This blog posting is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Elsie Ashley, my Brownie and Girl Scout Leader. On a particularly dark night, God showed me His Mercy and Grace through her.
I looked in the mirror and straightened out my bright green uniform. I held up my right hand and recited to the girl scout in the mirror.
“On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help other people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”
I was ready for my weekly meeting at the community hut (next to the community house) in the small town where I grew up. I had grown up in the scouts, advancing from a young “brownie” to being a full fledged girl scout.
I was delighted that my brownie leader had also advanced and become my girl scout leader. Mrs. Elsie Ashley was a never failing source of inspiration and just plain fun. She had an amazing way of seeing each of her charges as individuals and yet somehow getting us to function as one team.
I looked forward to learning new crafts and new songs every week. As we each tired to decide which badge to work on achieving next, Mrs. Ashley gently guided us. Having heard me say I wanted to be a nurse, she suggested I work on the first aid badge. She knew we would be more motivated to learn what interested us.
The Camping Trip
However, after giving us a taste of safe success, Mrs. Ashley also gently prodded us to learn new things. I enjoyed playing outside as a young girl, but I was ready to come inside when it got dark. Then, as now, I am not a big fan of the dark.
So I had mixed feelings when Mrs. Ashley excitedly announced that the whole troop would be taking an overnight camping trip to an area just outside the town limits. We would be packing our bedrolls, pitching our tents, cooking over an open fire and exploring. While I had a little misgiving about sleeping in the woods, Mrs. Ashley made it sound like so much fun. I looked forward to it.
A Few Big Problems
However, as we hiked into the woods, some things about me were not known, even to me. Wanting to make sure I stayed warm, my mother had made two wool blankets the basics of my bedroll. I didn’t know it then, but I am allergic to wool. Major itch!
No one realized then that I suffered from a malady that would not be identified until years later. I have “directional dyslexia.” Those of us who have this problem will frequently turn left when we should turn right and vice versa. It seems our internal GPS system is turned off. Once we make that wrong turn followed by a series of other wrong turns, we are completely lost.
One other problem no one foresaw was my dependence on glasses. Being very nearsighted, at night, I always put my glasses in a familiar place where I could find them. My glasses were close to a night light where I could grab them when needed.
The Fun Parts of Camping
The first parts of the camping trip were wonderful. We explored and I stayed with the group. We played games. We gathered sticks to help build our camp fire. As night settled in, we started our fire and cooked a meal. We put hot dogs on the end of a stick and fired “them dogs” to perfection. We ended with graham crackers, chocolates and marshmallows melted together into some mighty fine s’mores. We sang until we tired out.
I Wanna Go Home!
Then we all retreated to the tents we had set up earlier and unrolled our beds. Problem number one. Bugs of varying varieties and sizes had crawled into my bedroll. Step one after the prolonged scream was to shake my bedding vigorously until I felt all was clear. However, this was hard to really determine for sure, since the black wool blankets blended in so perfectly with the ground inside the dark tent. I was not sure my trusty flashlight had identified all the intruders.
But I was so tired I lay down anyway. I then realized I had no place to put my glasses. I decided I would sleep in them. I lay in the darkness and listened to the sound of the crickets and unidentified vermin outside the tent. I prayed they would stay outside.
The ground was hard. As I began to drift off into sleep, I also began to itch. I scratched and then itched some more. My scratching was interspersed with my constant looking around for the presence of any other bugs. I held my glasses on my face to be sure I was not going to lose them.
Finally after what seemed like hours of misery, I had had enough. I knew I needed to find Mrs. Ashley. I wasn’t sure how to accomplish going home, but I was determined to beg her to take me home. Pride was no longer a factor. I just wanted out.
I stumbled out of my tent, intent on going to her tent. However, you guessed it. I turned left when I should have turned right. It did not take long to bring me to the edge of the woods and I knew I was lost.
I began to cry.
Mrs. Ashley’s quiet voice behind me almost made me jump out of my skin.
“What are you doing up?” she asked.
I reported all of my problems, ending with the dramatic “I want to go home.”
I waited for Mrs. Ashley to provide the solution I requested. She had always been so understanding. But this time, she said simply, “You can’t go home.”
I restated my case. She put her arm around me. And then she said, “You are a Girl Scout. Say your pledge.”
I wondered if this was my penalty for being a bad scout. How had I ended up in the dark with this woman I trusted so much, who now wanted me to say the Girl Scout Pledge to her?
I thought if reciting the pledge was what I had to do to get home, I would do it. I started …
“On my honor, I will try …”
Mrs. Ashley stopped me.
“Say that part again.”
I repeated, “On my honor, I will try …”
She stopped me again.
“I have all you girls to be responsible for. It’s my honor. I am trying to take care of all of you. Now it is about your honor. Will you do what you promised to do every week? Will you try?”
The Star — My Night Light
We stood there for awhile in the dark, her comforting arms around me. Finally I agreed I would try.
“But,” I added, “It’s so dark.”
“No it isn’t,” she said. “Look up. See those stars. You remember we learned about the different ones we can see. Can you pick them out? Look at that big one. It’s brighter than the others. Maybe it’s shining just for you tonight. When you go to sleep, think about that.”
She walked me back to my tent and helped me do a bug patrol before she left. I lay back down on the hard ground with my wool blankets around me. I adjusted my glasses. I scratched a little. And then I noticed I could see the star through the open flap of my little tent.
I thought perhaps Mrs. Ashley might be right. Maybe God was allowing it to shine just for me. I slept.
It would be great to tell you that night changed my life and I became an avid camper. If I told you that, I would be half right. That night did change my life. All these many years later, I still remember how God showed His Mercy and Grace through Mrs. Ashley. But I never went camping again! Not my thing!
A Christmas Surprise
I went to the small Methodist Church in town. It was one of those churches where everyone sat on their same pew every Sunday. It was a part of the regular rhythm of the small town life. It was comforting.
But one Christmas, there was an unexpected surprise. In the evening service close to Christmas, the pastor dimmed the lights, as the choir softly sang “Silent Night.” The dim lights illuminated the manger at the front of the church. We all turned our attention to it, thinking of how Jesus was born and placed in a manger.
Suddenly, the doors on each side of the pulpit opened. Through one door came a man, dressed as Joseph. He slowly walked to the manger. At the same time, through the other door came a woman dressed as Mary. “Mary” was holding a baby … and it was not a doll. It was a real baby!
She walked to the manger, gently touched Joseph’s hand and together they looked at their baby. The moment was so transforming and surprising it took a few minutes for everyone to process who it was.
The young couple with the baby was Mrs. Elsie Ashley and her husband, James. The baby was their baby, who had only recently been born. It was a time of total wonder for that entire congregation, not just because of the surprise, but because the Ashleys’ Love for God and each other showed through so powerfully.
For me it had even more significance because Mrs. Ashley had come to me on another Silent Night and had shown me the star.
Mrs. Ashley’s Dark Nights
Mrs. Ashley was to have dark nights of her own. At the young age of 31, her beloved husband, James, died. It was then up to Mrs. Ashley to raise four young children without him. Even though devastated at the loss, she continued to raise her children and be faithful to all God called her to do.
I imagine her saying, “On my honor, I will try …” And in those nights, God wrapped His Arms around her, as she had done for me.
When I grew up, I lost touch with Mrs. Ashley. But I carried her in memory as I do now. I hope that perhaps in her times of darkness, she was able to look up and see a star that reminded her of God’s faithfulness … and she knew that it was shining just for her!