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