Today is Joey’s 31st birthday! I try not to be too sappy in my posts–for your sake and for my privacy. But this time I don’t care. If you don’t want to read about my marriage or my rock star husband, I won’t be offended.

This one’s for you, Joseph Earl.

Slovenia; River Soca

Slovenia; River Soca

My nose gets all sting-y just typing this. Joey rescued me…seriously; and in lots of ways. The Lord used him to remind me of my worth.

I spent a good year soaking up the Word after a difficult relationship in college–literally falling asleep on my Bible. I spent afternoons lying on my back in fields on OBU’s campus, praying and crying and letting the Lord renew my withered spirit. I had forgotten who I was. Jesus paid an expensive ransom for me and I was allowing lies to creep into my soul, whispering rejection and pain…wooing me away from my Father.

Joey is fun. He is light-hearted and easy-going. This man oozes grace. He was a breath of fresh air with messy black hair and an old Ford truck. He brought summer to my winter.

OBU Graduation Day 2005!

OBU Graduation Day 2005! Holy pink.

Once, he and Micah told Taylor and I that they wanted to take us out on a nice date. We dressed up…and as we walked outside our apartment, they dumped a pot of wet spaghetti noodles on our heads. Aside from the pranks, Joey was a bit too much drama for me at first; and I told him so.



He wasn’t perfect then; and hasn’t become so now. Let’s be honest. But he brought to my life such freedom from legalism and release from self-consciousness. He made me laugh and relax. He loved me the way I was and loved me more when I told him who I used to be. He rescued me.



Joey is a man of integrity. He is a protector and one heck of a father. Finn and baby-girl-in-my-tummy are so blessed to have a man like him to call Daddy.


He loves intentionally and views his relationship to his family as an act of worship to God. He’s affectionate and always tells me how beautiful he believes I am–especially now when I need the reminder most.

He is my everyday hero.DSC02422

I love you, Joey. I celebrate you, and am humbled to call you mine. Happy Birthday!

Pink Bows

I was almost bald until I was two, so my mom taped bows to my head to prove I wasn’t a boy.



I’ve never really been a bow kind of girl, but I’m thrilled to be welcoming all things GIRL for this next baby!

All day Monday my stomach was in knots and my nerves were threadbare. We waited over an hour in the waiting room for our specialist–longer than we’ve ever waited before–to find out the verdict: is our second child “healthy?” The boy or girl thing was so secondary.

We watched the ultrasound screen on the wall opposite of us with hands clenched together tightly. Last time we came for this appointment, we found out Finn had Spina Bifida. The doctor left the room to give us some space and we wept in the bathroom.

Starting with the skull, Dr. Stanley ruled out Spina Bifida, checked the nose bridge for Down Syndrome, the lips for a cleft palate, the heart for abnormalities, the spine again for Spina Bifida, the feet, the hands, the stomach…the cute little bum…to tell us we have a HEALTHY baby girl.

Finn will be the best big bro!

Finn will be the best big bro!

Praise the Lord!

Tears streamed down my cheek–liquid joy seeping from my eyes. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so thankful for any news in my life.

Life is so uncertain. This child may be born “healthy” and then we find other issues. Or she may not make it past her first birthday. Every day is a miraculous gift from above. For now, I’m reveling in the grace that is a healthy child…a female one! 🙂

On Being Different

So Finn is different, I realize this. Sometimes I just forget.

This week Joey and I were each individually reminded that our kid is not like other kids.

Joey and Finn go to the library on Wednesday mornings while I work a half day. Finn wheels around in the open spaces between bookshelves, approaching strangers and searching for Thomas the Train Engine books. This past Wednesday, Joey was reading to Finn and they both looked up to see a little boy, maybe six, standing in front of Finn’s wheelchair, mouth agape. Joey and Finn both said, “hi.” The little boy said nothing; he just stared. After a minute or so of awkward gawking, the father came over to retrieve his son. The boy asked his dad, “Why is he in that thing?” Joey didn’t get a chance to answer before the father quickly shooed his son away to the

I held the daycare door open for Finn to wheel through on Thursday afternoon, boogers plastered to his tiny nostrils and hair disheveled from a day hard at play. We were approaching the sidewalk as I heard a child at the playground fence yell, “Hey! Look at him! Hey! Look! He has a rollercoaster!” I smiled. Kind of a cute description of Finn’s wheelchair. But he didn’t stop yelling. “Hey Dylan! Come here! Look! Look at him! What’s he doing? Hey!” The boy wasn’t being mean. In fact, I even heard him mutter,”Awesome!” I just got an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I felt like Finn was a spectacle. An endangered caged animal or something–something to gawk at. I lifted him from his chair once we finally made it to the car and whispered, “I love you so much, buddy. You are so special,” into his ear. He smiled, completely unaware of the situation. But someday he’ll get it and I’m going to be the one there to wipe the tears and remind him of his worth.

I know these are just two of a multitude of awkward, uncomfortable, painful situations we’ll encounter as Finn’s parents–and nothing compared to what Finn will personally face as a person with a disability in an able-bodied world.

And I know that there is a world of seasoned parents who have gone before us with a myriad of these difficult tales to tell, hidden in their hearts like an old photo album fraying around the edges.

Parents, will you teach your children that everybody’s different in some way? Some of us have glasses, freckles, only one parent, no parents, dark skin, bound to a wheelchair, braces, etc. And teach them that these differences are okay; that they make us beautiful, even. We can learn a lot from people who are different than us.

Another post on differences: Someone Else’s Skin

The Quotidian Life

My sister-in-law, Leah, is an avid reader. She reads just about every book as soon as it comes to print. For Christmas, she bought me this book by Kathleen Norris called, The Quotidian Mysteries. That word–“quotidian”–is funny sounding to me. Makes me giggle inside. It means “occurring every day; ordinary; commonplace.”

I get bored of washing dishes, changing diapers, wiping the counter clean, and especially of vacuuming up dog hair–just so they can get dirty again in a matter of minutes. I forget to acknowledge the blessing of owning a home, having a child, a dishwasher and a dog. These ordinary things in my life, if I’m not careful, can become a curse instead.

Got a new Shark for Christmas from my parents. Changing my life.

Got a new Shark for Christmas from my parents. Changing my life.

I think this may be why some people try a new life.  A new career. New hair. New car. New house. New partner or spouse. They get bored of the one they have.

In her book, Norris calls this acedia, which means “spiritual apathy.” A hatred for the every-day tasks, places and people that can make us feel claustrophobic in our little lives. She says, “It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation.” In a recent study, one of the most prominent commonalities of successful marriages was the simple act of kissing your spouse at the beginning and end of every day…whether you feel passionately “in love” or not. She likens the regularity of cleaning house, doing “women’s work,” and marriage with the daily routine of prayer, or liturgy.

I pray before most meals. I try to remember to pray before I fall asleep. I pray for my friends and family as they come to mind throughout the day. I pray over Finn while I tuck his limp legs into bed. I don’t always feel the presence of God when I pray. I may not even realize what I’m doing.

But sometimes I do. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with the realness and rawness of my prayers and the Lord’s subsequent goodness to remind me that He’s listening. He’s near. Immanuel.

Since reading this book, I’m trying to find honor and joy in what were once daily drudgeries. Beauty in the bubbles that surround the kitchen sink. Blessing in unloading so many dishes that allow me to prepare meals for my family. A husband for whom I blush. A son who fills my heart with wonder and joy. A dog who makes me laugh.

Kathleen says it best:

“We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places…and not in spectacular events” (Norris, p. 12).

Finn Update: 22 Months

Somewhere between fifteen months and today, Finn has rapidly been growing up.

I witness the miracle of it daily and sometimes neglect to tell you how he’s doing. I forget that many of you read this blog solely because you care about Finn. And I love that you care about Finn.

So here’s his progress over the past several months:

  • He counts to ten forward and backward, and only misses “fifteen, sixteen” when counting to twenty. The performance is always followed by his own applause.
  • He can say his ABC’s with some help and a little mumbling.
  • He talks almost non-stop. Some small sentences, even. Like, “Daddy, sit here.” Or “No, Jersey! Ew! Yuk!” (I think he learned that one from me.) His voice is honey to my ears.
  • He acquired his own wheelchair in December and can operate it like a pro.

    Knocking over ottomans at the library. All Joey's idea...

    Knocking over ottomans at the library. All Joey’s idea…

  • Wheelchair: We’re learning not to tip off curbs. He went face over wheels in the backyard this weekend just trying to go the inch off our patio slab. Ever the brave one, he brushed it off after a couple minutes in daddy’s arms and it’s a miracle there’s no more damage than a scratched chin.  We’re also trying to teach our friends at daycare and elsewhere not to put on his brakes while he’s trying to get somewhere (this is like tripping a walking child), not to pick him up by the wheels (this causes him to flip forward and smash his face on the ground–our friend Ryder got all his front teeth knocked out when his friends unknowingly lifted him off a curb by his wheels), and not to unbuckle him, as he will topple forward.
  • He is affectionate. The little charmer blows kisses to all his teachers when leaving daycare and generously gives hugs and “tisses” to mommy and daddy.photophoto (3)
  • He STOOD UP (with help) for the first time at Christmas! Finn has never been able to bear weight on his legs before, so this was unbelievable! We were all hooting and hollering and Finn was so proud of himself. We practice this now every day and it gives us hope that someday he may be able to take a few steps on his own.

    photo (7)

    Nana D is quite the motivator!

photo (6)

  • Finn likes puzzles and wooden blocks and is recently into cars and trucks–anything he can throw across the wood floor and (2)
  • The end of the month (Joey’s birthday) will be a year without a shunt revision. We are so incredibly grateful. The shunt is the scariest part of Finn’s condition–for me, anyway. I honestly must give the fear that he’s a ticking time bomb over to the Lord on a daily basis. I often worry that these days will be the easiest days of Finn’s life. Conditions often worsen and complicate for most kids with Spina Bifida and it’s hard not to be discouraged by stories we know of adults and older children with SB.
  • He loves watching Daniel Tiger, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Curious George and Sesame Street when we allow him some screen time. He lounges back in his monogrammed Pottery Barn arm chair and engages in the show like a big boy.

    Mickey Mouse from Nana and Papa A.

    Mickey Mouse from Nana and Papa A.

  • It’s shameful how well this toddler can operate an iPad or iPhone. He has a folder for his own apps and can find them on his own, thank-you-very-much! He even adjusts the volume on the side–rendering the mute switch obsolete.
  • Finn LOVES music just like his daddy, and he’s got naturally great (5)
  • We are excited to celebrate Finn’s second birthday with family at the end of February.

Though he doesn’t know why mommy’s tummy is growing, he sure loves to poke at my ever-stretching belly button. Finn will make a fantastic older brother to Armstrong baby #2 and we are excited to become a family of four this summer.

I Used to Be

Do you ever look back through old pictures of yourself? Somehow I found myself mindlessly clicking through my old photo albums on Facebook.

I used to be tan. 269003_10150694733910504_4780108_nI worked at a fitness facility where I had access to free tanning. I don’t believe in tanning anymore. It just feels wrong to my body and my heart. No judgment if you enjoy the artificial rays; honestly. I did it about one month a year since I was fifteen. Just don’t want to anymore. Sunscreen feels better.

I used to be leaner, more toned. 269831_10150694734235504_2402361_nAt least I think I was; it seems like I was in pictures. The layer of fat–I can hear your groaning–that encased my body whilst carrying Finn is encroaching upon my pregnant body yet again. I tried on all my jeans this morning and separated the ones I now hate (because the top button won’t close) and the ones still in my good graces. Unfortunately, the hated ones are a larger stack. I did not have this problem in 2010. But whatever. This new body I’m learning to love has more character than my pre-baby one, right?

9 months pregnant with Finn

9 months pregnant with Finn

A c-section scar (soon to be traced over once more), slightly wider hips, the occasional low back pain, an aching right ankle and wrist, a couple extra pounds, stronger biceps for carrying a toddler, and an unsteady, stubborn right knee. They remind me of the struggle (if you can call pregnancy that?) that changed me, making me stronger…like a soldier limping home from battle, head held high.

I used to think I was stressed; tired.

Baylor's "Biggest Fan" for Halloween circa 2007.

Baylor’s “Biggest Fan” for Halloween circa 2007.

This is just laughable. What did I stress about as a single or newly married person? A load of laundry? Which movie to see in theaters? Is the weather perfect for mountain biking?

I used to be blonde. 217183_10150541115660504_731612_nI was born blonde. I think of myself as a blonde. I have never really been able to afford highlights, so I saved up for them about 2-4 times a year prior to Finn. Then I felt bad using the chemicals while pregnant, so I let my hair go. About three weeks after Finn was born, I eagerly made a hair appointment, grasping for that blonde person I’d known all my life. I think I felt prettier blonde–like I was Archie Bunker’s Betty or California Barbie. Something cartoony and childish. Although I miss the lightness that framed my face, I’ve gone natural and I think I like my newly discovered hair color. Auburn-ish dark blonde.

I used to look so young.

Honeymoon in Sedona, AZ.

Honeymoon 2006

I was told to return to my classroom more than once as a young high school teacher.  Nowadays, if I sleep just right, my pillow will create indentions on the left side of my face that resemble the cracks in a thirsty ground. Much like the wrinkles in my palms. I think I was born with old lady hands.

I used to be so sure about God.

Praying over Bovec, Slovenia. 2008?

Praying over Bovec, Slovenia. 2008?

I thought I had Him figured out. Black and white. Right and wrong. I thought my faith was solid. Some days I am so confused about Him and what is really “right.” So startled by His mysteries. So in love with His goodness. So in awe of His power. I think this posture is better though, because it places me below Him. My rightful place.

Maybe I don’t want to be who I used to be.

Maybe happiness is found in liking myself (and the people I love, for that matter) for who I am now, not who I used to be. This presents me with the task of continually being and becoming someone I would like. Someone I’m proud of.

Fitness Tips From a Trainer: 2014

I’ve got my Nikes and my Lululemon crops on. Hello, I’m Ashley. I’m your personal trainer for today.

I’ve been personal training for eight years and teaching aerobics classes for eleven. I’ve trained all types of people–obese, elderly, disabled, models, ultra-marathoners, soccer moms, students, teenagers, men and women alike. I love my job. Seriously, who gets to de-stress while at work?!

Headband reads: "Therapy in Session." So true.

Headband reads: “Therapy in Session.” So true.

We’re all unhealthy in some way. I’m certainly working on eradicating some poor eating habits. However, over the years, I’ve discovered a few common characteristics my unhealthy clients share. The most unhealthy clients display all four.


1. Diet Soda Drinkers.

Somewhere, sometime, probably in the early nineties, American marketing told us to switch from regular to diet soda. “Diet” is a misnomer here…research is showing that overweight diet soda drinkers actually weigh more and eat more calories throughout the day than regular soda drinkers who are overweight. The artificial sweeteners in diet sodas are worse than natural sugars; they disrupt the brain’s sweet sensor, making you feel less full and causing you to consume more calories. They are simply not natural–foreign to our body the way plastic would be if we ingested it. Oftentimes the artificial sweetener used is high fructose corn syrup–linked to rising obesity rates, dementia, cancers, heart disease, liver failure and tooth decay. In truth, too much natural sugar can also cause these problems; however, most people who drink diet sodas do it religiously, consuming more because they think it’s “better” for

If you didn’t last year, please check out this article on the Dangers of Diet Soda.

Solution: If you drink diet soda regularly, try to switch to drinking only 1-2 regular sodas/ week. Make it a special thing. If you drink regular soda regularly, I can almost guarantee you’ll lose 5 pounds in a week if you quit. If you can’t do it cold turkey, try limiting yourself to 1-2/week.

2. All or Nothing Personality Types

These people are extremists. They buy a new piece of fitness equipment or road bike or gym membership and use it every day religiously…for about a week or two. Maybe a month. Then they get burned out and quit, doing nothing instead. Or these people binge and starve. They eat whatever they want and as much of it. Then they starve the next day or two to make up for it. There is not much moderation in their lives. I’d be willing to bet they are this way relationally and spiritually as well.Fitness-Quote

Solution: Find a way to include activity into your everyday life so that it doesn’t matter whether you’re in an “all” or “nothing” phase at the current moment, you still get some physical expenditure. For example, ALWAYS park far away. If it’s cold that means you’ll run, right? ALWAYS take the stairs (unless you’re disabled, pushing a stroller, or elderly). Do 30 squats while you brush your teeth. Most all my clients do this. Meet friends for walks or workouts instead of food or drinks. Do an active activity with your kids daily.

Oh, AND you extremist: you need accountability to keep you from dropping out when it gets boring or difficult. A good trainer or fitness class will provide variety and accountability.

3. Exercise-Haters

It is a drag for these people to work out. They hate it. They hate the sweat, the tight-fitting clothes, the weird people around them, the shame they might feel, the mirrors, the pain and discomfort…everything. It’s just really tough to make yourself regularly do something you hate.

Solution: Find something you love. This means you’ll have to try out a lot of things. Box at a local sweaty boxing gym. Zumba is a cure for lots of exercise-haters. Cycling–indoor or outdoor. Swimming. Racquetball. Intramural sports (you college students!). Pick up basketball (you has-beens 🙂 ). Running. Walking fast (or not so fast) with a friend. Rock climbing. Hiking. Find SOMETHING. Because you need to. Humans were not designed to sit all day–from car to desk to lunch table to car to dinner table to couch. No. Get off your butt.Screen-Shot-2012-11-30-at-5.08.47-PM

4. Quick Fixers

If it doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t come quickly, you give up…or don’t try at all. This simply doesn’t work if you choose to become healthy the right way. The right way is always going to be tough. It takes sacrifice, commitment, accountability, discomfort, and TIME. If it took you fifteen years to get out of shape, why do you think it should take you one month to reverse that process?

Solution: Make short-term goals and long-term goals. Make it to the first goal (“do 10 push ups every night for a week” or “lose 2 pounds this month”), then create a new, more challenging goal (“do 20 push ups every night for a week” or “lose 3 pounds and 1% body fat next month”). Realize that you miss out on all the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition if you diet. You feel no sense of accomplishment, empowerment, endorphin rush, toxin cleanse, or strength gains.

Hope these tips help! For more, see my post from last New Year’s, Fitness Tips From a Trainer: 2013.

Please feel free to comment on this post if you have any questions or need more specific advice. I love helping people find and maintain their healthy self; the way God created us to be, really.