Advent: Peace & Joy (Plus, Once Upon a Time when I set Goals)

When I was younger, I set goals. Quarterly goals, annual goals, five-year plans, ten-year plans, strategies for my career, for ending a global injustice, you get the idea. I wish some of my new friends knew me back when I did SWOT analysis, developed proposals, and strategic presentations AND THEN DID ALL THE DOGGONE THANGS LIKE IT WASN’T NOTHING.

Because now, I have real life goals, like: Take a shower. Go to the bathroom by myself. Do something decent today. Don’t lose it on the train during rush hour. Stop binge watching the Crown Season Two, and catching up on Blue Bloods, and go to bed for the love of all things sacred and holy.

Ugh. Life. 

Anywho, a few years back, my sister Harmony, who accomplishes an insane amount of things DAILY ALL THE TIME, decided to set “being” goals, instead of “doing” goals. I loved that, and have adopted it for myself. I no longer have “doing” goals; I have “being” goals. What kind of person do I want to be? How can I live that out on a daily basis, with God, and with others? And I trust that this will inform my habits, direction, relationships and accomplishments.

A few of my life-long commitments (#goals) have been decided based on who I am, and who I hope to become. I want to remain honest, richly connected and obnoxiously in love with my husband until death do us part. I want us to raise our children to be contributing citizens and justice-minded men, who are aware of the diverse world around them. I want to remain in a community of faith as long as there is breath in my lungs. I want to love our family, and keep my friends forever, while creating space for more people in our lives. I hope to re-center our lives around the table, and keeping an open door policy in our home. I want to write books, write for more magazines, and continue to teach and preach the word of God. And I still want to see the end of mass incarceration in my lifetime, and continue to fight human trafficking locally through Treasures, the non-profit near and dear to my heart.

I have a hopeful expectation that all of this is possible, even though I don’t have quarterly goals for every area posted around the house. But in order to do this, I’ve had to continually let go of striving, proving myself, and pleasing people, so that I can thoughtfully, and intentionally, choose my pursuits from a place of rest, humility, and confidence. As I wrote in last week’s blog, we are practicing Advent this year – nothing complicated – just a daily reading, while also pondering the weekly focus. The intentional meditation of week one is hope, week two is peace, and week three (this week) is joy.

Starting over again in a new city, new church, new community has tested my rest, humility and confidence. It’s way too easy to strive, to prove myself, to please people, without having the deep roots of time and being known. What I have loved most about this Advent season is the stilling of my heart and mind, in the presence of Christ, and with others, and the opportunity to cease striving, and enter God’s rest, to wait on Him to come, to arrive, to deliver, to help me return to what I know is tried and true, to ease and grace. As I wait in Christ, for the richness of relationship with Him to transfer into the newness of my relationships, He helps me overcome the temptation to compete and worry, to battle the culture of consumerism and greed, to take my place instead of fight for my place, to speak when it’s appropriate and to shut up when it’s not. (I got a long way to go here, you feel me?) He is my joy, when this world offers me injustice and sorrow. He is a place of peace, when the world around me presses me to live anxiously, or scares me with it’s impossible standards. He is my place of rest, and ultimately He (not my goals) is my hopeful expectation.

So much of life is managing our expectations and disappointments. I wish this wasn’t true beloved, but it is the human experience, and if we are paying attention to the humanity written in the Bible, the stories of Joseph, Deborah, Tamar, Esther, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Peter, Mary, and even Jesus, tell us this is so. But, what they also reveal, is a community of people bonded in their suffering, and consumed with Hope, and always, always, a way forward through every challenge, and every disappointment. They knew where to place their ache, and their unfulfilled longing – in Christ – rather than in their circumstances.

As you finish 2017 (Boy, BYE), I pray your heart is filled again with peace, and with joy. That no matter what you are facing, you are filled with hope for what is ahead. It may not look the way we thought, but that has never stopped a hero of the faith before. Carry on, dear friend. Courage is required; still, there are beautiful days ahead.

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12


Hey there fellow truth-teller, welcome to our community. I'm so glad you're here. I love to help people take their mask off and tell the truth, and I believe the world needs what you have to give. I write books and blogs, live in Harlem, New York, with my hubby, and two rambunctious boys.


  • Wow beautiful. Thank you, I needed this. You are making a difference, in peace, while not striving, and showing others how Jesus lived and the words He spoke that direct our lives. Love you.

  • I needed that too! It’s been a season of transition for us, and my constant question has been, “What do you want us to next, Lord?” Not a bad question, but He has been answering with “Let me teach you a few things about being for Me, not doing for Me.” Very frustrating, for me the Do-er!! So thanks for the reminder, it’s a great way to start my day! Merry Christmas 😊

  • SO well written and honest and kind and humorous as usual, Ashley. The challenge to BE instead of DO resonates deeply with me. Just when I think I have learned so much about it, I catch myself getting sucked in again and needing to “…continually let go of striving, proving myself, and pleasing people”!
    YIKES are you IN my head?? 😉
    And YES, so much of life is managing our expectations and disappointments. Sometimes I have to really remember about Jesus’ time in the dessert to remind myself HE too had all the emotions. HE gets me, HE can help me when the FEELS are all moving about in me and I cannot find stillness or rest. Thank you for you for sharing your essay and wisdom. Forever grateful for you.

  • Thanks for this Ashley. I have been focusing a lot on ‘ being’ than ‘doing’ this season. God has really impressed upon my heart to just be and stop running around like a headless chicken! Reading your article today was soothing, reassuring and made me smile and nod in kindred spirit.

    I have a question for you on marriage since you absolutely adore your husband and I want to get there. How do I keep loving my husband and not being angry when he is always preoccupied with his projects and writings and I feel he is not connecting with me. I am tired of saying “I miss you”. Advice?

  • being” goals, instead of doing goals.” Love that and want that for myself too. So timely especially now that I am about to embark on a new journey. Thanks for sharing.

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