Last weekend one of my best friends asked Corbett to be her partner in a Crossfit competition. It was a co-ed team competition just for members of our Crossfit box (gym) – a perfect introduction to competing for him. Why didn’t I compete with him? I would rather clean up the whole stinky, sweaty gym after a competition with a toothbrush (not my toothbrush!) by myself than compete. I’m a fan of Crossfit, but I’d rather do just about anything than a Crossfit competition. Thankfully – I have Cindy. It is one thing to have friends that are nice to your kids. It is an incredible thing to have a friend say to your kid, “Hey, I want you on my team.”

I want a village to help me raise my kids and I am so thankful Cindy is a part of that village. Corbett held his own with all the adults and had a pretty great time in the process.

Watching Cindy and Corbett, I keep thinking of all the way she has helped me raise my kids over the years. Holding my babies, bringing me meals, chasing runaway toddlers, cheering me on when I decided to homeschool, showing up to games, and countless other ways. I don’t think I ever pictured her in a competition with Corbett, but it turned out to be just perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner for him.

We are out of the rocking babies, changing diapers and fretting over kids starting school phases. We are entering the teen years and it makes me so excited to have her in this with me. Our friendship was forged in the season of play dates and women’s Bible studies and I’m thankful it didn’t end there. Next up is high school and driving and actual dates – so wild to think about. I’m a fan of kids growing up and I’m a fan of it happening with friends by my side through all the seasons.

It is also pretty cool to have a friend that is like a female Avenger – she is so strong!

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  • Sprite - Way to go, Corbett! How fun 🙂 Cindy is amazing.

  • Michelle - It’s wonderful to be surrounded by great friends, especially those who adore your children. Great post!

  • My Two Mums - Wow great job!

A year ago our youngest was recovering from her third cleft related surgery. I didn’t write much about it because it fell days after I returned from Ecuador. Thanks to reminders on Facebook, I realized we were celebrating a year post-surgery.

Her first surgery was to repair her cleft lip. Her second surgery was to repair her cleft palate. Those first two surgeries were standard. We knew she needed them. Her doctor knew she needed them. Despite how difficult it is to watch your child go through a surgery, we didn’t wrestle with should or shouldn’t we put her through the surgeries.

Her third surgery was a much different story.

Her third surgery felt more like a gamble. Prior to her 3rd surgery there were sound she could not make. The anatomy of her palate made it pretty much impossible for her to form certain sounds. For her third surgery, we had to weigh the cost. Her doctor couldn’t tell us if she needed it or if it would work. We couldn’t determine it either. We had to trust the expertise of one very important person in her life – her speech therapist Jennie.

After months of waiting to see if she would begin making certain sounds and months of Jennie listening closely, Jennie recommended the surgery. We trusted Jennie and our baby girl went through her third surgery.

The doctor told us it would take right around 6 months for everything to heal and for us to be able to tell if she could now make those sounds she was unable to before.

Almost exactly 6 months later our girl was speaking clearly and articulating sounds she had never been able to make before the surgery. It wasn’t until seeing one of these pictures pop up on Facebook that I remembered just how far she has come in the last year. A year ago I was interpreting for her. She would talk and I would in a sense translate what she was saying to others. Very few of her young friends understood everything she said – actually, none of them understood everything.

Those days are far behind us. A few months ago she graduated from speech therapy twice a week to now only meeting with Miss Jennie once a week. Jennie changed her life. It was Jennie’s knowledge that guided us towards a surgery that ultimately empowered our daughter to communicate clearly with others.


I don’t know if Jennie ever gets discouraged in her chosen career. I’m guessing she might because I think most of us do at some point or another. I’m thankful Jennie pursued speech therapy. I’m thankful she said, “Yes” when we asked her to work with our daughter. She will probably never make millions of dollars. I doubt the school system will ever shower her with extravagant gifts or luxurious trips. She probably won’t get huge bonuses. BUT Jennie lives out her gifts. She shows up for her students. She is changing the world one little voice at a time.

Jennie reminds me of these words from Jill Briscoe:

“You go where you’re sent,

and you stay where you’re put

and you give what you’ve got until you’re done.”

~Jill Briscoe

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  • Melanie - So good to hear what Little One is up to. Everytime when you mentioned her talking I thought “Wow, she is talking now?!”.
    My son is hearing impaired and I love our Mrs. Kraus as much as you love Jennie. She is the one that taught him to speak and to hear/listen. I just love her. Now the end of our journey with her is in sight and I am forever grateful for her expertise and her patience.
    What people like your Jennie and our Mrs. Kraus do for our children cannot be paid with money.

    Greetings from Germany!

  • Shira - I echo what Melanie said — I’d been wondering too, and cheering for Little One behind the scenes! I’m hearing impaired and had speech therapy for a number of years as a kid (and thankfully, it worked). I loved my speech therapist. Huzzah to you all for all the progress – it takes guts and trust to go for that third surgery. Congrats on the success! Your Jennie sounds quite amazing.

  • Amanda - This update couldn’t have come at a better time <3 After saving (and saving and saving!) for our adoption, we are exploring a special needs adoption. Thank you to you and your family for sharing your story. You made my heart happier today!

  • Christine - Thank you for sharing. I’m so happy to hear of Little One’s progress. Thankful for all the “Jennie”s out there helping children and families! Here’s to your Jennie!!

  • ranee - love this post and loved hearing Jill Briscoe at IF gathering…such wisdom! 🙂

  • Tammy - Teary-eyed here. I found your blog because of your sweet Little one and I am always so thrilled to see Miss Jennie.

  • Caitlin E - Just sent this to my mom who is a pediatric SLP! I know there’s many a mom out there who is thankful she chose her vocation!

  • Carrie - So glad she has Jennie. We are still waiting for a definite decision regarding the 3rd surgery for our daughter for same reason. But they are leaning towards it…

  • Betj - That is amazing. I never had these issues but did need speech therapy as a child and I can say that it is such a battle wanting to be understood but not able to. I can still remember how happy I was when I could be understood by those I love most. I know it will always be that way for your girl too.

  • Laura Sennott - Thank God for Jennie!! What a joyous privilege it has been to see your little one grow and strive, for all of your little ones! You and your family are a wonderful example of the good in the world!

  • Candace - I am so glad you have an awesome speech therapist. We love ours and she has made the world of difference. I don’t ever think they get enough credit for what they do!!!

  • Rae - I’ve been reading your blog since I was 14 {around two years now}. For years, I’ve been interested in becoming a speech therapist; this post was so inspiring. God Bless Jennie and your family! <3
    Also, your blog completely changed my view on adoption. From being against it, I am now utterly, completely a LOUD advocate for it lol. I talk about the beauty of adoption with almost everyone I know and you're a constant example. A constant example in my life as well. I hope to adopt when I grow older. I'd love to adopt a baby…somewhere from newborn to a year old..because I feel like it would be easier for them to adjust. What system did you use?
    Thanks! 🙂

  • Monique - Jill Briscoe rocked my world last weekend at IF Gathering. I came home and checked out every book I could from the library, and purchased used many of the rest. Your “mission field being between your own two feet” and considering prayer a place we go instead of something we do, “the secret place where nobody goes,” are other takeaways from her that have challenged and inspired me. So thrilling to see her quote on your blog today! I know she’s been around for awhile, but I felt like I’d discovered a gem of a mentor when I heard her speak!

  • Jenny B. - So encouraging! So thankful for Jennie and people like her. And So thankful for Little One’s accomplishments! <3

  • Maureen - Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing! The Jennies of the world are what makes this world so remarkable.

  • Seamingly Sarah - What a wonderful post. Thank you for the quote at the end. It speaks
    to me so much right now.

  • Elise - beautiful!!!!!!!

  • Trisha - This is beautifully said and very moving. Go Miss Jennie!

  • Lindsay Kjar - What a beautiful story! Her contribution to your family is amazing, and so is your belief in not letting a grateful heart forget to say thanks!

  • Emily - Our SLP is amazing. My son has Apraxia (no physical limitations) and has therapy twice a week. He loves going to see her and his speech is clearer every day. She really is worth more than rubies. <3

  • Jill - Our son was in birth to three (he turns 10 tomorrow!). I’m so thankful for the speech therapists we had through birth to three and in the school system. Thanks again for a lovely post Miss Ashley.

A few weeks ago I asked my dear friend Courtney if she would write a guest post on my blog. Courtney was one of my college roommates, a bridesmaid in my wedding and the friend who is always teaching me something. Courtney and her husband Blake (who is a friend of mine from back in high school!) are both educators. Five days a week you can find them in the classroom in our local public school system. However, they are educators 24/7. I have the upmost respect and admiration for teachers and much of that is a direct result of watching the way Courtney and Blake pour themselves out and into their students. They are the kind of teachers you dream of your kids sitting under in a classroom.

I asked Courtney if she would share about what it is like teaching her classroom of students. Her classroom is full of English language learners. Many, probably most, find their way to her classroom and welcoming arms after a long and difficult journey.

I’m going to make a little sidenote here. My initial plan was to share Courtney’s interview as part of a series on people I know that are serving and loving others well in a wide arrange of ways – foster care, CASA workers, shelters, classrooms, senior adult centers, etc. Since I posted earlier this week related to immigrants and refugees, I had hoped to space Courtney’s post out a little bit. I know it can be an emotionally charged topic for some and I didn’t want emotions (either way) to distract from the beauty of what Courtney is sharing. However, it has been a very difficult week for me and those other posts have not been written. So, please welcome Courtney here with the grace you always extend to me. 

Thank you Court for willingly saying “yes” when I asked you to share here.


Teaching and Learning: The Importance of Loving and Living with Immigrants

Not saying a word, I gave Marya a hug this morning as she walked into my classroom. She says, “Miss – I have so many bad feelings this weekend. My dad is very sacred.” I say to her, “I am so sorry (while giving another hug). I am so glad you are here today.” Marya replies, “Me too.” There is a connection and knowing between us that needs not to be said today. For perhaps, there are not even words that will adequately fill this space.

My heart and head are swirling with all I want to say, but trying to get it out into words fails me. If you were to know me, you would be assured that I am rarely at a loss for words. I am a big talker. Yet, what is going on right now in our country leaves me searching for words and reeling from emotions.

However, words to describe the refugee and immigrant students who have filled my English Language Learner public high school classroom the last ten years easily spill out of my mouth and heart – they teach me. 

My students teach me that kindness knows no language or cultural norms. I see kindness in the way they welcome a new student into our class who doesn’t speak their language or look like them. Kindness comes in a heartfelt smile to remind one another you are seen, and you are known.

My students teach me hope is forever a bonder of the human spirit. For we all cling to hope and that clinging is something to unite us, not divide us. I see it in the eyes of the mama who brings her daughter to our school, hopeful her daughter will learn all she was never able to learn. As I lock eyes with that mama, no common language is needed. The hope for her child illuminates on her face, and as a mother myself I get it.


My students teach me that perseverance builds a depth of character that leaves me in awe. Many of my students have been waiting and going through years of vetting with the United Nations. They have often lived years in refugee camps before stepping into my classroom. Trauma and loss from that time will forever imprint who they are. Yet the perseverance they possess compels them to continue into this next scary journey of their lives here in the United States of America.

My students teach me that loving one another has action. The day after my newborn son Silas died I called one student to tell her and ask if she could find a few students to come sing at Silas’ funeral.  As I walked into the church sanctuary for his funeral, I saw several rows were full of my students. They loved me well that day by the action of showing up – the ministry of presence. Seeing so many on that stage singing the hymn Amazing Grace in their language and then in English, I felt unbelievably loved. It was a beautiful glimpse of heaven.

My students teach me about grief.  They show me that grief is about cherishing life and experiencing deep love. The crying for ones we miss and talking about the longing ache is not to be shied away from or dismissed. And that a sincere hug is often what is needed most.


My students teach me that laughing is good! Their teenage antics and practical jokes make me smile daily. I do a “Friday dance” each week. It is a silly tradition in my classroom, but my students always remind me to do the dance if I forget.  The sincere laughs I hear in my classroom touch the depths of my soul.

My students teach me sitting together for a meal is a sacred time. The laughing and learning that happens while enjoying one another’s food is a strong bonder of hearts. That bringing someone a dish made by your own hands is a gift. And super yummy!

My students teach me about resilience. Being a teenager is tough! Now imagine being one in a new country with a new language, and all you know is different. The trauma and loss they walk into my classroom holding is often seen across their faces yet their resilience shines brightly; they are so brave.


In addition to teaching, my students are engaged in learning.

My students learn reading, writing and American culture in my classroom, but together we learn so much more. Hundreds of students have sat in the desks in my classroom; each student is forever a part of my heart and my life’s story. For they have taught and continue to teach me what I didn’t even know I needed to learn.

My hope and prayer is that you will find someone who doesn’t look like you, someone who struggles with your language, someone who sees the world differently and has had different life experiences, someone who worships differently. And when you do…

Let them teach you what you need to learn the most, but don’t even know yet.

By: Courtney Fields Connelly


If you would like to help support teachers and young English learners in your area, here are a few ideas of ways to help:

  • Contact the volunteer coordinator at your public school district to see what types of volunteer opportunities are available like reading partners and tutors
  • YWCA often has volunteer opportunities
  • Catholic Charities also often has places to serve
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  • Beth - Courtney, that was very powerful. Thank you for sharing and giving us a glimpse into the impact felt *and made* by your students. May God richly pile heaps of blessings on you as you continue forward!

  • Kristin - Well, it was hard to read through the tears after the Amazing Grace story, but this was beautiful. Thank you.

  • Emily - Beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  • Amanda - Thank you Courtney and Ashley–your post, thoughtfulness, experiences, and honesty help me open my heart wider. Thank you!

  • Renee C - Wonderful! What beautiful relationships 🙂 Thank you for sharing in this space.

  • Tina - What a lovely post and an amazing group of students.

  • Sarah - What a meaningful post. Courtney, thank you for writing it. These posts are important. Let’s keep focusing on the good out there.

  • Teresa Stewart - Beautifully said. All anyone wants is to be seen and accepted. What a gift you are giving your students.

  • Patti Schreiner - Thank you Courtney and Ashley. This post fills me up!

  • Cecile - Thank you Courtney for sharing with us. I especially appreciate the action steps at the end of your post. And thank you so much for the important work you do with these children!!!

  • allison - Wow! Thank you so much for all you are doing for those kids in your community. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  • Meredith - I have always been so proud of my big sister and that continues today. Love wins! Even in the darkest of days, love wins.

  • TheDenverPack - Thank you for this.

  • Kathy Rubey - I so understand and share your love for these precious students! They are brace, kind, and oh so resilient! Thanks for this tribute to these students and their families!

  • Tammy - I was an English As a Second Language pre-school teacher for many years; not sure if community colleges still offer those sorts of classes and programs, but its worth looking into. They can always use help!

  • Friday Favorites | Cupcakes and Commentary - […] students teach. Powerful and lovely […]

  • Trish - Thank you for sharing light and humanity at a time when it’s sorely needed. Love and kindness are always a balm and always the right thing.

  • Margaret - Thank you, Courtney. Your ability to learn from your students is heartening in a time when I feel heartsick every day about my beautiful country. Are you worried about what is happening to the vulnerable among us, too? Your lovely piece reminds me to add a face and a spirit–full of hope and potential–to the inhuman term “illegal” or “unauthorized.” To me, your daily work with your students represents the best of America.

  • Joy - Thank you for this encouragement, Courtney and Ashley. Lord, open our eyes and hearts to the stranger next to us. Let me be teachable.

  • online shopping - Hey there excellent blog! Does running a blog similar to this
    require a great deal of work? I have no understanding of coding but I was hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyway, should you have any suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share.

    I know this is off subject but I simply needed to ask. Cheers!