Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Chapter 55: The Chance to be her Real Momma

Hey there y’all! I hope you are having a wonderful February! We have been quite busy lately, but Flu is giving us a chance to slow down for a few days. Daniel and Dani Marie have both fallen victim to Flu A. Dani Marie is tough as nails, so no surprise she hasn’t slowed down yet. Daniel, well you know how male patients can be, or at least this one. He thinks he is dying. I have assured him multiple times if a head on collision with a couple of 18 wheelers didn’t kill him, Flu A won’t be how his story ends. They are actually both on the mend.

This blog has grown to be almost a digital diary of thoughts and heartfelt retellings of so many important events and revelations in our lives. It feels almost like I’m writing to family when I sit to pen the next chapter. Adoption is beautiful. We celebrate it every single day, but sometimes we hold hands and face the challenges presented to us on this path, too. This is one of those times. A couple of things have happened over the last week or so that have made us do some thinking and talking about adoption, all aspects of it. I wrote a letter to Dani’s birthmother. It hasn’t been my first and won’t be my last. Who knows? Maybe someday I will actually have a way to get them to her. For now they are just therapy. Since I don’t really know an address to send it to and it’s more just for my personal diary I decided to share it with those of you who follow our story. Here it is:

Dear Beautiful,

Wow. Our girl sure has done some growing up lately. She talks as if she were an adult. You’d be so impressed with how smart she is. She reads so well, but believe it or not her favorite subject is now math. Librarian mom fail, right?  I know you’d be so crazy proud of her. She is still as kind as ever, and still so beautiful. You should have seen her this weekend in the beauty pageant. She gracefully moved across the stage in a black velvet dress with just a touch of sparkle. She still looks just like you, I guess more so now than ever. Her eyes, your eyes, are pools of Caribbean blue that still take my breath away. There was a good bit of talk about her beauty this weekend and so many people complimenting her for winning a beauty in the pageant. We can’t take any credit for that, I mean the outside is all from you. You know the best thing? She favors my niece, Macy, and my mother so very much. I always think it’s amazing how God wove this story so perfectly that while she is the spitting image of your beautiful self, she also resembles some of the other ladies I love most. I have an incredible soft spot for pretty blondes. What we think is most beautiful about her is her heart. Man, does she love people. She loves them hard and recklessly. She loves without reserve and with limitless forgiveness. You’d be so proud, I really think you would.

Can I be honest with you??? I mean, if anyone can understand this I guess it would have to be you.
I’m hurt. I’m really hurt. A couple of times lately (well three to be exact) another child has questioned her and told her I wasn’t her real momma. The first time the child simply asked her, “Who is your real momma?” To which she responded, “Mrs. Martin!” and be-bopped off. Then several months later, it was more aggressive. “You do know Mrs. Martin isn’t your real momma? She adopted you. So, do you know your real momma?” This upset her a little more. Not at the child, children don’t know. They are inquisitive by nature. Especially so when they have overhead bits and pieces of adult conversations. But this last one, man it hurt. The child argued with her. Can you believe that? Argued with her that she didn’t even know who her “real”momma was. She cried. Not in front of them. At home, where she felt safe. She came to me and those big blue eyes y’all share were full of tears.
“Momma, it happened again. You know, remember when ——- asked me about you? Well, this time they said I was wrong. They said I didn’t even know my real momma. You are my real momma and I told them! I even stomped my foot down, and then I used a loud voice and said, ‘Mrs. Ashlee Martin is my real momma!”
I hugged her and we talked. It broke my heart that she was having to defend me. To defend us. Our family dynamic and essentially her identity. I knew these times would come, or at least I feared they would. But at just 7? It seems soon. I explained that some people just don’t understand the difference in the words “real” and “biological” and then we discussed those. I reminded her that she does know her real momma. She knows the way my voice sounds when I am upset. She knows when I am quiet and picks up on when I’m worried. She knows my favorite color, food, and song. She sneaks me home bath balls from our store because she knows I’d never treat myself. She adds them to my bath and then tries to pay me for them later. She KNOWS me. That makes our relationship so real. When others question that, it hurts. It hurts me for her. It’s hurts me for me. It hurts me for you. Because then we are forced to discuss biological, real, authentic, and DNA. It puts labels where they don’t have to be. I realized tonight that you are just as real as I am. What do I mean by that? Well, the love. The real love. You gave her to me. You entrusted that tiny, fragile creature to my care. You loved her enough to let her go. I will never forget seeing tears well in your eyes when you told me she was born for me. When you told me you knew this is what you had to do. Those were the same tears I saw rolling down our daughter’s cheeks when she told me what upset her the other day. What’s so “real” to me is that when we first sat at that courtyard table you told me you had cried all your tears already. You told me you wanted this to be the happiest day of our lives. That was so kind and caring. That was putting others before yourself, and I see that trait in Dani, too. I feel so torn about all these labels now because I’m confused! I have always given you the credit for her beauty, but your selfless love left a mark on her heart, too. IS it nature over nurture? Nurture over nature?  Looks from you? But she looks like my family, too. Does she have my heart? Or yours? When she is good is it from you? Or is it from what she has learned? I don’t know! I don’t know, what is what or who gave her what? I want to explain it to her so simply, but it’s not. She has questions I don’t know the answers to. Why do we have to label this love?? She is so many parts you and so many parts me. I tell her real is the momma who loves her, but that is both of us, too. Sometimes loving someone so much you let someone else love them is the purest love of all.

So you know what I did? I prayed for peace and understanding. God tells us in His word that He will give us a peace that surpasses all understanding. I told you in the hospital, I would pray every single day for the three of us to one day be sisters in Christ. Dani Marie was recently saved. She asked Jesus to be Lord of her life. That means the two of us will be in Heaven one day. We are still praying for you. I don’t know where you are or what shape your heart is in. I don’t know if you know Jesus or have a “real” relationship with Him. I still pray every single day you do or you will. Because that love is what finally made it all make sense. After I poured my heart and confusion out to God, He gave me that peace. See human understanding is weak. People think we have to label everything and everyone. We don’t. Isn’t that refreshing???? We don’t have to! I can be her real momma and so can you! We both authentically love her! We just show it in different ways. Two mothers, so different, but so much the same. Her real momma is me, but her real mother is you, too. She and I share a smile that has come from loving to laugh, and you two share eyes... beautiful blue eyes that can pierce straight to the soul. It’s both of us! All of it. I have been as guilty and anyone of feeling like this love had to be labeled. That I was in one box and you in the other. No more, it’s both of us. It’s all real love, and she is the best parts of both of us and amazing parts that are all her own.

But, there is one thing. The chance to be a real momma? Well, you gave me that. You shared with me. You gifted me the most wonderful opportunity of my life. I owe so much to you, and most likely it’s a debt I will never be able to repay. Thank you, beautiful lady. Ashlee Martin is that sweet girl’s real momma, but only because you allowed me to be. We love you. I hope God whispers this thank you straight to your heart.

I love you more than you will ever understand,


That’s it. It won’t get mailed, just filed away. I wanted to share with y’all. Maybe you have some labels to shake yourself. Maybe you have boxed yourself in and labeled a relationship in your life. I don’t know. I’m so thankful this week for God’s faithfulness at revealing His peace to me. I was so worked up, angry, hurt, and insecure this weekend because of a label. Not realizing, I was as guilty of labeling as anyone. Stepped on my own toes and realized any love modeled after Christ’s love is REAL. There is enough real love to go around. :)

Love y’all!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Chapter 54: Hearing Our Heartbeat

Hey strangers! It's been a long time since I have updated y'all. So, so, so much has happened.

I'm going to be writing again soon to tell y'all the wonderful details of Dani Marie becoming my sister in Christ. It's a precious story that took place in a pumpkin patch, and it deserves its very own post. So, it will wait for another day.

Tonight's blog, is more of a reflection than anything really. In true transparency, that we have always valued with Dani Marie's story, I wanted to share my heart.

Needless to say, we have been so very busy lately. We have recently become business owners, for those of you who maybe didn't know. We opened a multi-purpose business in downtown Booneville a few weeks ago, and we haven't slowed down since. Many of you have probably seen our posts, pictures, or heard some buzz about heARTbeat. What you may not know, is how the venture came about. So, I'm finally taking the time to sit down and fill you in on whats happened and whats happening very soon.

As a former athlete and coach, I have always known the sports world. I grew up bouncing from ball camp to travel league. Daniel grew up in this same world. I became a coach and spent literally years of my life investing in kids on a local ball field. It didn't take us long with Dani Marie to realize she had no desire to be a part of the sports world, ever. Her heart and talents lean heavy on the artistic, musical, and theatrical side. At first, we didn't know what to think or how to even go about existing outside of a stadium or a ball field. We have spent a good part of the last couple of years driving Dani Marie all over the state and neighboring states to pursue her artistic talents. It was during this time our eyes were really opened to the limited opportunities for artistic and creative exploration for kids in our area. It was after coming to this awareness that God really started prompting our hearts to invest in growing the arts in our community.
Now, I hate to admit this, but once again....full disclosure. When God first laid on our hearts the possibility of investing in a center to grow the arts, I flat out said, "No, that's not a good idea." I didn't think it was. I mean, you would think by now I would have learned that God's ideas and plans far exceed mine, but I can be stubborn y'all. So, I spent some time (quite some time) reasoning with the Lord and telling him all the reasons someone else should open something where kids could explore art and music.
So, meanwhile during this back and forth between the Lord and I, some other things transpired. I have had years and years of irregular bleeding and reproductive issues. That's no secret. In recent years, the problems have gotten more complicated. We found out recently that I have something called, Asherman's Syndrome. Now over the years many doctors have treated me for other conditions, but the root of infertility boils down to scar tissue. The first D&C I had years ago, left substantial scaring. This scaring had now completely covered my uterus. This is why we were never able to carry a baby more than a few weeks. It's funny the comments you remember. Comments that seem simple or insignificant, but they burn into your brain long after they are said. I remember a friend once sharing the excitement of  her pregnancy. In her excitement, she said words that I would not long forget. She was simply excited to share her blessing, and I know her heart. She never meant to hurt me. And she didn't. The words she spoke, however, were salt in an ever open wound that never really would close. She made the statement, "We heard the heartbeat today. I can't describe how amazing it was. There is absolutely no feeling in the world like hearing the heartbeat of a child growing inside you." How excited I was for her, but how hurt my heart felt. I imagined that her words were full of truth. This was only about 3 years in to our infertility road. A road we have now been on for almost fourteen years. My body was able to conceive, but the scaring had damaged my uterus so that no embryo could really attach and grow very long at all. Always within weeks, the embryo would run out of room and be no match for the thick bands of scar tissue present in my womb. A baby's heartbeat can be sometimes heard as early as six weeks, I remember once longing to just get far enough that I could know if those words my friend had spoken were indeed true. I was longing and desperate to "just even hear a heartbeat" in my womb. Even after adopting Dani Marie, this was an experience I could not relate to.
I always thought in the back of my mind that God might still heal my body and allow us to give Dani Marie one of her greatest desires, a sibling. She'd love nothing more than to have a brother or a sister. Now, I have a terrible habit of "what if" scenarios. I have even been guilty of "suggesting" to the Lord how He might want to write our story.
We could after all these years of being infertile finally carry a child to term, and celebrate His goodness at healing my body and giving Dani Marie a sibling. It always remained a possibility in the back of my mind. I even told Him how we could praise Him and give Him all the glory. I thought it would make a wonderful story of His faithfulness and healing.
We also saved and tried to have a small nest egg saved up in case we got the opportunity to adopt again. I mean, Dani Marie, made our lives and how amazing it might be to adopt another miracle blessing. That version of our story seemed like such a wonderful way to glorify God's goodness.
However, God wasn't interested in either of these endings for us. In a little over a week, I will be having a full hysterectomy. My body is tired and the scars have completely taken over my uterus. The bands have caused tremendous about of bleeding and after over eight months of continuous bleeding and a failed D&C attempt, it's time to end the battle once and for all. I have to admit, it was a bit of a blow at first. I mean, how could God write version A of our story if I had a hysterectomy?
Then, after praying and going back and forth with the Lord, I realized that our family felt complete. While we would love nothing more than a house full of kids, we felt at peace sealing our status as a family of three. I decided to finally quit running from the Lord and give in to starting the business. My valid arguments of 1. I'm not a business person. and 2. I am not artistic, musical, or creative. fell on deaf ears. He knew. He knows. He always knows what's best for us. It's really true, y'all. I quit running and poured what we had in our savings into a lease for a business that would bring more life to downtown we love, provide kids with opportunities they don't currently have in our area, and give local artists a place to showcase talent. It made absolutely no sense to me. And yet, somehow in those moments of handing over the check to pay for the lease on the building, I finally heard it. It was crazy. I handed the majority of our savings away, knowing that left no money for more children or treatments, and I knew when I handed it over that the endings to our story I had played out in my mind so many times, would no longer work. It was in that moment of not having a clue what the future would look like or how we would manage to make this new adventure work, I felt the most amazing feeling. I knew that while I was afraid, clueless, and had no idea what would come next, I was fully in God's will for our life. I was living out the story He wanted to write. In that moment, I felt it. I heard our heartbeat. It didn't come from inside my womb. It came from being fully in God's will. I realized in that moment, that when He sent our Dani Marie to us, he knew that she would allow us to find the strength to do things we would have never done. She opened our eyes to needs and worlds, we would have never known. She didn't fit in any mold we had. She grew us. She keeps growing us every single day. It was her amazing talent and creativity, that led us to explore and assess the needs of our community. God didn't need me to tell Him what to write, He writes the most amazing stories. Version A would have been great, Version B would have been fun, but His story is my favorite of all. He sent us exactly what we needed in our Dani Marie. I never heard her heartbeat growing inside me, and I never will. That's ok. While I want to take nothing from that amazing feeling for others, I can truly say I'm at peace knowing that I'm only days away from closing the door on that ever being a possibility. While adopting again would have been an amazing blessing, it's not God's will for us. He sent us Dani Marie, because He knew that in loving her we'd see needs beyond ourselves. He knew that our love for her would lead us to take a huge leap of faith and go completely out of our comfort zone, and the second we did we heard our heartbeat. My daughter now has a local place to explore art, gather with friends, play the piano, and excel at all the things she is talented at.
I was exhausted tonight after three parties and a couple of the busiest weeks I have known yet. As I closed up the store and turned off the lights, I could hear the faintest sound. I stood quiet and listened. It was Dani Marie playing "Mary had a Little Lamb" on the piano. My heart was as full as it had ever been. I was hearing our heartbeat. I thought to myself, "To each their own, but that sound is the most amazing sound." Thank you God, for being such a good, good God whose faithfulness far exceeds any story I could have written. Tired as I was, I stood in the door and listened to my heartbeat play the piano for several minutes with tears streaming down my face. My heart is so full.

I love y'all!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Chapter 53- At His feet

I started this blog to share our story....It always seems unfair to only share the glamorous parts. So this entry is just real talk about hard lessons learned over the last week.

Have you ever felt like you were at total peace with something, only to realize later that you were still carrying it around? Maybe it's just me. I have been a parent for almost exactly seven years. For about the same amount of time leading up to becoming a parent, I carried the burden of barrenness. I felt unworthy and "less than" because I was unable to have a child. I wasn't sure why I couldn't and even struggled with blaming myself for past sins as a reason for our empty arms. When God revealed His perfect plan for us with Dani Marie, I "thought" I put those fears to rest. I was a mother, I had found favor with the Lord.

Fast forward to last week.....Dani Marie has been growing up. In that, she meets different people from different backgrounds. This year she has been around a new friend who has been raised differently. Without going into great detail, he doesn't believe in God. He has what we can only imagine is a rough home life and has definitely been exposed to more of the "real world" than our girl and most the friends she runs with. After a few discussions about some things she picked up from this friend, we decided it best to "limit" their contact. We explained that it's okay to be kind to all, but she might want to steer clear of this particular person at school. She looked us dead in the face and told us that if she hadn't been adopted into a family that loves Jesus and makes sure she is clean, she'd be just like this friend. Her sweet little eyes filled with tears as she told us she couldn't stand the thoughts of nobody wanting to be her friend and that she just had to keep being a friend to him. What could we say to that? I felt convicted to say the least. We told her to just keep loving the way she loves. That was the end of it.

Until last week....she copied a behavior she picked up from this same friend and even told a lie about it. Was it the end of the world? No! Did it feel like it? Yes! We were shocked at her. Why? I guess because she has always been so sweet and honest. It certainly was out of her character. She was punished. We all cried, and that should have been it. It wasn't. Why? I realized that I was still carrying a burden that I had long ago thought I put down. She made a mistake, as all kids (and adults for that matter) do. Why did I feel so much guilt? Why was it bothering me so? I felt responsible for sheltering her possibly too much in the name of protecting her. I had told her to keep loving the way she loves, and maybe I should have responded differently. Would me handling that differently have kept her from getting in trouble? I felt in a way like I had failed her. I didn't have her ready for this particular obstacle. I felt like others would see this as an epic parent fail, and I realized what I was still carrying. I felt like God had given me a trial parenthood card. I felt like if I could raise a precious, sweet child that was always kind and did the right thing... I deserved to be a mother. I felt like as long as we did everything right, I could feel I deserved the reward of motherhood. I don't know if that even makes sense to anyone else. I realize now that my expectations for her and myself were so unrealistic. She is precious and incredibly kind, but she isn't perfect. None of us are. And that is okay! She will make mistakes and do the wrong thing at times, and that is not a reflection of poor parenting. It's a reflection of human nature. We all sin. We all mess up.... and being a parent is loving them through it. I wanted to be the perfect mom for her, but also for myself. I wanted to feel like I "deserved" to be a mom. To be her mom...I don't. I never could earn that. It's God's gift to me. It doesn't come with stipulations and it isn't a trial. It's His will. His will is perfect. He isn't going to look down on me and "regret" His decision to anoint me to parenthood. He chose me for Dani Marie. He knit her in her birth mother's womb with our family in mind. That doesn't change when we make a mistake or even when she does. That is a freeing and refreshing realization that I'm so thankful for.

It's true for you, too. Your child is meant for you. Point blank and period, and none of us are perfect parents. We aren't perfect people. When we mess up, and we all will....let's just love each other through it.
Whatever God has called you to, He will equip you for. He won't question His decision on the hard days. He created you for a purpose, not perfection. If you are expecting perfection from yourself, lay it at His feet. It won't happen. He knew that, that's why we celebrate this weekend.

Love y'all!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Chapter 52: A Crash Course in Gratitude

This blog is one that I have needed to get to for a while, but I can honestly say that there have literally been no words for me to adequately express how grateful I am feeling these days. Our lives have changed so much over the past two months, but then again they could have changed so much more.

Have you ever gotten a phone call that changed your life? I remember the phone call telling me about Dani Marie. It changed my life for sure, and it was the stuff my dreams were made of....I received another life-changing call a couple months ago, but this one was straight from my worst nightmares.

Let's rewind....

December 17, 2018-

I'm an early bird. I always have been. Daniel works swing shift at Toyota, so sometimes he leaves out in the early morning hours. This particular morning was foggy. I woke up just a little before 4:00 am and heard him stirring downstairs. I messaged him with a little small talk. We were making plans for the busy evening ahead. I was instructing him to pick up our daughter and her friend from gymnastics because once I dropped them off I would be headed back to Booneville for a Christmas party. That was it.....I didn't say "I love you" or "Be safe"....I just made plans for another busy afternoon. I laid there awake for a few minutes and got up to get our clothes laid out for the day. I crawled back into the bed half asleep to snuggle up with Dani and do my morning devotion. My phone rang. It was a number I didn't recognize, and I assumed it was a scam call. I answered it. It was the ambulance service calling to inform that Daniel had been in a terrible accident. They told me he was in the ambulance and had just been cut from his car. They said he wanted to talk to me, so they put me on speaker. He told me he loved me. I could her pain and fear in his voice. "I love you. I love Dani. Ok? I love y'all." That was it. The EMT got back on the phone and warned me about the fog. He told me that they couldn't land a helicopter, so they would be taking him to Tupelo ER. He told me to come but to be very careful. I remember asking him if Daniel was going to make it. My exact words were, "Wait, tell me... how bad is it? Is he going to live?" He hesitated and then told me he really didn't know. "I don't know, I just don't know." He said he had a severe head injury and had lost a lot of blood. He told me he was hit by an 18 wheeler. He hung up the phone.

I couldn't breathe. I collapsed to the floor and army crawled into my closet. I stayed on my knees for what felt like forever before I could stand. I cried out to God. I was literally terrified. I called my parents and begged them to pray. They told me they were coming to get me and drive me to the hospital. I made a few frantic calls pleading with people to pray as hard as they could. I stood when I finally had the strength and walked to wake Dani Marie. I remember stopping dead in my tracks before rousing her. I looked at her sweet face, and I couldn't do it. I recall thinking this could be the very last time she ever woke up with her daddy alive, and I just couldn't do it. I had to let her live in this reality we had taken for granted at least a few more minutes. I somehow managed to get on some clothes. My parents arrived and we headed to the hospital. I was shaking uncontrollably. I'm calm. I'm extremely level-headed. Most of the time in tense moments, I remain strangely controlled. Not this morning. I was terrified I was going to lose my best friend. I was scared I would have to raise my daughter alone. How could this be happening? So fast??? I remember unbuckling my seatbelt and getting onto my knees in my mother's floorboard. She begged me to get up and buckle, but I do my best praying with my face to the ground. I talked to God like I don't think I ever have before. Don't get me wrong, He and I have had some very intense and difficult conversations. This was different. This came from a place of complete helplessness and fear.

You see, Daniel and I have people we love dearly who aren't Christ followers. They just aren't saved. They are good people who mean so much to us, but they just don't see the need for God to be on the throne of their lives. We have been burdened over their salvation for a while. For the past year or so, we have been praying for God to do whatever He needed to or through us to bring them to Him. It hit me like a ton of bricks. What if this was it? What if this was the moment that was meant to point others to Him? If I have learned anything in my life it's that God is for me. He is absolutely for my family, There were years where I doubted this truth but no more. I know with all my heart that God can work all things for His glory. I was not doubting God's goodness, but I was doubting my ability to cling to it. I was on my knees in the floorboard and crying out to my God. I was quoting scripture and clinging to its promises. I begged him to lend us His ear. I told him that I would never try to change His will, but if He would just lend us all His ear, I knew that by this time literally hundreds of people were praying with us. I'm a firm believer in the power of praying people calling out your names. Literally, hundreds petitioned Heaven on our behalf that morning. I could almost hear them all lifting our names. I told God how much we needed Daniel. Then I prayed the hardest thing I have ever prayed. I asked God to give me the strength to praise His name even if He didn't see fit to save Daniel. I told Him I knew He was good, but I begged him not to let me forget it even for a second when I got to that hospital. I knew that if this was the moment God planned to use, that if I cried out in anger or questioned Him that Daniel's prayers to use us to point others to Him would have been in vain. I knew if I believed what I say I believe, I had to still praise His name no matter the news. Then I realized that Dani was in the car with me. Was she scared? Would she be angry at God? NO! This couldn't happen. I know how cruel this world is. My worst fear for her would be for her to shut God out. She won't stand a chance in this world without Him. She's just six, would she understand? How could she not blame Him?
I got up and reached for her in the backseat. She was holding my daddy's hand and she was awake. I grabbed her precious face.
"Baby, Do you love Jesus?
"Yes, I love Jesus!"
"Do you know He loves you? No, matter what? You know Jesus loves you, right?"
"Yes, ma'am......I don't want my daddy to die."
"I know you don't baby. I don't either. No matter what happens, no matter what we hear when we walk in those doors in a minute, you know what?"
"Jesus loves me."
"We have to cling to that."
She nodded. She was calm. She was scared, but she was not panicking. Looking back, her faith is far more mature than I gave her credit for.

We got to the hospital and the wreck was on the news. It was ten minutes, but it felt more like hours before we knew he was stable. They let me go back to him. It was the most wonderful sight. Granted, he was banged up awful. His back was broken, his leg was crushed literally from the inside, and his head lay open to the skull. His orbital wall had been crushed, but he looked at me with the one eye he could use and mustered up a smile. "I've really done it this time haven't I, Honey?" were the words he said. I was so grateful in that moment. They informed me that he needed CT scans to see how bad the damage was. His head could most likely have bleeding we couldn't see and some damage that would show in the scans. The scans would let us know about his organs. I slid down the wall and started praying that God would let the scans show, "No brain damage, no organ damage, no brain damage, no organ damage....." I repeated the words over and over. An hour or so later, those were the trauma surgeon's exact words. We were so grateful! That morning I was taking his smile for granted, taking the day for granted, and now I was soaking up this moment and so thoroughly grateful to hear his voice and see his face. It wasn't the same face, it still isn't. In fact, he now wears a scar across his forehead similar to Harry Potter's trademark lightning bolt. We jokingly refer to him as "The Boy Who Lived" around here. That morning changed our lives. We spent the next month in the hospital. Multiple surgeries, therapies, and hurdles were to follow over the coming days. We took them all in stride. I missed more work than I ever have, our daughter who had only ever spent a single night away from us now suddenly had 17 under her belt, my strong husband needed my help to bathe, eat, and go to the restroom. Life certainly changed, but in spite of all of the hurdles we had to overcome...I'd say in many ways it changed that day for the better. I'm different now. Daniel's different. We all are. You see there will never be another day I take for granted. I will tell people I love them far more often. I won't assume that our busy afternoons will come without stopping to soak in and be grateful for the quiet mornings. I won't put off for tomorrow what could be done today because the truth is that tomorrow isn't promised.
Daniel and I grew closer over those weeks together in the hospital room. We watched movie marathons, played board games, and we laughed. We laughed so much at so many silly things. We cried a little, but we mostly laughed. We spent more time together those few weeks than our busy lives have ever allowed us to in fourteen years. This Christmas was so different. We truly got a crash course in gratitude. Our village of co-workers, church members, friends, family, former students, and even complete strangers showed up and showed out. We had so many meals provided for us, gift cards gifted to us, laundry done, toiletries brought to the hospital, baked goods that arrived at always just the right time. People took care of Dani Marie and made sure she never missed a beat. People have showered us with love and prayers, and we are so thankful. We are eternally grateful for the love and kindness that has been and continues to be poured on us.
  Daniel is already walking with crutches. He's hoping to be walking completely on his own again soon. He still has a long road of therapy and recovery, but we are so thankful to be on this road. He realizes that God spared his life. The night before the accident, Dani Marie prayed like she always does for her daddy's safety on the way to work. The law enforcement, medical professionals, and people who saw Daniel's car all tell us there is no way he should be alive. It's a miracle. We truly believe Dani Marie's prayers were answered and God placed a hedge of protection around Daniel's brain and vital organs. The prayers of so many of you after that have kept him and given him strength. Once again for that, we feel so grateful. We have told everyone who would listen about God's goodness. The truth is we should have been doing more of that even before this. God didn't need to spare Daniel that day for him to be good or powerful. He was both of those things already, but He chose to let us keep our husband and sweet daddy around a little longer and for that we are forever grateful!
This morning hug the people you love. Don't take this regular Monday morning for granted. This crash course has taught me to be ever thankful for the normal days and all that comes with them. We love our village! More updates soon......



Saturday, December 15, 2018

Chapter 51: Really Wish Them a Merry Christmas

       How is it already the most wonderful time of year again? It's been a while since I have updated or written. We have been busy with 1st grade. Can you believe that? Our girl is loving art lessons, science experiments, making "how to" videos, gymnastics, dinosaurs and all things unicorn. To say the least, our schedules and hearts are incredibly full.

     I'm doing some early morning cleaning while the rest of the house is asleep. Often this time turns into deep thinking and long talks with the Lord. Dani Marie hasn't been feeling well lately, and we have really worried about her being such a picky eater. She doesn't have much of an appetite and a very short list of approved foods. She definitely doesn't share our genes on that one. Well, I started praying and thinking about how to get her to try more foods. This turned into a full out on the floor, on my knees, in tears situation pretty quickly. That line of thoughts led to me thinking about how tiny Dani Marie's birthmother was. She had a petite frame with the palest complexion. I know she was sick and her body was recovering from the traumatic events leading up to Dani Marie's arrival. She had just delivered a baby way too early with absolutely no prenatal care. Her organs and entire body had taken a toll from a hidden pregnancy and the stress that surrounded her circumstances. Her eyes had dark circles which stood out more so because of her fair skin. They were beautiful, absolutely beautiful. They were the most beautiful mix of Caribbean blue with a touch of stormy grey. I'd never seen eyes quite that color at the time, but now I see them daily. Even though her eyes were beautiful, they were tired and weak. The crystal blue was a stark contrast to the black circles underneath them. When Dani Marie's allergies flare up or she isn't feeling well, it's an automatic flashback for me. This morning, as I was praying about Dani Marie needing to eat a little more and try some new foods, my heart was overwhelmed.
     I thought back to her mother. I can't tell you how many times I have replayed our only meeting. I guess by now, it's in the thousands. All the things I wish I had said, I should have said, always come to mind. Today is different. This time, I realized that somewhere right now she is still that same person. While I don't know where, who, or how..God does. I thought about this Christmas season and how it lends itself to witnessing to people more than any other time of the year. The secular world stops and celebrates our precious Christian holiday. We, as Christians, know the entire story. We know that Jesus didn't stay in the manger, and we also know why He couldn't. How many times this season already have I run in a store without speaking a word? I have been in a rush to pick up food for a Christmas party, accessories for a Christmas outfit, a gift that was on sale, and so much more. How many people have I passed? People eager and willing to engage in conversations about spiritual matters simply because it's Christmas time.
     The reality is that Dani Marie is so much ours. She is like me in so many ways, but then at the same time I see things that I know were ingrained in her from somewhere else. My mother tells me often a child couldn't be more like their mother than Dani Marie is me. She has the same silly sense of humor, adores her daddy just like I do, laughs from way down deep, cares about others almost to a fault, wears her heart on her sleeve and loves Jesus so very much. Still, we honor and are ever thankful for the legacy of who it was that helped God get her to us and gave her those stunning features and certain traits. I realized for the first time that Dani Marie's birthmother is just a version of Dani Marie all grown up. We teach Dani Marie about Jesus, thanks to EBBC Awana she knows as much if not more scripture than I do. She has been brought up already understanding the importance of our Savior and His love. She already has the tools to know where to turn when things get tough. She already has a foundation on which to build a life of knowing God. That gives us hope for her to face the world. I don't think her birthmother had this. In fact, I'm pretty certain she didn't So does that mean that she is a lost cause? That she will never understand that God's grace allows us to lay any and every burden, even the self inflicted ones, at His feet? At times, when I have reflected over our meeting that's how I felt. I felt responsible for not saying enough. I told her that I wanted the three of us to be sisters in Christ someday, but that's all. I left it at that. I didn't tell her how or what that really meant. I told her she had renewed my faith in a God that works ALL things for good, but I never offered her an opportunity to accept Him then and there, I thanked her. That is all. For years I have carried a guilt and regret that I didn't do or say more. This precious and beautiful girl gave me the greatest gift of my lifetime, and I have always felt as if I failed her that day. I want eternal salvation for her with all my heart, but I have feared I didn't do more to guide her that way when we met. God absolutely overwhelmed my heart this morning. For the very first time in all these years, I realized it isn't over. She is no longer a girl, but now she is a woman. She is older and hopefully her heart has healed somewhat. Maybe she still remembers our meeting, or maybe she has long since forgot the words we exchanged. I don't know. I do know that I have read in sermon notes that sometimes it can take seven times of hearing the gospel for someone to really receive it. Where this statistic came from, I really don't know. I have held on to it though. The message said something along the lines of, "Don't take it personal if you witness to someone and they don't receive Christ that day. God may have just planted the seed that day. The next time they hear the gospel may be like watering the seed. The next time a little more tending to the garden, and then a little more. Eventually, that seed that was planted will be ready and produce. That person may later accept the Lord. You don't know. You don't know whether you are the first to plant, the first to water, the first to weed, etc." I don't know if that was the first time Dani Marie's birthmother heard someone speak about God's goodness, and I don't know how many times she has heard it since. What if she needs to hear it just once more? What if the very next time is the 7th time? That fills me with so much hope. That's why I need to ask you for a favor! Yes, you!
     As you are going about the hustle and bustle of the most wonderful season of the year, will you be mindful of those you cross paths with? I'm going to challenge myself to slow down and use each opportunity I see to share the joy of Christmas. It might be a quick chat in the checkout line about an upcoming Christmas musical at a local church that ends with an invite. It could be simply asking someone sitting next to you while waiting for a table about their favorite Christmas tradition and then sharing yours, or it could be as simple as holding a door for someone with a big smile and really wishing them a "Merry Christmas!" Today, this very day, maybe one of you will bump into a young lady tired from working long hours who is carrying the weight of the world. Maybe you will both be grabbing coffee in the quick hustle and bustle of one of the season's last shopping days, maybe she is Dani Marie's birthmother. Our hero, who gave us our baby girl, would you really wish that girl a Merry Christmas?  Maybe you will go to pay at a local fast food restaurant and who knows maybe she even messed up your order, but could you still dig down and really wish her a Merry Christmas?
For the first time this morning, I realize that her salvation is not my task alone. While I have prayed for it every single day for the last seven years and will continue to for the rest of my life, it's not my sole responsibility. It didn't have to happen in that single conversation we had. It could happen today. It could happen because a complete stranger simply really wished her a Merry Christmas, and just maybe that stranger will be you. I have promised myself and the Lord this morning that I would slow down and be mindful of every opportunity this Christmas to share the greatest story ever told. Dani Marie's story is one of my favorites. There is a story even greater, and it's because of the Christmas story that we have the opportunity to be living Dani Marie's story this very day.
     Thank you in advance for loving on the people around you this Christmas. All of them....The ones you know and love and even the ones you don't. It's amazing what God can do when we are willing to notice His people we meet and take the time to really wish them a Merry Christmas!
I love y'all!
Ashlee

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Chapter 50: Long Lines and Life Lessons

Hey y'all!!!! I'm currently typing this from the comfort of my cozy bed. Why am I in the bed at 6:00? Well, I might as well get to today's blog topic.


If you have seen the news, your newsfeed, or social media today then you know all about the "Pay Your Age" sale that Build a Bear attempted. Within an hour of store openings across the country, police were shutting down some stores. Lines were several hour waits even before the doors opened. Madness right? Well, I guess it's a matter of perspective.

Dani Marie and I had planned a Mommy/Dani Day as we call them. We heard about the "Pay Your Age" sale, and we both love a good bargain. Dani Marie has several of these "stuff your own" animals, but her eye has been on a unicorn for a while. They usually run about $30 bucks or so. We decided we'd head out and take advantage of the sale. We arrived at the mall at 9:15 this morning........

The line was already out the doors of the mall and backed up onto the sidewalk. Wow??!!! I expected a line, but nothing like this. The sun is scorching down already. It's Mississippi in July, need I say more? I immediately offered to take her back home to swim and us come back another day. She told me she didn't mind waiting and would find a shaded spot. She stood in the shadow of a nearby tree and played with two little boys. She ran and laughed and giggled. In about half an hour, we moved inside the doors. Wow!!! The line was so long! It was wrapped around into the food court, and that is where we took our spot. I realized at this point that we were looking at what I estimated (wrong) was a two hour wait. I offered her once again the opportunity to leave and return, even assuring her we could pay full price for the unicorn. She smiled and told me that she really wanted to be able to pay her age. She said the unicorn was meant to go home with her and she didn't want it to have to go home with another family if she left. I laughed at her logic and agreed to stick it out.

A little after 11:00, I realized the line was moving much slower than I thought. We were looking at several more hours. I explained this to her. I told her we would wait, but it would be a very long time. She didn't mind a bit. She hugged me tight and held my hand. She told me she was having so much fun! I realized then that she wanted the unicorn, but she was also enjoying the experience of waiting for it. She laughed and giggled and played. She met a couple kids who taught her to play UNO at a table in the food court. She stood at the window of the arcade and cheered for people inside winning tickets. I ordered her a lunch plate as we passed a little food spot. She met a little boy whose mom was trying to make it until they got home to eat, in order to avoid spending more money. Dani Marie, without hesitation, split her meal with him. They laughed and became close friends over their hour long lunch. The line was slowly moving. My feet were killing me, I had worn flip flops and not very supportive ones at that. I didn't realize what we were committing to when we got in the line. I couldn't complain though, I didn't want to rain on her parade. I started to prepare her that the unicorns might be sold out by the time we reached the store. She told me not to worry, she would be happy with whatever she got. She met another group of kids and started playing paper, rock, scissors, with them. They laughed and had the best time. She hugged me so many times today.

While she was playing I met a precious custodian at the food court. Her hours had been cut previously but today instead of getting off at 2:00, they asked her to stay until 3:00 because of the crowds. I met a fellow teacher and her two boys. We covered for each other in line during potty breaks. We laughed and talked for hours like old friends. Dani Marie got gummy bears from the yogurt stand and even though gummy bears are her favorite, she only ate one. I asked her why? She told me she gave them away to a "new best friend" who said he liked them, too. We met up with some friends from home and waited with them to enter the store as a group. They were allowing one group in at a time. Finally, after 7 HOURS we made it to the front of the store. Dani Marie immediately started talking to the worker and they ended up realizing after a short conversation that they both have to wear an eye patch at night. She complimented Dani Marie on her sparkly purple glasses, and she told her they have some in the store for the animals. She knew Dani Marie had her eye on a unicorn. There were only a couple of the ones she wanted left in the bin. The worker went and got the one Dani Marie wanted and personally handed it to her. Dani hugged her so tight and smiled at me. We checked out "Stardust" and left the store. I leaned down and asked Dani Marie if it was worth it?

"Well, what do you think? Was it worth the wait?"

She smiled so big and said, "You bet! This girl was worth the wait! She gets to come home with us now!"

We loaded up and headed home. My feet hurt so bad. I was tired. I was sore, but somehow I was so grateful. I thought about how easy it would have been to be ill or upset. I thought about how I could have told her it was a huge waste of time. Some of the posts online have called us crazy or stupid for waiting, and I guess maybe to some we are. I didn't want to wait. This is just the kind of thing that only a parent would do. I'm so thankful that I have someone to stand in that line for. It made me think back to our journey into parenthood and the almost 7 years we spent waiting. Would we be one of the ones who walked away with arms full or empty? Should we throw in the towel and turn away? The moment I laid eyes on Dani Marie and realized she was mine to keep and take home, my soul rejoiced. I learned a lesson from Dani Marie today. In her waiting, she never complained. She didn't worry they might run out or she wouldn't get exactly what she wanted. She was willing to put in the time and wait, even with no guarantee that she would walk away with what she came for. She was patient. She was kind during her waiting. She didn't watch other girls walk out with unicorns and get bitter or jealous. She always smiled. She was genuinely happy for others. She got her unicorn. She will value it above the rest, because some of its value comes from the wait. I asked her when we walked in the house tonight what her favorite part of today was. She told me it would have to be making so many friends.

Build a Bear's headline in the news said, "Pay Your Age event so successful it failed" and chronicled the negative aspect of many upset customers having to wait hours or be turned away. After standing in the longest line of my life, I'd have to disagree. For us today was a huge success. We met new people. We took the time, because we had plenty of it to pass, to get to know others who we might have only passed by on other days. My daughter, who I worry about because she is an only child and tends to "get" lots of things, trips, and experiences displayed kindness and patience beyond her years. I was reminded how fortunate I am to have someone to stand in line for. I think all that makes for a pretty successful day.

Would I do it all again? Absolutely! It wasn't that all that time was worth it "to save $20", but the day spent with Dani Marie was priceless. I'd do it again tomorrow to feel the way I feel right now, overwhelmed with thankfulness. I can't lie though, I'd wear some better shoes. :)


Friday, March 16, 2018

Chapter 49- "Now, Let's Go Home"



Hey everybody! I hope y'all have had an excellent spring break. I know most of you just had a regular work week, but maybe the teachers and students enjoyed the week off! This blog has been in the works for a while. I just couldn't find the courage to share it. Believe it or not, every single blog makes me a little nervous. Sometimes more than a little I guess. I'm (or at least I used to be) a pretty private person by nature. I made a promise to God a while back that I would be transparent enough to give Him all the glory for Dani Marie's story. It's easy to share the highlights, but the insecurities that come along with it, well that takes a little more "dying to myself" and just sharing our hearts. Here you go...


Flashback to November....

Dani Marie's adoption is closed. What does that mean? Well, it means we don't have contact with her birthparents. Not that we don't talk about them, it's not that we don't celebrate them, it's just that we don't really know them personally. Whose decision was this? Well, all of ours really. Mainly though, it was her birthmother's decision. You see, at that point I would have given a kidney, much less agreed to any terms needed to be a mother. I get it. I mean I understand why she wanted it this way. I know all kinds of adoptive families. The thing about adoption, not just adoption parenthood in general I guess, is you have to find what works for your children and your family. I've seen open adoptions be the perfect fit for some families. For Dani Marie's birthmother, closed just worked best. She explained her reasons to me that one time we met. It was like everything she did for our girl, out of love. She told me that it would be too hard for her to see ongoing pictures from birthdays, school events, etc. The thing was, she loved Dani Marie so much. She wanted so desperately to be a part of her life, but her wants.. those came second to Dani Marie's needs. She knew for Dani Marie to have the best shot at this life, she needed us. Financially, spiritually, she needed to be placed with us. I can't imagine what that felt like for her. I do know that she made all her decisions with our baby girl's best interest at heart. She told me that day that she wouldn't cry, she'd already cried all her tears. She told me she wanted that to be the happiest day of my life. And it was.... She explained her decision. One made with a maturity well beyond her years. Her decision was that the first time we saw our baby, would be her last time. She needed to see that she was loved and leave it there. I can only speculate about the other reasons why. I have a million times...played those first moments back in my mind. I think she was breaking her own heart. She couldn't see pictures of a life she wasn't part of, for her I don't think she could even play just a supporting role in Dani Marie's life. I think it would have been too difficult for her, because she loved her so much. I think she did all that she could, she gave Dani Marie absolutely the best shot she could. She hand-selected a family that she felt could provide for her needs and wants in a way that she couldn't. I can't imagine. I can't comprehend her sacrificial heart.

So, what does that mean? That means that Dani Marie understands she is adopted. She knows that makes her special. She knows she grew in her birthmother's tummy. We have told her this story since she was small enough to fit in our hand. As she is getting older though, she understands it more. That means sometimes the questions are deeper than they were three years ago or even two. She has always been intrigued by the fact that she has her birthmother's eyes. She loves to ask about how we felt when we first found out we were getting her. She asks often to look back at the pictures of our "pinked out" yard the day the adoption was official, compliments of sweet Aunt Am. Those stories have always brought smiles and excitement to relive. A few months ago, a more difficult set of questions brought other emotions.

Dani Marie is at the age where lots of her friends are having little brothers and sisters. She understands that her mom isn't able to carry a baby. I guess, her little mind had been trying to think of a loophole. One night when we were riding in the car she asked a new question.

"Mom, listen. I been thinking maybe birthmother could have another baby. Maybe, she could have a brother or sister for me. I mean, if she has a baby won't it be my sister or my brother?"

I just swallowed hard. You see, one of my "fears" is that someday she'll let the world change her view of adoption. I know it's silly. It's something I have to die to and trust in God. The human flesh in me is afraid sometimes. I guess, that someday we won't be enough for her. I know that sounds silly, maybe. I mean, I'd love for her to meet her birthfamily if that is what she wants. I wish I could promise that her fairytale would continue and it would be a great reunion. I can't though. Would possible siblings accept her? I'd hope so, but who knows. Would she ever get angry at us for not being able to give her that role as a sister she wants so badly at times? I hope not. Will she one day wish that she wasn't a part of our world? Goodness, I pray not. Would someone she seeks out, hurt her? I don't know. See, those are the scary questions at times. I have always just prayed that God would guide us and give us peace. The answer is yes, all the children that her birthmother and birthfather have are her siblings. What does that mean? I don't really know. So, how do I explain this one? Over the years, I've learned to be slow to speak. I just stayed silent a minute. I asked God to help me answer this. In true Dani fashion, she didn't stop asking until I answered her.

"Well, baby let's see. Yes, if your birthmother has a child that would be your biological sibling. Now, does that mean a baby brother or sister could come live with us? NO, it doesn't. You see, our hope and prayer for birthmother is that now she is older and hopefully has finished college and has a job, and maybe she is in a place where she can take care of a baby. That's what we want for her. We want her to be the best mommy she can be. When you were born, she wasn't at a place where she could be that. She was smart and she loved you so much that she knew that. That's why she "put you to us" (Dani Marie coined this phrase when she was almost 3, and we think it's the perfect way to say it.) so we could be a family."

And then I just held my breath.
"Yes, I understand. She knew we needed each other right, Momma?"

I smiled. That sweet baby. That's exactly right. I thought that would be the end of the conversation, but it wasn't not quite.

Later that night while I was brushing her hair she started in again.

"So, Momma when you saw birthmother, was that at the hospital where all the babies are born?"

I explained that it was. I talked to her about the talk we had that day. Then she asked me if she could go there. She wanted to go back to where we saw her birthparents and everything began. This part scared me a little. What will she feel? Will she wish she had gone home with them? What is this? I don't want to confuse or hurt her. I thought these questions would come at 10 or 12. I didn't think it would be 5!

I agreed to take her. We started out the next day. We were headed to the NICU. We were almost at Tupelo when she said, "Wait, Daddy was there. Right? Wasn't Daddy there, too? My birthfather was there and so was my daddy. We can't go back without him."

I agreed that her daddy was there. I told her it would be a few days before Daddy could go with us due to his work schedule. She said she wanted to wait until we could both go back to the place where we last saw them. I was a little relieved. That was it for a few days. The following Saturday we got up and headed to Tupelo. I never mentioned going, I guess thinking she had put it out of her mind. We were headed to the mall. As soon as we got in she reminded us. "Don't forget where I want to go. Remember, the place I was born at?" Right, okay. We headed to the NICU. We pulled in the parking lot, and so many memories flooded back. I asked God to help me find the right words to comfort her heart. I also asked him to protect mine. Would she be glad she left there with us? Were we "enough" for her? We walked in to the hospital. She immediately told us she wanted to go back to where we had our "talk". My husband never said a word. I think he was feeling some of the same things I was. We walked out to the courtyard and when we stood beside the table, I pointed.

"Here it is. This is the spot. This is where we ALL made the plan for you." I wanted to say more, I wanted to remind her how much we wanted her. I wanted to explain. God seemed to silence me. He reminded me that sometimes it's only in the quiet that peace can come.

"Momma, where, where did she sit? My birthmother could you show me where she sat?" I got down on my knees and I mustered out a "Sure, baby" and pointed to the seat. Then, she walked to the seat and she sat in it. She sat and rubbed the edge of the seat for several minutes. She never said a word. Daniel looked away, and I just held my breath. What was she thinking? How could I comfort her? How could I remind her that she is our world? That she was wanted and loved and prayed for? What could I do? What was she thinking? She rubbed the seat and she had the most solemn look, I've ever seen her have. Had it really been six years since we had been in that same spot? Then, after almost five full minutes of silence, she looked at me. She smiled. I was still on my knees. She reached her arm around my neck. And she spoke.

"Momma, you know what? That day, y'all made the perfect plan for me." She hugged me so tight. My heart just melted. We came there that day for her. I wanted to help her find peace. I wanted to comfort her little fears or worries, but in true tinygirlbigmiracle fashion she comforted mine. I was her momma, and she was glad. She wanted us. In fact, she thought being with us was the "perfect plan" for her. In a thousand lifetimes, I could never deserve this precious girl. She held mine and her daddy's hands. She looked at the door and then she told us, "Now, let's go home." That's exactly what we did. I still don't know what she was thinking or feeling when she sat in that spot. If she is anything like her selfless birthmother, I'm sure she thought of everyone else involved. Maybe she even felt the love radiating off that spot from another young beautiful girl who sat there looking at me with the same crystal blue eyes years ago. That girl gave me the greatest gift, our daughter. That day, Dani Marie's precious confirmation that our plan was perfect was another gift I will always treasure.

We snapped this picture of her before we left.
The truth is we are still just getting our feet wet with how to handle the complicated questions that come with adoption. Sometimes maybe we even make it more complicated than it really is. It's actually pretty simple. Just like the way God loves us. We don't deserve it, we can't explain it. It's simply a gift given to us. Dani Marie had the best answer for any question that could ever come up. "We made the perfect plan for her." God, her birthparents, our precious social worker, her daddy, and I all loved her enough to make the perfect plan for her. One day, I hope she understands just how perfect that plan was for me, too. 

Love y'all!