Category Archives: Ashley Carmichael

But Ms. Carmichael, It’s Friday!

My children–it’s what I call my students, use this excuse frequently. “But Ms. Carmichael it’s…” you name it and they’ve used it. “It’s early”, “It’s the end of the year”, “It’s almost Spring Break” and yes, “It’s Friday”.

And each time–each year–they do this I nod, ever so patiently, and say ‘ yes, my children, I’m aware of what day of the week it is, but just because Friday it is, work we still must do. And, did you know that Friday is a regular occurrence? It actually comes once a week!’

And thank God it does.

My students, some of them, had some difficulty focusing on research this particular Friday. Thus the title and inspiration for this post.

“Ms. Carmichael,” one scholar gabbles as I walk by on my circular rounds through my ever studious class. “If someone gave you a million dollars, would you give them an “A”?”

First, this is a preposterous proposal. I should have ignored it…but it’s Friday.

“Absolutely not,” I assert with a superior moral air. “I cannot be bought.” Which is probably true. Probably.

They don’t believe me and immediately several of the less than focused scholars begin to protest.

“Children,” I begin (they may be 18, but I still call them children…because, well, they are my children). “I assure you, I would not be able to live with myself if I accepted any kind of bribe and deprived someone of the education they deserve.”

I feel pretty confident this is true. I found $20 in the hallway earlier in the week. I spent a good deal of time trying to track down who could have dropped it. I ended up giving the money to a more worthy cause. I couldn’t keep it for myself. I didn’t earn it; it wasn’t mine; I felt guilty keeping it.

“But, Ms. Carmichael. It’s a million dollars.” (See? I told you they use that ‘But Ms. Carmichael’ line a lot).

“Yes, but it’s not always about the money. And at the end of the day I do have to live with myself.”

“Which you could do a lot more comfortably with the money,” he sneers.

“Do you think I couldn’t make more money at another job if I wanted to? I didn’t become a teacher because I had to. I could have done a number of things. I graduated third in my class from high school and had  a near perfect GPA in college. I am perfectly capable of choosing and excelling at a profession that could generate a much higher capital. I teach because I want to.”

Another student smiles and puts in, somewhat smugly, “And if you do what you love,  you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I turned to this student. “No,” I said. “That’s not true.”

It’s total poppycock actually.

“But it is true!” he insisted. “Because if you are doing what you love, you aren’t actually working.”

“That’s a naïve cliché,” I said simply. “I do what I love. Every day. I teach you all, then I go home and I write. But I also work my tail off. Constantly, without reprieve sometimes. Just because you enjoy your work, doesn’t make it any less complicated, hard or grueling–Life is hard. The only way to be successful is to work at it. Any thing worth doing is worth working for.”

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For a Friday, I think we learned a lot.

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Second Chances

I’m not very good at giving people a second chance. I have a tendency to pass judgment quickly, rely on first impressions, and hold grudges.

I don’t like this about myself, but I admit that it is a character flaw and probably a large part of why I’m not a particularly fun loving, devil may care, gregarious, everyone-wants-to-be-her-friend individual.

On the one hand, I can accept that about myself, on the other hand I don’t really want to accept it. Because we should give one another a second chance. It’s our responsibility, and a lesson we should learn sooner rather than later.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Jonah’s poor attitude and the chapter after he returns to Nineveh. For some reason, I always forget about this chapter. In my mind the story always ends with Jonah becoming Whale spit up, fulfilling God’s will and then learning his lesson…but even after spending time inside a fish, he doesn’t really learn anything. Not a blessed thing and that is terrifying.

I’m not going to lie, it worries me that one could experience so much and still have such a hard heart. In fact, he gets mad because his sermon to the Ninevites is effective. His ticked off that they turn from their evil ways and repent. He gets so mad that he goes out to the desert to pout.

Even so, God sends a vine to cover his head and provide him shade.

Then Jonah gets mad when the vine, which he did nothing to cultivate, dies.

Finally, God speaks up. He asks Jonah an important question: Do you have a right to be angry about this vine?

Great question. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the vine, to nurture the vine; he didn’t plant the vine—he didn’t even say thank you when it grew. Then, when it dies he does nothing to change his circumstances. He just sits and lets his head burn. Stubborn, isn’t he? Of course, this is coming from the runner—the one who tried to escape God and when that didn’t work had sailors throw him into the sea, I guess he thought that would be a way to seal his fate—but you can’t run from God no matter how far you go and if God wants to teach you a lesson no matter how stubborn you are he’ll teach on.

It is up to you to decide to learn.

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How many of us are the same way? We are blessed with health, family and sometimes even wealth that we did not earn and rarely deserve. We are living in a world of entitlement, but as Romans is so quick to remind us—all have sinned and fall short so we really don’t deserve anything but death, destruction and punishment. Some people, no matter what, some people are determined not to be happy. No matter what they are determined to be miserable. In fact I’m not even sure they would know what to do with happiness if it grew from a vine and slapped them in the face (I include myself as being guilty of this from time to time).

You see, it’s so easy to forget about Jonah 4 because no one wants to see Jonah as a whiner—no one wants to remember the man who survived a whale’s belly as a complaining, stubborn, unhappy man. Because it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t someone whose been given that SECOND CHANCE be able to empathize more with people who are seeking a second chance? Shouldn’t he rejoice with them, be joyful and grateful?

And yet, he’s angry! Angry that God would save them. He FORGOT too. He forgot his own transgressions and somehow I doubt he was as pure and sinless as he pouty face would suggest.

And then the bitter sting of hypocrisy sinks deep into my skin. Don’t we struggle with the same problem? We’ve all been given the same second chance, and we all think we deserve so much more than we actually do.

We think we deserve happiness.

We think we deserve contentment.

We think we deserve a life of leisure where we get what we want when we want it.

But we don’t.

We are all sinners.

We deserve misery.

We deserve sickness.

We deserve death.

Just as a murderer deserves to pay for his or her heinous crimes, each and every one of us deserves to pay for our sins. But OH how quick we are to forget our own sins when we look around and see someone else sinning. “Well,” we say to ourselves with our noses stuck up in the air, “at least I haven’t cheated on my wife like Bill. Bill deserves punishment. How could he show his face in church? He is such a sinner!”

What if Jonah had accepted their conversion? What if he’d stopped feeling that it was unfair, that they deserved less than he, that they were his equals? Now I don’t presume to rewrite the Bible, but I do want to look at another perspective, because after all, that’s what being a writer is all about. So Jonah 4 might have read a little like this:

1)And Jonah was pleased and joy filled his heart. 2) He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? How could I be so blind and flee to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love. A God who relents from sending calamity. 3) Now, O Lord I see how it is better to live than to die. Praise your holy name.” 4) And the Lord blessed Jonah and the Ninevites…

Because the thing is we’re all sinners. Some of us don’t want to admit that we sin, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. We go to church, sing in the choir, attend Bible study, join every committee, but forget that we are more than just an organization. We are, and should be, designed to love everyone, not gossip about their shortcomings, or worse ignore and run away from their suffering.

We’re designed to be God’s image.

But we’re not in God’s image when we are unforgiving and self-righteous, sulking in the desert of our own iniquities and sin.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happiness is and why we pursue it. It’s not in our declaration of independence by accident. And we often take it for granted. I’ve come to the radical conclusion that happiness is not as illusive as we try to make it. Happiness doesn’t run from us, we often run from it.


Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow published by Indigo Sea Press. She has a Bachelor’s in English from UNC-Wilmington and currently teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Ashley lives with her dog, Emma, near Columbia, South Carolina.

 

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Do You Want to be Healed?

Do you want to be healed? Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Why else would healthcare be a multi-billion dollar industry? No one actually likes being sick. Everyone wants to be healed…don’t they?

It occurred to me this week that a seemingly simple question, may be more complex than we first think This question appears in John 5:6 when a man “who had been in this condition” (though the condition is unclear, we know from the context he is disabled) from 38 years. He is lying next to a cleansing pool, and there is no indication for how  long he might have been lying there, but when Jesus asks: “Do you want to be made well?” the man doesn’t answer with a simple and evident “Yes!” Instead, he mutters an excuse of all things.

And it made me think, how often I do the same thing. I’m offered the opportunity for healing, enlightenment, encouragement or even just to be made whole…and instead of embracing the opportunity with a wholehearted “YES PLEASE!” I shrink back into myself and mutter, “Well, you see, Jesus, I’d like to receive this blessing but…”

  • I don’t have time.
  • I’m not ready for that.
  • I don’t know where I’d find the money.
  • I’m not sure I’m the right person.
  • I am too tired.
  • I’m scared.

And why do we mutter these excuses? Because despite the fact that we’re broken and stuck—we’re comfortable. The disabled man had grown accustomed to his ailment—he’d lived with it for 38 years. I mean, sure it was inconvenient, but he was comfortable with the inconvenience. People probably helped him live day to day life (how else did he get to the pool? Sure he had no one to help him get all the way into the pool…he says, but it sounds more like a convenient excuse than an actual problem), so he felt secure in knowing this was he lot in life.

In a lot of ways we are just as stuck—we’re right on the brink of where God can bring healing into our lives. Maybe it’s a physical healing, but even more so, an emotional, spiritual healing and instead of taking that final step we stop and find an excuse. All so that we can stay…

Comfortable.

But what if we’re not meant to be comfortable? What if life is about more than being comfortable?

The man had come to “get into the pool where the water is stirred.” But that’s not what Jesus has him do. Instead he tells him to “Get up!”

Our lives are meant to be lived in action. “Get up!” It’s a command to live. To experience, to be that which God intended. It may not be comfortable. You may have to do some walking—some moving, some shaking, some stirring. But it will be real, and that’s where the true healing comes from.


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow a Christian Romance which can be purchased at Indigo Sea Press or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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Flood Waters

The last time I heard so much hype of rain and hurricanes, I was living in Wilmington, NC. At or below sea level, naturally when it rained we flooded. A lot. In fact the street outside my second floor apartment was a regular river when we got two or more inches of rain. But we were in college, so instead of making wise, adult decisions (because adults always do that…) we looked out the window and saw people street surfing and thought ‘hmm…that looks like a disaster waiting to happen’. So naturally, we went out to watch.

Fortunately, no one was hurt or killed, but as we were standing out on the lawn cheering on the surfers we noticed a little Toyota (I think it’s a Toyota—this was 2006 and I can’t really tell from the pics…if it’s not a Toyota, just go with it) make its way to our street. It paused as it got to the flooded area, got out and studied the surfers. Made some impatient hand gestures—clearly wanting them to get out of the way so the Toyota could pass through. Even as unwise college students, we knew this was an even worse decision than street surfing, so we tried to wave the person off, but…well let’s just say the hand gestures began to escalate so we eventually moved out of the street to let him pass.

Now, I lived in a decent looking apartment complex, with a beautiful pond across the street. Beautiful. On that day, when the Toyota revved his engine and tried to plow it’s way through the flooded street we learned just how deep that pond was, because the Toyota only made it about halfway before it began floating away, down…down…down and into the pond. There was nothing we could do, brah, but help Toyota dude get out. Fortunately, the pond only went up to the door of the Toyota and other than the car itself, no one was hurt. Well, except for Toyota dude’s pride, which I still think is at the bottom of the pond along with his transmission.

When our South Carolina governor issued the warning: Turn around, don’t drown. I kind of smiled a little at the corny tune, but that image of the stupid Toyota in the pond on a road he could have gone around stuck in my mind—because all he had to do to avoid that street was circle the block! Everything else around us was fine and he’d have added maybe 3 minutes to his journey instead he ends up ruining his car. And the sad part is, the sight of the car being towed out of the pond didn’t deter other drivers from trying to pass through. They just kept plowing through this flooded street, unphased by the potential damaging effects of this flood. Some got through (flooding their vehicles), some got stuck, and though only one ended up in the pond, it still all seemed a little ridiculous. 

And it got me thinking about how often my life looks that way. I get so busy moving forward, trying to push through the waters, or street surfers, that I miss all the warnings. I either miss them or I just choose not to listen because I’m impatient, I’m in a hurry, or it feels like the floodwaters are closing in. When all I need to do is turn around—turn right—circle the block and I can get back on track. Many times God places a roadblock in our way for a reason. Not so we can plow through it and injure ourselves, but so we can experience something new and rest in the pockets of grace He has set up along the way.


Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow a novel published by Indigo Sea Press and Second Wind, which can be purchased at Amazon. Please follow Ashley on Facebook or on Twitter @amcarmichael13.

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Torture Your Characters

“Torture your characters more,” she told me after we talked for fifteen minutes about the book I’d just finished writing.

More? I thought. Torture her more?! I’d already done some irreparable damage to her physically, and mentally she was a total mess, I thought. What more could I realistically do to this poor character. People don’t go through that much torture in so short a time, not in real life…

But, the thing is, they do.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we live in a horribly broken world. People, good people, are tortured every day by disease, accidents, relationships, good decisions, bad decisions, inevitable decisions…

They say it never just rains, and clichés are cliché for a reason, aren’t they?

I was reminded of that this week. Through conversations with new people, but then it struck home when someone I love, someone dear to my heart, was dealt more torture than I thought fair for one person. From cars dying suddenly to fights with insurance agents she was already battling with the trials of being a new mom and then suddenly she found herself unexpectedly rushing to the emergency room with a close family member…and honestly, that’s not even the half of it. They’ve had enough torture to fill the pages for days to come.

So why on Earth would people want us to torture our characters then? Aren’t they sick of that from their own lives? They experience it themselves—why live through it with characters too?

I thought about this, and concluded that characters who experience life difficulties remind us of two things:

  • We are not alone in our pain.
  • Things always get better after the rain.

In the midst of pain, it is so easy to forget that there are others who share our burdens, sorrows, and even our experiences. There are those who DO know what we are going through and CAN give us hope. Sometimes we aren’t willing to hear that from our friends, so fiction can help—at least until we are ready to go back to our real world again.

Both of these lessons are hard to hold on to when you are going through the fire yourself, but when you’ve connected to a favorite character whose gone through the flames and come out on the other side refined, and not burned, it helps us remember that we can too.

So go ahead, writers, torture your characters. And readers, remember, it’s going to be OK.


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow, a Christian Romance which can be purchased at Second Wind Publishing or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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Follow the Red Painted Lines

There is a red line running down the center of Trade Street in Winston Salem, NC. It’s thick and bright—like a fire engine, shocking on the old sidewalks. Taken aback, you wonder, how long has this red line been here? Where have I been not to notice this?  You might even say to yourself I wonder where this goes?

And dare yourself to follow.

Who would not want to follow a challenging red line? Artist or no, it’s hard to resist. And if you do follow, you won’t be disappointed.

Whether you choose (as my former college roommates and I did) to sing “follow the red painted lines” (to the tune of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”) or not is entirely up to you, but as we rounded the corner and stumbled upon the city’s most recent park, we were pleasantly surprised and a little awed at what we found.

The red lines did in fact lead to the ARTivity Park, which I recalled having read about a few months prior, but seeing it completed did speak to the artist in me. The red lines were raised in places making the park both interactive and inviting. In fact, as we explored we even discovered sidewalk chalk, which we proceeded to make good use of in our foray. We may be 30, but we’re not too old to let our artist children out to play. Unfortunately, we were never misted. Though on a hot day like Saturday, it would have been nice for the fountain feature to have been utilized a bit more frequently, the shaded Artist hub was certainly a delight and I found myself wishing I’d brought a notebook or sketchpad.

As we walked away, following the red lines that held such mystery before, I watched people hurry about their business. Some people noticed the lines and commented, but didn’t follow. Some people ignored the lines—I refuse to believe they didn’t see them. They’re impossible to miss. These people just chose to ignore what was right before them. A select, a very select few, followed. And those who did found themselves in this park, a delightful escape from the business of everyday and a step into something…new.

The past few months for me have been a roller coaster of decisions, more so than the typical, every day type. More like life changing decisions where you have to decide to follow a red line or not. And it occurred to me that following the red line—well, it’s a lot like taking a leap of faith. You don’t know where that red line is going to lead you. After all, it’s red. Warning. Caution. Very few good things are associated with the color red. And yet, if you don’t take that leap, you just ignore those red lines, you can miss out on something amazing that right there in front of your face—something there for the taking. And red, after all, can be passionate, loving, and fire-y too.

And so, you dare yourself to follow.

Because that’s the only way to lead yourself to something new.


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow a Christian Romance which can be purchased at www.secondwind.com or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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Making My Voice Relevant: A lesson in perspective

A good friend of mine flew into Charlotte this weekend. Naturally, I drove down to meet her having not seen her since we last parted ways in July. Since she’s been buried in 110 inches of snow all winter up in Boston, seeing her bright shining face lit up my week.

Kristen has never been to North Carolina and during the course of our catching up and conversation I learned she also has never seen a gator, looked shockingly appalled at the idea of ordering a Fried Green Tomato sandwich, and absolutely thinks it’s ‘wicked’ we say ‘y’all’ so naturally. Despite our obvious differences, when she mentioned the greenness of the city I was taken aback. Our city is green?

We weren’t talking about the movement to recycle and reduce your carbon footprint either; the green comment was literal—foliage, parks, grass—Kristen couldn’t believe how much of it was in the middle of the city. Which got me thinking about how diverse our country really is, not only in people, dialect or even places, but in perspective. I don’t really think about how green Charlotte or really any southern city is (but they are, think about it). To me it’s just a natural part of how a city is designed. NOT having foliage is weird. Because I see it all the time, when I am in Charlotte I see the narrow streets not built to sustain modern vehicular traffic. I see tall building and construction. I see people jogging and pushing strollers and not holding children’s hands as tightly as they should. In all reality what I see comes from not living in the city at all. I have always lived in small towns where green is natural, but these other things are not the norm and they pop when I am in new places.

Neither perspective of the city is better than the other. What struck me is that I could stop and sit for a moment in someone else’s shoes and really see from their perspective and as a result as I drove back through the city, all I saw were the trees, the landscaping and really the beauty in the construction. It came to life in a completely new and unique way.

Which is exactly what I think is so valuable about perspective shifts in reading and writing. A few months ago I wrote a short story and when I was finished I was unsatisfied because it felt empty and void of meaning. I tried editing it, altering the pacing, adding and subtracting detail, but it kept reading flatly. So I changed the perspective, just a simple point of view change and suddenly I started pulling at details and digging into emotion and depth I didn’t even know the story had. I resuscitated a story I thought was dead.

That’s exactly how I want to live my life. We are all born into this world with our own unique voice, but the only way we can make our voice relevant is to constantly shift our perspective and focus. By relating to people around us, we become a part of worlds we never thought we could be a part of and we can stamp out the rampart narcissism choking our society, and what a world that would be!


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow a Christian Romance which can be purchased atwww.secondwind.com or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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I Have Sand in my Eyes!

As a teacher, I look forward to spring break every year, almost more than the students (oh, who am I kidding. I look forward to it way more than the students!). But what is #springbreak2015 without a beach road trip? Incomplete, that’s what. And no one wants that, so this week my sister and I loaded up the munchkins (Sadie, 7; Bailey, 5; and Maggie, 3) into the minivan and headed to the beach.


 Never mind that it was cloudy.

 Never mind that it was 64°.

 Never mind the recovering sickness and ear infection.

 Never mind the 15 mph wind.


We went anyway and the kids were even brave (?) enough to jump in the tide pools. Sure, they may have turned a little blue when they came out, but they had fun (and who are we to deny them such uninhibited enjoyment of God’s creation?).

Everything was good.

Until…

“I HAVE SAND IN MY EYES!” the melodramatic screech carried on the wind. Though we knew the sand would wash out, when you are seven years old and have sand in your eyes it feels like the end of the world.

And I can’t say I totally disagree. Not about literal sand, mind you, but about having sand in my eyes when I am trying to think or write or grow. Metaphoric sand can really slow down not only your productivity, but your progress, your good habits and even your understanding of the world and how it works.

And then I thought about what my sister said to my niece as she was crying:

  • Don’t whine
  • Stand up
  • You can still hear me
  • I can help you, but only if you stay calm

I realized these calm, mother-of-three, sage words were exactly what everyone needs to do to get the sand out of their eyes and start living more productive lives, especially as a writer when the temptation to allow distractions to lure you away from producing quality work lurks around every corner.

  • Don’t whine: unless you have a lot of cheese or chocolate, whining isn’t going to taste good to anyone. Words should have meaning. Whining rarely does.
  • Stand up: Sitting still with sand in your eyes will do no good, to you or anyone else. It just increases the pain and may even make you blind. If you want results, you must take action.
  • You can still hear me: When one sense goes, you must hone and use your other senses and maybe even more importantly you must start PAYING ATTENTION The more we pay attention the farther we will get in life.
  • I can help, but you need to calm down: Being able to admit that we need help is difficult and second only to staying calm, but as soon as we do both of these, we can instantly become more productive and successful, not only as writers, but as people.

#Springbreak2015 is about more than fun, sun, and relaxation. A week off your normal schedule is good—epiphanies arise and you’re ready to wash the sand from your eyes and move forward like never before.


Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow a Christian Romance which can be purchased at www.secondwind.com or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.

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