My mother, sisters, and I are used to fighting for what we have. Nothing has ever been given to us. Growing up, we were a four-person family on a one-person income. Ashley was sick from birth and spent long spans of time in the hospital with our mama by her side. That left my older sister and I to learn to fend for ourselves and left my mother stretched taut (without ever having the luxury to actually snap).
We struggled, and we still struggle. My mama works several jobs and still has to scrimp and save to make her mortgage payment (on a house purchased in the 80s, so don't assume she's an irresponsible borrower) while also being able to help my sisters as much as she can. (My older sister battles a mental illness that prevents her from stable employment.)
And then there's Ashley, who's staring headlong at death. There's nothing she can eat thanks to gluten intolerance, medical diabetes, and her firm determination to avoid dialysis through an elimination diet. Her body hurts -- all over and all the time. She's constantly battling an intestinal bacteria that leaves her weak and wracked. Her face and body are constantly bloated from poor kidney function and the steroids she has to take so her body doesn't reject her transplanted lungs. This is her life, day after day after day.
My family has grown to expect the struggle. We're used to fighting for what we want and taking what we need by force if that's what it comes to. We take nothing for granted and our expectations are never high. Despite this, we believe our blessings outnumber our battles.
Ashley is sick, but her spirit is youthful and inspiring. Our family will be able to provide Ashley with a safety net when her health takes its next step downward. Ashley is dying, but she makes the choice every single day to make the most of her life. And she refuses to give up.
And her life continues to surprise us, to open our hearts and our minds in ways that we could never have anticipated. It happened when one woman chose to ask a question rather than offer a condolence. It's happening again and again as strangers reach out to help us however they can. This wildfire of generosity has one spark: Ashley.
There are more twists and turns coming up on Ashley's journey to health and I pray that she survives them. Until then, I cry and rejoice and give thanks that so many people have joined hands with us to help Ashley get the surgery that she so desperately needs. Our family is bowled over and breathless by the support we've been given.
This life, unexpected and tragic and beautiful all at the same time, is one I pray I'll always be able to share with my sister, who is my best friend.. Because of you (and you and you), that is looking more and more possible.
You can follow Ashley's journey here and click over to donate toward her kidney transplant. We're looking at a cost of $250,000, so every little bit is much encouraged and appreciated. Please take a few minutes to share her story via Twitter (#KidneyCutie), Facebook, and email.
And a special thank you to Michele Quick Photography for taking these gorgeous photos of Ashley free of charge. They do a magnificent job of capturing Ashley's spirit!