We sent him off to his teacher’s bench early Tuesday morning. It was his first full day of Pre-K, the first of many days of public school.


This day was one I feared since the NICU, watching Finn’s tiny pink lips breathe in and out, closed around his feeding tube.

Sure, he’s been in daycare since infancy, but this was different somehow. I was sending my heart off between two wheels, trusting the world to treat him fairly, give him a chance, open doors, be kind.

He popped a wheelie, yelled, “Wahoo!” when he saw cute little Mrs. Brown, and zoomed off.


I turned around, my eyes stinging with tears. Then Paisley almost ran off the curb into a line of cars and I forgot to cry. A busy day at work kept my mind distracted.

He won’t really tell us anything about his days…nothing true, anyway. He said he played in the dirt all day and that his new friend’s name was Booty. 😉 Mrs. Brown tells me he always asks when nap time is and even fell asleep sitting upright in his chair.


Thank you, Jesus, for Mrs. Brown.

He’s adjusting well and is excited to go to school each morning, a blessing for sure.


When asked by kids in his class why he’s in a wheelchair and “what’s wrong with him,” Mrs. Brown says he responds that “his legs aren’t very strong and he uses his wheelchair to move.” I’ve never heard him respond to anyone about his disability before; probably because we answer for him. This is pretty close to what we’d say, except I don’t want him to believe he isn’t strong…just stronger in some ways than others.


I’m so proud of you, Finn. You are teaching us all that it’s okay to be different. And what’s more, that it’s okay to LIKE being different! Your joy humbles me. You don’t make excuses for the things you “can’t do;” you simply find a way. I am so grateful for the confidence God gives you.

Here’s to 14 years of childhood education–Whew, that sounds daunting!–a rich education mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

Will you pray with us for one or two really good, loyal friends for Finn? Friends that would see his differences as a blessing, not a burden. We all need a couple friends like that, don’t we?


A Story of a Three Year Old

“Tell me a story, Momma.”

There once was a boy named Finn. He was the fastest little boy on wheels. He had the happiest smile and the sweetest voice. He loved his sister, Paisley, even though she took his trains. Chicken nuggets and chocolate milk and puzzles were his favorites.

When he was born, his spine was hurt and it made his legs weak and his brain swell.


So he stayed in the hospital for 14 days.


His family and friends prayed a lot.



Finn was a brave little boy. He had 8 surgeries before his first birthday.

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He learned to use a wheelchair to zoom around the house.

So proud.


He was not like other kids, but that’s okay; he was unique. God made him so smart. So important. So special.

On Finn’s third birthday, he went with his family in their jammies to get coffee and donuts.



He ate a chocolate silly face donut.

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Then he went on a scavenger hunt for his birthday gifts.

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He was very lucky: he got a mini iPad from both his Nana’s and Papa’s a couple weekends ago at the Rosells’ house in Arkansas.

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Gigi made him a birthday coffee cake and Poppy made a fishing game for Finn to play.

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On his birthday, Finn found a dinosaur puzzle, a sticker book, some cool jeans and sunglasses, and Batman walkie talkies hidden around the house.

After breakfast, he went with his family to the Oklahoma Aquarium.


He loved the otter. It was cute and did flips in the water.


He saw fish and alligators and turtles.

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His sister, Paisley, was amazed by all the sights and sounds.


Finn’s favorite was the shark tank. He was hesitant at first, but he decided to be brave and zoom through the tunnel with sharks swimming all around him in the blue water.


He went back and forth through the shark tank, up and down the ramp. His arms were so strong.

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Other kids at the aquarium thought Finn was cool whooshing around in his wheelchair. He cried when it was time to leave.

After a nap, Finn and his family went to Nana and Papa Armstrong’s house for a birthday dinner. Nana helped Finn and Paisley decorate a box to play in.


We sang “Happy Birthday” and ate Ludger’s cake.


It was delicious, but Finn’s tummy got upset. He didn’t normally eat that much sugar.

After reading a bedtime story, Finn fell asleep on his Thomas the Tank Engine pillow and dreamed about his happiest third birthday. The End.

His First Birthday

Last February 27th, I awoke parched. Lips chapped and contractions pounding. No food or drink twelve hours before an 8:00am c-section. I can honestly say that although I had never before been hospitalized or even endured so much as stitches, I was not scared. I was not afraid of my surgery…I was afraid of the surgeries Finn would face in the days to come. “The unknown” loomed heavy over my head like a thundercloud.

After what seemed like an eternity in a room that was much too cold for a hospital gown, he came. Whimpering, he entered the world with about fifteen people ready to receive him and whisk him off to the NICU. My first question: “What level is it? (referring to his level of SB)” They guessed, “low.” The lower the better. After a few minutes, Dr. Stanley handed him to Joey. I peeked over, and although I only saw his tiny button nose, my heart melted like wax within my chest. Our Finn Joseph Armstrong.IMG_0627

Sweet Boy,

I’m sorry you weren’t born healthy. It’s just not fair. Not fair for little babies to be sick. Oh, but you are loved as much as anyone could ever be loved. You were not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made and for some great end. I am proud to be your mommy. Happy first birthday!

(and also a Happy Birthday to my mom, who is our biggest fan. I love you, mom!)photo

In Stripes

My rule: when I acquire a new clothing item, I must give one away. So I was cleaning out my closet today and found a couple “gems” that I can’t believe had graced my body. Funny to think about how my style has changed over the years. I’m not the most trendy dresser…I wait to see which trends will last a while and then I hop on the bandwagon rather late. Just bought my first pair of colored jeans a month ago. Okay, that’s also because last year I was pregnant and buying skinny red jeans would have been depressing. The common thread in my wardrobe: stripes. I love stripes.

Before bed last night Joey and I were clicking back through our Finn Joseph photo album. These included a picture of me in the hospital holding room where I waited for my “cut time” (that’s not scary or anything…) in a backless gown with a gaping hole over my pregnant belly button (you know these hideous gowns, moms). There was also Finn’s first photo once extracted from my womb and proud Daddy Joey holding him like he were a trophy. Many of these pictures produced tears as we remembered those incredibly tough first weeks and saw our son, now chubby and healthy and happy, with a feeding tube in his mouth, surgery prep fluid caked on his skin and way-too-sticky detector nodes stuck between his shoulder blades. We literally gasped at some pictures–we had purposely forgotten how bad it was. Looking back made us realize how far Finn has come…how far the Lord has brought us in six months.

I think it’s important to look back. To remember your “Egypt.”

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5: 15).

Mmm…I like that: “outstretched arm.” It makes me think He’s pursuing me; He’s extending Himself on my behalf.


Immediately following this verse is the commandment to observe the Sabbath day. Rest. Think about what the Lord has done for you; how He’s brought freedom from your own personal captivities. Chew on it slowly. Digest it. Then take a deep breath and rest in it. Sabbath.

Looking back reminds us where we’ve come from and challenges us to think about who we are now. I sure hope I’m a better wife, daughter, sister, trainer, and friend now than I was a year ago. A better version of Ashley Dawn. In stripes.

On Par


Finn’s been assessed literally since the moment he was born. I feel like he had little time to be a pure, innocent, swaddled newborn. To just be. Surgeries and scans and tests and tubes and wires and xrays were all too much a part of his existence. This will continue throughout his life, and at times they may become as frequent as they were in the NICU.

Lately Finn’s developmental progress has been under scrutiny. Sooner Start did a full evaluation on his mental and social development last week and today a neurosurgeon came to the house to test him against the pediatric “norm.” Finn’s been entered into an exciting new mobility study…more details on that this weekend…but it involves a skateboard!

The results of developmental testing: Finn is RIGHT WHERE HE SHOULD BE! He’s within the curve, on par, at the norm, standardized. This is epic, people. We were told Finn could be severely mentally handicapped. Now I’m not naive enough to expect no mental issues throughout his life and I know there will be bumps along the way, but as of now, there are no delays! Praise God! We watched him pass these tests with flying colors, doing things before even prompted and our eyes filled with tears. It just means so much more that your child can “transfer a toy” when you’ve been told they never will. That he belly laughs when Joey makes a farting noise and that he mimics my sounds and funny faces for hours until our mouths hurt.

We are grateful today for a sound and social baby.


Strike up the band, we are coming home!

The minutes crawled by and the sound of beeping and buzzing and alarming on the monitors seemed almost unbearable today, but we have finally been cleared to bring Finn Joseph home. He experienced wearing his first outfit, his first breath of fresh air and his first car ride, unfettered by cords and wires and IV’s.

Car ride was a hit. He loved the bumpy movement and white noise. What a blessing to have him in our home where he belongs. If you think of it, please pray for our first night alone together.

Although we KNOW you care and want to continue to show support, we will not be accepting visitors. This is largely for Finn’s health and safety and a bit for our sanity while we transition from the storm of the NICU to our home. We are excited to introduce Finn to our church and gym families in a month or so once cleared by the doctors and when we feel it is appropriate. Meals are also taken care of. We are so grateful for your many prayers and thoughts during our time at the NICU. Though we’ll be back at Children’s many times (beginning again on Thursday), we are so thankful to be closing this chapter of Finn’s life.

I will most likely not be posting daily now that Finn is home, but I will keep you updated. Promise.

Thanks for following our journey.



Nice Legs

This week we began to see small movements in Finn’s legs and hips. He is always in a prone (froggy) position, however, so it’s difficult to notice. The last couple of days, these movements have become stronger and more pronounced. He certainly has movement in his lower extremities. This is a huge answer to prayer!

A sweet physical therapist with a very soft voice stopped by today to examine his mobility and teach Joey and I how to stretch and strengthen his legs. She was encouraged by the suppleness of Finn’s joints and his full range of motion in most every position. He should just need some help along the way. Too bad they don’t offer infant yoga. He’ll need therapy. Possibly a walker or ankle braces. Perhaps a sporty little wheelchair for long distances. I would be lying if I said I haven’t pictured him strapped to Jersey’s back to cruise around the house and backyard. Wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, we won’t know what he needs for sure until he attempts walking and standing. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s strengthen a quad muscle. This kid’s legs are going to rock.

Check out the clip of one of several kicks Finn performed for us…we caught the end of it, as it always goes when recording something important.

Continue praying:

  • Neurological development–a strong, clear mind and the ability to interact socially
  • Smooth transition out of the hospital, hopefully soon
  • Continued de-swelling of the brain (it’s currently stable)
  • Perseverance and rest (if only mental) for Joey and I

Leg Kick NICU from Joey Armstrong on Vimeo.