At an FFA event in the spring of 2006, I met a girl from the Todd County FFA chapter.
A little over a month later, we were elected to be regional officer teammates.
Two months after that we set out to spend 5 weeks at the Governor’s Scholars Program, both with the focus area of agribuisness and biotechnology.
By the end of that summer, there was no doubt in my mind that she would be one of my best friends for years to come.
Her name was Ashlee but since there were so many other “Ashley’s” in the world, she’d forever be known by her last name: “Castle.”
Over the next four years we’d both be state FFA officers (on different teams) and graduate with agriculture degrees (from different schools).
We ate way too much sushi, brownie batter cookies and learned valuable lessons about cooking (like not to microwave eggs!)
We comforted each other through tragedy and helped each other celebrate some of life’s happiest moments.
When I look back on it, our friendship is kind of ironic because Castle and I really don’t have that much in common.
I grew up with four siblings, she’s an only child.
I was raised showing livestock, she spent as little time around that smell as possible.
I seldom watch movies, she could quote every famous flick out there.
When it comes down to what really matters though, we couldn’t be more alike.
We’re both incredibly old-fashioned and family oriented.
We both have a soft spot in our hearts for serving others.
Most importantly, Castle and I both grew up in small, tight knit churches that taught us that God had a special plan for how we would serve Him someday.
For Castle, that plan started falling into place this past spring when she accepted a position on a World Race team.
The World Race is an 11 month mission trip in which Ashlee and her team will visit 11 different countries!
Here’s her description of the program from her blog:
“In 11 months, I will visit 11 countries, utilizing adventure, ministry, community and self-discovery to share God’s love and the message of Christianity all over the world.”
“My team and I will partner with churches and pre-existing ministries within the communities we visit, serving through evangelism, food distribution, working in orphanages, reaching out to women trapped in prostitution, and all the while working to demonstrate the change God can bring into the lives of the people we will come to know and love.”
Today, Castle is leaving her home and setting out to spend the next 11 months living out of a backpack.
She’s saying goodbye to her mom’s home cooking, her hometown and the rolling Kentucky hills she loves so dearly.
She’s a country girl taking on the world armed with a bible, Southern Gospel songs and tons of spunk!
To say that I’ll miss her is a HUGE understatement!
Honestly, the only thing helping me through this is knowing that she’ll be able to regularly check her email and skype every now and then!
(Sorry Castle, I’m apologizing in advance because I’m probably going to overload your inbox with photos of Lorelei!)
Since Lorelei arrived, I’ve gotten in the habit of reading my bible on my iPhone when I’m awake in the middle of the night.
Last night’s randomly selected chapter was Isaiah 41 and when I read these verses (9-10) I immediately thought of Castle.
“For his sake, I have taken you from the ends of the earth, and I have called you from its distant places. And I said to you, ‘You are my servant. I have chosen you, and I have not cast you aside. / Do not be afraid for I am with you. Do not turn away, for I am your God. I have strengthened you, and I have assisted you, and the right hand of my just one has upheld you.'”
I wholeheartedly believe that every experience in Castle’s life leading up to this was God preparing her for the journey she’s about to embark on.
From the FFA workshops to her love of camping to her willingness to eat just about anything, I know she’s as ready as she can possibly be.
I’m so proud of her for being brave enough to answer this call and I can not wait to see what amazing work she is able to do throughout the year.
To make things even better, she’ll be blogging about her adventures along the way.
I hope you’ll take the time to follow along with her blog, Ashlee Castle – Running the Race Set Before Me.
She’s been writing some really inspiring posts in preparation for her trip (including one about going to the state fair hog show with my family).
Over the next few months, please keep Castle and her team in your prayers.
Until she comes home, we’ll keep her photo on our refrigerator as an extra reminder to pray for Castle, her team and the many lives they’ll be touching all over the world.
I’m so proud of everything she’ll accomplish this year and even more proud to call her my friend.
Bon voyage, Castle! And look out world, there’s one fired up Kentucky girl headed your way!