Over the last year, I’ve made several comments about things my youngest says to us. Many of you showed surprise she is talking while others have asked if she is still in speech. I thought I would give you a little update on speech as it relates to cleft lip and palate.

When it comes to cleft lip/palate and surgeries every case is unique. Some go through 20+ surgeries during the first 20 years of life. Others endure less than 5 surgeries. It depends on the cleft and the surgeon. Our daughter has had three surgeries and will continue to have more as she grows and her anatomy changes.

The first two surgeries closed her cleft lip and palate. Her third surgery was necessary for speech.

4.16speech-01Speech has been a long road for our girl and it will continue to be a weekly part of her routine for years, most likely. She has gone to 4 different speech-language pathologists before we found Miss Jennie. We tried going to speech centers and a local university. Both had wonderful therapists, but she wouldn’t talk much at all and it felt like a waste of time and energy. Enter Miss Jennie – our hero. She comes to our house twice a week and meets with our little fireball in the comfort and familiarity of our home.

4.16speech-02A year ago, our girl was only saying 2-4 word sentences. She understood everything we said, but was unable to get all the words in her head out. It caused so much frustration on her part and ours. Imagine knowing what you want to say, but being unable to say it. There were lots of tears and tantrum throwing.

Today, she doesn’t stop talking. Aside from clear pronunciation, she is on the same level as any other nearly-5 year-old. There are no limits to the length of her sentences or struggles in communicating. As I am writing this she is in the other room singing.

4.16speech-03One year – a complete and total transformation. A year ago, I felt defeated and a little hopeless. I was worried about her with her peers because they would often stop playing with her when she couldn’t communicate with them. It was hard to imagine that she would ever be able to communicate on level with her peers.

She still struggles to pronounce a lot of sounds correctly. She meets with Miss Jennie twice a week and has a significant amount of progress left to make. However, she is a talker…a non-stop singing, talking 5-year-old fireball. She keeps Miss Jennie on her toes!

The most significant impact on her speech development has been her speech-language pathologist. Miss Jennie.

4.16speech-04Jennie was exactly what our daughter needed to be able to get all that was going on inside her head out for the rest of us to hear.

As her mom, there was only so far I could go in regards to helping her with speech. We needed (and still need) help. I’m so grateful for Jennie. I’m grateful she pursued her gifts and talents in the realm of speech pathology and she shares those with us.

Jennie puts up with the random chaos of our house and lets me greet her still in my workout clothes and ponytail from the morning. Nearly every time she comes over, there is an extra kid or two running around the yard and often another adult stopping by. She has a front row seat to the messy of our family and she keeps coming back. Twice a week. My daughter calls Jennie her best friend….and is currently anxiously waiting for me to print one of these photos, so she can hang it on her wall.

4.16speech-05Thank you Jennie for loving our girl.

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  • kathleen - This is so beautiful. As a mom and a social worker at a special needs school I love both sides of this story. My son is 18 months old and has several developmental challenges which has led us down the road of early intervention. Many days I feel so completely helpless and defeated, so to hear these kind of success stories gives me new life. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful family with all of us!

  • Maureen - What great progress she has made!! I loved reading this update on her. Our SLP has been a life saver as well. They are so important!

  • Karen - As a young child I had a lisp and spent the first five years of elementary school taking speech classes several times s month… This was about 45 years ago and I still have fond memories of my time spent with Mr. King (along with his student teachers). Speech is a wonderful gift!

  • Elizabeth Rose - Im a speech pathologist and just want to say thank you for sharing this with us!! It is so cool to see the impact that your speech pathologist has made. It is not a field that is very well known, unless you have had personal experience, so super cool to see her featured on your blog. I pray for continued progress!!

  • Angela - Oh man. All the feels, all the tears this morning. Kids are each so special and the teachers who love on them are each just as special.

  • Tasha - My nephew went through the same thing with school mates who couldn’t understand him so didn’t play with him. His problem was needing ubes in his ears being caught late and he missed an important learning time for vowels.

  • Carrie Campbell - Thank you for sharing this. It’s so encouraging!!

  • Johnna LaFaith - What a wonderful read, and what a beautiful little girl. Hugs to all of you.

  • Sarah - Oh goodness, feeling all the feels while reading this. We have a similar story, and finding just the right fit for your kiddo is life changing. You didn’t stop searching until you found just the right somebody to help your girl! Yay!

  • Susan - Ashley, I am so glad you have found the right fit for your sweet girl. We had struggles with speech when my 3 were little and spent many years in therapy. Mrs. Slay helped my oldest find her words and Miss Molly helped my younger two. Speech therapists rock!

  • Tanya - Wow, so heartwarming! Thanks for sharing.

  • Steph - Aahhh that is so sweet!! You’ve made me realize how badly I need to photograph my daughter with her PT and OT. They really are such gifts to our family. Hooray for the Miss Jennies of the world!! And a huge congrats to your little one for her hard work and patience. I’m sure she’ll read these comments one day, so pat yourself on the back girl! You rock!!!

  • Tammy Allen - What a wonderful post today – thanks for sharing!

  • Byron - My sister is a speech pathologist and enjoys the work immensely. I think the rewards of seeing a child progress in their abilities and speech is a joyful thing! She actually calls her job “playing with children” which is, of course, how they learn best. God bless! So happy to read this!

  • Kim B. - What a blessing. Thank you for sharing the impact that she has made on your family with us. What a perfect partnership! I’m so glad you found her. (My words aren’t quite conveying how beautiful this is to me.)

  • Kristin S - What a gift! While I didn’t have a cleft lip or palate, I was in speech therapy as a child. I had a fantastic therapist which made all the difference. If I’m tired I can still slip in to old patterns (at age 45) but I still remember the exercises I did with her.

  • Emily - Thank you for sharing this. My son doesn’t have any structural abnormalities, but he does have an articulation delay and I notice the same thing — without his big brother to translate, his peers just stop playing with him because they don’t understand him. He’s been in speech therapy for a few months (what a battle we had to get those started!) and the change in his demeanor is so obvious. He’s still missing a LOT of his consonants, but he’s working on it and we all feel so much better. I like to think that in a year he’ll have made similar progress. I’m so happy for your progress! And thank you again for sharing. <3

  • Carrie Hageman - Thank you for sharing! My 4.5 year old (born in China) has had a similar journey. She has her first two surgeries under her belt and we wait to see if we need another palette surgery. I too am incredibly grateful for a strong connection with her speech therapist. They are now putting her in larger speech peer group sessions to see how she interacts and is responded to. It was so hard when kids could not understand her and watch her be isolated. So glad your daughter is doing well! It is so beautiful when they “find their voice” if you know what I mean!

  • Rae - Hi Ashley! I’m 15 and am a long-time reader of your wonderfully inspiring blog. For years, I’ve felt that my calling is speech pathology, as I love both kids and science. This post was wonderful and just what I needed to be even more inspired and passionate.
    Miss Jennie is definitely lucky in getting to be Little One’s speech pathologist!

  • Heather - This made me smile. We have had countless people in and out of our home and daily life now for about 8 years due to medical issues my youngest daughter has. They truly become family and if you let your chaotic and messy life hold you back from cherishing those relationships, you miss out on some of the greatest gifts. I’m glad your little one is doing so well!

  • Danielle - This gives me hope. I am a little disillusioned about professional help right now. We don’t do speech therapy but we do use therapists and will most likely need to for a while. Maybe one day we will find one that can help.

  • LeAnne Martin - How wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed this. Way to go, Miss Jennie! Thanks for sharing.

  • Charlotte - Thanks so much for sharing! I almost cried to hear that. Would you mind sharing how Miss Jennie works differently from previous speech therapists, maybe it would help others to find good ones more easily or the therapists themselves get some new ideas…
    Thanks again, I am not Christian but I really enjoy sharing your kind thoughts and adventures from afar. I blog too (but in German and for teachers), so I know how much hard work goes into what you do.

    Charlotte from Germany

  • Libbe - What an inspiring update to read! We are about to embark on our little guy’s 3rd CLCP surgery so it’s encouraging to read about speech success. Would love to hear more details about her 3rd surgery if you’re comfortable.

  • Kara M - I love the part about them being best friends! Tariku’s therapist comes every other week. When I tell him Ms. Kim is coming, he runs to the door and waits for her. His inner circle is mom/dad, grandparents, & Ms. Kim. I love it.

  • Anna - I. Just. Love this.

  • Sarah - Thanks so much for sharing this story. Your posts usually capture happy moments or very natural moments, so I had no idea that the speech issues with your youngest were a daily struggle. My youngest was speech delayed and has made gigantic strides, too. Amazing how much change can happen in a year. Each milestone should be celebrated. This little girl definitely landed with a family who always will go the extra mile to do the right thing. Good job, y’all!

All of the sudden I have two kids in the double digits! Two. Double digits. Goodness, it happens fast.

When our oldest turned 10, we started a tradition of a Double Digit Getaway. It is just the 10 year old and parents for 2 days and 1 night. We let the boys pick something within 3 hours of our house – totally up to them. Our budget is not unlimited, so a huge extravagant trip is not an option. Honestly, I’m not sure I would want something extravagant anyway. There is something so sweet and simple about what the boys pick.

This round, my son wanted to go to Silver Dollar City…for sure for one day, possibly for both days. He told us he would decide after day 1. (The kids got season passes for their birthdays from their grandparents! So, so much better than legos!)

As we loaded up to head out of town he told us he could “handle a frappuccino.” We don’t go out to eat very often, nor do we say, “yes” to lots of extras. Things add up quickly for a family of 7. It is fun to have two days of saying “yes” to things like frappuccinos and roller coasters. He was in charge and we followed his lead. He picked which ride to start with and where to go next. He decided when we were done and what was for dinner (Chick-Fil-A). Our kids are used to being flexible and not always getting the final say in things – lots of opinions and ideas in our crew. It was almost hard for him to have all the deciding power for 2 whole days.

We rode all the rides he wanted and in the end, I was the one asking for more. He ambushed his dad with some water blasters and I was almost doubled over on the ground laughing so hard at the two of them. Simple, sweet, and lots of laughing….

4.16tengetawaw-01Ten seems to the perfect age in our family for these trips. It is young enough to still be young – roller coasters, donuts, ice cream, but old enough to make it all extra fun. I sat with him on one roller coaster and told him how much I loved him as a baby, but how thankful I am he didn’t stay tiny. Thankful for the past with him, excited about the future, but relishing today…relishing him at 10.

flourishSnapShop Students: Several of you have asked about how I capture adventures and still be present to fully enjoy them. For this trip, I did not bring my DSLR into Silver Dollar City, and only used my iPhone. I wrote a short lesson with several ‘outtake’ and ‘process’ pictures to show you how I go about capturing key parts of our getaway without having my phone in my hand the whole time. I wanted to have a few photos to remember our time together, but the point was TO BE TOGETHER, not have a million pictures to look back at one day. Make sure you visit the SnapShop site to read the new lesson.

For more information on my photography courses (SnapShop) and how to register you can click below. I add new lessons each month on a variety of photography related topics.

You can use the code THEMEPARK today and tomorrow for $10.00 off your registration.

The code expires at midnight CST 4.20.16.



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  • Holly - This is great timing! My family just bought season passes to six flags!

  • Kate - Double Digit Getaway — what a great idea! We just had our fourth and I’ve been thinking lately about ways to have special times with each child. I’ll keep this in mind when our oldest turns 10.

  • Byron - Awesome stuff! He’ll remember this forever, I think.

  • Amanda - I live in Branson and if I’d seen you at chic fil a I would’ve flipped out! Glad you enjoyed your trip with your little man.

  • Jana - Welcome to Branson! My kids love Silver Dollar City, too. We’ve had good weather, and it’s the last year for Worldfest. I hope he enjoyed it.

Write our sponsored kids.

It has been on my to-list, but I kept checking off less important things. Why do I do that?

Yesterday, I sat down to my computer and wrote each of our Compassion kids. I was able to upload photos and write a short personal letter to each of them. It took such a small part of my day.

Today, I woke up to the news that Ecuador had been hit by an earthquake.

Manta, the town I visited only weeks ago, was hit hard. The town where I sat in Brenda’s home and learned first hand the overwhelming impact of letters from sponsors in the life of a child.

2.3.16-012.3.16-02I know what the homes and life looks like in Manta. Homes built with strong hands, but often weak supplies. Homes that provide a basic shelter, but ones a Oklahoma spring wind could knock down. The only insurance for rebuilding comes from those around you willing to help you emerge from the rubble.

2.2.16day3-12.2.16day3-2You want the world to feel smaller? Sponsor a child. When I heard the news this morning – it wasn’t an earthquake in a random country in South America. It was a earthquake devastating the home of my friends. I thought about Brenda and her family. I thought about the Compassion Center where we played and laughed and danced. I thought about the beautiful young woman that braided my hair and told me her dreams. I thought about all those we met – our friends. I thought about their homes and the buildings in their community. I am broken as I know how overwhelming life already felt and now an earthquake.2.2.16day3-20
3.1612-04Here is what I do know. Compassion will step in. Not just Compassion the organization, but compassion the action. So many of you – 275 of you – sponsored children, primarily in Ecuador over the last few weeks. I know you, like me, are anxious to hear news about your sponsored child. I saw first hand how the staff and volunteers of Compassion in Ecuador know and advocate for the children and families in their programs. I can tell you there is someone looking to make sure your sponsored child is okay and finding out what needs your child and his/her family now have. Compassion has several funds set aside for emergencies like an earthquake. (For those interested, you can donate directly to an Ecuador earthquake fund).

Your sponsored child will be accounted for and cared for – I’ve seen it first hand. Those caring for your sponsored kids and their families will not be Americans in town for a visit. They will be the staff and volunteers of Compassion – all Ecuadorian. Did you know Compassion does not hire Americans and send them to various countries to work? If you work for Compassion in Ecuador, you are from Ecuador. While they meet the needs of the children in their care, they are potentially facing devastation in their own families too. As you pray for your sponsored kids, please be in prayer for the staff, as well.

I wrote our sponsored kids on Saturday, not knowing an earthquake would hit on Sunday. It will be a while before our kids get their letters and pictures. However, I was reminded again how important it is to WRITE my sponsored kids. As the families in Ecuador begin emerging and rebuilding from the rubble, we can play a pivotal role in offering hope to the children affected. A letter may seem so small, but Brenda and the children of Manta taught me that it is anything but small to them.

Please take time to write you sponsored children today. If they are in Ecuador, let them know you are thinking of them and praying for them. Let them know that during a scary time in their country, they were on your mind. Let them know you care and remind them they are not alone.

As Compassion hears from their contacts in Ecuador, they will update the Compassion website. Click here to view that page.

For others, I would urge you to consider sponsoring a child.

Here are a few resources to help you in writing:

Paper Treasure – my post from Manta about letter writing (with tips)

Use the Compassion app for ease in writing often

Compassion’s Pinterest boards with letter writing ideas




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  • Dawn - Ashley! Thank you so much for posting this- I keep myself in a little bubble sometimes and did not know about the earthquake. We have a sponsored child there and will write to him now! Praying for all these sweet ones!

  • Dawn - PS- I love that Compassion has an app that makes it so easy to communicate with sponsored children! There’s nothing like an old fashioned hand written letter in the mail but sometimes it’s nice to be able to send pictures and a note from your phone too!

  • Angela - My fellow Canadians – Plan Canada is a nondenominational organization that offers sponsorships in Ecuador:

    I sponsor a girl in Nicaragua through Plan Canada and recommend them highly.

  • Byron - I too have trouble writing my sponsored children–and it takes not time at all to do so! I wrote one last week and am writing the other today. Prayers for all in Ecuador; God bless them and work towards good even in this.

  • Marsha - I’ve been wondering and praying if “your” kids and their families were anywhere near the devastation. Prayers… Just prayers…

  • Bri McKoy - Ashley, it was an honor to travel to Ecuador with you and watch you give your whole heart to every child you met. I am so grateful for the compassion God blessed you with. Thank you, friend.

  • Dori - I have a child that I sponsor in India but I really struggle with what to share in letters. The disparity in incomes and the way we live is a tough one for me. How do I talk about my own life/what can I share about myself without making my child feel uncomfortable about their life/resources and place in the world? I don’t have children myself so I can’t have them write to my sponsored child, peer-to-peer. The child herself hasn’t ever actually written to us; it’s always a teacher who does so. In addition, the child’s teacher has shared some really difficult details about my child’s family interactions, and I just don’t know what to do with that information (besides continue my monthly financial support + pray for my child and their family, of course!). It makes it really difficult for me to know how to write to my child.

  • Kirsten - We didn’t hear about the earthquake until last night, when Compassion emailed us. One of our sponsored kids lives in the area as well. Praying for him, his family and community, and for the Compassion staff.

  • Shannan Martin - Ashley, I love this so much. Just seeing it for the first time, after publishing the post Calvin wrote last night. Our hearts are breaking, too, but your words about Compassion’s response are so true. It helps.

  • Holly R. - Thank you Ashley for this very gentle, yet persuasive reminder. I am excited because my oldest son is learning to write in Kindergarten and loves to draw pictures! We are at that time where we can involve him with connecting with our sponsored blessing in the Dominican Republic. I am praying for the people in Ecuador that have been affected by the earthquake.

  • Less than Nothing - Our Savory Life - […] stories, played hard with them, prayed hard with them. We fell in love. Read posts from Shannan and Ashley on the earthquake. And Ruth is graciously donating all proceeds from this print to the Disaster […]