One of my favorite quotes in American literature is found in the opening text of the classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He opened this novel with the revelation that life doesn’t always appear as it seems. It says…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It’s 12:03am and as I saw my popcorn spinning in the microwave the clock struck midnight, I simply uttered the words, Hello 37. Yea it seemed appropriate, appropriate to greet this new year this new age not to good riddens the previous year or age of my life. Greetings was more suitable, more reasonable, more appropriate. Why? Well because 36, was the tale of two Ashleys, it was the best of times it was the worst of times. Times when I laughed til I LITERALLY CRIED; good times, no wait great times, goals set, milestones met, times of peace and tranquility. Times of utter achievement and happiness, and simple glee. While simultaneously times of utter grief, sleepless nights, tears like rain drops in the middle of my own blight. Times of just let me fix it, only to break it again. Times of no one understanding me and being literally surrounded with walls that I caused in the name of protection and help for what I thought was others, but maybe it was for myself…

So I had to say hello 37, and not peace out to 36. Why? Well because it was certainly the age of wisdom, it was the age foolishness. There were times I made such sound and right decisions I impressed myself; found me standing applauding in the theater of my own Broadway musical starring me, yelling encore encore from the audience, praying I didn’t mess up my shot because I was just like my spiritual daddy-young, wise, and talented and I couldn’t mess up this shot because of foolishness. Yet like Job the thing I feared came upon me because it was also the age of foolishness. Age where there were so many questions, so many wonders, so many mistakes or learning opportunities, but I didn’t ever learn it. I often found myself taking a look around wondering how in the world am I even alive right now. I often felt like I was sitting in a class, doing my best to understand, but everytime not making the grade to move on and hopefully get the upper hand.

But hey 37 right…not glad to see you go 36, I mean it was the epoch of belief and the epoch of incredulity. Over the last year I stood on a mountain, LITERALLY, looked as far as my eye could see; higher than a tree can grow, where the birds flew eye level and I dared a devil to whisper in my ear “your God is not real.” I preached myself happy many times, I believed for things that would be so frightening like you wouldn’t even dare to dream. Last year, I really truly truly believed, even for impossibility. But possibly and actually I still found myself in incredulity. Epochs I would watch, I would hear, I would think and be like no, this can’t be me. I refuse to accept this let alone believe. As much as I tried I could never be full because full many times was never the goal within me. My prayer often times was simply “God help my unbelief.”

So what’s up 37 yes what’s up to this new age and not I’m out 36 because in all sincerity it was a season, yes a season of light and a season of darkness. Light so bright at times I felt like Moses needing a veil to cover the glory that was so evidently upon me, in me, and clearly working through me. I’m not talking about an ordinary light, this is not a light of man’s hand, electric or battery operated, it was a literal glory that I tangibly saw often when I spoke, when I worshipped, when I prayed, when I wrote, SO MUCH HOPE! The light of God, no cap, and boy was it warm and blindingly bright. Yet, even when it blinded me I sensed it, not because I could really see it, I just knew when the Son would rise because there was a season when it seemed as if the Son had sat. Darkness…like real dark like blinding dark, I know that doesn’t make sense how light AND darkness blind you, but if you stay in a pitch dark place for far too long you can lose your sight and honestly 36 was my soul’s dark night. So dark one could cut through it with a knife, literal internal strife, fear of failure, insecurity from misunderstandings making me fall deeper into what at times seemed like a black hole, and my soul shy to whisper even for a flicker because at times I thought darkness was my new normal. It was a time of feeling around in the dark, looking for the switch to turn on the Light. Literally scrambling around in the dark, yes I needed Him, but honestly I would have settled for just the touch of His hemn.

Greetings 37 no not kick rocks 36, because truth is it was a spring of hope yet a winter of despair. Things blossomed, LIKE EVERYTHING BLOSSOMED! Seeds began to bring forth fruit and I did it afraid. I went into the vineyard of my destiny and picked up every harvest that bloomed and every harvest that grew because hope sprung forth! I saw a reason, I saw a purpose, I saw a soul. I didn’t know some of these seeds were even planted that started to grow but it was springtime and boy it gave me so much hope. I did things afraid, I went for it, though it wasn’t always what I thought it should have been, the simple wins kept me coming for more and I knew I was in His will. Yet and still the temperature dropped, and winter came in. Though winter is literally my favorite season, the despair was a little bit or a lotta bit freezing to the point I felt the prickles and pain of frost bitten dreams. Imagine playing Escape Room and the room you have to escape from is in your own head. After a while you get tired, you get weary, you get to despair so you just sit there and pray someone realizes you’re missing and comes and looks for you because you’re not gonna fight anymore; in fact you can’t, so you just sit there…in despair

So Hello 37 and not so long 36. Why? Because 36 comes before 37 therefore 37 stands on the foundation of the previous stories of the ages that are now in this tale of two Ashleys. Hello 37, glancing down the alley to the 40 to come. Looking over the last year of my life, honestly, I don’t apologize for the bad because it made me appreciate so much more, the good. Hello 37, so glad you made it, joining my party of the ages. With each year that passes I understand now to welcome the lessons taught from before not count previous as mischievous or even devious but to count every year as a blessing simply because I AM STILL HERE! And now it seems more appropriate to say, hello 37, and thank you 36. I appreciate the up AND the down, the best and the worst, the winter and spring, the laughter and the weep, the test passed and the test epically failed, the doubt and the pure belief, the me lost and the me found. Thank you for it all because today I stand on it tall and true shouting quietly at 12:03 in the morning at you, the truth. No more regrets… Hello 37… yea I believe that’s it.