About Ashley Willingham

Ashley is a Christian wife and mama, an organised-creative, traveller, coffee drinker, and ponderer. She's a work from home mama - writing and photographing beautiful families with the desire to capture story!

Hello Again

Hello again! It’s been about a year and a half since I have written in this space. A lot has happened since I last wrote. A lot. I have been thinking so much about picking this space back up over the last several months. The last several months that in many ways have felt like years.

When I last wrote, we were a year into our move back to the US. Since then…

  • My Dad underwent treatment for his cancer, and he beat it! He’s gotten stronger every day since.
  • I started (and have nearly finished) nursing school. I have met some of my best friends. I have developed a passion for science and understanding the body and especially a renewed passion for maternal health…
  • I got offered my first RN job in the Labor & Delivery Unit at Methodist/Riley. Surreal. Grateful.
  • We have done countless projects and renovations to our house since that initial blitz I wrote about last.
  • We celebrated 7 and 8 years of marriage.
  • Otis went to daycare for the first time and loved it.
  • Eleanor finished preschool and pre-k, and she is about to start kindergarten!
  • COVID-19 hit globally, and the conflict in my heart and mind as someone entering the healthcare profession is great.

This year has not been expected. Not for anyone.

The other night, Robbie and I were sitting on our (newly renovated) back deck and chatting. I said to him, “This year has been awful in many ways in the world, but this year is huge. This year I am becoming a nurse, and this year cannot end awful…at least not inside our home.”

With every day that has passed this year, I have thought about deleting social media. In March, at the start of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders in the US, social media did so well. Some Good News by John Krasinksi came out, people were sharing positive stories amidst the uncertainty and pain. There were people cheerleading frontline workers in hospitals and grocery stores. There were fundraisers to help get proper PPE where needed. There were images and graphics offering hope.

Then it kept going.

We got tired.

Now, I log on and quickly feel…sad, defeated, angry, confused, anxious. I don’t feel hope in what I see online hardly anywhere, and that is so sad to me. Our presence online is at least partially reflecting how we are doing as a whole, and in that scenario, we aren’t doing well.

So I want to delete it. I want to close my eyes. I want to stop feeling all those feelings.

However, something is compelling me to stay. Something is pulling me to this place to do my little part to add some good back to all the pain, all the anxiety, all the confusion. (*Note: I do think it is ok and appropriate to get off social media for a time, to unfollow people who only cause you anxiety or overwhelm…there is a time and place for that 100%.)

When I post something online, I often have a little conversation with myself. Whether I am sharing my own photo and caption or want to share someone else’s, I often find myself asking, “Who is this for?” “Why am I sharing this?” “Is this serving my own agenda?” “Will this bring someone joy and hope?” “Or will this bring someone pain, confusion or shame?”

I think sometimes we forget (or minimally underestimate) the power of our presence online. Good or bad. I think we are quick to share without thinking through the ramifications of our sharing.

I won’t be able to change the world, but I do know that in my simple presence online, as small as it may be, I want to bring hope, joy and peace. Our world doesn’t need more pain. It doesn’t need more confusion. It’s e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e right now. Everywhere. We don’t need to bring more to an already overfilled table. What we need to bring is a glass of water, a warm blanket, a box of tissues, an uplifting word or a smile. Let’s bring that.

I hope to write more here, and as much as I have opinions and stances on things, I want to bring hope, joy and peace to this world more than anything.

See ya soon!

A Year In

A year ago today, we were freshly back in the US, full of hope and optimism, and the year that proceeded ended up being one of the more challenging of my life. Isn’t it funny that way? I distinctly remember thinking last January, “This is going shockingly well so far. We are working out and finding new cafes and meeting new people. This is going to be great!” Perhaps somewhere deep down, a part of me was yelling at myself to not think that…nothing is ever this easy! Nevertheless, I was hopeful and optimistic.

Then February hit, and a number of challenges came my way. I had some challenges with my teeth that resulted in multiple visits to the dentist and a trip to Tulsa with Otis as a solo parent. I came home to Eleanor in the midst of a vomiting bug, one that continued that night and into the morning, resulting in us taking a visit to the ER because of her dehydration. Mind you, my mouth was throbbing this whole time. Robbie started applying for jobs and didn’t hear back. We started trying churches and nothing seemed to fit. I was up multiple times a night with Otis who was only four months at the time, and I was confused about what I was meant to be doing with my life. Not to mention freezing cold temps and lots of snow. February kind of sucked.

I’m not going to recap each month because frankly that would miss the point. My point is that it wasn’t all perfect and it looked entirely different than either of us imagined our first year back would look like. We sort of found a church, felt like it wasn’t the right fit after a couple months, and then had to search again. Robbie applied for jobs, got a job, lost that job and had to apply again. I tried network marketing, stopped network marketing and then revisited it with a different mentality and goal. We lived with my parents for 10 months. In the first half of the year we got our finances in order, took the Financial Peace Course, set a budget and proceeded with that budget as Robbie started working. We met with a financial planner/broker friend, got pre-approved for a mortgage, looked at houses and put an offer on one…which we didn’t get. We didn’t get it but thank goodness because the next day Robbie was blindsided at work and lost his job. I dealt with anxiety regarding our transition and mothering and life. I had a few anxiety attacks – something completely new for me and not so fun. I met with a counselor in April and felt like there was no chemistry, mutual understanding or respect, and then waited several months until August to try again. When I tried again, it was incredible and one of the best decisions I have made. We met new people, reconnected with old friends and saw friends from Australia (such fortunate surprises!!!). We renovated a house with my family, moved into the house and now have a home. We found a church the second time around, settled in, found a small group and feel great about being here. Robbie applied for jobs a second time around, did many phone interviews and some in-person ones. He finally got an amazing offer…that started in January. Robbie got seasonal work as a UPS driver during Thanksgiving/Christmas, and reality really sunk in when he got back after 10pm every night his first week. We went on a few road trips. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery to remove a tumor. We experienced some holidays we haven’t for awhile, as well as the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere again. We watched football…and not at 8am on a Monday morning (Australia time). We went to family events, weddings, friends birthdays – things we haven’t been able to for nearly a decade. I ran a 5K! We have two cars now – a 2007 Toyota Camry and a 2008 Toyota Sienna. We are a Toyota family, and I am rocking the mini-van.

It’s funny because as I go back and read that last paragraph, it’s all just facts. It’s not really the emotions or mental challenges surrounding all of those things (that would take a book). In reading that paragraph, I feel as if I am writing about five years, not one. So much.

This is what I know, though, one year in.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be near family, to get to know them on a different and new level. I am thankful for Robbie, my partner for life, my support and champion, and the one that continued to laugh with me amidst it all. I am grateful for two beautiful and healthy children who have done SO well, all things considered. They have grown and matured, met new friends, gotten braver, learned new skills. It’s been a joy to be their mom. I am grateful that I no longer feel fragile. I feel strong. I don’t run towards hard things, but I am not afraid of them anymore. I am grateful for a wonderful counselor, a woman who has sat with me for months and heard me talk through all of this. A woman who is understanding and yet challenges me. I am grateful for counseling in general. I have learned so much about myself in these last five months. I have more clarity, and in a year of new and change and confusion, clarity is welcomed with open arms! Most importantly, I am grateful that the same God that started stirring our hearts for a change 2.5 years ago is still with us and covering us and loving us and providing for us.

I haven’t written in awhile, but it’s a new year. I am feeling less bogged down by the need to make this look perfect or sound perfect, and I am more convinced that vulnerability is what truly helps others. Vulnerability is so important. (Thanks Brene!) This year has many wonderful things to look forward to, and I hope to bring you along the journey more and more.

AND, I want to encourage you – if you are going through a transition, I get it. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. There are more unknowns than knowns, and you may not know when you’ll be “transitioned” as I liked to say. Take refuge in the fact that God is with you in the call, he’s with you in the transition, and he’s with you at the destination. You, my friend, are the one that is changing and growing and being challenged. He’s constant.

Love yas!

Twelve Months With Otis

I have said this a few times over the past month, but it’s really surreal to reflect on the last year, to realize all that has happened since our little Otis boy came into our lives. A year ago we were living in Australia, decorations still on the walls, routine still in place. I had resigned to the fact that Otis was NOT going to come early like his sister, so I was surprised when I started having contractions a few days early. Otis came into the world very fast, and it was such a shock! I was happy it happened that way, though, after a very long labor and birth with Eleanor. All that to say, since his birth, we had my parents in Australia, adjusted to life as a family of four, and then we began preparing for our move back to the States. Selling things, shipping things, hanging out with friends and our church. Then the day came, and we flew around the world with a few bags and a lifetime of memories and friendships, completely changed from the people we went there as nearly a decade prior. Since arriving back in the U.S., there have been a million adjustments and transitions, and we are still figuring out so many things out. There have been many challenges and many victories, and I have been so grateful that we have Mr. Otis with us for it all. He’s such a special part of our family, and I am grateful for the joy he brings to everyone around him. Happy 1st Birthday sweet boy!

Highlights & Milestones

Otis has gotten even more adventurous and mobile this month. He is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! If someone opens the back door, he’s there in a flash. He always wants to be outside, racing to get there anytime he sees an opportunity. Front porch sitting hasn’t happened as much this month because he wants to get down and get into the dirt. If Otis is awake, he’s moving it seems. Just last week, a few days before his birthday, he took his first few steps. We were downtown at an Air B&B that Robbie’s family was staying at, and he saw something a couple feet away and just walked over to it. It was so unexpected that we all were sort of in disbelief about what had happened. Since then, I am noticing that it almost always has to be Otis’s idea; he won’t do it when prompted.

Sadly, Otis had his first case of Hand, Foot and Mouth. He’s only been sick twice in his life, one time with roseola and then this time. He was so miserable for those first couple days, and it was really heartbreaking. He recovered after a few days, even though he still had so many spots. I am glad that’s over, though, and I am so grateful he was back to his happy self for his birthday party on Saturday.

We went to an apple orchard with the kids for the first time this month, and they both loved it. Otis particularly loved the apples and trying the apple slushies! Towards the end, we let the kids play at the playground for a bit, and Otis, as usual, did not want to leave the swing.

Otis road in our new-to-us jogging stroller for the first time this month, and I think he really enjoyed it. I am sure he’ll enjoy it more and more now that it’s not so hot, though!!

He is making all sorts of sounds and faces, and he loves if people clap for him. He really loves making silly faces at Eleanor, and the two of them can make each other laugh so hard! One thing they’ve been doing that is particularly cute is when Eleanor rides on her little Frozen push car while Otis is at the back pushing her. They still love playing hide-and-seek and chase, too!

Likes

  • Food – after his birthday smash cake, I’ll put “sugar” on the list! Haha! His other favorite foods right now are any type of crackers, smoothies, fries, bananas, cheerios, sweet potatoes, avocado, cheese, apples.
  • He loves water and his milk. He’ll hold his own bottle each time now.
  • Being outside, going for walks, sitting on the front porch
  • Cars, trucks, etc. – will watch cars drive by all day long!
  • Crawling around, cruising around while holding on, climbing things
  • Playing chase/peek-a-boo with Eleanor
  • Seeing people after being away (aka when Daddy gets home, or when he sees Gaga or Papaw)
  • Being thrown in the air, when we fly him around chasing Eleanor
  • Water – bath time, water table, splash pad…he loves it all.
  • Riding in the shopping cart
  • Fun songs – Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You Know It, etc. – just not Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star bc that means it’s sleep time
  • Being tickled
  • Playing with Reese, my parent’s dog

Dislikes

  • Having his nose wiped
  • Being hungry!
  • Getting his diaper/clothes changed (unless you come up with the perfect song!)
  • If you put him down and he’s not ready for it yet

How Am I Doing?

I am mostly doing good, but this month has been a whirlwind. There have been about a million things going on, and I don’t feel like I have had any down time or breaks. Throwing in Otis’s hand, foot and mouth was certainly not helpful! I am thankful a lot of things are out of the way now, and I can focus on the few major areas that are still quite busy. I am definitely loving this season with both of my kids, though. I love seeing them interact more together and play. We are also slowly but surely getting into more of a routine as the school year has started with mom’s group, church stuff, preschool, etc. I am still working out our schedules in some areas, but we are getting a bit more settled.

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