Morality Isn't Emphasized Enough

You know, there's definitely a trend that I keep seeing among a lot of various Christians. And the more I think about it, I don't know if I like it.

It's not that I necessarily disagree with it, but I just feel like it's almost sending another message that isn't good. And what I'm talking about is when Christians say to stop focusing on our behavior, that is, our "works," and just instead focus more on God loving us.

Okay. I'm not going to come out and disagree with that. In fact, me, being a relentless perfectionist, sometimes needs to hear that I do need to stop trying so hard and just learn to accept God's love for who I am.

However. There are a lot of people who, and I'm just going to say it bluntly, aren't able to handle a message like the one above because they aren't mature enough. Because what those people will do, is they will take that as their little "pass" to do whatever the heck they want, and then at the end of the day, be like, "hey I'm a Christian and God loves me so don't judge me." And it makes my blood BOIL. They could be doing EVERYTHING contrary to Scripture and completely not giving a dang, but yet they still pull that card and, essentially, take complete advantage of the love of God. And I'm sick of that, sorry not sorry. My patience is running thin with people's complete moral laziness—which is what it is.

And before you start yelling at me, accusing me of being self-righteous and judgmental, I will say this: I am in no way trying to undermine the love of God. Believe me, I need just as much grace as anybody. However, there is a complete difference between people who know they need grace and do their best everyday to study their Bible, to live by what they know and take it to heart, and then ask God for forgiveness in ways they fall, and then there's people who completely don't care about the Bible and just pin random Christian quotes when they feel like it and pretend they're a true Christian, and you know what, their life, their morals and values and convictions, show UTTERLY OTHERWISE. And that has to stop, it really does. And it's not like it's a HARD thing to do, to develop good behavior and good morals. It simply requires your willingness to develop those things.

This generation seems to believe that we can figure this out later, that life is all about having fun, and wisdom can come later when you're an adult. Guess what? I have talked to so many adults and teachers, and there's a common theme I hear with them: they all tell me they did stupid things when they were young, that they wish they could've done differently. BUT, they also say that had it not been for those screw ups, they also probably wouldn't be where they are.

So this little quote that everyone spouts, about throwing away all your inhibitions and just living with no regrets, is so incredibly stupid. That's when you'll live with the MOST regrets. I go to school and watch people make such stupid choices every day, because they think it's fun, they're just young and free, right?

No. You're never too young to do the right thing, to develop your convictions. That's what I've learned from chatting with those adults. It's their convictions that were missing, and then they finally find them, when they're into their thirties and beyond and have fallen flat on their face due to poor choices. And don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be mean to those people. I'm sincerely thankful for their realization of that and their maturing enough to know that your bad choices can lead you to learn good. But then again, isn't it better to develop good morals NOW than live with regrets as an adult? All of our actions have life-long consequences, AND THAT IS NOT EMPHASIZED ENOUGH by Christians. We've made it all lovey-dovey: just do what you want because your works mean nothing to God anyway, and He loves you anyway.

WRONG. Even though God WILL love you no matter what, do you honestly think you're going to have a relationship with Him when you are doing absolutely nothing through your actions to live for Him? Sorry not sorry, but the quickest way to see what someone is passionate about and who they stand for is through their actions, and so if you tell me you're a Christian, but I would never know that by looking at your life, that's a problem. Because your actions DO mean a lot to God. No, they don't get you into heaven, but your action in believing in Him and repenting to Him does. And do you know what repenting means? It means that not only do you say that you're sorry for something, but you also are acknowledging that you don't want to do it anymore. So saying that you're sorry for partying last night when you're going to do it again tomorrow is ridiculous, in complete opposition to repentance. That, of course, does not mean that just because you apologize for something means you'll never do it again. Because you will; we're human, we sin. BUT IT MEANS THAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO IT AGAIN. It's not this carelessness, like thinking that it doesn't matter if I do it again because God will forgive me. No, it does matter.

God IS going to judge us BASED ON OUR ACTIONS ONE DAY (Romans 14:12). And your actions in this life DO determine your success. I have seen some of the wealthiest, seemingly most successful people engage in lives of sin behind the scenes and guess what, that crap doesn't fly forever. They get caught eventually. And don't even get me started on the mental turmoil that living in the wrong does to you.

Also, I'm a teenager, for goodness sake, so you think I would be advocating for no rules, no moral restrictions, and just complete freedom to do whatever the heck I want, right? No. Because I have seen too many kids my age who live like that, and I've HEARD of so many people who lived like that as kids, and guess what? It does them an INJUSTICE. Because then when their fun and games has ended, guess what follows? This thing called natural consequences. So no, I don't think you can stress this enough amongst teenagers. In fact, more than academic ability or anything, what I believe teenagers need to hear the most is the importance of developing good convictions and morals. THAT is how God uses you to go far in life. Your academic ability doesn't mean a dang thing if you're a spoiled brat who does whatever you want; no, kindness, respect, perseverance, all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), THOSE need to be emphasized. THOSE are how you tell where someone's heart is with God (Matthew 7:16).

So does God love you unconditionally? Of course He does. But He doesn't expect you to take advantage of that. Would you like someone to do that to you, to just take advantage of your patience and do a bunch of crap because they think you'll just forgive them anyway? Seriously, it's no different with God. That's called narcissism, people. Do you know how many narcissistic Christians I see? I doubt they're even Christians, because how can you be narcissistic and a Christian? The very essence of being a Christian is to be selfless. And that doesn't mean you are that way all of the time, but again, you strive to be.

If you love Him, your heart will echo that, resulting in you WANTING to know Him, resulting in you WANTING to please Him, resulting in you WANTING to develop good morals now.

And that is what needs to be emphasized more than your athletic ability, your academic ability: is your character ability. And as a Christian, especially, I'm not going to devalue that. Society needs good character now more than ever. I, personally, am done being lazy with mine. I had my lazy character days in fifth grade when all I would do is spread drama. While I know I still have so much to tackle (worry, lust, jealousy, doubt, just to name a few of mine) I'm not throwing in the towel and saying God will love me anyway if I forget about those. He will.

But I love Him. I want to please Him. I want to show my devotion towards Him through obeying Him, by having good character. Because that's how He'll use me to do good things for His glory, what I want more than anything.

So no. Good morals is not emphasized enough, and I'd like to make it my goal to advocate for it, through my writing, but more importantly, through the way I live and respond to God's love.

Ashlee Mae

Reflecting on My Favorite Quotes {Fulfilling Dreams}

I've already blogged about my thoughts over some of my favorite anxiety quotes. I have folders with some of my favorite quotes that I love reading that help me come up with writing themes or just are good reminders of life lessons I agree with. So today, I thought I'd go over my thoughts on some of my favorite quotes over your passions and fulfilling your dreams. I've already blogged extensively about my tips for helping you fulfill your dreams, and these quotes are the encouragement I need to go after mine. I don't have nearly as many of these as I did with anxiety, but they're short and sweet and make their point nonetheless.



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Jeremiah 29:11—never underestimate the power of this verse

My first quote talks about the importance of believing in your dreams because they have a purpose. I've wrote about that before in this post, where I talk about how your passions aren't random; you're supposed to do something with them. I get really antsy because I have a lot of passions and don't feel like I get to do much of anything with them right now. (Then again, we all know patience has never been my strong point.;) Mainly I have the passion to make a difference through writing, but it's hard to do that when you don't have a finished novel, and the one you did finish needs to be rewrote. But anyway, oftentimes that leaves me feeling really discouraged, and then I begin to wonder if those dreams and passions I have mean anything. But they do, just like yours do. So long as you're using them to do good, for the glory of God.

The other quote that I love talks about when you can't get something out of your head and it's all you think about, it is something you should work for. I really started realizing this during seventh grade, playing basketball, how I thought basketball was what I wanted, but my mind kept drfiting during practices to my blog, and my books, and all of the things I wanted to do there. With anything I do, I always think of ways to tie it in with my writing. I can never get it out of my head. Also, psychology is beginning to be like that for me, too. I hardly know anything about psychology to be honest, in terms of the science of it. I mean, I know some psychological facts, and I have read various Christian posts that go into some psychological issues, but that's probably about it. I'm taking an advanced psychology class next year though, and I can't wait for it! But anyway, there's just certain people, sometimes even people that I don't know, that I just can't get out of my head. And no, it's not just the guys I crush on, but they're there too. ;D That might sound weird, but just their stories stay with me, like I NEED to write about them and that there's something to be learned through observing other people. So usually when I have situations or people that I can't stop thinking about, I play around with different story and plot ideas and themes because maybe there's an underlying message in there that needs to be shared.

Also, a lot of quotes talk about not letting age become a factor in your dreams, regardless of how young or old you are. The truth is, if you're still alive, God has a purpose for you. In fact, I can remember back to when I was really getting into prison ministry and wondering about if even people like them had value (because society relentlessly says that they don't), and so that's actually how I learned that. There was a song I love called "Here for a Reason" by Ashes Remain, and I remember thinking how if that applies to us as Christians, that God has us here for a reason, that's true for anyone. So don't waste your life. Use your passions for His glory. No matter what you've done, or who you may be, God can still use you to do great things. That's the major takeaway here. And those shouldn't be underestimated. It's a short, simple message, but it just may be one of the most urgent ones people need to hear, that their lives do indeed have purpose, and that shouldn't be wasted on meaningless things.

Ashlee Mae

Serious Observations You Can Make at the Mall

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Of all the malls near us, I would say Jordan Creek is by far my favorite. They have the best variety of stores in my opinion, and plus I just think the overall architecture/layout of their mall is pristine and inviting. I've had good memories over the years of going shopping there with my friends and with my mom and sometimes even my grandma. And I've also noticed that every time I go there, it puts me in this weird sort of contemplative mood, maybe because there's always a bunch of people of all kinds, so it just makes me wonder about them and their stories. I actually wrote more in depth about that here.

Last month I got to go to the mall (twice!) with my mom. We went the first time as a late birthday gift, and then the second time we had to return a pair of jeans. And I realized, especially after the first time when we went and spent a full day there, that there are definitely some deep observations you can make while shopping that really says something about us as a society and as people. When I went to list out all these things, I realized that they all flow perfectly into each other, too, almost as a direct correlation.

The prices are insane.

Okay, you might be asking how this has to do with anything "deep" and that this is just my opinion, which you might be right on that part at least. But is it just me, or have prices for clothes seem to have steadily gone up? Or have I just been living under a rock...? I don't know, I just remember that when I was younger, Under Armour hoodies were all the rage and "the" thing to get, and they were regarded as expensive. I can't even remember how much they cost—wasn't it somewhere from $40 to $60? Well, then you grow up and you see they're making simple tees and blouses for that kind of money, and jeans/dress pants are STARTING at $60 (there are some stores that have them for less...I've had to look for them though, but that could also be due to the fact that I read fashion blogs). Or now to buy one bra, that alone is almost $60?

I actually do think this leads deeper than it sounds, though. In business class, we learned about standards of living and how the United States has one of the highest. I'm by no means an expert on these things, but it makes me wonder if that really says something about us as a spoiled nation. Regardless, it's not too hard to see that titles (including clothing stores) and money and THINGS mean everything to so many people. I mean, when you go to a clothing store like Express, and say you want to buy one outfit for work or school: a nice blouse, dress pants, and maybe a pair of plain flats. That would EASILY cost you over $100. For ONE outfit. I seriously feel like I could go to the mall, spend $200, and feel like I haven't bought much of anything in the long run because that's how fast things add up. Granted, it all depends on where you buy things, but this is definitely a trend I'm seeing in a lot of fashion stores, and even if people can't buy from those places, it seems to be an unwritten rule that they should be able to, that that's the thing to do to establish yourself.

I've also witnessed this through reading fashion blogs. I usually don't have anything against them, but sometimes I even wonder about those. This sounds rude, and it's none of my business, but after seeing them post daily about outfits where one shirt could cost maybe $200 alone, and as far as I can see they don't have a prestigious money-making job, it really begs the question: where the HECK do you get this?!

But people are obsessed with stuff. And I like clothes just as much as anybody else and maybe then some, but I'm also content after I come home from a day at the mall and don't feel the need to go on "splurges" and "sprees" every dang day like I KNOW many people do. And there IS a psychological reason for that, despite what they may tell you. I'll address it later in this post, but this all leads me to...

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People are just filling voids.

If you go to the mall, it can be so overwhelming. Take one of my favorite stores Express for example. We had to go there first on our trip to the mall because I had gotten a pair of dress pants that didn't fit and needed to be returned. I looked around for awhile of course—it IS my favorite store—and honestly, it kind of made me frazzled. Why? There was just so much stuff. Everywhere. It was claustrophobic and, even more than that, plain overwhelming. It's like, where do you look first? The walls are filled with stuff, and so are the center places of the stores, which is why there's hardly no place to walk and especially if the mall is busy. I honestly try to make the rounds at my favorite stores, but sometimes I just feel like I'm walking in circles and haven't even looked at anything because that's how overwhelming it can be.

Anyway, there is a multitude of clothes to the point where you don't even know where to start. But more than that, don't even get me started on the advertisements and all the sales that are specifically designed to sell more stuff, to lure you in some other way. And if you go the mall, you see people falling for it alllll the time. And look, it's not necessarily BAD to do that; I love taking advantage of sales. I just got these expensive sandals that were half off so they actually ended up being priced like "normal." But again, I'm sure you can tell that there's a difference between people who spend time at the mall to hang out or just to look around and go when they have some extra money to spend. And then there's the people who go all of the time as a means of escape, who shop like their life depends on it and believe in their mind that they NEED these things, and spend money on credit cards and rack up the bills on stuff they may want but don't need. And it's not bad to buy things you want, but to these types of people, in their minds, it is a need. It's like they can't go without buying things; it's become a means of gratification that they have to have in order to be happy.

But it won't make you happy. All it is is simply a temporary high. And there's tons of common things like that, that people think, oh this is the meaning of life!!! Take travel, for example. Again, travel? Not a bad thing. I have my own yearnings to travel and explore one day, but just like with shopping, there are people who do this like their life depends on it. In fact, it's almost becoming a cliche pattern I keep seeing. It's (typically) these teen or young girls who are in college, or young and around that age, and they try to feign it as oh, it's just my zest for life, or travel is what brings me happiness, and life is made through travel. And I completely disagree with all of those things. If you MUST travel to be happy, it's not your longing for adventure, it's your need for escape and a better reality. If you have deep longings in your heart that aren't being met by other things, then traveling to the opposite side of the world isn't going to change that. I understand that travel is fun, but ANYTHING can be turned into an addiction—especially hobbies, if you're not careful. Because when you feel like you have to spend your whole life traveling and can't be content unless you've gone here, been there, etc.? That's a mental problem, a happiness problem.

And I don't say that to be mean. I know this, because I've had to experience it myself. I have times where I get so discontent, and guess what happens? I think I NEED to travel or NEED to go shopping. When I'm trusting God and turning to Him with my desires, I still want to travel and shop, but it's not that restless, get me the heck out of here now sort of feeling. Because that goes much deeper, it goes to your soul, and your mind, and who you are psychologically as a person. You're not born with the need to travel or shop 24/7. Neither of those are basic human needs (which is why it irritates me when people act like these are the ways you find happiness). You're born into sin, which can result in a restlessness that makes your heart learn to go find something—anything—to satisfy it. And that's fine if you're going to God and the healthy things He's put in your life. It turns into an addiction when you place all of those expectations on buying things, going here, or attending this sporting event, etc.

That's a serious, major problem that I have seen so many people fall into. And then you wonder why this country has such insane mental health rates. I mean, that's really ironic, isn't it? We have more than any nation in the world, and yet we're the most unhappy. We have too many toys, plain and simple. Too many distractions. And I'm not advocating that we take all of that away—I'm beyond grateful for all of the wonderful opportunities we have. But humans are fragile. If we don't know God, and don't have strong convictions and moral values, it's all too easy to slide into the slope of discontentment, which this nation is very much so doing. Cue the spoiled brat mentality. That's why it all comes down to being grateful for what you have and learning that you DO NOT NEED TO TRAVEL, SHOP, OR DO ANYTHING to be happy EXCEPT KNOW JESUS (John 6:35; John 10:10). If you look at those two verses, it will show you that God is not by any means against your happiness. But there is a deep issue when that happiness is not met through Him and you look to the THINGS instead of the One who gives the things.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
— Romans 1:25 NIV

And thankfully, my mom and I have realized this. And oh, that doesn't mean we're perfectly happy every day, or that we never have days where we want more. But by knowing God over the years, you start realizing that once you start straying, something is missing. And then you're like, oh yeah, that's Him. Because the things He gives us—while good and things we should be thankful for—are still never designed to take His place. And at the end of the day, Mom and I are DONE with shopping. There is a point where it's just old, you need a break. It won't meet your happiness needs forever. That's why you enjoy it for what it is, never letting it take God—and God alone's place.

Also, this is completely not serious unless you're as serious about consuming all of the junk food you possibly can like me: I've already blogged about Chick-fil-A before and how I'd never had them before, and prior to that blog post I never ate there again because we have none nearby. But I got to at the mall! It was even better than I remembered. There was also this ice cream place near the food court that served some of the best ice cream I've ever tasted in my life. And trust me, I would know, I've only consumed ~16495 and counting of different ice cream related things!

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I also thought this could tie in well with this post: I never did recap what it was like going to an Iowa State Cyclones football game. Well, it was truly unlike anything I'd seen before. Maybe I need to get out more, but really, I've never seen so many people like that compacted into one area, everyone literally ecstatic over a football game. And it also shocked me by the demographics, too. You would think there would be mostly college students, since it is Iowa State, and there were a lot of them. But there was also an overwhelming number of older people. Like I would bet people way into their forties, fifties, sixties, and maybe even then some. And they are just as hardcore as the college students...

And again, don't tell me that those reasons aren't directly linked to the ones I outlined up above. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the whole entertainment industry is just flooded with people trying to live out their false dreamlands. And again, I have nothing against going to a football game. I really enjoyed the game. I've always liked the Cyclones, so it was a fun experience. But it just makes you wonder, when you see forty to fifty some year olds tailgating, partying and drinking like they're 21... It's like, really, when is it time to grow up?

But I did enjoy the game. I would go again, but I would probably wait until the weather was decent, because when we went, it was so cold it hurt.

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All of this is to say that none of these things on their own are bad. I love to watch movies, to go shopping, to travel, and do all those things. A lot. But there have been times where I've caught myself just doing or wanting those things because I want to escape from some reality, either circumstantial or mental. And I've even seen how futile my attempts at doing that have been—you'd save yourself a lot of heartache if you just went to God first, and then those things are put in their proper context and can be enjoyed that much more. He even says to delight yourself in Him, and then He'll give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). But that's also not a checklist. So many people treat that as like, okay let's go to church on Sunday and get trashed on Monday, etc. TRULY and AUTHENTICALLY delight yourself in God because of WHO HE IS and HOW HE DESERVES IT, and THEN the desires get added. Because trust me, if you're just treating it as a checklist and the relationship isn't in your heart, I promise you won't be happy, and you won't get the desires of your heart, either. Oh, you might try, but it won't work—the depravity will still be there.

I think that's something we need to be more conscious about as a society. People say to leave God out of it, but it's like, where has leaving Him out gotten us? A whole bunch of bad things skyrocketing. There is such a thing as having too much stuff where it can harm you mentally. Look at celebrities. Very rarely do I hear of them having happy lives. They might say they are, but big whoop, anyone can say they're happy when they're really dying on the inside. Seriously, because then look at how most of them end up: in rehab, in jail, or dead, because they committed suicide or engaged in too much partying, etc. And that really is unfortunate. You would think people like them would be happy, right? Wrong. Humans aren't designed for as much stuff as we have, I honestly believe that. Like social media? The more I think about it, I just think that's a psychological mess we've gotten ourselves into by creating that, and we'll probably, well, already are, seeing consequences for it already. That's why God warns about money so much, too, and pursuing riches (1 Timothy 6:10). It's not that having money is bad. It's just that most people get so caught up in pursuing it or using it that they completely lose themselves in it, and it's the same with ALL of these things.

Above all, knowing Jesus and relying on Him alone is the key. We have to know Jesus authentically so that when we do get off track, He's there to hold us accountable. We need Him, and we weren't designed to live without Him, I don't care what anyone else says. One look at our culture tells you all you need to know about how well leaving Him out has gotten us. I agree wholeheartedly with 2 Chronicles 7:14: it's time for us to humble ourselves and get real, and turn back to the One who we were designed to live for.

Ashlee Mae

Details on My Second Novel

Okay guys—I finally want to share a little bit of info on my next novel before (a) I forget to in the midst of a disorganized mess of blog post ideas I have and (b) so that if I become a little less active on this blog from here to the end of school, it's probably because I'm devoting more time to working on it. It's really hard to balance writing both a blog and a novel while also having school to do. Let's just say I'm counting down the days for this school year...

We should probably start with how I selected this next story. It's kind of funny, really. I planned on writing a completely different story than this one for my second novel but eventually decided against that one for the time being, just because I thought it had themes that were redundant in literally tons of books and were too cliche. I CAN think of themes that nobody has hit on that I'm dying for them to, or if they attempted to try and address a theme I wanted them to (and I have read stories that tried) I wasn't satisfied with it. Mainly because I thought they could go way deeper, which it seemed like they were afraid to do. Well, lucky for you all, I'm not afraid to go really deep in my writing (because I promised I don't write fluff...), so my stories may be quite depressing. ;) No, just kidding, kind of. I try to have a balance. Like anything I do, I want my stories to be authentic. But you have to be willing to dive deep to make that happen. To ask the hard questions that you may not even have answers to.

But I never planned for this grand, deep novel when I wrote a scene for it. Actually, I wrote the first scene for it—which was actually the beginning of the climax in the plot—on my way up to Estherville for Thanksgiving in 2016, and yes, I blogged about that! I even blogged about me writing on the way—it's all in this post. At the time, it seriously meant nothing to me. It was just a short scene I was doing because, well, I was bored, and I was taking an online writing class, so I wanted to get some practice in, and then remember how in that post it said the rain was relentless and my mom was having a fit about it? So I just wrote a scene about that. When Mom found that out, she wasn't the happiest at being in my book, but I assured her that it wasn't really her, just the hot male lead, so she had nothing to worry about!

That's where it began. I didn't have any intentions of continuing it. But then we had a big writing project in English class (!!! my faves !!!), and for part of mine I did a short story. I decided to elaborate on what I'd wrote, but go back to more like the rising action. I think our word target for the short story was somewhere around 700-900 maybe? So I created a plot outline just for a chunk of the story, thinking it would just be a short story. I think I planned out nine chapters, and then I saw the word count for my plot outline was over 1000 words... So I wrote out all the chapters into a continuation, which my teacher also read and left me much appreciated feedback, and honestly that was what inspired me to turn it into a whole novel. I knew there was a lot of themes I could pack into just a single story, and they just kept coming to me with time. So here we are.

As far as the actual writing process with this one, it's been a pain, to say the least. I don't know why. I don't remember having this much trouble with my first novel, maybe because I knew that was my first one, so I didn't have expectations? But it was GOOD that way—it created one of the rawest pieces I've ever wrote, despite its seemingly endless imperfections (ugh...querying...don't ask...we're a long ways from there). But now with this one, I am overthinking it so badly; it's driving me insane. I'm trying to drill it into my raging perfectionist mind that rough drafts are supposed to suck, but I don't know if it's working. I started the rough draft sometime around the beginning of freshman year, and then somewhere around the new year, scrapped the whole thing—all 30,000 words. And I started over. But that is good, because I could tell I was trying too hard, and it was killing my story—it didn't have the authentic, easy flow to it that it has now. I have 10,000 words currently—this last trimester of school has been killing me, so I'm hoping this summer I can take off with it.

It's funny because I just took a shower and am pretty sure I just thought up the entire ending to this novel now—because normally I wait to come up with my endings. Oh, the life of a writer.

For right now, this is all the details I can share, but if you have any questions about this book or my writing or process or anything like that, then feel free to leave a comment below, or you can ask me on my FAQs page or contact me here, if you prefer. I'm happy to answer questions and may do more blog posts along these lines in the future if that's an interest! Thank you all!

Ashlee Mae

My Happy Place {Estherville, Iowa}

Life is all about perspective. And it's funny to see how one thing could mean the world to somebody and then to somebody else mean nothing. Because it's all about how you see certain things. A prime example of this is the small town my grandparents live in. To so many people it's just a town, and many times not a good town, but to me, it's like my happy place. I have so many memories there. Going there to see my grandparents was always an adventure, and I always looked forward to it. In a strange way, as we'd drive past the "Estherville" sign, it was almost like coming home. To my home away from home. And when you leave, it's always bittersweet, and you're full of the memories and the happiness and counting down until the next visit.

These memories in this town have ultimately made a major contribution into who I am today, and you can bet that this town will show up in one—or a lot, lot more as of my current queue—of my stories, whoops. I even have a playlist on Spotify titled "Estherville," and it contains all of the songs that remind me of that town when I need to be in a mood to either write about it or just want to reminisce. It's hard to put in words the feelings I have in my heart towards a specific place and the memories made there. That sounds cheesy, but it's true :) I mean, how can you describe the symbolic meaning that something has in your heart that you know isn't true for everyone? I suppose that's my job to figure out. I'll attempt to here.

I've taken quite the amount of photos over the years of this town and doing things here. It's cool to look back because I've taken pictures of specific places in town over time, so then I end up having a collection of photos of this specific place or doing this certain thing. You can see some of the highlights and what they have meant to me below...

The Car Rides

First of all, Estherville carries with it a lengthy drive for us, around four hours away (I used that as context for how long it took me to take a practice SAT this year...) My family has had fun memories of trips up in the past—in fact, I've actually blogged about that before!

*click on the images and hover over them for full captions


Meeting Gramps and Grams

Sometimes my mom and I will meet my grandparents halfway somewhere when I'm going to stay by myself for awhile. The two hours with Mom always flies because we're in deep discussion the entire way. And then getting to see Gramps and Grams and get pictures (in the same spot no less!) is fun and even better to look back on. I love it when we get to eat out, too ;)


Disappearing Under the Horizon

Going along with above, Gramps and Grams will then get me where we'll proceed to the interstate, and then Mom goes over a bridge where she eventually will fade out of sight, but it's kind of a bittersweet feeling watching that. We always pray for safe travels and good times, and God has delivered.


Sparky's

Continued from above, Sparky's is the rest area that's become tradition to stop at.


The "Estherville" Sign

One of the first things that greets us when coming back, it's definitely become special and significant. Whenever we see the sign, that relieving feeling of "yay, we're here!" sets in. It's that heartwarming coming home feeling. And it's bittersweet to leave it. (I actually think it sucks to leave, but then my parents get all sad because they think I don't like going home, WHICH I DO LIKE MY HOME, but it's always sad when you have to leave another meaningful part of your life.)


Staying Up Late

Okay first things first when in Estherville you always stay up until twelve in the morning at the earliest and drive Grams insane. I have the best memories of this, of chatting with my cousin on Facebook while Grandma yells at us both go to bed, chatting with another cousin over FaceTime about the BEST topics ever (:D) while Grandma yells at both of us to go to bed. Reading with another cousin and browsing the internet until Grandma yells at us to go to bed. What would she do without us? But to be fair, in this photo I was actually exhausted at midnight, because I was staying with them for a week and missing a week of school, SO I was exhausted from Friday's waking up at a very ungodly time in the morning. And to my shock, Grandma was like, okay we'll go to bed in a minute but I'm going to finish playing Cookie Jam first. ONE HOUR LATER... I couldn't say I was upset, though. I was actually pretty impressed.

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Grandpa and Grandma's house is large enough that there are multiple rooms (they had four kids after all), and so "our room" is the only one besides Grandma's that is downstairs, and it happens to be by their busy street. I always sleep by the window, so staying up late, I have fun creeping out the window on people and just gazing up at the peaceful dark sky that peeks out through Grandpa's large trees in his yard to see the sparkling stars. You also hear EVERYTHING in that room, like motorcycles at two in the morning...


The Des Moines River

The Des Moines river runs through part of downtown Estherville. I think it's one of the town's best features; there's the Swinging Bridge that stretches above it, the Rock Garden, which is beautiful, and just recently they added a walking trail that goes alongside it and by both the Rock Garden and Swinging Bridge. Keep reading to see more on all of those, too.


Recreational Trail

Recently, they added a new trail downtown that stretches along the river and goes under the main bridge downtown. The trees nearby are also beautiful, and I love walking it! My cousins have also walked it, and it's fun to walk it near sunset, too, when you can see the lights from downtown.


The Swinging Bridge

You can walk over this bridge that goes over the river, and it's a lot of fun, something we've enjoyed doing over the years. There's supposed to be lights on it at night, and one time I got to see that. It was gorgeous watching them twinkle against the night sky and hearing the rapid current below. My grandpa and I loved that. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the lights on it since. Maybe somebody vandalized it? I'm not sure...


The Rock Garden

This is as it says and is a beautiful mini paradise right along the Des Moines River that runs through the downtown. Many vibrant flowers make up the area as well as the rock trails and steps. It's a great place to hang out around, relax in, and definitely to take pictures in!!


Fort Defiance

Fort Defiance is a gorgeous state park that is on the outskirts of town. Estherville is in a valley when you see it from this view, and the view at Fort Defiance is gorgeous. It's definitely been a favorite for us over the years, going for rides and just sitting and talking on the bench. One time, we encountered these shady people and almost ended up in a scary situation when it was Gramps and all us grandkids going for a ride. That only happened once though, but it definitely goes to show you that when you're in a secluded area like that, you should never go alone. And then on a lighter, more hilarious note, one time we saw these kids in a car doing some rather, well, interesting things, we can assume. I'll let you use your imagination on that. I promise it's usually not that eventful, that's why I took note of the events above haha.


Eating Out

The activity I do the most in Estherville is eat out, and if you've been around this blog for any length of time I'm sure you're not at all surprised by this ;) There was a week I spent by myself up with my grandparents just a year ago actually (even that feels surreal), and you know what, we ate out at least once every single day. The first day we met halfway for my grandparents to pick me up and we ate with my mom at McDonald's, then the next day we ate at Subway (see, we do have a little bit of healthy in the mix), then a Mexican restaurant, Dairy Queen and Hardee's (in the same day!), Dairy Queen again, McDonald's, and Godfather's. There was a grand total of one day where we didn't eat out.

Now when I come visit, I go on "streaks" of eating out, which basically is like the Estherville version of a Freshman 15 where every day we have to eat out somewhere. That's probably not the best thing I could've started, but I'm enjoying it very much... Honestly, if you want to run into me in Estherville, you should go to one of the fast food restaurants or other places where they serve food. I'll probably be there at least once, if not several times, a day! :D


Going for Walks

I've had a blast making memories just by simply going for walks around town with Grandma. I think she enjoys those about as much as she does staying up until midnight ;) But we actually do have a good time, and we get to talk about life and get real and deep, which is what I love the most. One time when I was really little, we walked around the block with my mom, and it began to rain, and my mom ditched my grandma and me as she ran back... Hahaha good times! Walking under the sunset is also one of my favorites. I remember walking over to the cemetery nearby around dusk a lot; I wish I could remember what we talked about for sure, but going for walks has always been fun.

And then in the summer of '15 I got the brilliant idea to walk downtown to Casey's to buy donuts! See, you can walk off calories as you're consuming them. Read ALL about that here!!!


Food

So in addition to eating out streaks, it's also tradition to eat as much junk as possible, which I also love and shouldn't probably. We get McFlurries ALL THE TIME, as well as walking to get donuts. And then there's chips and frozen dinners and it's wonderful....


Shopping

Estherville doesn't have a vast array of stores for shopping, but there's a cute consignment shop with great deals on fashions for both men and women in excellent shape. There's also a boutique that is a lot pricier, where I got my adorable ELC pullover! I love their clothes; I just need a credit card to splurge there, though, haha.


Bike Rides

One of my favorite memories is going for bike rides with my Gramps. My Grams has tried to come with me, but one time coming up their steep driveway she fell off her bike and tumbled over. So that was the end of that! But Grandpa and I have so many wonderful memories of going biking together. He has two beautiful bikes: one for him and a new purple one he got a few years ago for me. We have our usual route that I basically know by heart, but sometimes we also try new ones. One time we went up a steep hill by the hospital—that was a mistake! More like a good workout and not the leisurely route we take. (Grandpa almost died going down a road from the hospital one time—read that here.) My brother and I have also gone for rides together, which is fun getting to hang out as we ride up and down the streets or around the block. My cousins have also enjoyed that, too. There's a big valley across the street, and I remember sometimes we'd have a blast riding down it, trying to get enough speed to accelerate back up.


In the Wintertime

My grandparents decorate their home beautifully for Christmas, and the town does an awesome job as well. The center of town looks gorgeous during Christmas—every building has lights, and there's a tree hanging from above in the center square. It definitely makes the town feel that much more welcoming when coming home for the holidays.


Going for Rides Around Town

Grandpa loves to take us for rides around the town and out in the countryside encircling it. I really think Estherville is so pretty, and the sunsets and skylines are breathtaking. It's a classic small town, and I love riding around it! My cousins do, too, and whenever Grandpa and Grandma have visitors, sometimes we even take them for rides and give them the whole tour. We have plenty of inside jokes that I probably can't put on here though (Grandpa you know these... :) These are some of my favorite memories. Plus Grandma and I go for rides by ourselves sometimes and have had some pretty heartfelt talks, too. In fact, we've figured out that she can't talk and drive, or else she slows way down and has a parade of cars behind her... And then she's like, "Oh my garsh! I need to speed up!" Oh, I laughed just writing that.


Stormy Weather

I love weather and storms. I don't know why, but I totally geek out over it. One time as a kid, I had to go in my grandparents' basement for a tornado warning, but nothing happened thankfully. (And Grandpa stood upstairs watching outside hahaha) That's the only major weather event I can think of. Well, and that time we had a major storm, and the next day Grandpa was picking up sticks while Grams and I were walking home from Casey's, and he cut his arm open on one of the sticks. Read about that here!


Reading

I have the best memories of just relaxing with a good book and devouring it in a day. As a kid, I have old journals documenting that I did that. I love sitting on their comfy couch while I read in the comfort of their living room. It's also fun to go nearby to Spirit Lake to their Walmart and see if they have any books of interest. Then of course I don't let Grandma go to sleep until the whole book is done ;) When I was younger, I used to love going to their library, which is beautiful in a timeless fashion.


Writing and Journaling

Of course, I've spent a ton of time writing up there. My journals from when I was really young back up how special this town and time with my grandparents has always been to me. I would always love going to their Dollar Store, which used to be at a different location from where it is now, and I knew exactly where all the stationary was, and that's always where I went. I have this lengthy, cringeworthy story I wrote in one of the journals I got so long ago. It's kind of a cute story, though, especially since I tried my best to integrate my faith into it at eight, seven, nine years old—somewhere around there. And don't get me started on my memories of blogging up there. I kept Grams up late writing a letter to my future husband, and we obviously can't forget my first hiatus and how obnoxious I was when I launched my site again while eating lasagna!


Coloring

Okay I totally threw this one on for Grandma's benefit as she colors 24/7 (while simultaneously talking on the phone 24/7 haha). I have colored with her like, once, and for me the routine is that I color for approximately ten minutes with all of her pink gel pens (I'm obsessed with both of those things so I finally caved after she begged me to color) and then I get bored/impatient/both and doodle, and then I quit. :) The end.


Games

We also love to play games, from card games to basketball out in Grandpa's court. Those are also things I've grown up doing. Grandpa is hilarious to play games with; he really gets into it, to say the least. One time we were playing 31 with my cousin and her friend at around eleven at night, and we were talking about scary stories and creepy things that have happened like murders, you know, those topics that are great to talk about at eleven at night. And my dad was over at a sprint car race, and usually he doesn't come home until midnight or so. Grandpa and Grandma's doorbell was almost breaking, too, and so it just made this low, dragged out tune like something you'd hear in a haunted mansion during a horror movie. So Dad comes home early with none of us expecting him, and that doorbell rings because we had the door locked not knowing he was coming back early, and since our previous discussion consisted of creepy unsolved mysteries, we all just fall out of our chairs. Good times!


Faith

Of course, my faith has been matured a lot, even in this town with my grandparents. I've gone to my grandparents' church before, but it's beyond even that. It's getting to witness the godly examples and hearing my grandma's wisdom. She has inspired me to be a better person and has been the perfect listener to me over the years. I thank God for both of my grandparents being there for me. There were even times where I was depressed in Estherville—not from being there, but just from life in general. But God is faithful, never leaving me that way. So I learned and grew from it, and I've learned a lot from being there over the years.


My Grandparents

Obviously the main thing, if it weren't for my grandparents and the way they've taken care of me and spoiled me and been my second parents essentially, this town wouldn't mean nearly as much. But because of them, it'll be in my heart permanently. They've supported me and prayed for me and always been there for as long as I can remember, which my old diaries prove. God uses grandparents for a special purpose in a teen's life, and I can't thank them enough for having their place in mine.


I also have always loved the anticipation of getting to come to Estherville. It was never something to dread but always something to look forward to. Last Thanksgiving we left after school, and during that morning my mom sent me this:

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And then upon arrival, there's always this sense of calmness and serenity, like oh, we're home—it's home away from home. :)

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Also deserves an honorary mention:

There was this game I used to play ALLLL THE TIME when I was a kid, like when I was in middle school. And then I shortly grew out of it towards the upper years. It was a moviestar game, and it was really fun because you got to be creative in designing your person, creating outfits, your room, and you could make movies that were more like episodes in a TV show. I have SO many good memories playing that game with one of my good friends. And I remember when I first started in, like, fourth grade I believe, that was when Grandpa and Grandma didn't have WiFi (shock), so we would go to their library where my brother and I would play it on their computers. But then they got internet and I had a laptop from school, so I played it whenever I came up.

Oh, and don't forget music. When I first got my iPod in Christmas 2012, the three of us went up for Christmas, and this was back when Iowa did what it was supposed to in December and actually looked like a winter wonderland. Well, I listened to my new One Direction album the WHOLE way up (they were all the rage then and I LOVED THEM and had SUCH a crush on Harry Styles). I still listen to them even now—I just love their voices. And then there's all the country music we've listened to on rides in Gramps' cars (we always change it to the Highway for more modern songs haha), and there's also some pop songs I grew to like from listening to the hits on the radio I make Grandma have for me. :)

Previous posts on Estherville:

Spring Break & Everything Else

What I've Been Up To

Back Home and How Are You, Dreams?

On Letting God

The Things You Don't Forget

Wow, there is my book on Estherville. The funny thing is, I feel like this post has hardly scratched the surface of all my memories and the significance of this town in my life. That's why I'll be writing novels about it! Haha okay I will do my best to keep them diverse, but you'll definitely see glimpses of it and possibly more than that in a couple stories. Another thing I didn't touch on in this post was Okoboji, a major tourist attraction in Iowa with the lakes. We take that for granted almost because it's less than twenty minutes away. We hang out over there a lot, too, and have our favorites there. I could do a post on that, too, although it doesn't have quite as much sentimentality attached to it as Estherville, but it also definitely has created a lot of special memories.

Thank you so much for reading this long post, if you made it this far. I'm genuinely interested to know if any of you have special places or anything like this that sparks such vivid memories, that has been a key role in your development as a person not just physically, but psychologically, too. Leave a comment and let me know if so. This is why I think writing is so fascinating, too—nobody has a story like mine, and I don't have a story like yours. We all have unique features, places, people, and events that have shaped and molded us, for better or worse. Trying to tell the stories of different people is truly amazing, and it all leads back to God. I thank Him for this town and the memories I've made here and how, ultimately, it's all brought me closer to Him.

Ashlee Mae