used for your sake: God's glory shining through the ballards' life
used for your sake: God's glory shining through the ballards' life
even before this website came into fruition, we at the ring knew that this section of the site would be a place filled with stories that bragged on the Lord and the way in which He consistently shows in up in our lives. from the beginning, there was one story of God’s grace, mercy, love, faithfulness, power, and might that we hoped would end up on this site. and when we approached ernie and ashley ballard, asking them if they would be willing to share their personal story on the world wide web, they said yes. why? well, to them it was simple… to give the glory back to the Lord and to allow Him to use their story in others’ lives.
all we did was ask the questions, and they were humble enough to approach it in prayer and with thanksgiving, allowing the Lord to speak. we decided not to edit the length of the story because it’s not ours to edit… it’s really not even ernie and ashley’s. no telling what part of this story the Lord has for you specifically; therefore, why would we desire to cut the part He has for you?
did you plan for a family?
soon after ernie and i were married, we moved into our house. we were both pretty happy in our jobs and were just enjoying life as a married couple. then one day a little storm named katrina came through our area. i believe this was a turning point where my desire to have a family set in. katrina had a profound affect on me, as i’m sure it did for many people; but in my case, it caused me to take a step back and look at my life and my priorities.
i was disappointed in myself for what i saw. i saw myself as a very selfish person, caught up in a job that i loved; and even though i was married, i found that i made very little time for my husband. i found that i was fulfilling only things that made me happy, neglecting everything else, even God. we went to church and everything. in fact, it was around the same time we had just started coming to the ring; but beyond that, my relationship with God was pretty stale. so, i guess you could say my priorities were all of out order.
as i began to really think about it, i also realized that the source of most of my frustration was my job. it had been at the top of my priority list for the past four years and because it was such a fast-paced, fun environment to work in; it was easy for me to get caught up in all the excitement.
i began to hear God telling me that it was time for me to get my life back in order and the first thing on His list was my job. of course i questioned what i was hearing and resisted at first, but God continued to make it clear that He didn’t want me in my current job. it wasn’t long before a friend of mine asked for my resume. so, i sent it to him, and soon after i found myself in an interview. before i knew it, they were offering me a job… one with better pay, less responsibility, and a much better schedule.
i knew this had to be from God, and it was as if he were saying “i’m giving you this, so that you will trust me.” so, i made the decision to leave a job that i loved, knowing that God had a much better plan for me and that it would offer me more time to devote to my husband, my family, and ultimately to Him. i have to admit, the decision to leave was rough at first. i left behind some of my best friends and what i considered to be “my family” at work. i cried at least once a week during the first month at my new job, asking God why He had me leave a place that i loved and why had He brought me to this new place. i was even tempted with the idea of going back to my old job; but when i prayed about it, i could only hear Him telling me to wait, that He had a purpose for bringing me here.
so, i stuck it out and began to see that there were good things about my new job. i was home everyday by 5 p.m.; so ernie and i now had more time together. plus, i had half days on Fridays, which made every week feel like a three day weekend. oh, and one more thing, we were finally able to join a community group because i could now commit to having my weeknights off. i began to feel better about where my life was going and how i was spending my time.
then about two months into my new job something happened… we found out we were pregnant! it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was what God had been preparing me for when he asked me to leave my job. i was very nervous and maybe even a little scared at first; but as it all began to sink in, i couldn’t help but be thrilled and amazed by what God had done in my life and in my heart up to this point.
once you found out you were pregnant with joseph, what were your thoughts and prayers?
i was mostly nervous about becoming a parent. i questioned whether or not i was ready to be a mom, and i worried about not having a support system in place, since our families live three hours away. we definitely put our trust in God with this. within several weeks, He showed us that we had nothing to worry about. first, we found out that alan, a.k.a. “t,” and rebecca lusk were due within a week of us; so that meant we’d be becoming first time parents together. then a few weeks later found out that jake and cris rush, who were in our community group, would be having their second child and were due just two months behind us. then the very next week we found that paul and becky landry would be expecting their third child just a few weeks after that. it was so nice to be surrounded by so many amazing couples experiencing the same things at the same time. i think it really brought us closer to the ring community and made us feel secure that God was going to provide us with whatever we needed.
walk us through the day you found out that you had lost joseph.
i was about six and a half months pregnant. things were going along great, and we were in for a routine visit at the doctor’s office.
i hadn’t made all of them, but i tried to go to most. for some reason, i was adamant about going with her that day. i don’t know why, but i just felt like i should be there.
the nurses did their usual checklist, but when we listened for the heartbeat, we didn’t hear anything for a few minutes. the nurse insisted that this was common and that the baby could be “hiding.” she suggested we take a quick ultrasound, just to be safe. when the ultrasound tech turned on the monitor, we didn’t hear the usual sounds coming from the machine. i looked over at her, and she turned the screen away from me. she said, “i’m sorry, mrs. ballard, but there is no heartbeat.”
it took me a moment to actually hear what she had said. even then, i couldn’t process what it meant. “what does that mean?” i asked her. i looked at ernie for an explanation. his face said it all, and then it hit me. we had lost the baby.
terror set in right away, and ashley began to cry immediately. i didn’t know what to say or how to react. i told her that it was going to be okay, and she kept saying that it wasn’t. i don’t know why i said that, but i was saying it more for us… that we’d be okay, but so many things were going through our minds.
i can’t even begin to describe all of the feelings that i felt at that moment other than to say that it felt like i had died and was falling into my own personal hell. i was screaming and crying, and everyone was doing everything they could to calm me down.
as a husband, you always want to be able to “fix” the situation, but this one was out of our hands. we were both trying to understand the situation, but our emotions were all over the place.
a few moments passed, and everyone cleared the room. but before she could, the ultrasound tech asked if she could pray with us first. i said sure, and she began to pray over ernie and me.
i can’t tell you a single word that she prayed for us that day. i’m not even sure i heard her voice when she prayed. all i know is that God showed up at that moment and reminded me that He had this and that He was going to make it okay. it was going to be for good. although i was very emotional on the outside, there was an immediate peace within me.
i don’t know what she said exactly, but just having that reminder that the Lord was there and that He would help us get through this was what i needed at that moment.
as soon as we checked into the hospital, i was able to calm down, and i felt God’s presence and comfort the entire time we were there. everyone was so nice, caring, and sincere. there wasn’t a nurse or doctor there that didn’t sit and cry with me as they watched what we were going through. they bent over backwards to make us feel comfortable and were sensitive to every need.
then 36 hours after they began to induce labor, joseph robert ballard, was born stillborn on saturday, july 29, 2006, at 7:30 p.m. even though he never took a breath, his short life meant so much to me and my husband. just the memory of him and the joy and excitement he brought to our lives were enough for me to believe that this was what God meant when He said his life would be for good.
from the moment we lost joseph to now, i don’t think i’ve ever been angry with God. sure there’s been times where we ask “why us?,” “why now?,” “what could we have done different?” but i never have been angry with Him for this.
there’s a reason that ashley and i were married, decided to stay in baton rouge, joined the ring and our community group… all the people that we’ve met and who He has placed in our lives helped us to get through this. God prepared us and made us ready for a situation like this. we were strong enough in our faith to handle it, and God made sure that joseph’s short life had an impact.
God used his life for so much. before long, i realized that grieving was something that ernie and i, in our 12 years of dating/marriage, had never experienced together. it brought us so much closer than ever before, and if it were not for losing joseph, we would have never experienced this level of closeness and love for one another.
ashley and i grew closer. our marriage became stronger than ever.
we “thought” we wanted children before, but after joseph, we knew that we did. i feel like i took a lot of stuff for granted when ashley was pregnant with joseph. i knew that when we got pregnant again, that we would enjoy the little things. and when we had another baby we would love him/her so much more because of the love and impact joseph had in our lives.
God didn’t stop with just strengthening our marriage…a few months later, we became pregnant again. although there were many days filled with fear, we had faith that this child was sent to us by God, and that He would fill His promise.
on wednesday, june 27, 2007 at 5:44 p.m., trace gladden ballard was born, and our lives have never been more full.
a year ago, i couldn’t have imagined feeling happiness like this ever again; but once again, God, in his perfect plan, brought us to this place.
i wish i could say that God’s purpose for joseph’s life ended there, but it goes on. a few months ago, a very close friend of mine lost her baby in a very similar situation to ours. i couldn’t help but feel called to walk through this with her. although it was very difficult because it brought up a lot of emotions and fears at a time when i was most vulnerable, it gave me the opportunity to tell her my experience and let her see what God has done in my life. i truly believe that by witnessing to her, God was also allowing me to see what He had done to remind me in my times of fear that everything was going to be okay. these are only a few examples of God’s faithfulness in our lives through this one experience, and i don’t believe it ends here. i can only imagine what else he might have for us.
in what ways did God carry you through joseph’s funeral?
josh did an amazing job with the service. he talked about the impact of joseph’s life in just the short months that we were pregnant with him…the joy and happiness he brought to our lives. josh also talked about how joseph wouldn’t have to face the adversity of this world; instead, he was to go straight to heaven to be with God.
it just really struck me when josh was talking about joseph’s life because while we were pregnant with him, i didn’t think much about his “life.” he was still developing and still in the womb, but that was his life. he was alive and had a huge impact on our lives. we loved him and cared for him even though we hadn’t seen him. josh helped me to realize how much i truly did love him and just how lucky we were to have had a few months with him in our lives.
in what ways did you see God “go ahead of you” in this situation and prepare the way for you to walk through this difficult time?
i believe it is no mistake that God placed us in our community group with the people, the place, and the time that He did. He put us there just two months before we got pregnant, and unbeknownst to us, He put us with a couple who would walk with us through it, because they had been through it themselves…twice.
it was very evident that God had put us in our group and was preparing our hearts for what was about to happen. one example took place just a few days before we lost joseph, we watched a video on grief and loss, which led to a discussion afterwards. ashley stanley mentioned something about her mom losing a child before she had her brother. she said that one thing that helped her cope with the loss is that she knows her brother would not be here if her mom had not experienced this loss. that’s the way i choose to think about things when i look at trace. i can’t let myself wish and wonder “what if” about joseph. i know that God’s plan was for me to have trace, and i couldn’t be more blessed by having them both, just in different ways.
i cannot begin to tell you what a source of strength our entire community group has been to us throughout this whole experience, but i know God meant for them to be in our lives to carry us through it.
how has God used joseph in the life of the Body at the ring?
joseph had such a huge impact on our church, and in my life. when i got the call, i honestly didn't know what to do. nothing prepares you for that call. i remember driving to ernie and ashley’s house, and telling (not asking) God that He better show up! apparently He was ok with me being a little bossy, and that began an amazing time for me watching Him walk everyone through this difficult time. it was incredible to see Him show us exactly where and when to step.
as i prepared for the service, i tried to get as much advice as i could. but in the end, God showed me how much He had used joseph's life to bless others, and that is what we talked about at the ceremony. in my life, God used joesph to show me His faithfulness, that He really has called me to pastor this church (which i was very insecure about), and that we really are a church. when people ask me when the significance of us starting and becoming a church hit me, i tell them about joseph. God used his life in so many ways, and my life is better because of him.
watching ernie and ashley cling to the Lord, and to one another is something that will forever be imprinted in my mind. i remember that ashley told me at night they would hold hands and try to pray together as they fell asleep and would wake up still holding hands. they didn't find answers but they found comfort in Him and in each other. they have never stopped talking about God's faithfulness and security. when i think about children trusting their Father, i can't help but think of ash and ernie. they've chosen to trust and walk, and the life of our church is so much richer for that choice.
what was the time like between joseph and finding out your were pregnant with trace?
i’m going to be honest… this was probably the toughest time of my life. i stayed home from work for only two weeks after losing joseph. my doctor had recommended that i take a month to recover mentally, but i was afraid i’d drive myself crazy staying home because i couldn’t stand the quiet. i was sick of watching tv; so i’d just stare out of the window for hours while i stayed home. i was ready to get back into the world and move on as quickly as i possibly could. as hard as it was to face the world, it hurt too much to just be by myself with my thoughts.
i remember my first night going back to the ring and how rough it was. ernie had gone out of town for the night on a preplanned trip; so i went by myself. i think it was better that way because if he had been with me, i wouldn’t have been able to focus on my thoughts and feelings. I would have been too concerned about him. but when i got there (i came late, so that i could just sneak in), i felt like i was coming face-to-face with God for the first time, and i just had a million questions for him. i don’t know if i heard a word that was preached that night (sorry, josh), but i know that i did hear God’s voice telling me over and over again just to trust Him and that He would reveal His purpose for all this in time.
then cody, our worship leader, and the band started playing to end the service, and they played “start a fire in me”. when the words, “let it begin, let it be new. let me be used for your sake, bringing glory to your name,” came across the screen i felt as though a fire were burning in me, and i lost it. i knew that God was going to use this to do good things and bring glory to His name, and i left church with a feeling of understanding of what God was going to do with this.
after the service, i was approached by many people who offered their love and support, but then cris rush came up to me and asked if she could talk to me before i left. cris, who was by this time five months pregnant and who had been struggling with fears and doubts over losing her own baby, told me that she had a moment earlier in the week where she realized that God brought her through her first two miscarriages so that she could be here to walk through this with me and with others, but that He gave her the baby she was pregnant with (a.k.a. Jack) as a sign of hope to us that He will make things good. she said after that moment, her fears and doubts throughout the rest of her pregnancy went away and after she told me this, i realized that God wanted me to have hope in having a family. He didn’t want me to be discouraged and give up. when the time came that we could try again, i knew we would, and that i would be ready.
what was it like to be pregnant with trace?
just three months after losing joseph, we found out we were pregnant again. even though i had all this hope and all this strength that God had given me, i have to admit that i was terrified. during the first few months, i wrestled with all the fears of whether or not something might go wrong again. then after the first trimester, the reality set in that i would be having another child soon. I worried about whether or not i was emotionally ready for another baby. would i be able to love and be happy with my new child without guilt? would my new child be a replacement for joseph? would i forget joseph? this is something that i still find myself struggling with even now. the happiness a new child brings makes it easy to want to put all the hurt behind you. although it still hurts, i will always be glad for joseph and will never want to forget him.
i had a hard time just turning trace over to God. i wanted control and reassurance. every doctor’s visit made me nervous until the ultrasound was over. seeing the ultrasounds calmed me, but after a few days, i’d want that reassurance again. we had a few complications and had to see a couple different doctors. this both helped and hurt. on one hand, we had more ultrasounds, more often; but it was a lot of worry and a lot of doctor’s visits.
i think i had a harder time than ashley because she could feel him and know that he was okay on a regular basis. because i couldn't feel him, my mind wondered and worried. i wasn’t good at communicating my fears and asking questions, but eventually, i’d talk to her and be reassured that trace was okay.
not having any concrete reason for losing joseph also weighed on my mind. i turned to God and prayed a lot about the pregnancy. God assured me that i shouldn’t worry, but human nature is to worry and want control of situations.
the doctors we had were great. they calmed us down with each visit and assured us that they were doing everything to make sure we had a healthy baby and a healthy mom.
being more involved at the ring helped us. we got to know more people and grew closer with the friends we already had. we were a little shaken up when cris and jake rush moved to south carolina and then a few months t (alan) and rebecca lusk moved to kentucky, because both couples were a huge part of our support system. we had to realize that God had plans for them as well, and we couldn’t be selfish. God was putting more people in our lives and creating a support system for this pregnancy just as He had done with joseph’s pregnancy.
walk us through the day trace was born.
we had been in and out of the hospital the weekend before trace was born, and for a few weeks, they had been monitoring ashley’s amniotic fluid level. After being hospitalized, ashley’s fluid was still low… lower than it had ever been. once again, we were hospitalized, but this time we knew trace was coming soon. The doctors decided to induce labor the next morning.
we were basically sitting in the hospital room just waiting for something to happen. the doctors weren’t seeing any progress; so they then talked to us about the possibility of a c-section. this scared us because it wasn’t part of our plan, and we hadn’t even considered this option. we talked about it a little, but had to realize that this situation was not OUR plan but HIS plan. God put us at Women’s Hospital with those doctors and nurses, if doing a c-section was the way to go, then we knew we had to accept it. a c-section was scheduled for after 5 p.m., and we knew this was it…in a few hours we’d have our son.
we kept our emotions down. and our nervousness played a part in that. we both didn’t know what to expect, but knew that it was out of our hands. God had walked us through the entire pregnancy, and He’d get us through this. the anticipation of seeing trace was awesome…our son was on the way!
God put amazing people around us that day… from our nurses to the anesthesiologist (who cracked jokes and really made us comfortable) to the doctors talking us through the process. everyone could tell how nervous we were and tried to make us laugh and stay calm. the nurses talked to me the entire time and let me know what they were doing with him, how he was responding, etc.
at 5:44 p.m. on June 27, 2007, trace gladden ballard was born.
emotions hit us right away, and we both were swept up in the moment. we both cried at the first sight of him and hearing him cry. i took pictures and video and became a “dad.” we had our first family portrait taken in the delivery room.
i remember hearing trace's voice for the first time. it was such a soft cry that i almost didn't realize it was him. once i did, my heart just filled with joy. i was numb from the chest down, so i could barely cry. but my heart cried out to God just thanking Him and praising Him for giving me this child. i can't remember the name of the song, but it kept repeating in my head as i waited in recovery for the chance to see my son again..."you give me life, you give me breath, you give me a heart to love you with, and all i want to do is worship you."
we went through more adversity with trace being in the NICU and special care nursery, but we knew that he was okay and finally here. we made trips to see him, and he finally got to come to our room after three nights away from us. it was awesome to have him with us.
looking back i see God’s hand on the entire situation and guiding us through it all. i was nervous and scared, but never so much so that it affected me. God kept me as calm as i needed to be. i was a sponge for knowledge and whatever the nurses told us about how to care for him, i tried to keep that top of mind. God had prepared us to be parents. we had prayed for a baby, and we got him… trace is a miracle, an answer to prayer, a blessing from God…he’s all these things. now trace can provide hope and show people that if you believe and if you pray, God will provide.
joseph’s memory will live on through trace. i look forward to the day that he will understand that he has a brother, the day that he understands what we went through and that he has two parents who love him so much.
God made him who he is, and i see that as a blessing as well. trace has been the best baby… not too fussy, easy to put to sleep, easy to calm. he picked up feeding right away. he doesn’t freak out when getting a shot. God knows what we can handle and knows what we’ve been through. when he was molding trace, i think, He gave us the perfect baby for us. we are first time parents and have had our struggles at times, but God knows what we can handle.
trace has been amazing… he’s taught me so much about myself during his few months on earth, and i can’t wait to keep teaching and showing him everything.
what was the baby dedication like for you?
i looked at the baby dedication not only as an honor to trace but also as an opportunity for us to thank God for the blessings He’s given us and to thank everyone at the ring for their support and prayers over the past couple of years.
i wanted to thank everyone at the ring. they went through this with us, and we are so appreciative of them. they were there for us throughout ashley’s pregnancy with trace to listen to our concerns, to vent about the doctors, and to pray for his health. they helped us make decisions and really provided the comfort that we needed.
i truly look at our two pregnancies and having trace as blessings from God. we see so many people who want kids but can’t or are struggling to have one. it is such a blessing for us that after we lost joseph, we didn’t have to wait long for another pregnancy. God knew when we’d be ready for another child, and fortunately, He provided one soon. every time i look at trace i am reminded of God’s gifts and His promises and answers to prayer. He prepared us to be ready and to love trace more than anyone or anything in this world could.
i think the dedication for me was a place where i could look back and see all that God has done for us. i could see what He has brought us through and how He has blessed us more than we ever could have imagined. i think it also stood as a reminder that God brought us here and that He has given us this life. as parents, we have to trust God with our son, know that He will bring us though whatever we might face in raising trace, and know that his life will be blessed because we are raising him to know God.