We had planned on having just two kids, so once Gavin was born, we were pretty convinced we were done. Except I didn’t feel done, so we decided to go for one more baby.

A couple of months later, I bought a pregnancy test. When I saw those two distinct blue lines, I knew: Pregnant!

This pregnancy started out like the first two. I was nauseated, tired, and excited to find out the sex of the baby. On the morning of my twelve-week OB check, my mom accompanied the boys and me to the doctor’s office. Because it was an ultrasound day, I thought it would be fun for the boys to come along so they could see their new sibling on the screen.

The four of us crammed into the tiny office with the doctor, I lay down on the gurney, and the doctor began moving the ultrasound wand over my belly. But after about thirty seconds, the doctor lifted the wand and turned to my mom.

“Can you take the boys out into the waiting room?” he asked.

The doctor turned to me. “I am so very sorry…”

My heart stopped. I looked at my mom, my eyes filled with fear. She stared back, alarmed, gathered up the boys and left the room.

The doctor turned to me. “I am so very sorry, Ashley,” he said, “There is no heartbeat.”

I tried to keep it together, but I was a hot mess. How could I lose a baby? I’ve had two healthy pregnancies!

Thus far in our young lives, Dino and I had always felt a little like “golden children”—untouchable, with only small, manageable problems. At some level, we chalked our good fortune up to God. We were faithful, obedient Christians, after all. Why would we experience heartache? And yet we’d just lost our baby.

We were so confused. Why would He do this to us?

Dino and I hunkered down for a few days in our bedroom, which became a haven for us. Snuggled together in bed, we cried, talked, read some comforting words from the book of Psalms in the Bible, and just . . . waited.

Those days bonded us together at a deeper level. What started out as a time of confusion and heartache turned into a time of reflection and peace. It was truly a gift to be left alone and have the chance to mourn together.

Turns out Dino and I are not golden children after all. None of us are. Life isn’t perfect. Everyone faces deep loss at some point—the kind that takes our breath away. This doesn’t mean we’re unloved or alone. God is there with us in our pain. In fact, it’s often in those times that He shows up the strongest.

I read a passage of Scripture written by the brother of Jesus, a guy named James. I’d read this passage many times before and probably even memorized it when I was a little girl, but it had new meaning to me in light of our loss:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4, niv

Consider it joy? Seriously? Could I have joy in the midst of heartache? That kind of inner transformation was beyond my ability. And I refused to just fake it, to “make lemonade out of lemons.”

Instead, Dino and I asked God together to help us experience that kind of joy—the kind that isn’t rooted in happy circumstances and a golden-child life. We prayed that He would give us the peace only He could give, and to grow us in perseverance and maturity.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
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Losing that little one was the most painful loss I’d experienced. I will always grieve the loss of our baby, but I also feel an overflowing sense of gratitude. I’m thankful that this loss ultimately brought me closer to Christ. I’m thankful for the soul bond that grew between my husband and me during those sorrowful days.

Life is a mixture of highs and lows, some that are obvious and some that surprise us. The miscarriage, obviously, was a deep, deep low. Welcoming two healthy little boys into our family were huge highs. Buying our first home was also a high point, for sure, especially because it gave the budding designer in me a chance to develop.

Dino and I had so much fun learning how to budget our projects. We dabbled with a little DIY to make our dollars stretch and help it all come together. Soon we had a welcoming, cozy home that was uniquely us for a fraction of what it would have cost to pay contractors to make these updates. And we had the added satisfaction of having done it ourselves.

But I’m a creative who loves change—which meant that Dino and the kids needed to get used to ongoing renovations.

Remodeling is messy and chaotic—not exactly conducive to a peaceful home. But you can still find joy in the midst of the mess. Dino and I both tend to thrive in organized chaos. In our first house (and the homes we’ve bought and remodeled since), I learned a few tricks that keep the disarray manageable during a remodel.

Keep it tidy

With little ones underfoot, I learned quickly that staying on top of the mess was key to maintaining my sanity. I disciplined myself to bring each project to a stopping point at the end of the day, even if I wasn’t finished. I put away whatever tools I was done using, cleaned my paintbrushes, added any needed items to my shopping list, and reset the project to be continued the next day.

This habit meant that I went to bed with a sense of satisfaction for the day’s accomplishments and that each morning our family awoke to a peaceful home.

Give yourself grace

This is a big one. Early on, I would often feel defeated by my inability to both remodel a home and entertain as if my kitchen were not torn apart into a million pieces, with only a microwave plugged into a hallway outlet for cooking. One day on the phone, my mom challenged me on the expectations I was putting on myself.

“Ashley,” she said, “you are raising two little kids, your house is a minefield of remodeling debris, and you’re hosting three couples for dinner. C’mon! Cut yourself some slack! No one will mind if your dinner isn’t fancy. They just want to be with you. Order out! Eat on your laps! No one will mind.”

She was right. Our friends totally understood. “To be honest,” one of the wives told me, “if you’d gone all fancy on us in the middle of this demolition zone, we would have to hate you. So thanks for being human.”

Think of your current state of chaos as a gift to your friends. It shows you’re human—and gives them permission to be human too. Remind yourself that it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect. Who cares, really, if you’re eating off paper plates or washing your dishes with the hose outside? Everyone will live. And remember: You’re building your family’s history. Those crazy things you did to survive the chaos are becoming part of your collective story. You’re creating memories your kids will never forget.

Barter with friends

If a remodel affects critical basic functions in your house (think laundry, showering, and cooking), get creative and come up with a win-win trade with friends or family.

Swap laundry for a meal. Ask a friend if you can bring over a meal (or a bottle of wine) and then throw a couple of loads of your dirty clothes in their washer. Add in some good convo once you’re there, and it’s basically a great date!

Trade babysitting for a day away. Offer to watch your friend’s kids for the day (or evening) while you enjoy the relative peace and quiet of their home (and time away from the drywall dust and construction noise at your place).

Go on mini-outings

During renovation, plan a few outings with the fam. Take dinner to the park or spend the night at the grandparents’ house. Stepping away—if only for a few hours—will give you a little peace and a fresh perspective.

Adapted from Designed to Last: Our Journey of Building an Intentional Home, Growing in Faith, and Finding Joy in the In-Between by Ashley Petrone and Dino Petrone with September Vaudrey, releasing in April, 2022 from Tyndale House Publishers.

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