Richer because they are in it

We were in middle school when she told me her parents gave her permission to legally change her name. I remember exactly where we were standing. The bell was about to ring and we would be late to class if we didn’t hurry. I don’t have too many vivid memories from middle school, but that moment is one I’ll never forget. I could not comprehend what she was telling me. I couldn’t understand. I was an “Ashley”. Along with the girls named Michelle, Jennifer and Rachel, we made up 60% of the middle school female population.

My friend Thao was changing her name to Tina. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but the moment she told me I felt a sense of loss. I knew her family came to the US as refugees, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. I definitely had no idea what it felt like or even a guess to what challenges they had overcome. Thao was simply my friend and she was changing her name. It was the moment I realized how important to know someone’s story and to imagine life their shoes before speaking or forming an opinion on something I didn’t understand.

Tina and I stood next to eachother on the stage at our graduation, each delivering speeches to our 980+ student body. She served our class at the student body President. It has been years since I’ve hugged her neck, but I watch from afar as she continues to gently lead, empower and change the lives of others. I’m so grateful during my most influential years, she was one of the girls walking beside me.


Michelle and I forged a friendship as we balanced on beams, covered our hands in chalk, and goofed off in the locker room. Gymnastics brought us together every day and she became more of a sister than a teammate. She spent weekends with my family and I spent weekends with hers. Her parents, brother and sister became a second family to me. She has always been far cooler than I – teaching me the ways of Birkenstocks and introducing me to all the good food. In all our years of tumbling floors and bouncing between our homes, I never asked her or her parents about their journey to the U.S. as immigrants. Michelle describes it as a true American Dream story and I hope one day I could see them again and hear the story in person. Michelle pushed me to work harder, to pursue excellence, to loosen up a bit and to smile – a lot.

(photo on right was taken the day her parents’ application to the US was approved and they got their Visas and passports)


A couple years ago I desperately wanted to learn to make steam buns and dumplings. My sweet friend Bopha invited me to her home along with a few other friends and her mom. Bopha’s mom spent an evening teaching us and laughing alongside us as we all tried to learn her tricks. She didn’t measure anything and would smile when we’d attempt to write down a precise recipe.

35 years before she was on the run with her husband and three children (9 yrs, 6 yrs, 2 months) trying to escape Pol Pot. They had seen family members starved to death and murdered. Fleeing for their lives they made it to the Thailand/Cambodia border and a week later into a refugee camp. After shuttling between 4 different refugee camps, 15 months later her family of 5 made a home in Oklahoma. 15 years or so later, I would meet that 2 month old baby (who was by then in high school) and would grow to love and respect her as a dear friend. Decades later we would both adopt little ones from China. And years later I was in her kitchen learning to make the steam buns and dumplings to share with my family.




Blogging is a funny thing. Actual, real, authentic friendship can form through words typed on a screen. Many years ago I ‘met’ Ruth through blogging. We both had a couple kids and both were among the ranks of the strange few that called themselves ‘bloggers’. I liked Ruth when I only knew her online. When I met her in person, a deep love for her and her family was born. Ruth inspires me. She challenges me. She is my opposite in just about every way. I describe myself as the ‘least connected blogger’, while Ruth is known by and knows pretty much everyone. I love that about her. Ruth is a friend that understands the highs and lows of being an online entrepreneur. She is sister and encourager in an area of life that can often feel lonely for me. She is a grace in my life.



Then there was the frail little one placed in my arms 4.5 years ago. I’m forever changed by the grace of knowing her as my daughter. She is the one who makes me laugh every day, the one who is far wittier than what is normal for a 5 year old, the one who is a living example of bravery to me, and the one who joined our family via an Immigrant Visa.


I don’t know what life would be like without these 5 women in my life. They have molded my beliefs. They have taught me to set my expectations high. They have empowered me, challenged me, inspired me and changed me. Their journeys to Oklahoma looked far different than mine and I’m forever grateful for the gift of knowing them and being known by them.

I grew up in the halls of First Baptist Church. In the 80s, the generation ahead of me sponsored countless refugee families to make Oklahoma their new home. Several of those families had babies that would one day become my dear friends. Also in the halls of my church were the families that fostered countless children for decades. I grew up watching the adults in my church – they fostered, they served the homeless, they cared for the sick, they sponsored refugees, they welcomed the immigrant. Their arms wrapped around the hurting, their doors welcomed the lonely, their tables served the those hungry for food and community. They were my living example of Jesus and what his hands and feet on earth look like. Watching them molded my Christian faith, my dreams for my future and my current family.

As I tune my ear to the voices around me and online, I keep thinking to myself if only we could all be more mindful of who is listening. If only we could consider the feelings of others and how our words impact them before we speak. If we could do our research and respond out of education and not hysteria or fear. If we could remember when we throw around terms to describe whole groups of people, we are selling ourselves and others short – and we often do so much hurt and damage.

If only we could take time to sit around kitchen tables and really listen. Listen – in a way that the goal is to hear the person speaking, not listen only to formulate our response. To really listen to the fears and concerns of those supporting drastic change. To really listen and hear those that stand with signs welcoming refugees. If we could turn off Facebook, put down our phones and look into the eyes of those we disagree with – we might just find a friend in an unexpected place.

I have experienced the beautiful gift of deep friendships with women whose family stories are far different from my own. My life is richer because they are in it and I can only hope and pray my children experience friendships like I have.

Listen to truly hear. Ask questions to learn. Welcome the stories of others. Consider who is listening and the impact of our words. Speak slowly with passion wrapped in grace. I can wish it for the masses, but I know it starts with me.


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  • Kristin - Stories like this will change more hearts and minds than anything I can think of. Thank you for sharing. I hope you will share this with your elected representatives if you have not already done so.

  • Joey - Thank you for such a beautifully written, inspirational post.

    Whilst I love blogs, I often find none of the big issues are addressed really, and in the current world climate I’m finding I’m more drawn to people that are prepared to share a position. Thank you!

  • Leah - What a beautiful post. Thank you.

  • Phoebe K - Such a lovely post. Thank you for your beautiful stories of these women.

  • Kate - Thank you for sharing these stories – such a beautiful post.

  • Jen - So beautiful. Thank you.

  • Amanda - Thank you Ashley-really really beautiful and a heart opening reminder. Thank you.

  • Tiffany - I was surprised to see this post didn’t have other comments yet because it is one of my favorites of yours. The tone of your whole blog includes looking for goodness in others, and I absolutely love your deep appreciation of their gifts. It can be easy to take for granted. Thanks for the pick-me-up this morning!

  • ashley jensen - This is wonderful! I never had classes with Tina but I did with Bopha. I saw her post on Facebook and I remembered a though I had while sitting in 9th grade English with her. I briefly wondered if she were born in the US or elsewhere, I wondered what her families story was, but never dreamed of asking. After all, I knew that she belonged here. I can’t imagine what their journey was like, and knowing that to this day people continue to experience this, it breaks my heart.

  • Katie - This is beautiful! <3

  • Tania - Thanks for humanizing the debate, each of us are a complex mix of features, experiences, backgrounds, etc, so much more than any categories we can fit at a given moment. And it is always important to remember that there is so much more love than hate in the world. Anywhere in the world.

  • Jessica P - Beautiful much needed truth. Thanks for articulating it.

  • Emily - Thank you, Ashley

  • AnnMarie - Thank you for sharing this! I appreciate this reminder: ” Listen – in a way that the goal is to hear the person speaking, not listen only to formulate our response.” I think that far too often I’m NOT listening, especially to those I disagree with. Even though I want to consider myself a compassionate person standing up for others, I sometimes forget that I still need to listen grace-fully to the people on the other side of the issue.

  • L Kane - Thank you for your wisdom and compassion. There is so much I want to say about this topic, but know that it would take many hours of conversation together to feel as though I would be getting just past the tip of the iceberg. Let me just say that I’ve been reading your blog for a few years and while I could focus on all the differences between us — regional, religious, family, temperament etc — I have found much to admire and appreciate in the values and perspective your articulate on your blog. Much of what distinguishes us is precisely what interests and enriches my life. Thank you for being just YOU! Thank you also for expressing in the most kindest, gentlest and gracious way what I hope not only for our nation, but the whole world as well.

  • Shira - Beautiful – I needed this today. Thank you.

  • Steffany - Thank you, thank you, thank you! Since the election I have said the same, that nobody is really listening. We’re not communicating, we’re talking. And posting. And ranting. Over and over and over, out of fear. I posted this on my blog in October, “Fear is not real. It is the product of thoughts you create. It is a choice.” And it seems fear is making the choice for so many. I made the change myself, that I would listen first and respond second and so yes, it begins with us. And although I’m trying to get others to do the same, I have not been successful. But I continue to try. We will continue to listen. And love. And posts, like these, will bring about change and compassion. It is difficult to know what to say in times like these and your words…beautiful and true. 🙂

  • Heidi Estrada - Thank you so so much for telling this story to the masses. It’s so important to put faces and stories in the place of words or groups.

  • Krista Maurer - This is one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written. My heart holds the same tender feelings. My husband is an immigrant from Turkey and so many of the people I love most have similar stories to his. I love this country, but what I love most is the way we are better for our diversities and our vast and varied histories. Thank you for sharing your friends’ stories. I, too, know my life is richer for the people in it, especially those who’ve sacrificed and gathered their courage to come here.

  • Melanie - Yes. If everybody would form their opinions from own experience and not from what they saw on tv or facebook, the world would be a better place. Thank you, Ashley. One reason more for you to be one of my favorite bloggers. Greetings from Germany.

  • Stacey - Beautiful and very relevant post! Thank you so much for sharing your stories. It’s personal stories like yours that touch the hearts of others and hopefully helps others think a little clearer by seeing through someone else’s eyes and expands their thinking to a more global understanding.

    I have been following you on Instagram now for a short while drawn in by your awesome photos of life as it happens. This is my first time to your blog and I’m so happy I visited!

  • Jen - This is wonderful, thank you.

  • Leiann - Wow, what a great post, no matter your political stance.
    Just another reason why I love your blog. You always make it about everyone else, not yourself. Please never change your blogging style. It’s perfect just the way it is. So many bloggers have turned into paid posts, “look at me! posts” and “this is why I’m so awesome” posts. You have a way to keep people interested by just being you! Thank you! 🙂

  • Carrie - Beautifully written – thank you for sharing <3

  • Julia - I love everything about this post. Thank you. My oldest daughter came home from China in 1998. At that time, they were not automatic US citizens when the plane touched down. Instead, they were given Green Cards and we had to apply for citizenship. I couldn’t help but think of that time last weekend when so many were being sent back to other countries… anywhere but here. What would have happened to us.

  • Emily - Thank you for this. xo

  • Rachel - Thank you for this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know it’s hard for an introvert to do, but so important.

  • Jenny - Yes! Thanks you for your eloquence Ashley.

  • Debbie H - You do not disappoint, Ashley. Your gifts shine through. I only hope that THOUSANDS if not MILLIONS can see this post, reflect and think.

  • Cynthia - Yet another heartwarming story!!! :’) Listen I will!

  • Julie Boyd - This is fantastic. I love love your blog. I just melt in my chair when I read your posts.

  • Ryan - I love this so much.

  • Tammy - We can embrace the immigrants who hugely enrich the fabric of our nation without turning a blind eye to the major problems that unchecked illegal immigration has caused. We need to make sure we are also listening to those who have legitimate concerns about illegal immigration, as well.

    Europe is having quite the adventure with all the refugees they let in. There needs to be a better system for vetting them.

  • Maureen - Thank you for sharing these beautiful stories. My Grandfather had an amazing story of a neighboring farmer during WW2 that he helped to keep his farm while being interned.
    My sons best friend has a sister from India and his girlfriend was adopted from China. These people are so interwoven in our lives, I could cry to try and imagine not having them and all they bring and are in our lives.
    These are some of the vibrant stories we share and listen to.

  • Ruth @ GraceLaced - I’m so grateful for your voice and your friendship.

  • Rae - Amazing and heartwarming. Thank you and God bless <3

  • Heather Johnson - I couldn’t love your blog more if I tried. Beautiful post. Your writing and the way you live your life is inspiring to me. Thank you for sharing your gifts.

  • Ruthann Wells - Well, your blog made me cry, Ashley!!! So many wonderful memories. The early days were hard many times but oh so rewarding! I am so very proud of these families and all they have become and all they have accomplished. They are all such a blessing! Thank you so very much for telling their story and yours. You did it so well!

  • Gabrielle - Beautifully written, well chosen words, so lovely to read something thought provoking in a postitive way rather than something that is just negative and destructive. Thank you for sharing.

  • Fran - You have such a beautiful heart, Ashley… Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!… <3

  • Sara - At a time when there are so many voices and opinions, this is a helpful and beautiful addition to the discussion. Thanks for sharing!

  • Erin Prohaska - Beautiful and important words!

    Thank you!

  • La Verne - As always Ashley, your heart speak ripples through all of us with your “lifexample”.

  • Allison - Beautifully written. Your perspective is exactly what we need more of in this world. Thank you so much for continuing to share your heart.

  • Beth Ann - No words. Your <3 is beautiful.

  • Rochelle - I love this post so much. Thank you for setting the example and leading through your actions and sharing it publicly. Your blog is an amazing example of faith and love in action.

  • Kristal Simel - Agreed! Well said

  • Romy - Ashley, your words are so nice. Everytime I see the picture of you and Chris holding your baby in happy tears, I start to cry. I know how much you longed for that day, the amount of suffering you went through, and how it was worth every second of waiting.
    Blogs sometimes come and go, but yours is the only one I keep reading and reading everyday.

  • Sarah - I don’t have anything wonderful to add but just wanted to say that I love what you have written. I know I am guilty of listening to someone speak while formulating my immediate response instead of asking further questions or really appreciating what they say.

  • Jane - I’ve read and enjoyed your wonderful blog for years but never written a comment, but this time I had to! You are right, our lives are infinitely richer with wonderful women like these, and women like you! Thanks to you and your family and friends for inspiring me. Kindness is what matters.

  • linda - Yes! Thank you for posting this. I have three immigrants in my family (adopted from China). If we look back far enough, most of this country came in as immigrants. I appreciate your personal story on this divisive issue.

  • Rachel C - I’m so glad you told their stories! They are stories of grit and sacrifice. Stories of love and determination. Thankful for each of these women and their inspiring stories. Beautifully written and challenging, important words. Love you, my friend.

  • Carrie Campbell - I remember a movie from when I was a child called ‘the girl who spelled freedom’ about a family of Cambodian refugees relocated to families in America. Then a few years ago I was able to go to Cambodia and see the things the regime had done, the destruction still there, the hopelessness that was still being overcome. It was really sobering. I taught English while I was there and I have never seen such passionate and willing students. They were amazing. Thank you for posting this! <3
    P.S. Little One has already influenced the lives of many!!

  • Jenn - such a beautiful post. love reading your works about how these ladies shaped your lives and how you learned about their lives in the process. thanks for sharing your words and heart

  • Peggy - Ashley, You inspire me every time you post something. Thanks you so much for this.

  • Renee - Beautifully written – thank you for sharing. I’m so uplifted by the many voices supporting our nation’s immigrants and refugees (both past, present and future). It can feel, sometimes, as if the loudest voices are the voices of fear, but I’m finding in the last several weeks that the voices of love and support are drowning out those fear-based shouts. Love!

  • Cassandra - Beautiful words Ashley, thank you for taking the time to put those thoughts into a post. It is lovely.

  • Alysa - Your heart is beautiful. So very grateful for the encouragement you are to me, every time I pop on your blog. I swear, we’d be fast friends if I lived in OK. My guess is you’re never moving North to Chicago, so I’ll have to come South. =) Continue being brave and loving; the way you share your heart and your voice is a beautiful mix of both.

  • Mary Osborne - What a great post…..and perspective!! This is a great reminder to stop and listen to what others are saying. And also to stop and think before speaking. My goal for today….and always, is to be ‘quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger’.

  • Kelly - Beautiful post Ashley!!! Kelly

  • Ruth H - Well said Ashley! What a wonderful perspective on this hot topic. We are here from the UK thanks to a visa and now green cards. I do not take this opportunity lightly and am grateful for my chance to live here. We were looking for adventure not escaping. My heart breaks for everyone who is trying to escape terror and hardship and make a life for themselves here.

  • Erica - Yes. Yes yes yes. Read this with tears welling up in my eyes. The paragraph about doing our research and listening and not responding out of fear is spot on and what we need to hear. Love this little space of yours and the sweet goodness that comes from it. I don’t know you but I sure do love you!

  • Kristy Collins - Beautiful, well-timed post. Thank you. I pray people listen to your experiences with immigrants, which are the real ones. My grandparents are immigrants as will be soon-to-be daughter from China! (We leave to meet her next month :)!!)

  • Trisha - Your way of being in this world is an inspiration. You’re a reflection of Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world.” Thank you, Ashley.

  • Michelle - Thanks for speaking up and sharing this perspective in a difficult time.

  • Marsha - This post took me back to 1975 and watching Vietnam fall on the nightly news, of seeing moms shoving their babies up into helicopters trying to lift off, of utter desperation, all with utter helplessness… until one evening my parents set us down. They asked my brother, sister, and me how we felt about sponsoring a family. I can still feel the surge in my heart as I jumped up from the hearth, already all in. I first gained a Vietnamese brother, only a few years older than me, as Mom became involved with the resettlement program. My brother went with us as six of us loaded into my parents Chrysler station wagon and headed to Fort Chaffee. Eleven of us filled the car on the return to Tulsa. A family of five with a mere two trash bags containing all of their worldly goods, all collected once they arrived in Arkansas. The woman who became my sister had tears creeping over the edges of her eyes, so my mom said having caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror. She had her two babes, 4 and not yet 2. She spoke no English. My new brother did, though. And my sister’s brother? He was a few years younger than my brother. I still remember listening to them at night teaching each other’s language back and forth. Actually, it was a mix of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and English. I have another brother and sister gained in the wake of the fall. He escaped with this little family, but it took him awhile to make his way to Oklahoma. All of our families have remained close even as we’ve grown. Just like a “real” family. God is so good, and we are so blessed.

  • Margaret - I have to confess I am one of the people who is having a hard time listening. My worry for the vulnerable is roaring in my head, making it very hard to listen. I think the raids that are happening on people who are here illegally are chilling and brutal. I worry for them and their children (who are often American citizens). I worry, I worry! I sympathize with those who are afraid for other reasons, and am a supporter of sensible immigration reform, but this is not it. The raids and detentions are terrifying. I miss the kindness and decency that you describe in the church of your childhood, Ashley. Thank you for your generosity of spirit. I will try to listen better, although it’s really hard right now to hear the other side.

  • Elizabeth - My brother visited Switzerland last March, and he said the attitude towards refugees by churches is vastly different than here. There the talk was about how to get them there and share the gospel with them.
    I realize also that there are countless Illegal immigrants who have no intention of becoming legal because then they lose their free health care through Medicaid, and also lose food stamps. My brothers have worked with several people like this who flat out told them this.