If you'd prefer to hear a recording of these words (as an introduction to the service), it has been posted here, along with my dad's words and a message by Ross Strader, here.
The number of people at the visitation, funeral, and celebration service and the resolution with which they were present testifies to who Ashley was. She is loved, and not casually; she loved, and with great intentionality.
I'm blessed to be able to reflect on a lifetime of memories with and of her.
I recall frying eggs on a hot Texas sidewalk together. We dug together to discover, package, and then attempt to sell the amazing, patent-pending, 'sticky-stuff' – which we later learned was just natural, East Texas clay. My older sister taught me how to be curious.
I remember hundreds of hours together in an old, red Suburban driving across the country on family vacations. We learned that sleeping on rumbling floorboards was the best sleep attainable. We learned that Dairy Queens were more valuable for the rare Q on the sign for our alphabet game, than the food inside. We learned every character and storyline to 'Adventures in Odyssey', and well into our twenties could recall the tape cassette's flip-side episode to almost any named. We made drip sandcastles with intricate aquifer and irrigation systems, marveling at our Dad's ability to move massive quantities of sand. We oohed and ahhed at lightning over the ocean and our Mom's ability to catch it in stunning photographs.
We discovered mud pots and geysers at Yellowstone, learned to pull for the 'horns at home games in Austin, and later unlearned that dirty habit at tailgates in College Station. We adventured through the eye of a hurricane near Pensacola. We sang underwater-style at Pine Cove Family Camps. We caught fish with a simple bamboo pole on a old pier in Tyler. We spied on those below from our favorite Mimosa tree. We picnicked in our front yard at Home. We played countless games of balloon volleyball in our living room. Ashley grew up in a family where we had fun together, a family that relishes time together – and enjoyed lots of it.
She met and married Travis and they didn't skip a beat in creating a lifetime of memories for themselves. I know they have their own list of thousands of memories as a family, with Mom right in the center, in huge part because mom was simply one of a kind. She wanted to put home cooked meals on the table, with produce from her own garden. She wanted a big family. She wanted to have a husband who pursued a fulfilling career. She wanted to invest personally in each of her children's educations from home and spend every second with them she could, making every day special.
So she did.
Ashley didn't make excuses, or wait for convenience to usher in her dreams.
I reflect, and I realize that I have a wildly disproportionate amount of memories with her for the time I had with her. I would wager that if you knew her, you feel the same way. This is because of who she was – she lived generously in her relationships; she never held back.
And this is why we mourn her loss. This why our tears come so easily. We want more! Ashely made our lives wealthy in love, wealthy in memories, and we're poorer without her here. Ashley being gone leaves a huge void; but I am thankful it is a positive one, not one with regret. I'm thankful that these tears are tears of Love. That these cries are cries with Joy. That the long sighs are filled with Peace. Our mourning is the fruit of a life... well lived.
As we laid in bed a few nights ago, my wife, Julie, quietly reflected that she was glad we all got to share a 4 generation, 4 family trip to Colorado last summer. Glad we decided to splurge to get Ashely a Christmas gift a few years ago that she had always wanted and has enjoyed so much. Glad that a day-long trip to the spa for Ashley, Mom, and Julie was able to happen last year. At that moment, a thousand swirling thoughts, memories, and emotions all came together for me.
I'm grateful we weren't stopped from playing when we got sticky and muddy, or when we tasted that sidewalk egg. I'm grateful vacation time and budgets were unknowingly sacrificed and squeezed so that we got time together on trips every summer and at family camp together. I'm grateful that Ashley got married as soon as she knew she was ready. Grateful that she and Travis started a family and grew it to the size they felt they should when they knew they should, rather than when it was perfectly convenient. Grateful her kids got to do school at home with the best teacher in the world for them, even though it couldn't have been easy. And I too am grateful that a multi-family vacation happened without most of us having to deal with logistics or costs, grateful that a budget was stretched to buy a particular Christmas gift, and that three girls relaxed together at the spa for a day when the last-minute details were a bit tricky.
More times than I can count in the last few days, I've been told by loving friends and family with incredibly genuine intention that if there's anything I need, or anything they can do, to please just let them know. In a time like this, there is rarely a real answer to that; rarely a need I can offer up, as you have all taken care of our needs so well.
But it's clear to me now, I know what you can do for me, I know what my family needs from you, and I believe Ashley would approve of my request.
Read your two year old that extra book when you tuck them in. Come home early to have tea with your little girl and throw a ball with your growing boy. Take them fishing even when you don't know a bobber from a carolina rig. Stretch the budget and time-off to go on vacation together. Go hold your nephew for a few minutes and be late to that party that's so important. Go two hours out of the way to just be able to say hi for 5 minutes. Forgive when you have every reason to be offended. Afford that special gift now, instead of waiting till it doesn't hurt a little.
My parents did; the Trants do; my family and I try; Ashley did.
So if you give me a hug as we both celebrate life and mourn death together and are searching for something to say, you don't need to tell me you love me, I know it; you don't have to quote me scripture or give sage advice.
You can just tell me – "I will". I'll understand; and Ashley will be honored.
In Corinthians, "…be generous on every occasion…" means more to me now than it did a week ago. Ashley was, and I have a lifetime of memories to remember and celebrate because of it.