By Heather Jones Skaggs
Photos by LoveBe Photography & Be Light Photography
Book Pages Courtesy of B&H Publishing Group
As Ashley Huffstutler and her two daughters turn the pages of her crisp new book, she is reminded of the journey that brought her words to these pages, not only for her children but for other mothers as well.
The Hoover mom has been battling terminal brain cancer for over three years, and following her diagnosis, treatment and initial surgery it became clear that her prognosis was likely not a good one. The location of the tumor also presented a real possibility that reading, writing and the ability to speak could be gone in an instant—a terrifying thought for both Ashley and her husband, David.
Like any parent, Ashley wanted their girls, ages 3 and 5, to know how much she loved them. Since they were so young and not able to comprehend the gravity of cancer or what it will likely mean in the years to come, Ashley put her words into the form of a book that was published on May 4. When I Hold You is a reminder for her daughters that being their mother is one of the greatest gifts in the world. “I knew I wanted to put the feelings and thoughts I was having into words,” Ashley explains. “The deeper into the writing I got, the more I saw God connect the blessing of being their mom to the joy of being his child.”
At times she struggled with the words and her thoughts and even questioned if she could even finish. “Yet, God called me to step ‘out of the boat’ (Matthew 14:28) and pursue him all the more—trusting, with faith, in his plan and in words he allowed me to find,” Ashley says.
“There were moments when I knew what I wanted to say and phrases to use, but I could not physically write the words. Some of the struggles were physical or even mental because of my cancer. There were also times where emotionally I couldn’t land on exactly what to write, but through many hours of prayer and reading through scripture, God used those moments of patience to help build the words together.”
Ashley describes her book as a gentle, joyful, celebratory poem that draws the comparison between a mother’s bond with her child and the nurturing love God has for us. The book is now available through B&H Publishing. “At the end of the process, When I Hold You became more about being encouraged with God’s word in motherhood and wanting to share that, not only with my girls but with others as well,” Ashley says. “I want moms to know that regardless of circumstances, emotions, or situations, God is right beside them and has ordained every moment with their children.”
For any moms who are interested in Christian scriptures, Ashley recommends setting aside time to be consistent in reading and study but is aware that there are seasons where it’s not easy to set aside that time for everyone. “I’ve found that note cards with verses that are special to me and scripture written around my home are ways that push me to meditate on his word when times are challenging,” she says. “Consistency is way more important than quantity. My suggestion is to start small, really dive in and do it frequently, even if for a few minutes a day. His word never returns void.” One verse she says brings peace is Job 33:4,“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Although the Huffstutler girls are young, Ashley and David treasure the time they spend with their daughters, settling down, reading and looking at the visual artistry of the illustration in their mom’s new book. “It is those sweet moments that we share, looking through the different pages and connecting them to how God provides and relates to us through his word,” Ashley says. And that is what they hope others will find as well.
Inside the book, illustrator Airin O’Callaghan brought the words to life with each turn of a page. “Airin’s illustrations are perfect for this book,” Ashley says. “It is such a blessing that God connected us on this project. The spread of the red-head mom tucking in her oldest while holding the baby (also a red-head) is near to my heart because it is a nod to me with my girls. When my family reads through this book together, we will forever point to that page as ‘our page.’”
When asked about the legacy she wants to leave for her family and everyone who reads When I Hold You, Ashley simply says, “There is no greater way to be remembered than to be called a child of God whose faith is the first thing that others see.”
You can purchase When I Hold You at these online retailers: Lifeway, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, ChristianBook, Cokesbury and IndieBound. Find updates on hooversmagazine.com on any local retailers who are selling the book.
Hear author Ashley Huffstutler tell the story of her book and her journey herself on the video below.