As I was just about to board the first of many flights to finally arrive in Ghana, Chris sent me a text with this picture:

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And my heart melted. There they were…my people with big smiles. Leaving the country for 10 days would not have been possible without Chris’ support and excitement. I knew he was going to miss me, but I also knew he was thrilled this moment had finally come for me. He was there by my side 14 years ago when a trip to Kenya fell through and I was brokenhearted. He was there when opportunities came but schedules or other commitments prevented me from being able to say “yes”. And he was there this time when I boarded that plane and when I arrived back home.

My group….Jena, Andersen, Hayden, Cindy, me, Denise. We are sporting gifts from Ghanaian friends. Cindy and I have worked with Denise on a local women’s event called The Christmas Gathering for several years now. In recent years, Denise formed a beautiful friendship with a Ghanaian pastor and has used proceeds from The Christmas Gathering in a partnership with her Ghanaian friends.  While in Ghana we got to see a bit of what that partnership looks like.8.14ghana2-2

We began the trip at a vocational training center for girls. The center is a home for girls that often don’t have any other options. They are provided a safe, loving home and an education. The home is run by Reverend Grace – a powerhouse christian Ghanaian woman, who has great dreams and visions for the futures of her girls. Some of the girls were rescued out of shrines where they had been given as young girls to pay off a family debt. Some have no families. Some are brought by parents desperate to give their daughters a chance. Each girl comes with a different story.  For many of the girls, their pasts are horrific, but their present is breathtaking.

Reverend Grace is on the right in the colorful dress….she is playing the air trumpet to the complete delight of her girls.

8.14ghana2-30And Reverend Grace teaching the girls a little jump rope action. One thing that really stood out to me was the strong, fierce love Reverend Grace has for her girls. Her deep love is returned by the girls. They absolutely light up in her presence.8.14ghana2-31

The center is painted several shades of yellow and pink. At one time the paint was bright, but the sun has faded the colors a bit. It was the perfect fade to me…I told them so many times how much I love the colors they chose to paint their home.8.14ghana2-3

The center includes opportunities to be trained in a few vocations. We were there on a Sunday and one of the teachers’ kids were running around. Nat is eleven and once I showed him how to use my camera, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get it back! He took so many pictures of his mom, sister and our group. I told him I would get prints made and mail them back to him. As he shared his interests with me, it was so fun for me to get to share my interests with him. Such a cool young man.8.14ghana2-5One of the things we did while at the center was help with with some painting projects. You know I love to paint a wall…so does my friend Cindy. I don’t think any of the girls had ever painted before, so there was a lot of laughing and paint dripping going on in this room. Once they painted one wall, they were ready to paint everything. They wanted a fresh coat of pink on the columns outside, but the town didn’t have any pink paint in stock. They’ll paint those later, but I sure would have had fun doing that with them!8.14ghana2-78.14ghana2-9Painting with Cindy….we have painted a lot of things together over that last 10 years. We’ve painted in a lot of places together over that time. Painting with the girls in Ghana…pretty sure that tops the list.8.14ghana2-11

In 2009, I was pregnant with my first daughter. As I waited anxiously for her arrival, my mind often wandered to all the little girls (and boys) who would grow up without mothers due to diseases like AIDS and malaria. I thought of all those moms and my heart broke. In a feeble attempt to honor those moms, I invited some friends over around Mother’s Day to use our hands to create gifts of love for little girls who could no longer feel the warmth of their mother’s embrace. We had a brunch and then got busy making pillowcase dresses for Little Dresses for Africa (LDFA). I hung the dresses out back on my clothesline, that picture is still featured on their website.

It was a full circle moment for me when I got to stand in Ghana and share dresses that others had made for LDFA. So many dresses (thank you to those of you that make larger size dresses!) for my new friends. A handmade gift speaks love in a way that transcends culture.8.14ghana2-128.14ghana2-13

After working alongside the girls on a few projects, we sent them away for a bit so we could surprise them with a few things. We were waiting for their arrival inside the courtyard when we heard singing in the distance. We ran out to see them coming up the road…singing and dancing.8.14ghana2-168.14ghana2-17

Then the second wave a girls started coming up from the main road and it began like a singing/dancing show down. It was awesome.8.14ghana2-188.14ghana2-198.14ghana2-208.14ghana2-21

I need more singing and dancing in my life. The Ghanaians know how to celebrate in the every day. I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to learn from them and be loved by them.

The girls are working hard to build their futures. Reverend Grace has dreams of opening a restaurant where the girls that are learning to be caterers can work. She is also dreaming of more classrooms so the current classrooms can be converted to bunkrooms to make room for more girls. Building takes a long time, they will work slowly towards their goals – finishing the classrooms and the restaurant as they are able. In the photo below, you can see the start of the new classrooms and the restaurant (blue roof).

8.14ghana2-22The girls taught me so many things while they welcomed me into their home. The joy that overflows out of them is contagious. They let us come in alongside them and share in their joy. They taught me a whole host of practical things, but mostly they taught me what redemption looks like. If you met them, you would never dream the horrors they have faced. They don’t dwell there. Their faces are not downcast or broken. Instead their smiles radiate and you can’t help but smile too. They are the kind of women you want to spend all day with and you hope just a bit of them rubs off on you.

Before we said our goodbyes, I found my friend Andersen being taught a new song. “You don’t have to worry and don’t be afraid. Joy comes in the morning, trouble stay away, for there is a friend in Jesus who wipes your tears away and if your heart is broken, just lift your hands and say, I know I can make it. I know that I can stand. No matter what may come my way, my life is in your hands. With Jesus I can make it. With Him I can stand. No matter what may come my way, my life is in your hands.”

8.14ghana2-238.14ghana2-24Though my time with them was short, these girls taught me that sometimes redemption looks like a warm, welcoming smile that invites others in…and makes them smile too.

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  • becky d. - What a wonderful experience! I have visited Ukraine twice to teach Vacation Bible School, and barring the unrest there now, I would return in a heartbeat. Going to another place and seeing the passion that people have to be the best they can be — and working hard to achieve that goal — is such a blessing. Being able to share the love of God makes it even better.

  • Debbie - Thank you for sharing your story with us. Once again, you have brought tears to my eyes. I love the words of the song.

  • Sophia Metzner - I love your blog and your photography. Your writing is poingnant and
    Inspiring. I was wondering what your thoughts are on another adoption. Are you planning to adopt again? Are you considering another international adoption or domestic?

    Thanks
    Sophia

  • Signe - Just beautiful. Your posts are so moving and inspiring. Thank you for sharing the story of these beautiful women!

  • Amy Espinosa - You were very BRAVE to journey so far away from home without your family! I’m supposed to attend a conference in NC in a couple of weeks and it has me shaking in my boots! After 23 years of marriage and 4 kiddos, I’ve never been away from home by my lonesome! It’s just not my thing. I’ll keep coming back and re-reading this post to keep up my courage! If you can travel to another continent, surely I can bravely travel to the next state ;)

  • Michelle Hill - *I need to start reading these posts with a box of tissues near me, haha*
    What a beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing. Their stories and energy is so inspiring. It’s really great to be able to see through photos and your personal experience the good that comes out of our efforts when supporting causes, foundations and organizations like these.
    Now excuse me while I plan my very first brunch and Little Dresses For Africa date with my friends and fam :)

  • Carrie - Thank you for sharing your sweet post. I love seeing those girls get excited and celebrate and that they know they are loved. I’m so glad you got to fulfill your dream on going to Africa. Praising God for all these things!! :)

  • Angela - Thank you for sharing. And thank you for going.

  • Amy - A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Allison - beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  • kelli - Awesome. Just awesome. What an amazing experience! My heart is filled with joy, just from reading the post. At the same time, I’m so humbled. To see the joy on their beautiful faces, after everything they’ve been through – makes me think about all the ways I need to choose joy in my every day, too. Thank you for sharing this.

  • mandy - Ahhh! I’ve been excited waiting for your return and so anxious to hear all about your trip! God is so incredibly Good. To think of those years and the seemingly long wait of 17 years… ain’t nothing compared to the eternity that you’ll get to celebrate, dance and sing with your Ghanian friends in Glory! I love it! Would love to see some video of them dancing and to see YOU dancing with your friends. :) You captured their joy perfectly. The Father is smiling down on you girl. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to more :)

  • Laura J - I am hoping that after you have shared all your lovely words & photos, that you will share websites from the groups you visited. Those of us that can’t go in person at this point in our lives may be able to help in another way.

  • Jennifer - I love reading your blog and stories. I found you due to my research of clefts (I have a cleft child). I have a Ghana question for you. Do you have an email address that I can contact you at off the blog?

  • Laura S. - You inspire me. Safe travels.

  • Taylor - What a wonderful experience. You are so incredibly inspiring, Ashley.

    xoxo
    Taylor

  • Jacque - Thank you SO MUCH for sharing about your trip and this wonderful ministry. With all of the darkness in the world, I need to remember to dwell on the good that is being done. Do you have a link for where we could donate to Reverend Grace and this ministry?

  • Suzanne - When I saw the pillowcase dresses, it brought tears to my eyes. My mom has made so, so many of them for those girls and other girls in similar situations. Her friend is a nurse and takes them with her when she goes to Ghana and other countries. I cannot wait to show her how her love of sewing and love of Jesus is seen. I am thrilled you share so much of who you are with us. Thanks!

  • sarahdiama - Wow! what an amazing journey. and I love that song! One of my favorite kirk franklin songs ever! Such a soul lifter :)

  • Carrie Rowe - I’m totally crying! This is so wonderful, thank you for sharing!!!!

  • Patricia Gomez - Your blog is so inspiring…everytime I read it makes me want to do some good around me and gives me a good cry as well…very beautiful. Thank you.

  • michele - Thank you for sharing your stories with us. I love your style.
    As I read your words and viewed your pictures, it seemed as if I could hear the laughing and the singing too. It’s the sound of Joy and I am so thankful that you chose to share it! Bless you dear girl.
    He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
    and your lips with shouts of joy. Job 8:21

10 days in Ghana…most of which was spent in the bush areas.

10 gloriously, beautiful days.

10 heartbreaking days.

10 days of breathing it in, slowly, with gratitude.

10 days I’ve waited 17 years for.

This is Doris and her baby sister. When this photo was taken I was on the verge of tears. Across from me, my friends were playing soccer with kids from the village. Behind me was Doris’ home. In my arms was the cutest little baby. By my side was her big sister. I sat on the tree soaking it in, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds around me. In awe that I was there. With them. At that moment. Thinking to myself that I would have waited another 17 years for that moment.

7.14ghana-1

I’ve been to several countries. I’ve experienced extreme poverty and abundant wealth – abroad and at home. I’ve walked the road of coming home and trying to reconcile my American life with what my heart has experienced somewhere else. I’m in that spot again. Every time I visit another country, and even other areas of my country, the lens which I view my world changes. I look at the world and the people around me differently. I hear the words I speak and the words others speak differently. I am once again changed. I am once again reconciling that change with my day to day life.

Not even 24 hours of returning home I received a judgmental, critical comment directed at me and my Ghanaian friends. I’ve been blogging and on social media for many years now, but the sting of critical and judgmental comments never goes away. It is the ugly side of being online. There are days that I let the critic silence me. Yesterday I didn’t write a post because I allowed the critic to get to me. In my heart I wanted to protect myself and my Ghanaian friends from the judgmental comments of others. So I stayed silent.

Then I kept hearing Teddy Roosevelt’s quote in my mind, “It is not the critic who counts.”

So, here’s the deal. My life has been changed by the lives of my Ghanaian friends. I’m not going to be silent. I want to share their beauty and their stories with you. I’ll post more this week. Today I am going to be vulnerable and brave and I’m not going to be silenced by the critic because I’ve been given a voice to use. My voice is not perfect. It is not loud or funny or eloquent. My voice is full of mistakes, terrible choices in words, and stutters. But, I have a voice and I would rather make mistakes using it than allow fear of the critic to silence me.

The reality is we all face critics and judgement at one time or another. Maybe you get it from another mom at your kid’s school. Maybe it comes from a co-worker, a spouse or your parent. It can come in all kinds of forms from all kinds of sources. I’m not an expert at anything, but I do think the we could all handle a whole lot more smiles and extensions of grace and a whole lot less criticism.

Today, I’ll use my voice…with a smile and maybe even a Ghanaian bounce in my step.

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” ~ Mother Teresa

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  • Carmen - perfect. well said, you are a beautiful soul who should never be silenced. I love your heart that shines through on this blog. xxx

  • Annie - I think you are one special life on this planet, Mrs. Ashley Ann Campbell. I’m so grateful you let me, a teacher and mommy from New York, experience the world with you. That little guy at the end is why you can’t let the critics get to you. I can’t wait to hear his story.

  • Jaime - You are being brave and bully proof for others and yourself. Don’t stop Ashley, you blog is a tiny bright spot in the world.

  • Ashley - This rocks… love it!

  • Michelle - Your blog is amazing and inspires me with every post! Thank you for being brave and sharing!

  • Kassondra - I missed you yesterday. Have been so anxious to see your point of view of such an amazing place. Your right about how devastating poor and sad some stories are but I learned so much on my trip to Uganda about how smiling ev en in the darkest of times can change everything. Use your voice and maybe that critic will actually listen and have a change of heart and do something amazing.

  • Emily - Ashley, I think your heart makes you such a beautiful person. Your blog has challenged and encouraged me in so many ways. I can hardly imagine why anyone would ever want to say something hurtful to you. I admire you for the ways you seek after God and desire an attitude like Christ in this world.

  • Jenni - Thank you for sharing because your voice is one that I always long to hear. It gives me perspective and pushes me to be better.

  • Lauren - Bravo, brave girl. Use the voice you’ve been given, the ears that need to hear what you have to say will hear it. We’re listening with anticipation.

  • danielle - Beautfiul. I am glad you chose to not stay silent.

  • Natalie - I really can’t even imagine what type of comment could have been made or where anyone could find criticism in your beautiful trip.

  • Amy Espinosa - It is hard blogging the “real” because we open ourselves up to the stinging negativity of others. Just remember that they are the ones that need our prayers, they are the ones that are wounded in some way. It is hard, but you continue sharing ALL of you! Believe me when I say that many will benefit from your life’s stories and that’s why we continue writing!

  • angie b - beautiful!

  • Tiffany - Your blog is an inspiration to me in so many ways. Thank you for being brave and allow us a glimpse into your life and talent. It always, always, always brightens my day, and I look forward to my daily read here.

  • Ann Voskamp - Please never stop using your voice.
    I will be the one quietly standing and applauding with this heart burning in my chest.

    P.S. You and me — let’s be brave together.

  • heidi - Any action that originates from love and kindness can never be bad. Don’t forget that.

  • syroovka - Beautiful!
    I love you, your family, your blog ?.
    Because your soul is beautiful.
    Thank you!

  • jodi - thank you for pushing the critics aside and showing up to what God has called you to. You bring encouragement and a different view point to so many, and I thank God for that and for you! I miss you when you aren’t here…I love reading about your precious littles and how you see the world…it challenges me to be a better Mama and person.

    our business is online and it amazes me sometimes the way people can be so mean so casually. I would be hard-pressed to believe they would treat someone that way face-to-face. While we may have the “right” to be mean…why would we ever want to exercise that right?

    love and humility go a long, long way…praying we all learn to exercise those behaviors more frequently! Keep up the good work – it blesses so many!!

  • Dawn - Your voice is inspiring. Looking forward to hearing more!

  • Reesa - My dear and sweetest Ashley,
    It hurts my heart that someone would make a negative comment about you and about our sisters and brothers in Ghana. Am I surprised, absolutely not. Satan is alive and well and so wants to steal that absolute and pure joy you experienced while in Ghana. You are touching so many lives in such a positive way both in your private and online life. It saddens me that you had to experience this and I feel sorry and yes, compassion for that person being used to spread hate. Because unlike you who is spreading love they are spreading hate and what an unhappy and horrible life they must have. Stay strong and don’t let “the critic” steal one moment of your joy or keep you from using that beautiful voice. Love you and as always, my prayers are with you, Chris and that beautiful family of yours!

  • Karen - How anyone could criticize you is beyond me. I love to read your blog and follow you on Instagram. I loved your pictures from Ghana. The world needs more kindness!

  • Jen knoll - I love love love reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. And for the record I will listen to whatever your ‘voice’ has to say, it is valuable.

  • glenda - Don’t let anyone else’s “shouting” drown out what God is whispering to your heart. Share your story. We love reading it!

  • Kathy - Reading and reflecting on your blogs adds depth to my life, and I thank you for sharing your life experiences. So many times, a friend and I say, “Did you read Ashley Ann’s blog today?” and then
    we share what your words meant to us and how it will strengthen us
    for our day’s journey. Keep writing! Your voice is an exquisite
    gift from God to us all. :)

  • Lisa - Thank you for your transparency. God uses you beautifully.

  • Michelle Hill - I am in tears. I cannot believe that someone can be critical over your the energy that your heart and soul has put into doing the work you did in Africa…the work you have done in the years leading up to this very moment. I do not know what triggers people to share words of criticism instead of words of encouragement in situations when someone so selflessly gives their time for humanitarian work.
    Thank you for not letting them silence you. There is beauty, inspiration, truth and strength in your words, always, but especially in your stories to come about your trip to Africa. I have been mentally preparing myself for your generous shared encounters and photos, knowing that I too, will be changed in a way, and hoping that it will inspire me to be more mindful and humane.
    Please remember that for every one person that is criticizing, there are 100 more people who are cheering you on, waiting to hear your words, and looking up to you everyday.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this today. I look forward to as many posts and photos you are willing to share.
    p.s. that smile in the last photo- simply stunning.

  • Stephanie - Thank You for not staying silent.

  • Andrea - Thank you, Ashley. You’re right the critic hurts, but it doesn’t count. Thank you for being brave, I need to hear what you say! Your voice is heard in my home :)

  • angir - Oh the smile of that little girl! Cannot wait to read more of what you have to say!

  • Tanya@takesix - BRAVO!!! I’m standing and applauding you Ashley Ann…You have a beautiful voice! Shout loud and clear…”Those that matter, don’t mind. And those that mind, don’t matter…or have to read it! ;)

  • Amy - Thank you so much for sharing and not staying silent. You are a blessing to many!

  • Jada - Your voice needs to be heard. God is using you to get His message to us and we desperately want to listen. Please know that we are grateful that you put yourself out here and we so appreciate your vulnerability. You wear your heart on your sleeve and you wear it well. HUGS

  • Chrissy - Thank you for using your beautiful voice. XO

  • Laura - Heart this. And your blog. So much.

  • finding my joy - Thank you for sharing! Today you spoke directly to me. It is NOT the critic who counts and today I’m moving on from the criticism that has consumed me for days. Your voice was heard today!!

  • Jill - I’ve been so looking forward to reading about your trip. Don’t let the negative people get you down, you have so much to say and many of us want to hear it! Thanks for your blog.

  • Layken - Keep your voice loud :)

  • La - Thank you for being vulnerable and brave. Thank you for sharing. Do NOT stop. :)

  • Katie B - I’ve read your blog for several years now and I’ve only left a comment once. Your post today made me think about how I should leave a positive comment more often because your blog is one of 3 that I read regularly and it’s all because you inspire and encourage me. I’ve never read your blog and left feeling condemned or bad about myself. I’m thankful you are brave to use your voice in the face of criticism and I’m praying you continue as long as God gives you the grace and desire to do it! God bless you and your family :)

  • Sarah - Thank you for not being silent! I am constantly amazed how people can say such mean things when they are hidden behind a computer screen.

    For awhile now, I’ve had a video of one of my children, who has seizures, on youtube. It was meant to help others- to help another parent who was searching for answers, searching for someone to talk to, searching for someone else going through the same thing. It was meant to be a resource and in no way an exploitation. Honestly, I forgot about posting the video about a year ago and yesterday I happened upon it. I realized people had been commenting- 134 comments. Curiously, I read them. Some were kind, most were hateful, mean and brutal. “How dare we video our child and post it for the world?” “How dare we not help our child and video it instead.” “We were the worst parents in the history of the world.” etc, etc, etc. Mean, mean, mean things. While some tried to defend us, that just caused many more mean comments.

    At first I wanted to defend our actions, but you can’t fight fire with fire. So I took the video down. “Forget it,” I said. If someone is searching for answers, they’ll have to find them with someone else.

    I admire your bravery. People on the internet can be so rude. I couldn’t take it. Maybe I should have been more brave. Next time, I’ll be more like you.

    I can’t wait to hear your stories. I rarely comment, but I’m always cheering for you.

  • Becs - Cheering on the brave and applauding your voice. Here’s to grace and smiles – love both images but that last one is just luminous.

  • Kathleen - I, too, look forward to reading your blog every morning. I always find your words to be so challenging and encouraging. Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with us!!

  • Jennifer B - Ashley, that stinks! You inspire so many people, and I’m so glad you are choosing to be brave and vulnerable and share your words with us. I respect you so much, and you’re constantly challenging me to be a better wife, mom, and follower of Christ. Thank you for all you do!

  • Tricia H - The best words of advice I ever received were: “People will tell you who they are if you just listen.” I’ve found that this is never more true than when someone is criticizing you. They actually see that in themselves but can’t face that truth – so they rip others apart for that trait/skill/action. Once you understand their words are actually describing them and not you – you’ll understand them better and more importantly, they won’t have the power to hurt you. Their words are a reflection of them; not you. Don’t give them the power to shape your views, opinions, and world.

  • Trisha - Thank you for sharing and YOU GO GIRL!!!

  • Linda - Hi Ashley,
    I read your blog every day but I never commented. After reading todays post I wanted to give you the encourgament I can not in person. It takes a special person who gives of themselves to others, either near or far. I have a beautiful little girl, and I can only hope she grows up to have your heart, your strength and your courage to be herself. Keep doing what your doing and believe in yourself, because you have many online who do.

  • amanda - I dont know what to say, but I felt like I should comment. I read daily and find your voice inspiring and your photos moving. thanks for your bravery.

  • Chelsea - Ashley – you are BRAVE and AMAZING! Thank you for sharing.

  • Mona - The world needs more hearts and voices like yours, Ashley. Thankful for your blog and the impact you make on the lives you touch both in the “real world” and online.

  • Chris - So glad you decided to carry on! You add so much beauty to this world.

  • BeckyH in MA - KUDOS to you!! Doris and her baby sister are sooooo adorable!! One of your comments spoke to me: ” Little boys are little boys wherever you find them.” This is so true! And sharing your camera with the young man melted my heart. Stay awesome and loud, Ashley!!

  • Trish - You make the world a better place with your loving heart. Please don’t let negativity get you down, Ashley!

  • Ujjaini - I feel criticism is great. But positive criticism is greater. Not every person is same, not every situation is same. As long we understand and look around at ‘everyone’ with some compassion, we might be able to stop a lot of hatred in this world. People are forgetting compassion, its becoming fashionable to express bitterness.

    http://imyownmuse.blogspot.com/

  • Ashley - Ashley, you inspire me every day to be grateful for all that I have, to give all that I can, and to cultivate the joy in my life.

    Thank you for “daring greatly” despite the critics and for adding a daily smile to my life.

  • Kim - I don’t comment often…so I just want to say, I’m sorry people are rude to you. I don’t understand the cruelty that exists on line. I love your posts and getting a glimpse in to your joy. I’m a mama to two (2 and a half and 8 months) and while I’m a little older than you at 36 I feel you teach me so many things. Just want to send hugs your way!

  • Megan - I can’t even imagine what negativity people would find in you traveling and learning and growing and sharing, but regardless I’m super happy that you aren’t silent anymore!!!

  • Laura J - Oh Ashley, I am so sorry this happened. I never understand why some people feel the need to be so horrible. If you don’t like/agree with someone’s blog-stop reading it! When confronted with people like that, I try to think about the misery in their heart that is spilling out. I wish we readers could protect you from such things. We can’t. Just know that I, and tons of other readers stand with you and love reading your tender words and wish we could show you how much you touch our hearts. Please do not give weight to that person’s words. I cherish hearing about your life. Never stop. Sending hugs & love from California.

  • amanda - I honestly cannot even imagine how someone could have anything judgemental or critical to say about Ghana and why you went there or what you experienced there. How rude. I have been checking back multiple times a day to see the pictures from this amazing trip you took- hearing about it is inspiring. Watching how you change from your experiences is inspiring. Definitely don’t let the critics silence you- you are amazing.

  • Stacy - I’ve been waiting to hear all about your adventure. I’m so glad that you chose not to listen to the critic.

  • Aj - Your voice, your words, your choice is why myself and others read your blog!

  • christina larsen - I’m sorry that you faced criticism. I appreciate and admire you. I have loved reading about your adventures. So let this be a voice of praise to you and the God you serve. Keep doing what you do. Keep running the race. Keeping fighting the good fight! It is worth it. You are touching so many lives’ by your pictures, stories, and “real-life” life.

  • Jen - Oh that makes me sooooo mad that someone would have a bad thing to say to you!! I couldn’t even dream of something mean or judgmental to say to you if someone paid me! You are an inspiration in so many ways and just seem like a truly beautiful person. Please keep sharing, shush those critics.

  • Katie - I must echo everyone…you are a beautiful person! You have an amazingly HUGE heart and are so apt to allow God’s grace to flow through you. I am in awe of how you have connected not only with your friends in Ghana, but those of us who follow your selfless travels!

  • Elizabeth - Our church frequently sends teams to Ghana. Our connection is a Ghanaian pastor and his network of over twenty churches that he started one by one. His family is now our family in so many ways. The body of Christ all over the world is connected, as it should be. Your critics don’t know what they are talking about, Ashley. Keep your head high and just keep living for and following God’s leading. That’s what really matters.

  • Christy - I’m so sorry for the critics out there but your words said it perfectly. I love your blog and everything you and your family represent. Thank you for showing the “little reader” your life. It is inspiring. And thank you for showing me the outside world. Looking forward to ALL your posts.

  • Caroline R - I can’t even imagine what awful comment could possibly be made about your trip and the Ghanian people you became friends with. I was so moved by your instagram pictures and like many others kept checking yesterday for a blog post, excited to hear more. Thank you for rising above the criticism to share your story, and for not calling further attention to the naysayer by sharing what they said. One can only hope they will recognize themselves as such, and change their actions in the future. In the meantime your blog remains the one I always check as soon as the clock hits 7 am!

  • Shelby - You are brave and it’s a wonderful gift to us for you to share your experience and your heart. Don’t let people get you down or keep you from sharing just because their heart doesn’t beat for the same thing yours does. Please keep sharing!

  • Kimberly Oyler - don’t you dare stop using the voice He gave you. God gave you a story to tell and you my friend are the only one who can tell it. don’t forget that.

  • Chania - I found your coverage of your trip to be respectful and considerate. Your trip coincided with the Noonday “storytellers” trip and I wonder if your work in Ghana was confused with this trip which has turned into a bit of a fiasco.

    There are ways to share your experiences with more fragile people and your way was fine. Well done.

  • AmandaH - Please don’t stop speaking and writing. You are an encouragement and source of inspiration to me, through your parenting, your photography and your Christian living. Thank you for all you do. Please don’t be silenced!

  • Natalie - So glad you share your voice! never stop! Hugs to you!

  • Jamie - Your voice is amazing. I have followed your blog for years. You are an inspirational stranger!

  • Ari - Please, share it all with us!

  • Kelly - Your voice is beautiful and amazing. I look forward to hearing it everyday. Please share your wonderful experience with those of us not fortunate enough to travel to Ghana! Keep on keeping on!

  • Sarah - Thank you for your “voice” and your eloquent words! Just what I needed today, and I shared with all of the other social workers in my office that needed it today as well!

  • Paige - AMEN, Ashley! God gives you these experiences to share, not to tuck away at the fear of the ignorant or mean. What I would love to ask you, over a cup of coffee, is how DO you reconcile coming back? I’ve never been a part of this kind of experience. But I feel like I would have a very tough time purchasing non-essentials after a trip like that. How long until you can justify something frivolous, like a cup of Starbucks? Or do you constantly run through what $4 or $5 would buy in Ghana? I feel like I would have trouble with that. I’m so happy a dream came true for you and so happy that you got to hold hands, and hug, and touch and love on some of God’s beautiful people.

  • Katie - Your heart shines through your stories and they are amazing, and powerful because of it. Don’t let the bullies get you down – there are more of us out there who are better off because of you, and the more you share the more we soak up and the better we become. I look forward to the years of stories to come. Thank you for putting yourself out there!

  • Danielle - You have a huge community following you, respecting you, admiring you, trying to emulate you. You are a shining star in this crazy world of nay-sayers. So thankful you are brushing it off and moving forward on your path of love and kindness.

  • Shannon - I don’t know what the critic said that could stifle you as it did, but I want you to know that I visited your site yesterday with a lot of excitement because I wanted to see and hear about your experience in Ghana. You have a way of writing that expresses so genuinely and beautifully how and what you feel and stand for. Because of that, I connect with your words and look forward to what you write on a daily basis. To stand up in this way to your critic and to do it in such a classy way says great things about your character. I hope that you continue to have the strength, the words, and the ability to use your voice to inspire others and do good things in this world.

  • Kelley - I am so glad you aren’t silent today! I missed you yesterday! I am thankful for you! Thankful for how you open up your heart and family with us!
    And to be honest, I’m just flat out mad right now. I can’t even imagine what someone thought to criticize you about based on your trip. I am angry for you! All I can think is “what is wrong with people?” But then I realize I am being judgmental of them. So I’ll stop.
    Just know that I think you’re awesome!

  • brittney - I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for a little over a year and it’s upsetting for me to hear that someone would post something critical to you. I have loved looking at your pictures and hearing your stories. My best friend studied abroad in Ghana in college and it’s been our dream to return back together- I have a feeling your upcoming posts just might be the push I need! Thank you for sharing your stories and lovely photographs!

  • Jessica M - Your voice is not loud, nor is it perfect. But to me, your voice is both funny and eloquent. Don’t let the critics get you down. Looking forward to your posts this week.

  • Debbie - Please don’t go silent. It breaks my heart that someone has been mean to you and those you care for. Your post today moved me to tears. Please share your experience with us…..be strong. We’ve got your back.

  • Bri Schaaf - Oh I love your voice, and the smiles you share! Be Brave, Be Vulnerable, Be Open!!! You and your heart are simply amazing!!! In everything I read and interact with on a daily basis, your blog, your stories, the smiles you capture lift my heart and encourage me to be brave and step up! You go girl! You got this!

  • Betsy - Oh sister, your blog is not only an inspiration to me but to a group of teenage girls by daughter teaches at her church…. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrew 12:1 Just to hear HIM say…Well done thou good and faithful servant!!!(btw I follow Beth Moore on twitter and she gets it too) Blessings!!!

  • Debbie - For everyone one negative comment there are like 100,000 people rooting for you. Continue to share! We are inspired by you.

  • Lucy - Hola Ashley solo quiero felicitarte por el gran corazón que tienes. Admiro mucho a tu familia, es una familia tan hermosa y se puede ver que es una familia que se ama. Ver tu blog me inspira, paz, amor y muchas cosas lindas… Tu familia seguro es de bendición para muchas personas, no te sientas mal si alguien te critica. Dios sabe lo que hay en tu corazón y Dios es el unico que puede juzgarnos… Dios te Ama. Saludos desde Monterrey, N.L. México.

    Lucy

  • Jennifer - Not to bring myself to their level, but remember the famous words of John Wayne. “You can’t fix stupid.” :) I think the last pic should be in the Gilcrease or something. Beautiful.

  • Kristin - Please don’t let anyone silence your voice. I love what you share, and can’t believe that anyone could find anything to criticize (my teenage children would be shaking their heads right now muttering, “Internet trolls…they’re everywhere…”). Please continue to ignore them so that the rest of us can continue to be moved, inspired and entertained as you share your generous & loving spirit.

  • Jules M - Ash…can I call you Ash, because I think that if you were sitting next to me right now, I would hug you & call you Ash & tell you that everything is going to be ok. I would tell you that that person was having an unkind moment & to think of the positive comments instead. That I want to hear the stories because everyone has a story & they are all important. I don’t care where you live; your story is important & there are people who would like to listen to that story. We are all imperfect & don’t always have the right words. But when you share something with love & have it be something that was so special to you, we want to hear it. You took a trip of a lifetime & met some truly amazing people who will forever be in your heart. Share that experience. I can tell you….I would love to hear about it.

  • Lexie - You are amazing! I love your voice. Please never stop sharing your stories. I am so inspired by you and your beautiful family.

  • Chella Ross - This blog is incredible!

  • Kaylan - Thank you for sharing. You are such an inspiration. I don’t hardly ever comment, but I’ve read your blog for years. Years I bop in to check on you guys each day and follow along in your life. It takes courage to live out loud in cyberspace where people are so much more bold and critical. I’m going to make it a goal of mine to leave more words of encouragement. Hopefully the encouragement will outweigh the critics! :)

  • Robin C. - With such technology in the world today, you’d think somehow in blog land that negative comments could be detected and automatically deleted before anyone could read them – even the blogger. We need an app for that!

    p.s. I LOVE the last picture you posted. that child is gorgeous!

  • Jenni - I love your heart. Go for it, share bravely and you will take us all to Ghana through your eyes. We all need to go. Thank you in advance.

  • Alice H - People are so good at being rude over a computer. A lot of times saying things they wouldn’t say to your face. I am proud of you for using your voice. Don’t let this critic silence you!!

  • Colleen - Hi Ashley,

    I followed your trip on Instagram and was moved by your post regarding the pillow case dresses made for a/the village and was moved to help the village and people you visited in Ghana. Can you provide details on how we can get goods/funds to the people you visited and any organizations helping there as well?

    Thanks for always humbling my heart in every single blog and instagram post.

  • Tara - I’m so grateful that you’ve chosen to use your precious voice and share with us! Thank you

  • Natalie - Your blog is one of my absolute favorites and yet I never comment and let you know what an inspiration your photos and words are to me! Please don’t let the hurtful critics silence your voice- a blog is nothing without your voice shining through it. If people don’t care for something they have the choice to just simply not read your blog instead of posting something online that I bet they would never say to someone’s face. Thank you for being brave and vulnerable and sharing your life with us. God is using you in great ways!

  • Taylor - Gorgeous photos. I am absolutely ecstatic to hear about your journey and your adventures. Don’t ever let a silly voice bring you down (much easier said then done, I know).

    xoxo
    Taylor

  • donya - Ashley, I don’t come over and comment often, but I have loved your blog for years. I can’t even imagine what someone could have said negatively towards you because I’m constantly amazed by you and your heart. Thank you for posting anyways and I can’t wait to read more about Ghana and everything after!

  • Carrie - Good for you Ashley!!! Whatever you share with us is such a blessing!!

  • Julie D - Please don’t let the critic silence you. The world is a better place because you share. Thank you.

  • MH - I find critics all around especially when I’ve made efforts for the Kingdom. I’m glad you shared these smiles.

  • Lahna Winter - I love your soul, Ashley. You have a beautiful voice, even though I’ve never hear you say a word. :)

  • Julie Thacker - Ashley you rock!! All I can say is this world needs more people like you and less of those nasty critics. You have inspired me in ways you will never know – As a mother, as a Christian, as a Community Member, as a Wife, the list goes on and on……….

  • Clare - Well said. Stay strong x

  • Kathy - Your voice is beautiful! Don’t let it be silenced by a critic. Their criticism says more about them than you. I’m sure your mother probably told you, as mine did, that you can’t make all the people happy all the time, so do what makes you happy.

  • Jeannine - You’re an inspiration to many and your heart is strong and beautiful. The world needs more voices like yours! Let it ring loud and proud. I’m so glad you aren’t being silent :)

  • Brenda - Cheering you on, Ashley! I love your blog and am grateful for the gift of your generous transparency as you share your heart, your perspective, and your family in this public venue!

  • Cindy - I love your Beautiful voice! It IS eloquent, funny and loud… and I feel it is PERFECT – perfect for all of us looking for beauty, love, gratitude, family, compassion…..thank you for sharing your voice so wonderfully and not being silent!

  • Lisa K - I love your blog. From everything I have learned about you, you are a blessing to everyone you meet. I would love to have an “Ashley” in my life.

  • Mary Jo Smith - Beautifully written. I am thankful you were brave, unlike the critic who hides behind a computer screen.

  • Julie Wearmouth - You are a beautiful and amazing person Ashley….on the inside and the outside. You speak from the heart and from experience. The critic is just that….critical….of themself, of others; a
    detractor, attacker, fault-finder, backseat driver, or gadfly.
    Keep doing what you’re doing because there’s a whole lot of us out here that LOVE what you’re doing, what you stand for, and for sharing your life with us! Keep doing what you’re doing…YOU ROCK and WE LOVE YOU!!! ~Julie

  • Christi - Keep sharing! Your story is wonderful and beautiful, and the people who love supporting you and living vicariously through you outweigh all the critics! And, this is my first time commenting even though I’ve been following your blog for years so remember that for every wonderful post you write there are hundreds more people that are smiling while just reading (and loving) what you share without even commenting!

  • Mendi - Thank you for being brave and not letting the critics and bullies win! I read today with tears in my eyes looking at those beautiful children that you had the privilege of meeting and loving on!

  • Cindi Brumpton - The easiest thing in the word is to criticize and be negative. Your voice is perfectly your own and can only ever reflect your hopes, dreams, travels, reading, thoughts, and life pursuits. What a gift it is and how lovely it is that u share it. I for one completely enjoy your blog, even though our lives r completely different. I value your voice. And honestly, naysayers are boring!

  • Remaliah - I, for one, LOVE your voice and am always inspired by what you share. Good on you for standing up to the critic. You have so much goodness and beauty to share with us!

  • Katie - I think you are eloquent and a lovely writer! Don’t get discouraged, please keep sharing your unique, heartwarming and funny stories…I look forward to them daily.

  • Kristin S - YES! I can’t wait to see and hear more!

  • Christy - Critics are usually pretty miserable people who only want to bring others down to their level of misery. You have a very beautiful, fun and blessed life. Thank you for sharing the fun!! To the critics… Suck it!!!

  • Maureen - Please, please share their beauty and stories with us. For many reasons I will not be able to make this journey…You have made it for me and many others I am sure. I DEEPLY appreciate it. My heart went with you as it did to China and I would not want to miss anything you want to share for anything or anyone. Your voice resonates with my heart and by the comments, many others also.

  • michele - Ashley,
    I missed you yesterday! God has given you a powerful voice to be used for His glory. Your voice is being used as His instrument. Your voice is not an echo of someone else.

    I encourage you to read Dealing with the Rejection and Praises of Men by Bob Sorge.

  • jami nato - haters gonna hate.
    when i came back from haiti and even while i was there, people were so opinionated about what i was doing. why i was there. it was a difficult time. so, i hear ya.
    their voices are loud but HIS voice is more important. you will never go wrong listening to his call and being obedient in that. we are called to that, not the approval of man.
    love you.
    jami

  • Mary - Wow! This was incredible! Thank you for being brave and sharing your story! And who says your voice is all of those things? Your voice is touching and invaluable … beautiful, actually :)
    I am about to embark on a journey overseas and also to work with underprivileged women and children! Your post has inspired me and I will carry your words – and your voice – with me on my journey. Blessings to you always for being a light in the world. xoxo.

  • Nikki - I appreciate and am so grateful for your voice and how generously and mindfully you share. Thank you for not letting yourself be silenced. Thank you for sharing the story of your heart.

  • Ellen - We’ve not met but yours is usually the first blog I check each day. I’ve appreciated your voice on motherhood, adoption, trusting God on many days. I look forward to hearing more from you on your time in Ghana and the stories you’ve now been given to steward well. For nearly 10 years I’ve been involved with an organization called Forgotten Voices that is responding to some of the same things you went to witness in Ghana, just a little further south in Africa. I’ve often thought that the only thing worse that voices of vulnerable children and families forgotten by the world, are voices that choose to be silenced when they have a chance to be heard and used. Keep using your voice and I’ll keep listening and committing that what you say on behalf of those you love in Ghana won’t be forgotten.

  • Kathleen - So glad and grateful you keep writing. This is always a place to come where the true, noble and beautiful things are shared.

  • Meghan Pence - I am inspired by you and the stories you share. Thank you so much.

  • Cara - I wake up everyday so excited to hear (read!) your voice. It has effected and changed my view of the world and of mothering and making a difference. Your voice is a beautiful, beautiful gift. Get it, girl!!!

  • Allison - critical of what?!!! (redundant, not looking for an answer) SO excited to hear all you have to say about your trip and your friends.

  • Lisa - Bless you. You are brave and your words beautiful :) Keep the posts coming. Can’t wait to hear more!

  • Ashleigh - It is so true… we shall never know what a smile can do… or a blog my dear!
    ;)
    XOXO

  • Jennifer - You’re voice is a gift…a beautiful gift….that sweet picture takes my breathe away….thank you for using your voice because for 2 years it has inspired me, encouraged me, entertained me and taught me….a total stranger yet we are “faith family” and God has used your voice and He is pleased and really that’s who matters…I will be praying for that critic…may the critics heart be changed and his/her voice be transformed by your example.

  • Emily - Ashley – Don’t be discouraged, keep on writing and be brave, there are so many of us who want to here from you and have benefitted and learned immensely from you.

  • Heidi Jo the Artist - I had a crappy day myself yesterday. I love this post so much! Not the judgmental person, but the way you are handling the situation. I’m starting to put myself (and my family) out there more online and it is not easy. I had my first mean comment on Instagram the other day. I went back awhile later to look at their profile, and their comment had been erased. Either they erased it, or a follower of mine reported it. I’m sure that is only the beginning. Personally, I’m going to cling to the Bible verses about persecution. Psalms 9:13 Jeremiah 20:11 John 15:18 1Peter 4:16(one of my favorites) …these are only a few, but, yeah, much love to you! And looking forward to more posts!

  • Kimberlee Jost - Proud of you because I know this must be hard. And I love that quote too!

  • Leanne - Ashley,

    Every person who uses their voice for love not fear, beauty not ugliness and kindness not hate, gives the world a little more positivity. You are talking through Gods grace.

    And I am grateful you are speaking about this!

    Leanne xo

  • Georgia - “I’ve walked the road of coming home and trying to reconcile my American life with what my heart has experienced somewhere else.” I love this line. It describes so well the experience of reentry after a trip like yours. In my wildest imagination, I can’t imagine what someone could find to criticize, but I know anything can bring criticism these days. I am praying your shield of faith will protect you. Please don’t let the one or the few stop you from sharing with the rest of us. Your “voice” blesses me (and hundreds more I suspect) almost daily. Don’t let it be silenced.

  • Veronica - A while back I stumbled upon the rest of the Teddy Roosevelt “Citizen In a Republic” excerpt on your blog and it spoke so loudly to me. I hope you realize how many people you inspire, everyday. Keep striving valiantly to do the deeds. Lives all over have been touched by yours, try to remember that at the end of the day.

  • Anna - This post is just beautiful it reminds me of the rainbow which comes because of the rain. As I was reading it I was thinking of how wonderfully you write, then I read your summing up of your writing it is so different to what I see. In the morning when I wake up and look at my gmail I do not open many emails, only the ye gent and any which particularly catch my eye. But if I have one from your blog I nearly always open it. You normally make me smile and give me a really positive start for the day, wether it is through your writing or photos. Thank you.

  • Betty - Praise Jesus! If we keep quiet the stones will cry out!
    I am touched daily by God’s work in you while doing what God has for me to do here in Alaska.
    Way to be in the ARENA, your face marred with Ghanaian dust and sweat! You keep on keepin on, chicky!
    Woot! Woot!
    BR

  • Maria - I almost cried reading this because I recognize the feeling. And two, your children will see your courage to speak out and learn from it. Well done, mom.

  • Janneke - Wow! Silence…..!

  • LeeH - I’m so sorry someone chose to say something hurtful instead of keeping it to themselves. They do not count, that is true. There are so many of us who enjoy sharing your view of the world and the many ways YOU make it a better place every day. Please don’t take snarky comments personally and let them silence your voice. Anyone who feels compelled to be critical of something they are not involved in should just zip it. Here’s a big HUG from those who want to hear what you have to say, want to see your joyful pictures, and want to give a piece of our collective mind to whoever it was who hurt your feelings

  • Jeni - Thank You for sharing your life with us. You are an inspiration. I wish you and your lovely family all the happiness in the world. Don’t let one person keep you silent……Keep talking….Yell if you have to! You are making differences in peoples lives and no one can take that away from you. Thank you!

  • Amy - What Satan means for evil, God means for good. Look how God brought good out of the negative feedback to see all the positive influence you are having encouraging the body of Christ and pointing others to Him. And you even have Ann Voskamp reading your blog!! How cool is that?!

  • Mandy - That’s right girl! God has given you an incredible voice to share His love and grace with others. I am thankful that despite a critic or two you continue to boldly proclaim all that the Father has put in your heart! You are awesome friend and have influence in the lives of so many! Keep on sharing!!! Love you!!!!

  • Michele - Please don’t be silent. Your voice inspires so many! My mantra has become this: Always be a little kinder than you need to be. Thanks for your kindness, even when met with criticism.

  • April - I say to you what Jesus has been whispering to me as I have been going through a similar circumstance, “Be brave! I have overcome the world. My voice will not be silenced. My light shines in the darkness.”

  • Ivana - It is amazing how much one negative voice can impact us, but it is clear that the positive voices will always outweigh (and immensely, at that) those negative ones when called upon. You do have a small army behind you, wanting to give as much back to you as you give to us. My morning often consists of checking the news, and then, in an effort to be reminded that goodness and happiness does still exist in this world, going straight to your blog to find hope for the rest of the day. Your words help me to find peace and contentment in the things around me, in my children, my husband, in my trials. Helping me recognize that my world is what I make of it, not what the voices around me try to convince me it is. Words can rarely soften a hard heart intent on staying so, but for those of us who see life through the lens of hope and gratitude we thank you for you lending your voice to this world. I have no doubt that if you could be shown all of the lives you have touched, you would be overwhelmed and fortified against those trying to steal your light. Please don’t ever let the voice of one destroy your voice, which is infinitely more powerful and influential.

  • Chrissy - Thanks for sharing your heart. I promise we all REALLY WANT to hear about it all, it’s beautiful & inspiring & a way for us to see the world far away that we aren’t traveling to right now. Thanks for being courageous. This is also a good reminder for me to be an encourager in the comments, sometimes I feel like oh, people are already saying what I would say & don’t leave a quick note, but I need to add my voice to the positive side!! hugs lovely lady.

  • Pamela - Thank you for sharing your experiences and places through your eyes. You have such a warm and giving heart. The world could use more real women like you. Keep on being brave and showing us that there is beauty, love, laughter and heartbreak in every inch of this world.

  • Karen - Thank you so so much for sharing your stories with us! Say it LOUD and PROUD!

  • kris saia - let your little light shine. many, many, many are learning from your example.

Are you so sick of travel pictures? Well, if you are…good news, this is the last one. I am going to answer some of your practical questions regarding living in our trailer for a month.

What kind of trailer do you have and what do you use to pull it? It is a 25 foot 1966 Avion. We drive an older Suburban and it pulls fine.

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Does the trailer have heat and air? It has air, but we didn’t use it on this trip. Oklahoma is so much hotter, so we might use it more when we camp locally. It does not have heat, but we used a portable heater when needed. I don’t do well in cold weather, so we don’t plan on camping when it is really cold.

Does it have a working shower and toilet? No. It has a shower and toilet, but they aren’t connected to anything. We used the showers and restrooms where we camped. Not every place had showers, but every place had a version of a toilet. Remember, we are okay with rustic. This did mean we did not take showers daily (or even every other day at times), which would really bother some people. The weather was cold so we didn’t sweat much and a baby wipe can go a long way for cleaning;)

How did you plan out your trip? We picked a handful of key locations to park the trailer (Tetons, Shoshone, Glacier, etc.) and used those as our base camp to explore local areas. We didn’t plan much other than that. Once we arrived we talked to locals and park rangers. Since we had about 5 days in each spot, we were able to really explore and take our time. We never felt rushed, which made a big difference in the overall feel of the trip. Due to finances, we didn’t do many things that cost money…lots of hiking and nature exploring instead.

When you drove how many rest stops did you take? Too many. At one point I thought about making every person under the age of 12 wear a pull-up. Instead we just made a million and two potty breaks. Since our kitchen was connected to our car, we tried making sandwiches and such in the trailer during long drives instead of getting fast food. We’d just pull up to a grocery store, park far from the store and eat lunch at the table in the trailer.

How many clothes did you pack? Did you do laundry? We don’t have tons of clothes because I do laundry everyday anyway…so we don’t need a lot. I packed everyone 2 pairs of pants, one long sleeve shirt, and one jacket. The boys took several pairs of shorts and t-shirts. The girls took several dresses. We packed light, but should have packed more cold weather items. I packed a bunch of tank tops and only wore them twice. Under the beds in the trailer are plastic bins where I stored our clothes. We did laundry whenever we could find a washer and dryer…which was a handful of times.

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What did you eat? We only ate at restaurants a couple of times, which is more than we do at home. We shopped at local grocery stores and markets. I tried to stock up at each location so we weren’t trying to find something each day. I fixed most of our meals using a griddle or electric skillet in the trailer. We also used the campfire for several meals. Most campsites have picnic tables so we ate outside instead of in the trailer the majority of the time. The trailer has a full size refrigerator, so we were able to have cold goods. When we went from one place to the next I put all our cold items in insulated bags with frozen water bottles. We washed dishes at our campsite or at designated places at the various campgrounds. The kids did lots of dishes. My mother-in-law LOADED us up with snacks before we left, so I never had to think about buying those. We still have some left!

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We did pack our ‘fancy’ coffee machine and I had my normal yogurt concoction for breakfast every morning. Keeping little routines like those helped it feel more like home.

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How did everyone sleep and what did the sleeping arrangements look like? Sleep was great. The kids liked all being in one room each night. We were so active all day long and didn’t get in the trailer for bed until late each night, which meant everyone pretty much just crashed. We had a big bed up front for Chris and me. We created a large bed across the back for the kids – 4 slept on the top and one below (top part is pictured below).
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What were your biggest expenses? Gas. I’m not even sure what we spent on gas. We mainly did free things and we bought a national park pass so it would be a one time fee since we will use it again this year. Our grocery bill was about the same and RV parks are much cheaper than hotels. Gas was our biggest expense.

How did the kids do? They did so great. They are all getting more mature and independent, so that helped big time. Our oldest daughter is the only one that verbally said she missed home, though I am sure the others might have too. Of course there was fighting and arguing, but no more than we deal with at home. The cold days where we were in the trailer were the hardest. The boys wanted to wrestle and it was just a tiny space for that. One day I had them create a Wrestling Rules & Consequences Contract that they all signed. Really though, it was a beautiful time for our family. I’m not one for pretending life is perfect, but to say that the trip was just dreadful and we couldn’t wait to get home would not be true. It will live on as one of our family’s fondest memories.

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I’m not sure that I answered every question. It was hard finding them all throughout those older posts. If you have another one, ask it on this post and I’ll try to answer those when I get back from Africa!

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  • SueB - Loved reading all about your trip. Made me relive some of our camping trips a few years ago in our motorhome. Gas was always a huge expense but i loved being able to cook meals in it and having our own bed and bathroom. It’s a great way to travel and are some of our fondest memories as well.

  • Beth - Ashley, I LOVED reading about your trip. I’m sorry to see it completed! How often do you see your family doing epic trips such as this one?

  • cindy - what a wonderful trip…..were you aware of where hospitals or urgent care centers were in case of an emergency? other than the shower and toilet lack, i think i might like camping in a trailer like yours. i’m not so okay with rustic. :D

    oh, what about bugs and little critters? were they a problem?

  • Michelle Hill - I have to be honest, I’m making sad faces over here when I read the line about being the last “travel post”. I felt like I was on this trip with you guys for the whole month…even if it was just in five minute snippets everyday). The pictures are just stunning and I can imagine the comments and memories your children will bring up when they are older about this trip.
    Thank you, thank you for sharing this adventurous and wonderful moment in your lives with us.

  • Mek - Love all your trip posts and pictures! Would like to ask about LO’s meals during the trip? Does she still depends on juices or she already can takes on soft foods?

  • cindy - LOVED hearing about your trip! Sad to hear this is your last post about it! What wonderful memories made – thanks for taking us along!

  • Ujjaini - I think preparing food at the campsite is the best thing. And it often tastes so much better, somehow!

    http://imyownmuse.blogspot.com/

  • Taylor - I love reading the insights on your trip. Definitely some great tips for future camping/road trip expeditions whether you’re with kiddos or not.

    xoxo
    Taylor

  • ashley jensen - Sounds like the camping we do! We have taken many bucket baths before instead of showers and during the summer we just take a bath in the river. Gas is definitely the biggest expense! That is basically all it costs for us to go camping since we take food from home. And yes camper rates are WAY cheaper than hotels! We are thinking about going down to the coast next year and would definitely take out trailer instead of staying in a hotel!

  • jill - How long were you gone total?

  • jenny - wow! you are such an inspiration! you really make me want to go on an adventure like this :) and the trailer remodel… fantastic… i never would have even thought of doing something like that to make it feel more like home! i absolutely love all the little touches you add (ex: chalkboard that said “let’s go on an adventure”, katie daisy camping print, and so much more!!!).

  • AshleyAnn - Jill we were on the road about a month on this one. Chris

  • AshleyAnn - Mek, Thanks for asking, she did great on the trip. Still a lot of soft foods but she picked up some new eating habits on this trips that were great. What was a little crazy on this trip is that we didn’t even pack the blender for smoothies which was a huge thing for us! Chris Campbell

  • AshleyAnn - Cindy, In most places there were facilities some what close but honestly that is a real challenge to being out further in the wilderness. Even if you do know about those types of facilities they are just not pragmatically close. Some of the national parks have first aid stations and such but what you maybe referring to in a hospital or urgent care are probably several hours away. We brought a lot of our own first aid supplies. On the bugs and critters we really didn’t have any problems. In bear country, you don’t leave anything outside of the trailer except for maybe camping chairs while you are gone from your campground or at night. Inside the trailer, we intentionally put out some ant baits and such because we heard that could be a issue at some of the campgrounds. We never really had a problem with them though. Chris Campbell

  • AshleyAnn - Beth, Ashley was planning our next one before we even made it home! As of right now we have talked about trying another one next summer but now that we have the trailer outfitted we are looking at the spring and fall because of the beautiful weather but also the lesser crowds. We have the bug! Chris Campbell

  • Julia - Dear Ashley,

    what I’m going to write now is something I meant to tell you for a long time, but especially since your Camping trip.
    I think you & Chris are like the most awesome parents, I’d love to be a member of your beautiful family and if I ever have children, it would be Grand for them when I’d be just a half as good Mum as you are.

    You are a great person! I’m thankful for your existence, because my day always gets a Little bit happier looking at your photographs and reading your posts. :)

    Love,
    Julia/17/Germany

  • susie - Wish there was a place in Air-streams to put dirt bikes and the kayak in. The kids want to take a trailer of toys so we have been tenting it. Too bad gas is so expensive, that’s always our biggest expense too.

  • AshleyAnn - Susie, I wish we would have had bikes on this trip too. I have seen a lot of attachments that can hook on the back bumper of a trailer for bikes. My kids would have really enjoyed that. Our neighbor, at Jackson lake had his Kayak’s on his roof rack of his truck. That is the nice thing about pulling a trailer is you do have a lot more room for things in your main vehicle that you are pulling it with. As always more stuff usually creates more hassle but if it is important to you those things are not too difficult to pack along! Chris Campbell

  • Laura S. - I will never get tired of seeing your beautiful travel photos. It has made me want to plan a road trip for my 50th birthday with my gal pals. I have two years to plan the whole thing. You really inspired me. I think you could really write a budget travel blog and get paid big time for it!

  • sayonada - two (adult) friends of mine recently drove cross-country and i told them that it sounded like a nightmare to me. but this actually makes it sounds wonderful and do-able. thanks so much for sharing!

  • Diana - I too am sad to see this is the last trip post! I grew up going on camping vacations with my family (except in a pop-up camper usually, and we’d fit all 8 of us in there!) and so many happy memories coming back seeing your trip. I think those trips are one of the best things my parents did for us and I’d bet your kids will feel the same some day. Thank you for sharing!!!

  • Kristin - You’ve made me fall in love with idea of taking our own epic trip. I’m dying to see Wyoming & Montana more than ever now. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us.

  • Amber - I’m with someone else who said oh no, last camping post! I’ve loved them! When my husband and I graduated college we road tripped 10,548 miles all the way around the US (but very rustic, tent style). We love road tripping but are crushed because our youngest (2) gets horribly car sick, so we can’t go anywhere. How did the kids handle the actual driving part? Do you have any car sick issues? What did they do in the car while you drove? Thanks!

  • Julie - I have loved following your adventure! We have just started tent camping as a family this year (we have three kids) and we love it. I love that you didn’t sugar coat the realities of not showering often (we love baby wipes when camping, too!) and choosing to do free activities. We just got back from a several night stay in south Texas at Big Bend National Park. Amenities are few, but it was beautiful and I would go back in a heartbeat. We’ve got the camping bug :)

  • haverlee - I always love reading your detailed, daily life type posts! I don’t know why. Your humility and strength continually bless me. Also, you totally rock that hat, you cute thing, you.

  • Kristine - Ashley,
    I have absolutely loved reading these posts about your trip! My hubby has been wanting to plan an out west trip for years and years, and so i have forwarded many of your posts to him! Your trip was the perfect combination of “roughing it” and, well, not roughing it. :-) We plan on going now with our four kiddos in two summers (that way our youngest will be 5 and a little more independent). I have saved all of your post and beautiful pictures to refer back to. Oh, and I just love how you decorated your trailer, it was so sweet.

    Kristine :)

  • Jeannine - Ashley and Chris – Loved reading these posts about your trip! My husband and I have been talking about doing yearly road trips with our girls once they’re a little older :) (They’re only 2 and 8 months right now) Oh and LOVE your trailer. Totally inspired!

  • Janet Phillips - I have so enjoyed seeing your photos and reading more about your trip. We are getting ready to take our six children on a road trip out west to many of the same places and it is so fun to see a family who has already done it. I’ve picked up some ideas here and there from what you have shared and I am getting even more excited. Thanks for chronicling your trip!

  • Brittney K - Ashley, thank you so much for sharing with us. Really it is so inspiring to see how you embrace everyday life with your clan. You inspire me to be a better mom. Thank you!

  • Cathy - Ashley – It has been great reading about your family adventures. We bought a camper 2nd hand last year also and are so thankful for the closeness it brings to each other and to God’s wondrous creation. Had a question regarding decorating – do you have throw rugs on the floor? We are looking for something that would be washable.

  • Sarah - What an amazing trip, I have loved following along with you! My husband and I took a trip to Yellowstone/Jackson Hole a few years back. It was beautiful, but I was so worried about bears the whole time we were hiking(especially on the less busy trails) and we didn’t even have our kids with us! Do you have any tips or advise that you picked up about hiking/camping in bear country? I would love to go back with my girls someday! Thanks for sharing your epic road-trip with us! :)

  • Laura Y - Ashley and Chris – Thanks for all these posts. I have loved reading them. My husband and I now live in OKC but we both grew up in Wyoming and Colorado and have been missing how easy it was to travel to some of those locations.

    Quick question: What is the carrier that you are using for Little One in the hiking photos? We are expecting baby #2 soon and I am trying to decide on a good carrier that can last us as she ages.

    Thanks!

  • AshleyAnn - Laura – it is an ergo carrier….worth every penny :)

  • Frances Locke - I love this post and, well, all the posts about your adventure. My husband and I are considering something similar before the summer is out, and I appreciate how you kept it real about laundry, bathing, etc. All in all the way you described your experience is so inspirational. Thank you!