Joyful Expectation | December 6

Joyful Expectation | December 6

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

I’ve experienced several liminal times in my life- times when I have noticeably shifted from one chapter to another, from one version of myself to the next. One of those times was during college at UW-Whitewater. I was heavily involved with a campus ministry and was given the opportunity to spend the summer in Ghana, ministering to people and sharing the good news. As the trip approached and generous donations poured in, my health unexpectedly declined from the weight of everything I was attempting to balance – too much. It left me struggling with an especially rough bout of anxiety.

After much debate and many tears, my doctor, family and I decided the best thing for me was to stay closer to home for the summer. I remember feeling completely frustrated with the situation but mostly disappointed in myself for not being able to juggle everything. Up to that point, everything had fallen so completely into place that it seemed like the trip was meant to be. What I didn’t realize at the time was that saying no to Ghana created space for another kind of blessing to unfold.

Around that time, I received an email from Sarah Iverson asking if I was interested in helping on the youth-parent trip to Pine Ridge Reservation that summer. I honestly hadn’t given Pine Ridge much thought before then. My mom and sister had gone the first year and I knew there was a great need, but I honestly felt drawn to more “exciting” opportunities abroad. I somewhat reluctantly agreed to go, not really expecting too much one way or another. Oh, I was so foolish. Once we arrived on the reservation, I can’t describe it, but I felt such overwhelming peace.

I was immediately taken with the the dreams of Lakota youth sprinkled across the walls of the Dream Center, the breathtaking sunsets over the sacred black hills, and the altar on the hill, lovingly made by GS travelers with river stones, in memory of Lakota youth who have taken their lives. It is also a harsh place in every sense of the word- from the brutally hot summers and heartbreaking tribal history, to the ongoing exploitation of land and severe poverty gripping many families. In the midst of it all, we spent the week doing what we know- learning, listening, playing with kids, sharing meals and giving piggyback rides galore.

I have returned too many times to count. Each time I reconnect with the same kiddos I met on that very first trip (some now teenagers!) while meeting new friends too. Pine Ridge unexpectedly, yet thankfully, has become a soul place for me – a place where I arrive and instantly feel at home, like I’m exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do. I look forward to returning this December and for years to come. From this chapter in my story I have come to realize that God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He always gives us exactly what we need, and it’s always at the perfect time.

by Ashley Vlack

This post is part of a series of Advent Reflections – “Joyful Expectation”
Learn more about the series at


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