The "Loss" of Normal

The "Loss" of Normal

Have you ever said to yourself or someone close to you, "I just want to be normal"! Many people live a "normal" life and they don't even know it. In a world and culture that is constantly screaming at us to be extraordinary--there are times that normal sounds just about as close to extraordinary as we will ever see. But defining normal is harder than you would imagine. But not everyone has the option for "normal"--even close to normal. There are women in slavery around the world, women who are in abusive relationships (that are far from normal--even if to the outside world it looks normal), women who have suffered great loss that took away their "normal", women who have chosen to sacrifice normal to defend your freedoms around the world, and women, like me, who have been riddled with some illness that stole "normal" from them.



**I have been planning this post for a few weeks. Writing, editing and rewriting. This is a hard subject and I have only scratched the surface with this story. However, after the events this past weekend in Orlando, I knew that it was divinely timed and important for me to get this out. Additionally, yesterday my family suffered a tragic loss and I immediately knew that I had to post this for my family, for those who are walking the road of grief and those supporting the grieving. Please know that my words only barely describe the depth of grief, but I share with my whole heart. 


It will wreck you. Turn your life completely upside down, shake you all around, and spit you out like the whale spit Jonah out on the Beaches of Nineveh. Grief is this inevitable, painful reality that we spend most of our lives trying to avoid. Grief will make you run, it will make you hide, it will make you crazy and it will challenge the sanity of even the most confident individual. 


Grief is a process, something that has to be finished once it is started. Kinda like the death defying rollercoaster at your local theme park. Once they hit go—you just have to hold on until the ride is over, until it comes to a stop and the operator says “please exit to your left”. The funny part about grief is when someone tells you it is okay to exit—sometimes you stay on for another round, unknowingly. What most people forget to acknowledge is that grief doesn’t just come after a death. It can show up after any loss. The loss of a career, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a friendship, the loss of a future you dreamed of—you name the loss—grief follows. It is all about how we acknowledge and show up for the experience that dictates how long the ride takes. 


For me, grief hit me like a bad bad joke in the middle of the ocean just as I was about to catch the biggest wave and crush it in life—except the wave cut short and crashed over me and it had another wave right behind it that coupled itself to the crash and overcame my fight. My story with grief is longer than I would like—but learning through the process has proved to be the greatest of gifts. At 16 years old I lost my future, my dreams, my hopes in a matter of exactly 10 days. On a hot July summer day in Houston, Texas I woke up broken and unrepairable—told just 24 hours later that I had less than a day to live. My life was over and even if I lived my future would never be the same. I had no idea what this grief would look like, but I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to get on this ride. It would take a toll on me that I was unprepared for. 


However, in a matter of 10 days, this loss would no longer matter to me—as my best friend would die in a horrific car accident 3 states away from me, thrusting me to the beginning of the line for another ride that I had no intention of enjoying! This grief would make me question everything. I doubted the Lord many days and wondered if I could actually go on living without my friend to fight for me. Because of her death, I became very apathetic to search and find a cure for my own illness. I accepted that it was simply a matter of time and I too, would die a premature death. To the point that I told my mom where I would like to be buried—and I started pulling away from my sisters because I wanted it to hurt less when I died. 


Clearly, I am still alive and the rollercoaster has circled many times—more than I ever wanted. I lost my dream of becoming a medical doctor that summer (Although I fought valiantly not to lose that one for a long time). I lost my athletic dreams—I mean I was pretty sure I was going to find some Division 1 school out there that would put my slugger mode to good use—even if we had to get a pinch runner every now and then. I lost the dream of having “normal” “easy” relationships, finding a boy who could just fall in love with my high-achiever self and would love me through the crazy schedule of surgical residency and be patient with me as we planned out starting a family and balancing it all. I lost my care free future and I was saddled with waking up every day to count the cost of every single action I would take. (Here is a great theory of what living with a chronic illness is like Spoon Theory). Then to top it off I lost my friend, my confidant, and the future I had hoped and dreamed of with her. High School graduations, the glorious college years, then raising kids together, having husbands that loved each other like brothers and having a life of influence side by side. Gone—all of that (and so much more) GONE in 10 days. 


My life in the 14 years that have followed has not been sunshine and roses. I wish I could tell you that I handled the grief well. That I strapped myself in, kept my chin up and just rode that ride and got off. But I didn’t. I neglected to deal with the grief of losing my life and future and it ended up backfiring in a BIG kinda way in my early twenties. I had waves of grief that flooded me through the early years, especially around big events when I thought about the fact that I would not have my friend by my side or be able to call her for advice. I spent the better part of the first 7 years in survival mode and very unhealthy—but God in His gracious love met me with every twist and turn and guided my journey right to His healing arms. Through a season of intense counseling (I highly recommend good, Christ-Centered counseling) and the prayers of those who love me—about 7-8 years after that tragic summer I was finally able to breathe again. I found a way to accept that my life may not be what I imagined it would look like and there are certainly pieces missing, but my life matters and has a purpose. I discovered that if I would choose to walk like I believed that the Lord was still on the Throne, that He was sovereign and that nothing surprises Him—THEN I could truly LIVE again. And let me tell you living again is beautiful and the Lord has redeemed more than I could ever hope or imagine. 


Grief is powerful and painful. But, (don’t you just love when there is a but) it does not have to destroy you—it does not have to over take you—the wave may crash and it may push you deep but we serve a God who is mighty to reach down, grab your hand and pull you to the surface. You will breathe again, you will feel the sun on your face again, you will laugh again, you will dream again—just hold on tight to the One that never fails and face grief head on knowing that the Lord will not let you become consumed. And shockingly when the rollercoaster of grief is over—you might even be surprised how the Lord will use you to serve, encourage, and coach the people who reluctantly get on the ride after you.

We are all going to face grief—how we face it makes all the difference for our future.  

Two Ruths

When my grandparents moved their family to Roanoke, Alabama in the 70’s, my dad was in his senior year of high school. The epicenter of textile industry at the time, my grandfather quickly got involved in carpet sales and was on the road most of the time. My grandmother grew up in rural Tennessee during the Depression, and could not abide by the idleness that came with moving to a new town, even though she was raising 4 children and working at the church as a secretary part-time.


As my grandfather accumulated samples from his travels, my grandmother decided to open a storefront in downtown Roanoke to sell them and act as home base for her husband’s sales accounts. In little time, her initiative took off and became so successful that my grandfather eventually stopped traveling to work the brick and mortar location in Roanoke. Before long, they were stocking and installing carpet and other flooring materials in addition to selling the remnants and samples that got them started. When times got tough, they also operated a flea market out of the Red Barn on the property and even sold sewing machines and jacuzzis at one point. Amidst all kinds of ups and downs, the business soldiered on.


They started out in the back of an old warehouse, but I smiled a bit when my grandmother told me she already had her eyes on another space for when they began to outgrow it. My childhood is filled with rich memories of playing amongst the stacked carpet rolls that filled the back of an old train depot they turned into “The Carpet Shop,” the space she had walked by so many times and dreamt of one day being their next step. Like many small town businesses, they closed at midday on Saturdays and we would get take-out from “Big Chick”. The smell of fried chicken still takes me back to sitting in my grandfather’s office chair, much like the crackling sound of fiberglass takes me back to the sun-filled walkway to the front door of the Shop. In my mind I can still hear the sound of that front door opening and closing, the old heavy brass hinges protesting softly. We watched the Christmas parade many years from the front yard of the Shop. Across the street was an old gas station where my grandmother kept a tab and they would come out and wash your windows and pump your gas for you. My child’s mind has all bright, sunny memories from growing up around The Carpet Shop. And it all started with my grandmother trying something new.


In so many ways my grandmother reminds me of Ruth from the Bible, and not just because that is literally her middle name. Her willingness to find opportunity in a new town when all she had were a few carpet scraps is a profound inspiration. Since I share her middle name, I’ve always felt like this was a huge responsibility, endlessly searching for what parts of me are like her--what are my ‘carpet scraps’? I’ve asked the Lord a thousand times over to grant me just a portion of her determination and grit so that I can pass on the great gift that she’s given to me.


The story of the Carpet Shop has always been a favorite of mine, but I never actually thought about what it would take to start a business until the Lord put a roadblock in my path that I could not get around. Becoming a business owner was not necessarily something I set out to do (but I don’t think my Granny did either), it was the result of a combination of circumstances where the Lord asked me to take a leap of faith I never saw coming--or perhaps did not even want to see coming. I wish I could say I remembered Granny’s story at that moment and charged fearlessly ahead, but I held on for far too long until the Lord finally whispered in no uncertain terms NOW.


The last few months have been filled with ups and downs in all ways--emotionally, physically, mentally, and especially spiritually. Going into it, there was so much fear of failure, of change, and of letting people down. I had worked at my previous job for almost 7 years. Once on my own, I felt that aloneness fully, and the vulnerability often made (and makes) me wonder who I am to think I could attempt such a thing. I decided to break the news slowly. The response was diverse: “Oh, like you are freelancing!” (No, I started an architecture firm) or “So you jumped ship?!” (No, I made a career change). Thankfully there were a few people who understood: “That takes so much courage! I could never do that!” (If you only knew how scared I was and am!)


Then along came a friend and client who has patiently watched the whole process. Her phone call meant the world to me (just the fact that she called!). Her excitement and pure joy for my future encouraged me to the depths of my spirit. And then she sent me a song that was not only incredibly thoughtful but resonated in ways no one else’s words had:


“The Cape” written by Guy Clark, sung by Patty Griffin
“Eight years old with a flour sack cape tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage, he's figurin’ what the heck
Screwed his courage up so tight, that the whole thing come unwound
He got a runnin’ start and bless his heart, he headed for the ground
Well he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Now he's all grown up with a flour sack cape tied all around his dreams
And he's full of piss and vinegar, and he's bustin’ at the seams
So he licked his finger and checked the wind, it's gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin, boys, he was pretty sure he could fly
Well he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Now he's old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
And he's still jumpin off the garage and will be 'til he's dead
All these years the people said, "He's actin’ like a kid"
He did not know he could not fly, so he did
Well he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Yeah, he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape”

I’m certainly not the first person to identify with this song, but wouldn’t you know my last day of work at my old job was on the last day of February in a leap year. God knows my heart loves metaphors! The line “He did not know he could not he did” echoed in my ears long after the song ended because it harkens back to the old adage that you will never know until you try and often times our biggest risks leave room for God’s biggest successes. If the Lord laid this path before me, and His plan is perfect, then no matter where this endeavor takes me, He will enable it to go places I never thought possible. There have been crummy days that have given me pause, but the joy of flying is unbelievable! I’m grateful the Lord is letting me go through the motions of what my grandmother must have experienced in the early days of the Carpet Shop. And I hope that I will do her and my grandfather’s legacy justice as I trust this cape and try something new.



Telling those I love, First.

Long journies are tough. (Can I get an Amen!?) They can be full of excitement and challenges. One challenge is figuring out how to share the journey with those you love—those you consider to be your people.

What do you share? What is the line of oversharing? Do people even care?

Recently, I met a girl who was going on a journey around the world and she decided to document this for her family and friends through a blog. I watched eagerly as she detailed all the amazing things she was doing in each city along the way. However, she encountered a communication challenge: many days would go by and she would be without wifi or access to her computer and she would have to delay her updates--therefore rolling them all into a large post at the end of that particular leg of the journey. Essentially, she was off the grid for days at a time. I am not sure people blamed her for her inability to communicate or got their feelings hurt because she didn’t share the minute she got to her next location. But there was a delay. People had to wait, wonder, and patiently anticipate her next update.

This is where I am. I feel like I am on a long journey and I have lacked the ability to communicate to those closest to me. I haven't shared the highest highs or the lowest lows. The difference is, people’s feelings were probably hurt by my silence and people have probably blamed me for my inability to articulate the truth of my journey. This has looked a bit different for each person. Some just pull back. Some runaway. Some lean in. Some just wait--patiently. Some have graciously and generously just encouraged me. Some became angry. Some chose to become frustrated because they didn’t understand. For some, it was just too uncomfortable to deal with. (And if I am being really honest--how can I blame them?) Long journeys are tough. They are hard to understand when you are not the one experiencing it. There are turns that cannot be anticipated and are hard for a bystander to endure without some whiplash. A happy example of a long journey is marriage or parenting. In both cases you know you are signing up for the long haul. But in both cases, you anticipate that it is going to be a worthwhile long journey--no not one without challenges but it will be rewarding. My long journey has been straight up challenging. It was twisted and intense and many couldn’t handle that. 

However, for the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling around the country sharing about functional medicine and health in various capacities and forums. Throughout that time doors have opened for me to share more of my story and journey with those who have been through similar experiences. I have very reluctantly shared bits and pieces, but never  fully. I would often absolve myself from the situation by turning the conversation to someone else that I thought had a better story or communicated more eloquently. This led me to a place where I finally had to ask myself--why?

Why do you always remove yourself from the conversation? Why do you always laugh off speaking opportunities? Why do you always negate the fact that people want to hear from you? Why are you disqualifying yourself at every turn?

I realized--it is because those that are closest to me--my people, they don’t know this Ashton. It hit me like a ton of bricks and it hurt. Consider this scenario with me: A room full of people whom I have come to know and love from around the country. Now let’s say they were all talking about a particular person (Me). These people are talking about what I have done for them, how they have been encouraged and touched by the stories I have shared with them. Now let's imagine my family and my people were to walk into that room--I am confident that they would have no clue that everyone in that room was talking about me. This is the crux of the problem. The people that I perceive as needing to know the deepest parts of me, they don’t really know me at all. They think they do. They would fight to the death and say that they do. But when my dear 22-year-old sister looked at me at Thanksgiving this past year and said, 

“Hey, Ashton, you know when you got sick when you were 21....”

21? I was in such shock I didn’t even know how to respond.
I looked back and said,

“You mean when I was 16 and got sick?”
“No I mean like when you really got sick, when you were 21.”
“Chelsea, I really got sick at 16--like they told me I was going to die.”
“Oh, well I am sorry--Mom never really told us anything, I didn’t know.” 

My sister, whom I love to death, didn’t even know that I had been told I was going to die. She didn’t know that I had been sick for over a decade. She didn’t know my journey, my pain, my isolation, my heartbreak, my loss of life. She also didn’t know my victory over death, the life-changing moments that led to health, my joy in the midst of challenges. She didn’t know any of it. She only knew in part. So when I read Mark 5 about the demon possessed man who Jesus set free, verses 18-20 stuck out to me like a flashing light in the dark. 

“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, ‘No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.’ So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.”  Mark 5:18-20 NLT

Here I was traveling the country, talking to parents, patients, doctors, and other professionals and yet my own family didn’t really know all He had done for me. I will not lie--I wanted to tell others, genuinely I wanted to share the story so that others could find the freedom and hope that they wanted so desperately. But the reality is--I couldn’t share everything I am because the people that the Lord had FIRST called me to share with had been kept out of the journey. They had missed several updates along the way and it was not only stunting our relationships but it was stunting me. I need my people, for continued health and to support me as I begin to share this HARD journey with others. 

So if you are reading this and you are not my family, maybe you are not "my people"--thank you for taking the time to read my words, I hope they encourage you and inspire you to share your journey with those you love. But for now--I am writing this for my people. So they might come to know the real Ashton.


Messy, but whole.
Complex but simple.
Hurting but thriving.
Challenged but victorious
Once a Victim but Now an overcomer.

This Ashton. 

Family and Friends--

It is my hope when you finish reading my stories you will understand me a little more--but more than that, I hope this encourages you to dream your dreams, face challenges differently and to never ever give up--because Hope is like an Anchor, set firm in Jesus! I have found that on every mountain top and through every valley He has been near and He has rescued me. He will do the same for you--if you just believe and hold tight to Him. 

You are my people--and I want you to take this journey with me--First! 




Our Story

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials + sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33 NLT

In life we are going to have trials, we are promised that. In life we will have sorrows, we are promised that, too. But in this life we are also promised peace, we have been charged to take heart--because of One that is greater, One that is purer, One that is stronger--that has overcome. 

That's our story. 

We have had trials. We have had sorrows. We have known days that we thought would never end + had days we wished would end quickly. We have seen complex + challenging weeks, months, and years. We have been at the very end of our own ropes. 

But take heart. I have overcome the world

We also saw victory. We found joy. We chose life. We have known what it means to overcome. We have seen what faithfulness looks like. We can be silent no more. We want to share with you--in hopes that our stories will encourage you + remind you that there is a deep joy to be found, a hope to hold onto, + a peace in the midst of every season of life. 

In this world of crazy busy and over-connectedness, we have seen how isolating it can be to walk through hard times + how you can feel like you are the only one that understands--we do not want you to feel that way any longer. So we hope our Kindred community of fellow travelers will encourage you + spur you on in whatever season you are in.

We will be posting a few times monthly with stories from different Kindred members, but we encourage you to fo and read the stories already published to get a glimpse into what we are all about. Our goal is to have a day or two a month that you consider your Blythe + Haven Collective Days + you look forward to reading and being encouraged on those days! We promise, to be honest. To keep things real. And we dedicate ourselves to reminding everyone that in the midst of trials and just plain life--joy and peace can be found in Him! 

So, welcome to Our Kindred. Please follow our journey through our Instagram + Click Here to get the stories directly in your inbox! 

--Blythe + Haven Kindred

Jessica Kooima

Hi There!  I am a small town, Iowa girl, now transplanted to the southwest desert of Arizona!  I am a lover and follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a physician. Life is a constant juggling act, and if I am honest with myself and you, that list of who I am should be in that hierarchal order, but more often than not, it isn't! I am a constant work in progress, daily trying, and thankful God isn’t finished with me yet!  I was blessed in that I grew up in an amazing family, and an amazing community that encouraged me, and were part of my life’s journey! I am so thankful for my husband, who is an amazingly patient man (on most days, if I don’t drive him to crazy!) who has been on this walk with me!  God has been there with us, from miscarriage, to our son being born with Down Syndrome with a heart defect requiring open heart surgery, to my own cancer diagnosis, my father-in-laws cancer diagnosis, and then the decision to sell my husband’s portion of a business and move our family to Arizona so I could go back to school, to be a Naturopathic Physician. In all honesty, it felt a bit like the "Beverly Hillbilly’s" (just the mention of this is dating me, if you are under thirty you may have to google it!) venture cross country, however, minus the fortune waiting for us on our arrival, it was quite the contrary!!!  Currently, we just opened a clinic, in Gilbert, Arizona. We felt God’s call on our life and it has been a trip ever since! I wish I could say life is perfect and the path perfectly outlined for us, but let’s get real, sometimes life is just plain messy, mine included!  But reflecting on it, I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s not always easy or favorable, but trusting God knows me, and my family, and knows what is best, the rest I can let go! (or rather “should” let go…..I am working on that too!).  I look forward to sharing with you some of my most vulnerable, real, heart felt moments, from my life and pray God may use them to help us encourage, and strengthen each other!  So glad you are here my friend, and welcome to my story….

Jenny Headley

Hi! I'm Jenny, I am a southern girl at heart, born and raised is Birmingham, AL. I wasn't a perfect child or adult for that matter; I've definitely chosen some tougher paths along the way but even still I've been very blessed. Some would say I grew up in a bubble, which never bothered me because my life felt pretty perfect! I grew up with a very close knit family and group of family friends. I went to college close to home at Auburn University, got married, moved to south Alabama then thankfully back home with our family just in time to welcome our first baby boy. This was a challenging year for me, for starters being a new mom and on top of that having a baby with a few minor health issues to overcome.  But then my real world shaker, I lost my little brother in January 2014 in a tragic accident. All the sudden my bubble, my perfect family, my happy life was crumbling. I by no means have it all figured out but I do know there is light out of the darkness and joy after sorrow. I have since welcomed my second son, a surprise and beautiful blessing In Gods ever perfect timing! I am here to share my journey with you, it is not perfect and neither am I but it is real and so I am hoping maybe as I find my way we can walk together and share in the journey wherever it may take us.

Lauren Steinhaus

Hi guys, I'm Lauren. My amazing husband and I have been married for nine years. For eight of those nine years, I've carried and given birth to six children. Our first child, Jace, was born with a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 18, which in all but a few rare cases is a fatal condition. We were told he wouldn't make it long past his birth. Well, Jace was with us for almost three short months, and then he took his last earthly breath in my arms and said hello to Jesus. Because of Jace we have a story to tell--a story that relates the harsh realities of life, the brokenness of death, the immeasurable grace of God, and the hope and joy of heaven.

Elizabeth Brantley

Hi! I’m Elizabeth, my husband, Thomas, our son Reid, and our two dogs live in Columbia, SC. I was raised in the church and considered myself to have a firm foundation in Christ. As I have grown and experienced more of the world, and through various situations in my life I have learned just how crucial that relationship with the Lord is for me. Most of my writing and my stories will focus on my family, my passion for community, my personal experience with anxiety, and all the feelings that have come with being a first-time mom to a high maintenance baby! My prayer is that your time here will feel like sitting down to coffee with a good friend. That you will leave encouraged and ready to conquer your fears. I’m so glad you are here!   

Carrie Taylor

Hi! I’m Carrie and I am writing from Birmingham, Alabama, where I was raised. I tried to leave multiple times, but I’m so glad God led me back because I got to marry Daniel about a year and a half ago. A lot has changed since I came back to Birmingham, but the city is more alive than ever and we love it. Daniel and I and our pup, Henry, spend the weekends outside or downtown soaking up God’s creation and enjoying sweet time with friends. After a little less than 7 years in the design and construction industry, I recently made the decision to take the leap, trust God and start my own architecture practice. I could write a novel on what I’ve learned so far, but am thankful this is only the beginning! I can’t wait to see what God has waiting for us ahead...

Ashton Dugger

Just a simple girl Born and Raised in The South, I am a Ministry kid (and I survived--so far). As the oldest child of six kids, I am certainly prone to take charge in situations--although depending on the situation I can be extremely--hands off. I am naturally an introvert (which strangely shocks people), but I work very hard at my extroverted side, so I hide it well in public. After spending years working towards medical school and striving to become a surgeon the Lord flipped the script and I became a Psychologist with a side focus in Medical Sociology.  My passions include health, disability ministry, leadership, business strategy, and event planning. My family and friends are extremely important in my life--I am ferociously devoted to them. At the age fo 16, my whole world changed dramatically and very furiously. For over a decade, I was put on a journey to recover from an autoimmune disease while dealing with the overwhelming grief over the untimely loss of my best friend and the unexpected loss of my own future. As I share with you all the stories that make up my life, it is my hope that you are encouraged and spurred on in your own journey. I have long held onto the truth that the Lord will work all things--not some, not a few, not only the pretty things in my life--but ALL THINGS for my good. He will do the same for you! I hope to share with you the broken, flawed, and beautiful things in my life--in an effort to ensure you that you are NOT ALONE. Welcome to my story...