to me. The way God loves me makes so much more SENSE to me than it did six months ago, because my husband mirrors it every day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a dashingly handsome man that is stealing me away for breakfast before a confused manicurist does something very American to my nails. I’ll keep you posted. ;)

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Filed under Grief, Ian, Love, Marriage, Uncategorized

The Cancer Playlist.

photo (10)Home is so good for my heart. There are familiar faces—so many faces that I dearly miss in Albany. There are long coffees with best friends and hours spent laughing over nothing. There are runs with my brother, back-to-school shopping with my sister, breakfasts with my Dad, morning coffees with my Mom. A myriad of things for which I am deeply and profoundly grateful.

And then, there is Ian’s room. The shoes that he wore on their closet-door hanger, the striped scarf he tossed around his neck as the weather chilled, the brown hat that sat atop his curly hair. I find the brightly patterned superman blanket that followed him from hospital room to hospital room, pictures that he drew, playbills from shows that he performed in, the cologne that he wore every day after I urged him not to underestimate the power of smell. I find notes that he scribbled—meaningless scraps that I scour and carefully catalog as though religious organization might somehow bring him back. But nowhere do I find my little brother.

My Mom asks me what I would like to keep to remember him by, before she goes through his room. And suddenly I can’t breathe because there is nothing Ian enough to ease the sting.

I see Ian everywhere. I see him standing beside the grand piano where we used to sing, bounding down the stairs towards the kitchen, laughing in the red chair. On most days, I still expect him to burst through the front door and laughingly wake us all up.

Trying to understand, several days ago a sweet friend asked me if I simply felt an ache all the time since Ian died. No. It’s like there’s a weight that’s crushing down on me every second. I imagine that one day this will evolve into an ache, and that will be an improvement. 

Ian was diagnosed with cancer on October 3rd. Shortly thereafter, I compiled a list of songs that I entitled “The Cancer Playlist”, and gave everyone in my family a copy. At the time, I imagined that these would be the songs that would remind us of truth as we fought and beat cancer. I had no idea that in fact, they would be the songs we would play on repeat in the ICU, as Ian slipped away and all of us forgot how to breathe.The thing about grief, with all of its wrestlings and longings, is that sometimes the little energy that you have left must be directed towards the exhausting work of reminding yourself to breathe in and out all day long. Hope feels like nothing more than a morphine induced hallucination on the days when you barely remember how to get out of bed in the morning.  Grief is many things, but she is always a teacher—and one of her primary lessons is that a shattered heart can always break just a little bit more.

It is on those days, the days when opening a Bible or speaking to God feels like a veritable Mt. Everest of the soul, that I need truth the most. And that is where the gift of music has proven to be invaluable. Those days are less frequent now, but I still have them. I could not always stomach a Psalm in the ICU, but I could push play and allow the Lord to remind me through music that He is good simply because He is God, and not because He writes happily ever after endings to my stories. Music reminds me that I can get out of bed when it feels impossible, because there is new grace every single morning. Believing truth in the midst of grief is a fierce battle—and music helps me to combat the lies my heart wants to believe.

I know a number of you reading are in the midst of your own battle. In hopes that music might help you fight, too, here are some highlights from my Cancer Playlist—and a few of the lines that I cling to.

It Is Well With My Soul: Chris Rice

Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.

Give Me Faith: Elevation Worship

Give me faith to trust what you say. That you’re good, and your love is great. I’m broken inside-I give you my life. I may be weak, but your spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but my God you never will.

The Search Is Over: Hank Murphy. [Hank is a good friend of mine—he wrote this song for his own brother. His music and his life point me to Jesus.]

The search is over, you are the answer. You are everything that satisfies, Jesus Christ.

No Sacrifice: Jason Upton [Ian and I used to sing this song together.]

To you, I give my life-not just the parts I want to. To you, I sacrifice these dreams that I hold on to. Your thoughts are higher than mine, your words are deeper than mine, your love is stronger than mine—this is no sacrifice, here’s my life.

Open Hands: Matt Papa [Matt is a friend of mine, and another musician that you need to check out!]

Free at last, I surrender all I am with open hands.

You are God Alone [Not a God]: Philips, Craig & Dean

Unchangable, unshakable, unstoppable, that’s what you are.

UnravelingShelly Moore [Shelly is a dear friend who got to spend some time with Ian while he was sick. While she’s never formally discipled me, the Lord has used her music to teach my heart to treasure Him and believe truth about Him. You need to check her out!]

I’ve heard You say ,wait for a better day. There is purpose even in the midst of this, and just as sure as the sun will rise, tomorrow I’ll get you through the night

Without Words: Shelly Moore

Hallelujah, you are worthy.

Jesus, I Come: Shelly Moore [This song became so meaningful to me that Kellan and I asked a dear friend to sing it at our wedding.]

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come, Jesus I come. Into thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee.

And finally, I would add this one:

I discovered this in the ICU waiting room, and it played on repeat.

May these songs help you fix your eyes on, and adore the God who is incapable of being anything but good to you.

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Filed under Family, God's faithfulness, Grief, Home, Ian, Uncategorized

What Nobody Told Me About Marriage.

JCP_3638I mentioned yesterday that today would mark four months of marriage for Kellan and I. Four months of Are you really eating Chinese food for breakfast? ARE YOU REALLY SPEAKING TO ME BEFORE I’VE HAD COFFEE? Four months of honey, I think the edge of that forty pound mirror needs to come up juuuuust ¼ inch. Thankssomuch. Four months of combined laundry, combined bank accounts and attempting to combine two wildly different lives into something altogether new. By leaps and bounds, it is the most grueling, painstaking, thrilling and rewarding thing that I have ever done.

Books and sermons about marriage spend copious amounts of time talking about needing to die to your sin. While I have found that to be painfully true, what I have found to be equally true is the need to die to my preferences. It’s the thing that nobody really tells you before you get married—that just as much as both you will have to die to your pride, you will have to die to what you want. In the battle of Saturday morning brunch eaters vs. Saturday morning ESPN watchers, you must both wave the white flag of surrender in loving deference to the other person. You’ll have to die to what you’d prefer to eat for dinner [steak again?], what you’d prefer to spend money on [this in spite of your wholehearted conviction that dollars put towards certain purchases would be put to better use sautéed in olive oil and served aside the aforementioned steak], and even how you would prefer to serve the other person. Sometimes the most loving thing I can do for my husband has nothing to do with a love letter or a glass of wine, and everything to do with the unglamorous work of scrubbing the toilet.

And just between us? I would prefer the wine.

Dying to your preferences does not come cheaply, or without pain. After four short months, I know next to nothing about marriage, but I am slowly learning what it means to die to what I want every evening as I watch Kellan walk through our front door after an exhausting day at the office. Understanding that come six o’clock I am like a golden retriever puppy that’s been locked up alone all day, instead of indulging his tired mind in a run or half an hour of ESPN he pulls me into his lap and asks me about my unremarkable day. Dying to his preferences. He gets that unloading the silverware tray in the dishwasher makes me want to stab a kitten, and so every night after dinner, the man that didn’t know how to clean a bathroom when we got married kicks me out of the kitchen and washes every single dish. Dying to his preferences. And this morning, my short on time, non-coffee-drinking husband woke me up with a steaming cup of caramel truffle coffee in my favorite blue mug, because he knew it would make my heart go pitter patter.

He was right.

Simply observing my husband die to himself and prefer me teaches me how to die to myself and prefer him. It’s something that I am exceptionally bad at, [because let’s face it, I generally believe that the things I like are far superior to the things everybody else likes!]—but slowly, slowly, I’m learning.

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Filed under Marriage, Uncategorized