Get on the Field

Do you ever feel like you’re on the sidelines of life, watching everyone else have all the fun? You’re the chipper cheerleader or the rude dad barking at the ref from the bleachers, but you’re not playing the game.

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At the risk of sounding ultra-spiritual, I believe one way Satan makes us ineffective as believers is to get us to “sit the bench” and watch our lives pass us by. There is no era more prone to this than ours of social media.

We scroll feeds. We watch YouTube videos for humor. We follow transformations on Instagram instead of journeying through our own. We binge watch (isn’t that even the grossest terminology?!) TV shows. We Netflix on Fridays. We are taking life sitting down, becoming fat and lazy–if not in our bodies, in our minds. I am guilty of this too, friends. Often I have to remind myself, “Ashley, put down your phone. The people you love are right in front of you. Be present.”

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GET ON THE FIELD OF YOUR OWN LIFE.

There is no place I get a swifter kick-in-the-pants of perspective more than the Endeavor Games.

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This is an adaptive sports event–a pre-qualifier for the Paralympics–for people of various physical disabilities. That word, disability, is laughable here. These athletes are ABLE. They are blind but fast. They have one limb–ONE LIMB–and swim 800m. They use wheelchairs to race and play basketball. They run on blades. They are real-life superheroes in my book.

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These individuals have every right to sit on the sidelines of their lives, watching us able-bodied people have all the fun. Oh, but no. Excuses dishonor them. They’ve decided (or someone in their lives has decided for them, perhaps) that life is a GIFT. It is meant to be lived…messily, frustratingly, joyfully and victoriously.

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Finn has “competed” in the Endeavor Games at UCO for the past three years. This year our goal was to not get disqualified by crossing over the lines. Success!

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He took home three gold medals for the 20, 60, and 100m dash! This was the first year he was actually crossing the finish line first and he kept looking back over his shoulder to find his buddies.

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This child continues to amaze me with his joyful spirit. It truly humbles me that God chose me to be his mom.

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Paisley was SO ANGRY that we didn’t clean off Finn’s old wheelchair in the garage and let her compete. 🙂

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She’s not a side-liner by nature, and I love this about her.

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Stop watching others live. Stop giving your very best for another person or corporation’s advancement.  Start living your life. Use your gifts, given specifically to you by God. I need your friendship, your talents, your wisdom, your drive, your love to become the best version of me.

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Sweet friends, The Whites, came to cheer Finn on!

We need you to get in the game of your own life. Your children, your marriage, your career, your friends, the Kingdom depends on it.

“Life is either a great adventure, or nothing.” Helen Keller

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Here We Are

So it’s been too long, and I’m sorry.

I’ve been longing to write to you; I’m teeming with ideas to share, but honestly, the things I’m learning about life and business and family right now, I’m not sure you want to hear, so I’ve kept quiet. In short, I’m learning about how to be a better, more courageous leader and Christ-follower. A consistent, patient entrepreneur. An understanding and supportive friend. An irrationally generous giver. I’m making exchanges (not sacrifices) in my life right now that do not afford me time for Project Runway reruns, crafting or margin to blog.

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But it’s been TOO LONG, and we had some stellar family photos taken, so here I am. It’s post-church naptime for the kids and my To Do list can wait.

We are The Armstrongs.

We work hard. We are kind. We do difficult things on purpose. We have fun. We choose to be brave. We forgive freely. We love each other. We follow Jesus.

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Finn is loving PreK. We love Mrs. Brown–she makes learning fun. He is great with spelling and language. He’s a terrible writer/artist and I think it’s hilarious. His aide told Joey one day, “The first thing I noticed about Finn is that he has a lot of friends.” P E O P L E!!!! You’ve been praying for friends for Finn! THANK YOU! He has friends, praise Jesus. Another aide told us “Finn is the best part of my day,” –and her job is to wipe his butt. 😉

His wheel got stuck in the grass and he fell over in his chair a couple weeks ago. No teachers were around, but his buddy Thomas ran to get the teacher. Finn was freaked out and had a bump on his head, but he’s fine. This wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last. I get asked a million questions about Finn each day when I pick him up. “Why can’t he walk?” “Is he a baby? Why is he wearing diapers?” “What’s that thing on his back?” “When will he get better?” “What’s wrong with him?” They are asking honest, innocent questions I don’t always have the answers to. I don’t mind answering these questions, but I hate that it’s in front of Finn. And if I get all these questions in 5 minutes, I wonder how many he gets throughout the day? My heart hurts for him, but God gave Finn such a resilient spirit. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He is a good, kind Father.

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Paisley is so spunky. Okay, and naughty. Her sense of humor is subtle and smart. She observes people before she’ll befriend them. She loves ‘nastics and jumping and climbing and being upside down. She is full of life and extremely independent. “Gummy” (gum) is her favorite and she loves to pack her Paw Patrol lunchbox with all kinds of random items for “school” so she can be like Finn. She likes to sing and dance. I can’t get over how beautiful she is. I’m so grateful she has a daddy who will protect her fiercely.

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This morning on the way to church, Finn said that he “want[s] to marry Paisley, and I’ll blow her a kiss.” Paisley told me yesterday that Bubba (Finn) was her best friend. She helps him pop over bumps in the sidewalk, rides his back like a “horsie” and races him with her baby stroller. Their friendship is a gift from above.

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Joey and I have had a tough few months. I blame Dave Ramsey. We’re doing Financial Peace University with another couple from Life.Church, and though these are conversations we obviously needed to have and there is always room for improvement when it comes to spending and saving, I am TIRED of talking about money. The conversations are unsexy, exhausting and difficult to trudge through. We’ve learned a lot about our personalities and fighting fair during this process though, and in a few hours, we’ll meet the Gates for pizza and to discuss our last FPU session to celebrate. Praise. Jesus.

Joey is so good to me. He’s fun. He’s my best friend and lover. He unloads the dishwasher like a ninja. And I love to watch him “dad.” I’m truly a better human being because of his influence in my every day life.

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Thanks to Maylee Hill for taking such fantastic photos of our family! She is super talented and captured our personalities so well. I love the color in these shots. We took these photos on the Eastside of Tulsa near the Blue Dome District. Check out her website!

As the holiday season approaches, I pray you’ll run (or wheel) like a little child toward Jesus’ transforming love, your families, your dreams, and better overall health. Go now; don’t wait.

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Thank you for praying big prayers for our family and specifically for Finn, for following our journey, and for being true friends. We are not perfect, but we are following hard after our perfect Savior, THANKFUL for His goodness and grace in our lives.

We are The Armstrongs. Roar.

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A Perfectly Boring Marriage

June 30th, 2006 Joey and I were married in San Antonio, Texas.

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It was hot, but a coastal storm rolled in that evening and knocked the flower arrangements off my reception tables, cooling off our happy guests.

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Yes, I let Joey and his groomsmen wear those ridiculous sweat bands at the reception.

Joey’s dad performed the ceremony and it was personal yet powerful.

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Our sacred vows were witnessed by 350 of the most influential people in our lives. I didn’t sleep much the night before from excitement and my eyes felt puffy. There was no real drama, catastrophe or anxiety that day. I was marrying my best friend, someone who felt like “home” to me.

Now, a decade later, our love is standing taller, battered by a few storms and it’s maturing like a good wine. We’re friends; we like each other most of the time, and more importantly, we choose each other. Every. Single. Day.

We’ve been asked many times how we’ve maintained a healthy marriage. “What’s the secret to staying happily married for 10 years and beyond?” The answer is nothing fashionable, shocking or dramatic. In fact, you may find it boring.

Daily, (seemingly) insignificant good choices. Today. Tomorrow. The next day…

“…They [successful people] achieve these dramatic results in their lives through making choices that are the very antithesis of drama–mundane, simple, seemingly insignificant choices.” -Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

I apply this principle to my personal training career, my own physical fitness, parenting, my Arbonne business, my spiritual life and marriage.

*Before I go any further, I must say, our marriage is far from perfect. In fact, this past year has probably been the hardest of our ten. But we are working on it, praying through it, and fighting for it.*

In the moment, these good choices seem inconsequential, but compounded over time, they yield massive results. (I’m obsessed with books, The Compound Effect, The Slight Edge, The Power of Habit these days.) The trouble is that these small, simple choices are just as easy not to do as they are to do. Kissing each other goodbye in the mornings won’t save or ruin your marriage that day—but done (or not done) for hundreds of days over time just might. Daily bad choices (or perhaps the absence of good choices) have the same effect over time: destruction, divorce, obesity, bankruptcy.

Some simple choices Joey and I have made, by the grace of God:

We go to bed at the same time every night. This causes us to be on the same schedule. One person is not more tired than the other, we pray/talk a little together in bed, and it allows for physical intimacy. No kids in bed either, unless it’s May in Oklahoma and they are afraid of the storms.

We are a team. This is tough when you feel like you’re playing a different game altogether, not seeing eye-to-eye. But like any sport, we practice and we get better. IMG_5778.JPG

We go out on dates regularly. With no kids around, we can give each other our undivided attention, we can listen and get to know each other, we can flirt, try new restaurants, hold hands. IMG_6259

We put the kids to bed early. No brainer: more time for us. Structure and sleep for them. High five.

We put toothpaste on each others’ toothbrushes at night. Silly, but sweet.

We don’t make close friendships with people of the opposite sex. This is just smart; he is the only man I should be “emotional” with.

We work out together on Fridays. He rarely lets me train him, but I love including him in something that is so important to me–physical fitness. We think it’s important to stay fit (aka: HOT) for each other. 🙂

We appreciate delicious, healthy food and black coffee. Oftentimes, we cook together. Chemex pour-over coffee every morning. IMG_6615

We play together and we play with our kids. Dance party every night; Justin Timberlake on repeat. Our kids remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. IMG_2874

We travel together (minus kids) at least once a year. It’s a true break in routine, scenery and responsibility. We invest in each other this way and create memories to think back to when “normal life” gets tough. IMG_1350If anyone has an excuse NOT to travel, it’s us. Two full-ish time jobs, I actually lose money when I go on vacation, two kids–one of which is disabled and has a potentially life-threatening condition. But it’s THAT important to us. Albeit, we have incredible parents that we trust to watch our kids.

We speak highly of each other. We chose early on not to make fun of marriage or put each other down, even in jest. We respect marriage and each other too much.IMG_4085

We apologize and try to fight fair. Even when we don’t feel like it. Ugh; this one’s hard.

We kiss each other every morning. 

We value friendship outside of one another. Life is more fun with friends. I think this is partly why our marriage has been hard this year–we’re lacking consistent friendships with other couples. DSC_2511

We take turns doing household chores and getting up with the kids. As a working mom, this is such a blessing to me. Joey is so helpful (acts of service is my love language).

We make time and energy for sex. I’m blushing just typing that…we are really private about our sex life. It’s the part of us that’s just for us.

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We share our calendars. This means less surprises for me.

We support each others’ careers by asking questions and allowing time for personal growth and study. Joey pushes me to achieve my goals and I’m so grateful. IMG_1922

Joint bank account. 

We read. Less screen time is my struggle, but I’m working on it. Currently reading The Slight Edge by Olson and up next are Niequist’s new Present Over Perfect, Maxwell’s 12 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, and the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

And finally…We individually seek to know Jesus more and work on improving ourselves. This is, without question, the most important element. The secret sauce. Because without Him, our love for each other is incomplete, shallow and self-serving.

I believe God made marriage a sacred covenant, binding unto death, because He knew that at some point, we’d want to get out.

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

It seems easier at times just to give up, do our own thing, or try someone new. But I said “I do,” to Joey on June 30th. Then again on July 1st. And July 2nd…And I’m saying “I do” today.

A healthy marriage isn’t fancy and it doesn’t make you famous. There’s no one event that changes everything. It’s the boring, mundane, good choices over time that lead to renewed vows when you’re 75 and wrinkled.

To the singles: are you the person that the person you’re looking for would want to marry?

To the married and healthy: thank you for your example! We’re watching and inspired.

To the married and struggling: dig in your heels and fight for your family. It takes two to make it work, yes. But pray for your marriage like it’s your full-time job. Go to counseling. And work on you. Let God work on them.

To the married and abused or neglected: Get help. In some cases, get out.

To the divorced: there is redemption. I’ve seen it and it’s beautiful.

To Joey: thank you for choosing me then and choosing me now. Happy TEN YEARS, my Love.

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Creating Space

My client of 5 years, John, drives to Tulsa to train with me from Norman once a week.

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He attended my indoor cycling classes at least twice a week in 2011 but was shocked to learn his nagging back pain was caused by blockage in his heart. He underwent a quadruple bypass shortly after. John faced life differently after that. He stood taller, but more humble; grateful for each breath. He does not back down from a challenge. He changed his nutrition drastically, stopped drinking, and he’s active more hours of the day than not. John has lost about 80 pounds, maybe more…I lost track and he doesn’t let me weigh him anymore.

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It wasn’t uncommon for him to ride his bike from downtown Norman to yoga on the west-side about 10 miles away, then up to Moore another 10 miles to train with me at Next Level, then back home. I told him I wouldn’t train him anymore until he bought a helmet. John watched me struggle through my pregnancy with Finn from the back row of my spin class, where I was oftentimes wiping tears along with my sweat. He’s one of Finn’s biggest fans and created a website for brave, imperfect people to share their stories: Courage Endures.

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Courage Endures dudes: Eddie and John. They live bravely.

He and I had a conversation this morning about creating space in our lives for creative thought, spiritual inspiration, revelation, and meditation. We decided it was repetition that provides enough rote, automatic, flowing movement to allow the mind to wander and dream.

Activities like yoga, cycling, swimming, painting, crocheting, running, playing an instrument and fishing are repetitive in the most therapeutic ways.

When we busy our minds with television, radio news or surf social media, there’s too much “noise” to give our minds rest. We’re thinking, sure. But maybe we’re overthinking. [What’s she doing these days…Who is that with her?…What makeup does she use?…I didn’t know she…We’ve got mutual friends…She has more friends than me by like 500…He’s got a new job…I wonder what happened… ] My mind becomes mush with too much unimportant information.

I love the books, The Power of Habit and The Compound Effect. They are life-changing for me because they’ve changed my mindset. Simple habits, repeated over time create massive waves in the sea of our lives. Our days are made up of a collection of habits and the seemingly small, mundane routines are its foundation. Collect the right habits…create the right life.

Kissing Joey goodbye as we head off to work.

Praying over my kids, singing songs before bed.

Exercising–sweating–daily.

Reading Bible plans, devotionals, the Word.

Putting lotion on after I shower.

Brushing my teeth.

Making coffee e v e r y  m o r n i n g.

Thanking God for the day as Finn and I turn left out of our neighborhood.

Roasting vegetables in a hot oven.

Washing dishes.

Watering plants.

Buckling seat belts.

Folding laundry.

Wiping butts.

These are the stuff of our lives. Although I appreciate spontaneity and I’m a sucker for change, repetition and routine have great value.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16

“…Daniel got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel 6:10

I think monks would argue (okay, monks probably don’t argue) that ritual may be one of the best opportunities for spiritual enlightenment.

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Go do something boring, repetitive, and let your mind free.

Marriage Muscles

I think marriage (done right) is hard. It’s difficult in the same way that maintaining physical fitness is difficult. It’s not cheating on your reps, it’s getting flat to the ground in your burpees; chin over the bar in your pull ups. You both have to keep showing up. You have to get uncomfortable sometimes and apologize when your pride is refusing. Some weeks/months/years are better than others. But when you work at it, you reap the benefits and it feels so good. Your marriage muscles are growing, making you stronger and more fit to withstand life’s next fight.

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I told a client last week that learning to love your body is like an arranged marriage. You didn’t get to choose the body you were given, but it’s your job to care for it and make it the best it can be. And after time, you may just fall in love with it.

If you and your spouse are in need of a little marriage CPR, here are 10 of Joey and I’s favorite cost-effective, unconventional ideas for date nights:

  1. We have fantastic cycling trails in Tulsa and most of the time we pull the kids in the bike trailer. But a few times, we’ve gone alone: Bike from home to downtown, grab coffee at Chimera. Order the spiced cold brew and disregard the people snickering at your padded cycling shorts.IMG_5673
  2. Go to a movie but sit in the balcony at the Warren Theater (Moore or Tulsa). You get to choose your seat online and you’ll have a waiter and heated, reclining seats. Then discuss the movie on the way home.IMG_0366
  3. Meet at a coffee shop or local lunch spot on a work day. This is one of our favorites. We have child care already provided and it breaks up our work week. We love Queenies, Foolish Things or Hodges Bend.FullSizeRender
  4. Go rock climbing then out for dinner as reward. In Durango, it was Cascade Falls or X Rock. In Waco, we’d climb at the SLC or drive down to Austin to Rimer’s Ranch. In OKC we would go to Rock Town. Here in Tulsa, we want to try outdoor climbing at Chandler Park.IMG_5257IMG_4660IMG_5296
  5. Bentonville, AR is so much fun. We love 21C hotel (blog post here), Crepes Paulette food truck, and Crystal Bridges museum and biking/nature trails. They also now have Onyx Coffee Lab, one of our all-time favorite coffee shops.IMG_6618IMG_0151
  6. Go to the Chinese Foot Massage on 71st and Sheridan. Warning: they will massage every inch of you if you’re not careful (not just your feet!), they may step on your back, they will smell like an ashtray, you’ll be in a large dark room with about a dozen other people wondering what the heck is going on, and it will be AMAZING. $30 and worth every penny.
  7. Plan an annual day off together. We do this in November every year. We send the littles off to daycare then go out for breakfast, coffee and Christmas shopping. Sometimes we even get in a nap at home before we pick up the kids. I look forward to it all year.  IMG_9683
  8. Camp in your backyard. We haven’t done this in Tulsa yet because our kids’ video monitor broke, but we did it several times in Norman. Fire, tent, stars, yes. IMG_4557
  9. Sporting events are fun. We loved going to Thunder games in OKC and we’ve had fun at Driller’s baseball games here in Tulsa. IMG_4020
  10. Race. You can train together for a full 2-6 months prior to race time, you have one goal and one finish line. You get fit together so you win together. We are excited for our next 5k: Run Bentonville in April. IMG_5770DSC_0711

Cheers to a healthy–albeit hard at times–marriage!

Four Fingers

Four years of Finn. Four of the sweetest and hardest of my life.

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You are my heart on my sleeve. My superhero on wheels. My unexpected miracle.

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I am honored to be your mom, cheering and jumping up and down on the front row of your little life.

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God has big, important things for you to do, and we’re all watching.

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Happiest Birthday, Mighty Finn!

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4

(We’ve prayed this over you since you were in my belly, and we’re not stopping now.)

The Purple Girls

Wednesday, January  13th. Jenks West Elementary transitional pre-K program. Leaving the parking lot.

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“Hey Finn, how was school this morning?”

“Good.”

“What did you learn about?”

“Ms. Sarah put a feather on me and it was soft. Bricks are TOO hard. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. There were three pigs. They had a house made of BRICK (yelling) and STRAW and WOOD! And he puffed and huffed and blowed the house down!”

“Who were your friends?”

“Jackson and Tinsley and Sam and Ali and Claire…”

“What about Tripp?”

“No, not Tripp. He wasn’t there today. And the Purple Girls.”

“Who are the Purple Girls?”

“I forgot their names.”

“Was Mrs. Fox there today?”

“No, she went to the restaurant.”

“Restaurant?”

“Yeah, restroom.”

“Awesome, dude.” 🙂