By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Joey and Ashley Armstrong admit that they never intended to be writers, but they also know from experience that sometimes life takes you on a journey you never could have imagined.
Joey Armstrong, University and LifeSong worship leader at First Baptist Church, along with his wife Ashley will release their first book, “God Loves it When …” on Sept. 24. The 24-page book published by Tate Publishing was actually something the couple worked on during graduate school.
“We just felt like there was something missing in the children’s religion department in terms of something kind of fun and whimsical and not so much Bible stories,” Ashley said.
The book, based on scripture from Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” is a celebration of the good in everyone and celebrates those of the human race in whom good and innocence are reflected most clearly — children.
“Children tend to see things more purely and simply, which is a little closer to what the truth might be. Just that God loves all the little things that we do as well as the big things we do and that we are made in his image,” Ashley said.
But, again, the couple never expected to be writers. So they put the poem they worked on together on the back burner. That is, until the birth of their son Finn 18 months ago.
“We wrote it in grad school and basically forgot about it. That was in 2008. When Finn came along, all the pieces started to fall in place. We heard about Tate. We were looking for an illustrator and they provided that. It just worked out perfectly. It was an opportunity for us to be a fundraiser to bring in for his medical bills,” Joey said.
Eighteen weeks into their pregnancy, an ultrasound was perform to discover the gender of the Armstrong’s first born. Everything seemed routine at first.
“We went in and they measured his head in utero and said it was a little larger than it should be. We went to see a specialist who had an even better ultrasound machine and they confirmed that his head was retaining spinal fluid and on his back the skin and the spinal cord did not fully form and close up. Basically, that means the nerve function from that point on his spine down will be limited or non existent,” Joey said.
Although Finn Armstrong’s spina bifida has left him paralyzed from the waist down and has left him with a brain shunt, his family is embracing his life’s challenges.
“Some kids with spina bifida, because of the swelling on the brain, really struggle mentally, too. He may have some learning delays because his mobility is delayed, sometimes that can delay a child’s development, too. But we are really, really grateful for his brain development. The fact that he has a sound mind and that’s so much more important to us than that he can’t walk, Ashley said.
The couple admit when they first learned of Finn’s diagnosis, they were devastated.
“It’s really caused us to look at everything differently. When you see it through the eyes of somebody who’s not on their two legs walking, you realize how we’ve really tailored everything. Playgrounds to doors to cabinets, any kind of business is just tailored to certain height and certain accessibility and mobility. It’s just fascinating to think he will be seeing through a different lens,” Joey said. “You have so many expectations and hopes and dreams for your child. When you learn that they are going to be born a certain way, you have to adjust those to be attainable. That process is really difficult. There is a lot of sadness, a lot of anger. But ultimately, you move through that and I think God redeems a lot of that. You find a really deep satisfaction and joy through those ashes so to speak.”
Although the couple’s book doesn’t focus on their son’s disability, they are hoping that their personal story will touch the lives of others.
“It’s more than just a book, it’s a story of what God is doing in our lives,” Joey said. “I think parents with a child with any disability need community. We’re hoping this book can bring awareness through community.”
The couple will host a book signing from 9 to11 a.m. Sept. 28 at the First Baptist Church playground, 211 W. Comanche St. in Norman. A second signing will be at Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expy, Oklahoma City, from 3 to 5 p.m. Oct. 19.
“You have a choice with the difficulties in life. Are you going to let it destroy you or are you going to let it help you grow. We certainly have grown in our faith and in our perspective in life toward people with disabilities because of Finn. We were sad and angry for a long time. We just decided we wanted to embrace all of the good things that he has. He’s such a joy to us. His demeanor and his spirit is incredible. He’s just the most joyful little boy and he has every reason to be shaking his fist, but he doesn’t,” Ashley said.
The book can be purchased online at tatepublishing.com.