Friday, May 29, 2015


It's been a while since I've written a post in my voice.  Most of you regular readers probably didn't even know I could do this.  It's, 10 months since my last post?!  I could say something about how this is Ashleigh's blog, how she's the one with cancer, and that she's the one folks really want to hear from...but the truth is, this is about the frequency that I would naturally post even if this was my blog.  Those of you who know me won't be surprised by that...and it probably gives you a healthy insight into how Ashleigh and I work together.  She's the one who can actually stay on top of keeping a blog current on a weekly basis, and I'm the one...well, I'm sure I contribute something around here...

Never fear though, as the editor-in-chief of most of Ashleigh's posts, my voice tends to find its way in if there's something to contribute (pro-tip: any sentences you find that are double-spaced after the period are actually me typing, because I value tradition unlike you heathens who single-space your type).

I've had this post in mind for a while now, and the events of today are as good an impetus as any to publish it.  Two years ago (almost to the day), Ashleigh was wrapping up her time at MIT, and she was asked by her classmates and friends to speak at a storytelling venue called "The Yarn".  We worked together to build a fitting summary of our years in Boston, and this was the result.  Ashleigh wants me to point out that much of the content was written by me, so humorous things that I wrote as self-deprecating might have come out a tad...regular-deprecating when she said them; especially comments related to my admitted lack of...let's call it "academic rigor" undergrad.  Regardless, I think you'll find that many of the themes here - shared with a group of "Sloanies" (MIT MBA students) over two years ago - are eerily applicable today.

As you'll read below, at the time we had several stories of how God had faithfully come through for us in uncertain times.  As of today, we have several more recent stories of how He has answered (or not answered) our prayers in ways that don't completely make sense to us.  But the central themes are unchanged and even underscored by recent experience: that we don't have control over much in life, despite the "illusions of control that we comfort ourselves with, but at the end of the day we don’t have a cognitive category for...cancer taking a mother [from her children]".  That death is an inevitability that should cause us to consider weighty matters of how we view this life and eternity.  And that, in spite of everything, "God is STILL GOOD.  And still in control.  We just don’t always see everything He can."

So without further ado, here's the video of Ashleigh giving her summation thoughts of our time in Boston (and a transcript below).  I hope you appreciate the continued relevancy of her comments as much as we do...

It was the fall of 2007 – my last year in undergrad at Georgia Tech – the night before the Senior career fair.  I had a long list of companies I’d researched, ready to wow them with my resume, knowledge of their business, and my non-regional diction.  You see, I’d started Georgia Tech as a biomedical engineering major, honestly, because it sounded prestigious.  Then BioChemistry happened, and things went really bad.  But around that same time, someone pointed me to a magical area of study called Industrial Engineering, where you could tell OTHER people what to do, improve processes, and make plans, and even use MATH to do it.  Ever since I single-handedly planned my 8th birthday party - I made a list of invitations, a grocery list, and schedule for my mom to take me to Party City and everywhere else I needed to go for favors, decorations, etc - I’ve been what you might call a “planner”.  And to combine my natural penchant for process optimization with engineering, and do that professionally…well, that was the dream.

So I’m about to head to the career fair, with a pretty decent resume that I’d worked hard for.  I had also recently heard of this profession where you didn’t really work for a company that “did” anything, so much as told OTHER companies HOW to do what they do.  A “consultant”, they called it.  So I saw this as the culminating achievement to cap off 18 years of hard work at school, and I went hard after it.  Consulting firms liked me, and I certainly enjoyed getting wined and dined at interviews.  It seemed like I was well on track towards being a jet-setting professional consultant with all the perks.  The only problem was…well, I was in love.You see, my wonderful husband (who I should mention has been a hard-working successful engineer for 7 years now), didn’t share my same passion for “hard work”, or “going to class”, or even “passing grades” in undergrad.  His resume didn’t quite shine like mine.  But I knew I wanted to marry him – we were engaged at the time.  I was understandably frustrated that my employment options that I’d worked hard to keep broad and exciting were functionally limited by the career options and work ethic of someone over whom I had so little control. AKA My job search was limited to wherever he could find a job.

So this tension between what I felt I “deserved” in a potential job and what I was apparently going to be limited to, combined with the self and society imposed expectations to be a happy homemaker wife and not necessarily a career woman, built and built through recruiting season to the night I’m describing.  When, after a particularly long session of hashing out our future plans with Brad, I turned and yelled to the entire sorority house: <yell here> “Listen ladies, it doesn’t matter how good you do in school.  Just look pretty and work on finding a good husband, because that’s all we should aspire to”. <dramatic pause>

So I initially had a few minor issues with finding my identity - balancing professional and personal life.  I’m sure that’s a struggle that many of you can relate to tonight. But there’s a partially obscured, and unexpected, moral to this story – if you’re not careful you’ll miss it behind “follow your dreams and everything will work out”.  The reason why I give you this window into a time in my life when I didn’t know how things were going to turn out – when I honestly didn’t see a WAY they could turn out – is to explain to you what is ultimately the guiding force behind the path I’ve taken in my life.

There were just so many variables even in that one little life transition that I couldn’t control – where Brad could get a job, which companies were hiring, which cities we could live in, whether he would decide I was crazy enough that he didn’t want to marry me anyway…too many variables for me to optimize, too many for me to plan for, and I couldn’t handle it.

Fast forward to this semester, and there are even more variables I can’t account for in the optimization that is my life – both minor variables like when papers are due, but major ones too.  If I had stayed just 15 minutes longer at the Boston Marathon finish line last month, where I was hanging out with my 3-month-old Noah, who knows what would have happened.  I was right there.  Then later that same week I was walking home from Walker Memorial to Eastgate at the exact same time that the gunmen were making their way from Stata to 3rd street after having shot Shawn Collier.  We followed a parallel path not 100 feet from each other – what if they had turned towards Memorial Drive?

Then you have other things outside my control that marked my first year at Sloan – my Aunt died of cancer at 42, leaving behind 4 beautiful daughters – my cousins – between the ages of 8 and 14.  Then you have a situation like Nikita’s passing earlier this year, and she was involved in our Bible study with Sloan Christian Fellowship.  And you’re left asking, what could I have DONE?  What can I DO?  Do I even have any control over ANYTHING in this life?

The perhaps unique perspective I want to share with you tonight, is that the short answer to that question is “no, we don’t have control.  Over much of anything, really”.  We have illusions of control that we comfort ourselves with, but at the end of the day we don’t have a cognitive category for dealing with pressure cookers exploding in the street at a road race, or cancer taking the life of a mother not much older than I am, or a fellow classmate being here one day and just…gone…the next…or even something comparatively simple like forecasting where we’re going to live and what we’re going to do for work next year.  Even if we have signed offer letters with 6-figure salaries, even if we think our families are happy and healthy – there’s not one of us in here whose world couldn’t be shattered by one phone call.

I want everyone here to humor me for a second – find your pulse.  Everyone do it <pause>.  Most of us take completely for granted that our hearts just…beat.  But what I want to impress on you tonight, the best example of how not-in-control we really are, is this simple fact: someday that pulsing you feel won’t do that anymore.   It’s not morbid – denying that fact is intellectually dishonest bordering on willful ignorance.  The Bible says that we are nothing but a vapor – a mist that is here today, gone TODAY.  It also says that a man who lives like he’s never going to die is the height of foolish self-delusion, because if there’s one undeniable fact that we’ve all been faced with this year between Nikita and the bombings and Sean Collier, it’s that we are all going to die, and that none of us have any real control over it.

So where does this leave us?  I mention “The Bible says”, both because I believe what it says and to demonstrate that it has a bearing on our everyday lives, the struggles we face.  I am here as a logical, thinking, fellow-classmate to declare that I believe even though we have almost no control over what happens in our lives, there is a God who IS in absolute control.  And here’s the great news – He’s also absolutely loving, and caring.

I can tell you how things ended up after that blow-up at my sorority house all those years ago – like so many other times in my life I could tell you about, God orchestrated all the details in ways I couldn’t have planned better myself.  Brad got a great engineering job and I got to be the jet-setting consultant.  Then, in another big transition we really struggled through, God brought us to Boston when we thought there was no logistical way we could ever leave our hometown.  I could fill another 10 minutes with the hurdles He overcame there.  THEN, he blessed us with a baby boy three months ago, when our biggest reason for not wanting to come to Boston was that it would delay us being able to start a family.  He continues to work out all the details in amazing ways that would take another whole Yarn to describe to you.

I recognize that my examples of God’s provision leave a gaping hole – that He has seen us through all the big transitions in our lives, that for whatever reason I left the finish line just in time; but what about when the stars don’t align with jobs, or all the folks who didn’t leave the finish line when I did?  What about the handful of dear friends I have who have really struggled to get pregnant, while Noah came along almost just by thinking about him.  I certainly don’t DESERVE any of the good things God’s given us…quite the contrary.  I don’t have the time to give an appropriate treatment of God’s Sovereignty and the nature of evil (and really that’s more my Husband’s deal – talk to him if you’re interested in that debate), but my point is even when my aunt died and left 4 girls behind, and even in tragedies like the marathon and Nikita’s passing, my faith allows me to believe that God is STILL GOOD.  And still in control.  We just don’t always see everything He can.

If you tuned out as soon as I mentioned “The Bible” and “God”, I want you to tune back in for a second, because here’s a few applications of what I’ve been talking about that I think we can all get behind, regardless of worldview.  First, recognize that every interaction you have with fellow Sloanies is an interaction with another warm-blooded, feeling, human being like you.  So often many of our interactions reduce to transactional surface-level pleasantries that incentivize us to pretend everything’s great: “yeah, I’m working for that startup; sure, I can connect you with him on Linkedin; oh, I think I might head to New York after that banking/consulting job”.  Meanwhile maybe there’s another Nikita behind the face in front of you, slowly breaking apart.  The culture we should encourage at Sloan should look at your fellow classmates as more than future networking connections and job leads, but as human beings who all struggle, and that’s ok.

Secondly, I encourage you take some time to think about your mortality.  It’s not a happy subject, but our death is an inevitability that bears some thinking about.  If we’re honest, everything else should take a back seat until we get this one figured out.  In the face of recent tragedies it is intellectually dishonest to ignore…I certainly thought about it again after being at the marathon, and after being close to where Sean was killed.  Whatever you do with your conclusions should help inform how you live your life, down to your day-to-day life here at Sloan.  The worldview to which I ascribe finds hope in the face of the inevitability of death because we follow the teaching of the only man who died and then came back to tell us about it.  So death still scares me sometimes, but a lot less because I trust that God – Jesus – knows what he’s talking about.  If you’d like to talk more about my faith, my husband or I (or any leader in Sloan Christian Fellowship) would love to talk with you at greater length.

We are not in control – God is.

We can’t see what’s going on under the surface, so take time to get to know your classmates on a personal level.

And yes, we’re all going to die, and we don’t know when – so we should let that affect how we think and live today.

These are the things I’ve been reminded of in my time at Sloan, the things that have encouraged my faith and allowed me to help lead Sloan Christian Fellowship through a difficult year.  Sorry they’re not the most light-hearted topics to talk about at the Yarn, but I think all the more important that we think about them BECAUSE of their weightiness.  Thank you.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Wow, Ashleigh is such an amazing wife, mother and human being!! Praying for you and your family as you go through this difficult journey.

  3. Lots of prayers from SC.

  4. Over the last two days, I have continuously asked God why as I've read about the next leg of your journey. I can't say I understand why, even now, even with years in church and so many stories similar to this. But I do know this: whether Ashleigh lives one more week or fifty more years (and I am STILL praying for the latter) her legacy transcends all of this. Blessings to your whole family, you have an army of prayer warriors - and a God who loves you.


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