Sounds Good is the weekly podcast that hosts hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the headlines we can be hopeful about — and how you can get involved and make a difference.

Ashley LeMieux — Holding Sorrow and Joy in the Same Hand

About This Episode

The Shine Project began when Ashley LeMieux’s heart was taken by the inner-city youth of Phoenix, Arizona.

What began as a small project has now resulted in over 40 scholarships being given to help kids go to college since 2011. Ashley’s life’s work has been a testament to the love she pours out amidst a story that has been embedded with so much pain.

In this heartfelt conversation, Ashley shares about how a call one Sunday morning asking both she and her husband, Mike LeMieux, to become permanent guardians to two kids overnight changed their lives forever — and how it took a dark turn 3 years later with a letter from the court in the mail.

This is the first and most-extensive time Ashley publicly shares the story of her children.

Listen on Apple Podcasts — or listen wherever you listen to podcasts: YouTube, Stitcher, or Spotify

Or read the transcript from the conversation below.

"Feeling joy and sorrow at the same time is a really new thing for me. And it's a really weird feeling. But I feel like when you are in a life circumstance or situation where you feel intense sorrow or in pain, your joy becomes that much more intense, too. Because the jump from where you are in your pit of sorrow to the height of when you're finally feeling some joy is a huge jump.

And so that's why I think that people who feel intense sorrow and pain in their lives also feel intense joy at certain times because they're finally lifted from something that had felt so heavy —and so you really pay attention to it.

What we knew our normal life to be is no longer and it will never be. And so feeling peaceful and happy, that's not our new normal. And so now when it comes, it's like I just want to savor every second of it and I want to feel it because I know that it's not going to be there forever."

— Ashley LeMieux

Photo courtesy of Ashley LeMieux

No matter what side of the pain you are on, just keep going. I live with the hope that someday it will all be worth it. And that’s the biggest hope in my life — that we will see our children again someday.”

— Ashley LeMieux

Connect with Ashley LeMieux

Instagram
Facebook
Order her book on Amazon or Bookshop


Connect with Good Good Good

Instagram
Facebook
Get the Goodnewspaper

Connect with Branden Harvey

Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

Sponsors

Get 10% off your first month of therapy at BetterHelp.com/GOOD

With Libro.fm, get 2 audiobooks for the price of 1 with the code GOOD

Transcript

This transcript has been automatically transcribed by our partner, Happy Scribe.

Branden Harvey

The Shine Project began when Ashley LeMieux started to get to know the inner-city youth of her home community of Phoenix, Arizona. She began to see the needs of these kids had as they were trying to go to school and thrive.

And she was totally broke. But she said, hey, I'm going to start investing in these kids. And so, you know, with no money, she said, I'm going to go I'm going to help this kid get the supplies he needs to go to school.

She thought to herself, oh, I don't have a lot of time, but I'm going to find a way to invest my time in mentoring these students so that they can thrive in their classes.

She eventually got to the point where she was saying, how can I help these students get into college? How can I help these students afford college? And so that's the beginning of The Shine Project. And now over 40 scholarships have been given out to help kids go to college since 2011.

And ever since the beginning, her life's work has been a testament to the love that she pours out amidst a story that has been embedded with so much pain.

This conversation was incredibly heartfelt. Ashley shared about how a call one Sunday morning asking about her and her husband to become permanent guardians to two kids overnight changed their lives forever. And then she shared about how the story took a dark turn three years later with a letter from the court in the mail.

This is the first time that Ashley has shared this story publicly. And it's a heavy story. It's emotional and it is raw and it is real and there's still a lot of hope. But we're in the middle of the story right now.

And so I'm really honored that I got to have this conversation with Ashley to hear this story. And I'm excited to share it with you if this is your very first time listening to this podcast.

This is Sounds Good with Branden Harvey. I am Branden Harvey. And every single week we host hopeful conversations with people who are rejecting cynicism and choosing to make a difference in the world despite brokenness and injustice and pain. And this story has it all. And I'm so honored to share this. And so without any further ado, this is my conversation with Ashley LeMieux in my studio in Nashville, Tennessee. Here we go.

[music plays]

So, Ashley, I am so excited to have you here, my wife first came across your story online probably a few months ago, and she'd kind of been reading through your Instagram captions and then had seen your website and everything. And she was like, Branden, you have to follow this girl.

And I just started scrolling through your work and I was like, I love her. And so I'm just so honored to be meeting you in person here in Nashville. And welcome.


Ashley LeMieux

Thank you. And I am so excited to be here. When you reached out and I saw the work that you're doing. I was just so honored that you would asked me to come and be a part of it and be able to share a little bit with your following.


Branden Harvey

And you just moved to Nashville, like, how long ago?


Ashley LeMieux

It's about three weeks old, but, yeah, about three weeks now. But this is the coolest city.


Branden Harvey

I've it's a great city. I like it. I mean, I'm pretty fresh, too. I'm like a year and a half to two years old, which is, you know, now I'm like old news by national standards, but it feels fresh. But you were in Phoenix before?


Ashley LeMieux

Yes. So I came here from Phoenix and never lived in the south or on the East Coast before. I'm a totally West Coast girl. I'm from Portland, so I love the West Coast. Get it? Yeah.


Branden Harvey

Phoenix is actually like a really cool city. I really like a lot of people don't. I think a lot of people dismiss it as like golf clubs and sun and those are things. But when I was there, I was with like a few creative people. And it seems like the creative culture, they're like sticks together. Yes, super supportive. And you guys are like rallying together to make the city amazing. Yes. Phoenix has gone through a really exciting transition period the past few years.


Ashley LeMieux

And so the creative community there is really supportive. It's really small and it's really tight-knit. So it's a good place to be.


Branden Harvey

That's awesome. We'll have to compare notes later, see if you know some of the same people. OK, so you moved to Nashville and you are opening up a shop.


Ashley LeMieux

Yes.


Branden Harvey

What's the name of your shop again?


Ashley LeMieux

It's called The Shine Project Shine Project. So it's our first retail location.


Branden Harvey

Oh, OK. This is your first retail location.


Ashley LeMieux

Yes.


Branden Harvey

And you started The Shine Project. Like, how how old were you when you started this?


Ashley LeMieux

It's actually literally this week is our five year birthday, so it's been five years. So I was twenty five and yeah. So we do online commerce, but this is our first retail location so we're pretty excited about so cool.


Branden Harvey

It'll be nice to like meet people in person instead of like I mean because I just started putting stuff up online like we put our newspapers online so I get a little push notification with somebody's name. When somebody buys the newspaper, which is really fun, like it feels like a cool connection with the people who are buying from us. But it's, you know, it doesn't beat when you meet someone in person and they're like buying stuff. And yes, it's so cool.


Ashley LeMieux

It's totally different when you can make that face to face contact and have that interaction. So we're really excited about that man.


Branden Harvey

Tell me about when The Shine Project first began, like, what was the what was the inspiration behind it?


Ashley LeMieux

Shine Project first started. I was a senior in college. Wow. Newlywed. We had literally zero money. We had nothing and we were living in a cockroach infested condo. I don't Phoenix.


Ashley LeMieux

I don't like that. I don't like that at all. No. And we were too poor to try to figure to get rid of it. I mean, really, we were just starting out and I for my senior internship, I was interning at an inner city high school in Phoenix, and I met these youth who just stole my heart away.


Ashley LeMieux

And I saw I saw how they were living and I saw the struggles they were having. And I knew that I had to do something to help them reach their potential and help them break the cycle. And so that's what really catapulted The Shine Project to become what it is today.


Branden Harvey

Do you remember the very first story that stuck out to you of the people that you are working with, where you're like I, I connect on such a deep level with you.

inner-city

Ashley LeMieux

Yes. So while I was interning at this inner city high school and just really becoming a mentor for the students that I had been meeting, there is this one particular boy a few months into me being there, and we had became friends on Facebook. And I noticed him a lot for different reasons because he was quiet and he wore the same thing frequently to school and his school backpack and things were just really he'd had them for a long time, you could tell.


Ashley LeMieux

And I just knew that for some reason I needed to connect with this with this boy. And so we became friends on Facebook and I saw him post the status and he was joking about how he had to graduate his senior year of high school with the same clothes and backpack that he had had all throughout his school experience. And I was like, you know what? And I went to my husband. I said, I know that we hardly have anything, but we have enough where we need to.


Ashley LeMieux

We need to just help give the student some of the basic things he needs so he can graduate in confidence. And we took him back to school shopping. And when we dropped him off at his where he was living that night, that's when everything changed for me. He opened his house to his apartment and I wanted to meet his mom. And when he opened the door, I saw that he's the oldest of five and all of his younger siblings were sitting on the on the empty floor.


Ashley LeMieux

They literally had nothing. I learned that he and his siblings were sleeping on the tile floor. Do you even have pillows? And it clicked. Well, this is why he was missing so much school or it finally made sense that this is why he didn't have enough money to get on the bus to go to school last week. And I left that house and I sobbed the entire way home. And I told my husband, I said, I can't unsee what I have seen in this community and I'm going to be held accountable forever if I don't figure out a way to help these students.


Ashley LeMieux

And so he really and because we came so close to his story and the things that he has persevered through and just his resilience and also the potential that was inside of him, it just got me on a level where I knew that I had to. Just be a part of these youth for longer than my internship, and you were just like a senior in college and you had no money and you're nothing.


Branden Harvey

You're like, how in the world is supposed to do this? I like, what was the next step that you took? Because that's what that's what it's all about. You know, right now you've got this place where you're opening up a shop in Nashville, in a new city, and you've got people who work with you. But like, that wasn't a reality then. And you could have never known that that's what it would be next. What was just like the next step that you took?


Ashley LeMieux

I think a lot of times just in life in general, we have these dreams that we want to do or people that we want to help. But it feels really overwhelming because we want to go we want to go fly to the moon right away. But, you know, your first rocket ship usually doesn't take you that that high at the first launch off. So I decided that I was just going to do what I could to help as many youth as I could with the limited resources that I did have.


Ashley LeMieux

And I at that time, I had also started a blog. It was back and blogging was just blogging without. Yeah, I have all this extra stuff that's amazing. But came a long way later. I was just casual. Yeah. And people read your blog to read it and to connect with you and that's all it was. And I used my blog to be a voice for these youth and we rallied our community together to start fundraising to send this first group to their first year of college.


Ashley LeMieux

And so that was the very first step I took, was using my voice to be a voice for these youth who really never had had access to allow their voice to reach a lot of people. And I bet that that meant the world to these kids, you know, to have all these people who are especially because they're strangers saying, I believe in you, I want to support you.


Ashley LeMieux

Yeah, it's incredible. And that's one of the things, too, that has been so amazing throughout the course of The Shine Project, is having every single student in one way or another have come to me at some point and said, Miss Ashley, it's not even about the money that I'm receiving, but it's the fact that I know that people who don't even know me believe in me and what I'm capable accomplishing. And that does far more for me than anything else.


Branden Harvey

And so, I mean, it's amazing when you were talking about, you know, getting school supplies and stuff, you said I want to, you know, graduate with confidence, graduate in confidence. And and that's what it seems like. You're giving people. Sure, they're getting money, they're getting the opportunity to go to school. But that confidence is is so powerful and so important. Yes, the confidence is huge. And it's one of my favorite things.


Ashley LeMieux

And what's so amazing is to be able to see the students where they are when they're hired, and then throughout their time, as they're given opportunities to go connect with people and to see people value their work and to to get really good grades in college and be one of the first people in their family to go to college and see that they have these amazing talents and that they can be leaders and they can contribute to society the effect that that has on their inner self-worth and how they view themselves.


Ashley LeMieux

It just there's no words for it. It's amazing. That's so cool. I wanted to ask about your husband. You guys got married young. I don't normally ask about people's spouses in interviews just because it's like I feel like when you ask women about their husbands, it's like, oh, like like tell me about like the man in your life.


Branden Harvey

And and it feels a little like silly or misogynistic sometimes. But I know that, like, you've shared so much about your husband in your writings and I know that you guys have weathered a lot of storms together. And my wife and I who you met Sammy the other day, you know, we got married young. How old were you guys when you got married?


Ashley LeMieux

We were we were twenty three. OK, I think that's how old we were.


Branden Harvey

I'm only a few years into this, so I should know that first. You should definitely. But I barely know how old I am. So that's that's amazing.


Ashley LeMieux

And how did you guys meet? We met in college through mutual friends. You saw a picture of me on one of their desk and he was like, who's that girl? So that's that's how it all started. And we've been married now for over seven years.


Branden Harvey

So it's really cool that you guys have you created The Shine Project and brought it to life. And he was with you since the birth of that. Like, what a cool thing to have somebody in your life who's seen the entire process


Ashley LeMieux

And who's supported me through the entire process


Branden Harvey

That's really cool too.


Ashley LeMieux

That's I don't know, honestly, and this might sound so cheesy, but I literally don't know what I would have done without him through this process because he had just has been such a constant cheerleader for me that it's made a huge difference. And so you graduate college and did you just decide, I'm going to do like I'm going to go all in on go for it?


Ashley LeMieux

That's amazing. That's a really. We went. I went all in and I, I took I we literally just when I say that we had not a lot, we really had not a lot and I invested 300 dollars into making this project happen. And at that time, that was the majority of what we had. And we just we went for it and have been working our tails off.


Branden Harvey

I mean I mean, that's the cool thing is we don't have money. Sometimes what you have is time and you have effort and you have energy and, you know, you got to put those things in and it's created what it created today. Let's get specific that like when you put that 300 dollars in, like, what did that go towards? Like, what does The Shine Project do?


Ashley LeMieux

So what that went towards when I started raising money for the youth that I wanted to help become first generation college students after that first year, I knew that there had to be more and that I needed to create a business where we could employ the youth that we were giving scholarship money to so that they could have a stable job, so that they could have a community of people around them who were cheering them on, supporting them, and also where other students were going through the same thing.


Ashley LeMieux

So it's kind of like it's money, it's job, it's a it's time and it's like mentorship. All those things kind of combined. Yes. And giving them work experience that they want. Oh, yeah. We're going to get anywhere else. And for many of them, it was their first job. So it was a big deal for us to be able to instill qualities of leadership and job training so that when they do graduate from college, that they're prepared to go out and be leaders in the workplace and in the community.


Ashley LeMieux

And so. With that, I taught myself how to make bracelets, I taught myself how to make jewelry because I wanted to bridge the gap between these inner city youth and the women who are reading my blog. And I thought it would be cool that if the women could wear something that these youth were making, the youth would see the support that people had been giving them, and then the woman would be able to feel like they really were impacting somebody else, which they are.


Ashley LeMieux

And and so, as I taught myself how to make jewelry, I spent that first three hundred dollars on the jewelry supplies. And then I taught our first group of students how to make it. And that's where it all started. Is it guys and girls making the jewelry? Yes, we have guys and girls.


Branden Harvey

That's awesome. That's so cool. What were some of the most difficult parts of those early days like? What were the kinks you had to work out?


Ashley LeMieux

I'm sure that they're there's no place I could sit here for hours and tell you. And I mean, and even as you grow there, there's always something there's always those growing pains. But in the beginning, I lived about an hour away from where the students lived. And so about three or four times a week, I literally was driving four to six hours a day, taking them new materials, picking up their finished jewelry and then going to everyone's houses, dropping things off and coordinating. And it was so chaotic. I just wanted to cry most times.


Branden Harvey

But I feel like most things that are worthwhile make you want to cry most times.


Ashley LeMieux

Yeah, that is true. That is very true.


Branden Harvey

So during this time, you're investing in these like youth who are going to school. You're pouring into a business. You've got, you know, a fresh marriage that's, you know, a part of what you're up to. And then you guys decide to add a little bit more chaos to your life. I don't even know how to ask this, but like, how did you meet your kids? So we met our kids originally through a family member.


Ashley LeMieux

And when we first met our kids, we didn't know that they were going to become our kids a year later. So we met them when they were three and six. And what is very unique about our story is that we were not actively trying or searching to become parents. We weren't ever trying to become foster parents. We weren't anything. And so when we first met our kids. I just felt this really strong connection to them, I don't know why, but I, I felt like I really was supposed to be a part of their life somehow and and to mentor them and to just let them know that somebody was aware of them and loved them.


Ashley LeMieux

And about a year later, unexpectedly, we had just moved into a house now with no cockroaches, with no cockroaches.


Ashley LeMieux

Oh, yeah. We made a little upgrade and I got a call one Sunday morning asking us to become permanent guardians to our two kids. Wow.


Branden Harvey

And it was how many times did you, like, met them and interacted with them at this point?


Ashley LeMieux

At that point, they were living in a different state. And so we had met them three or four different times. But it was always just very casual, casual, or when we would go visit my family member out of state who lived by them, we would go visit and take them out. But again, this was nothing that we ever.


Ashley LeMieux

Anticipate it happening, and so when we got that phone call, I just knew that where we were supposed to be a family and so the kids came and joined our family within five days. Five days.


Ashley LeMieux

Yeah. So it went from my husband and I to we were now of literally overnight. A family of four doubled. We doubled. And I'll never forget I called my husband because he was at work when I got that phone call and over the phone I said yes. And I called him and he just got really quiet and he said, you know, I've never been a dad before, but I'm sure going to figure it out. And I love those kids.


Ashley LeMieux

Like, that's like they've never been loved before. And so there was an immediate just we're we're family. And that was about four and a half years ago. Wow. I can't imagine that you felt prepared or know.


Ashley LeMieux

And I think in every you know, now being a mom, you're never prepared to become a parent. No matter how your child comes to you. There's no preparation because it is just it is amazing and crazy and hard and great all at the same time. And you could never prepare for something. Yeah.


Branden Harvey

What were those early days like of of you and your husband trying to figure out how to be a mom and a dad and probably the kids trying to figure out how, like, you know, their transition, they've got a big transition. And when you're a kid, you're resilient. But like, transitions are still transitions. You know, what was what were those early days of all of you guys figuring things out?


Ashley LeMieux

Like, it was really hard and it was really great all at the same time and.


Ashley LeMieux

There were so many moments where all of us would just be like, wow, how how do we even how do we do this? How how do we make this work? But there were so even beyond the hard times, the the joy of it all and the work that we put into pouring into each other to really create a solid foundation as a family, that those are magical times that have shaped the future of our lives forever.


Branden Harvey

That's incredible. What were some of the early moments that you were like, I can I can do this, you know, like where you're just like I'm like I'm rocking this. Like, if this were a movie that the music would start playing and like it would be a little bit more upbeat. Like what what were what was the very first time you felt like that?


Ashley LeMieux

Well, actually, I think you're going to like you're going to like this. Good. I'm already excited. I'll never forget. So there's this one particular day and the kids were it was summer. So the kids were out of school for the summer and my youngest hadn't even started kindergarten yet. And so I was trying to keep knowing how to run a business also while being a new mom with these young kids and just handling everything. And so one day I plan the best, best day where we went out in the morning for some activities together.


Ashley LeMieux

And then I took him to my office and they played so well at the office together and I got so much work done and I was feeling great. And we went back home and we played more. And it was just a really, really great day. And at the end of the day, I was like, I killed this day.


Ashley LeMieux

This I am the boss right now and the kids are just going to bed. And we literally been running around all day. And at the same time they both come out. It was probably about seven thirty or so. They both walk out of the rooms and they just look at me just so sweet and they go, Mommy, are we not eating dinner tonight?


Ashley LeMieux

So yeah. So that was one of my I'll never forget it because that day I just felt so proud of myself. And then I was like, Oh. They're feeding dinner, so that's so funny.


Ashley LeMieux

Oh, humbling — being a mom is humbling


Branden Harvey

It sounds like they were so sweet about it too. So sweet.


Branden Harvey

Just so that's funny. That kind of reminds me of it was one Christmas when my little brother. He must have been like five or something. And we do like Christmas morning. We open up presents and he's, you know, he's he's happy. He's glad. And he he looks up at my parents and says, thank you. But where's all the presents me wanted? Like, you know, it's like, oh, it's like it breaks your heart, but it's also like so cute. It's like he'll be fine, like he'll forget tomorrow. He's got all these. Awesome, amazing. There's, there's like one missing and he's like but what I was what I wanted. That's, that's so funny man. And yeah.


Branden Harvey

You're running a business this whole time. How's, how's The Shine Project doing at the same time.


Ashley LeMieux

That was a really hard transition. I brought on my first full time employee who was my sister, which was just the greatest gift for that time. And one day she sat me down. She said, actually, you got to figure this out because you're going to drive yourself crazy and all of us crazy if you don't. And I knew what she was talking about is because when I would go to work, I'd feel guilty about not being with the kids 24/7.


Ashley LeMieux

And then when I got home with my family, I'd I would be so stressed out about everything. I didn't get done in the day because I was so worried about not being with the kids or if they were OK or if they're happy at the office or if they're OK at day camp or whatever it was. And so during that time, that was a really hard transition for me, just trying to understand and and allow myself to realize that I can do both of these things and I can do them both well and it's OK.


Ashley LeMieux

And being a business owner doesn't mean I'm a horrible mom and being at home with the kids when I'm at home with the kids doesn't mean I'm neglecting my business. So just trying to make that change again, going just overnight, instantly to become a parent was really hard. And so trying to learn all of that stuff really quickly so that our life could keep going was was tough.


Branden Harvey

Do you feel like you hit a point where you're like, I mean, we never get it perfect, but do you feel like you hit a point where you're like, I'm at 80 percent and I'm on a quest?


Ashley LeMieux

Absolutely. It was probably within the first five months of of becoming a family that I hit this point where I was like, OK, everyone's alive and well and it's working in this. It's all going to just be OK. And I just kind of let go. That's also the control I always wanted to feel and just let it go.


Branden Harvey

So was that similar to the same time that the that the dinner debacle happened? Like, do you feel like you kind of started to hit a groove in a lot of things at once? Yes. Yes. That actually was around the same exact time debacle.


Ashley LeMieux

I don't know. I just had dinner, the dinner debacle. I know. I feel like that needs to be done right before the dinner debacle.


Branden Harvey

Yeah. Actually, a pretty cute like children's book that's actually for moms. Yes. That's a good idea. Stay tuned. That one's for you. Yeah. Thank you. Oh, man. OK, so that's I love hearing that, like you kind of hit that groove. But tell me about the day that you got a letter from the courts in the mail.


Ashley LeMieux

So like I said, we had permanent guardianship of our children. And without getting too technical about everything, having a permanent guardianship means that you're going to be the guardians forever. But it doesn't mean that the children have been fully adopted. So we went to go fully adopt the children. This had been about three years now into us being a family to give permanency to everybody and to. To just I mean, we're a family.


Branden Harvey

It's like it's like a commitment, it's like it's like getting engaged versus getting married. You're, like, engaged to the kids, but you've got to like you want that piece of paper that says it.


Branden Harvey

And just and for them and for us, just it just really it just really was a thing that needed to happen. And so we went and so I'm going to get emotional during this. I actually haven't I haven't really talked about this anywhere since this all happened. But we. So we filed to adopt our children and as a result of that came back from their biological family unexpectedly a contested adoption.


Ashley LeMieux

So we got a letter in the mail in October of 2000 and 15 that said that the courts were revoking are our permanent guardianship and. I'll never forget getting that letter, I ran over to our kitchen sink and I was just throwing up, I, I was like my world just became so black. I literally thought I was going to pass out and my husband had to hold me up. But what that meant that started the downward spiral of our family.


Ashley LeMieux

What that meant was that our permanent guardianship was taken away and then the state stepped in and we had to become foster parents and in foster care, no matter what has gone on. You have to the state has to first try to reunify the children with their biological families no matter what. And so it was like our whole lives just didn't matter to anybody. And all of a sudden we had people showing up and knocking on our door and we're like, what is even happening right now?


Ashley LeMieux

And that entered we entered into a year and a half of the most horrific court battle, I can't even put words on it. I can't even. That was the darkest time probably in all four of our lives, except for now.


Ashley LeMieux

And it was so, so hard. And every day we just we never knew if we were going to be a family the next day still. And so we just stayed so close together, especially during that time, because I didn't know how much longer we had. But but at the same time, we'd been a family for a really long time. And so I was confident, 100 percent confident that everything would work out and that we would be adopting the kids in that soon all of everything would be behind us.


Branden Harvey

I'm so sorry. It's so hard because. The the kids that they'd been with, you guys most of their lives at this point, what's going on in the rest of your life outside of this courtroom then? Because that's it's a long process. And I would imagine you're seeking normalcy, but nothing's normal anymore.


Branden Harvey

Nothing's normal anymore. In and outside of that, it was it's really hard to even think of life outside of that world. Luckily, I had established a great team to help run The Shine Project because really I could I did as much as I could because it was also good for me to stay involved in that process, to have something else. But I really couldn't be involved as much as I had been. And every day was just such an energy sector for me.


Ashley LeMieux

And we had so much going on. And then with the attorney's fees that we had, because obviously we're going to give literally everything that we have to protect our family and protect our kids. And so so then also the stress of the financial strain that came with. With trying to fight for our family and all the injustice that occurred and just being dragged through the mud and made it really hard to to do anything else other than just focus on our family and how we're how are the kids doing during that time?


Ashley LeMieux

Like, were they kind of shielded from it or. Yeah. So that was one of the hardest parts is about the first year. They didn't really know what was going on. And I felt like that really was my job.


Ashley LeMieux

As their mom and my husband as their dad to create a safe and as peaceful as a home environment as we could because we didn't want to bring in everything that was happening, because there I mean, as an adult, we couldn't even understand it and hardly get through it. And so as a child, we just didn't want we just wanted them to be able to live as normal of a life at that time as they possibly could. The last six months, they knew what was going on because of how involved the state got and and different things that started happening. They were very aware of the situation. And it was it was horrific.


Branden Harvey

During this time, you had an audience and you had followers and you had a blog and your social media. Were you sharing any of this publicly or were you did you just have to keep it all in?


Ashley LeMieux

Yeah, I and that was one of the hardest parts was that I wasn't allowed to say anything and I was drug through the mud in court over and over again.


Ashley LeMieux

So many lies and attacks on me against from the other side. And I was not allowed to share anything. And anything that I shared about my life in general was always twisted and used against me and was so crazy and so coming from someone who I really needed a community, especially at that time. And I needed a way to just express myself and to to just have people who could support us.


Ashley LeMieux

And we couldn't have it. I couldn't say anything. In the past eight months of our battle, we had to stop posting photos of our family all together and we kind of post photos of the children. So that got really hard because then people started asking questions, well, where's the kids? Are they OK or where are they? Because we'd been together forever. You know, we were a family and I literally I couldn't answer their questions. I couldn't do anything.


Ashley LeMieux

And it sounds so silly, but having these people in this court system try to strip us away of our core, which was each other, and try to make it not a valid thing, was so, so hard. And it was almost like we had to be a family in secret and we had to love each other in secret. And and it really it it really was so, so hard.


Ashley LeMieux

What came next? So what came next was we had a big final trial that kept getting delayed about what the outcome was going to be and all these things happening in the meantime. And we were going to court once or twice a month. And in January of this year, so just a couple of months ago, I was out of town for work and. They had scheduled an emergency and unexpected court hearing. And I got a call that our children were being returned to their biological family the next day.


Ashley LeMieux

And we weren't allowed to tell what was going on. They were allowing me to get home to say goodbye. And they made my husband take them to school the next morning, drop them off like nothing was wrong, fully knowing that it was the last time he'd see them for a while. Remember, we were picked up by state workers and taken back. To their biological family, my husband had to pack up the house, the state came in and took all all of the children's things, which we were happy that they did, because usually they don't they don't care and they don't do that.


Ashley LeMieux

But we had someone involved, too, who did care. And and she came and helped my husband and my mom gather their things. And he made them little overnight bags with their favorite stuffed animals and one little picture of our family. And that's all of it that they have right now as a tangible memory. Is this one little picture of their family? You put it in these overnight bags for them. And the night that I found out that they were going to be taken from us, I mean, how do you even you know, how do you even go through that?


Ashley LeMieux

But they told me the court told me that how I had to say goodbye was through a letter. And so I'll never forget that night writing a letter to my kids and trying to write everything that I want their little hearts and minds to know at that time. And having that be my goodbye for now. And it was it was awful. And, um. And here we are a few months later, just trying to figure out how how to keep living through this.


Ashley LeMieux

I'm so sorry. I can't even imagine. I think one of the weirdest parts of this whole thing is, you know, and throughout our lives and me to you, you meet people, you read people's stories and you're like, I can't imagine going through that. I can't imagine that. And we all have these different trials that we go through and and people look at it like, I can't imagine that. And then to find yourself in the middle of one of those things that you can't imagine going through, but you are and it's your life and there's no escape from it.


Ashley LeMieux

It's it's been. It has been. I don't know, I don't really have any words, it's just it has the potential to destroy, to destroy you and your life if you allow it to.


Ashley LeMieux

What was that next day like where you both you and your husband wake up? And I would imagine it felt like it was a nightmare and then it wasn't. So what had happened? I had been in Atlanta for work and one of the people who was working with me was from Nashville. And we had come up here and stayed at their house with the kids before in the past. And and so he was like, you know, we got to leave this work thing.


Ashley LeMieux

The rest of your employees can handle it. I'm going to drive you up to Nashville and then to have your husband come and meet you out there. And so the first place they went after everything was here in Nashville. My husband came and met us out out in Nashville, and we stayed out here for a couple of days just trying to it was like we were in a different world. I, I can't really explain it, but it it felt real and we could hardly even breathe or get up.


Ashley LeMieux

But it also felt so surreal. But then getting back to Phoenix probably about a week later. I'll never forget walking into our empty house for the first time and going upstairs and looking in the kids rooms, they're just empty. And just wanting them to be there so bad, you know, as a mom, you don't think you're going to go on a trip and come home and your kids have been taken. And. The best word I can use to describe it was, is it was hell.


Ashley LeMieux

It felt like hell and are quiet, empty house. And we just didn't we didn't know we didn't know what to do. And that led us up here to Nashville because we knew that we in order to. Have any chance of ever moving forward that we need it to go find life again because it had just been totally sucked out of us.


Branden Harvey

And I, I would imagine everything just reminds you of memories of the kids. And in Nashville, at least, there's a few less of those things. Not that it can really stop.


Ashley LeMieux

Yeah, well, in Phoenix, it's every around every corner. You know, you just you have all these memories which are so beautiful and so great and you want to keep them forever and ever. But at the same time, they hurt so bad because the kids aren't with us anymore. And and it was just it was too hard and. And up here in Nashville, we've had memories with the kids because we would come and take trips up here, but it just is different.


Ashley LeMieux

And I was really I was really proud of myself, actually last week. It was really hard, but I went grocery shopping for the first time.


Ashley LeMieux

But things like that are really hard because. You go grocery shopping and and I would always take the kids, we go plan what we're getting for dinner or and then they would choose the food and snacks they wanted for their lunch boxes. And and so then when you do a simple task like trying to go grocery shopping, but now you're shopping for two people instead of four and you're not going down this snack, you're not buying your kid's favorite cereals, you know, all those little things.


Ashley LeMieux

And Phoenix really just started adding up. And and here in Nashville, they're still there. Yet at the same time, there is hope that we that we still have a bright life ahead of us. And so here it is kind of existing, the joy and the sorrow, simultaneous where in Phoenix we just felt like we had been run over by a fleet of trucks and that feeling never went away.


Branden Harvey

As I scroll through your Instagram, I see this dichotomy of of what seems like an essence of joy at the same time that, you know, there's there's so much pain and sorrow and it seems like both of those things are there. And to survive, it seems like they both have to be there. What does that look like for you right now? And and feel free to correct me if I'm if I'm wrong and all of that as well.


Ashley LeMieux

Yes. So feeling joy and sorrow at the same time is a really new thing. And it's a really weird feeling. But I feel like when you are in a life circumstance or situation where you feel intense sorrow or in pain. Your joy becomes that much more intense, too, because because the jump from where you are in your pit of sorrow to the height of when you're finally feeling some joy, I mean, it's a huge jump. And so that's why I think that people who feel intense sorrow and pain in their lives also feel intense joy at certain times because they're finally lifted from something that had felt so heavy and so you really pay attention for it and and. What we knew our normal life to be is no longer and it will never be. And so feeling peaceful and and happy and just things that we would normally feel every day, that's not our new normal. And so now when it comes, it's like I just want to savor every second of it and I want to feel it because I know that it's not going to be there forever.



Ashley LeMieux

And I know how good it feels now to feel those feelings because of how of how intense the other side of life can be on the negative side.


Branden Harvey

How are you spending your time? You know, how are you occupying your time both in like a physical way, but also in a mental way? You know, are you trying to dwell on memories? Are you trying to block it out or or maybe you're doing something that you don't even want to be doing in that regard. But what is that? What is your intentionality look like?


Ashley LeMieux

Can I check all of the above for you? You know, sometimes I try to be intentional with where my thought space is and what I'm doing. But other times, honestly, I'm so exhausted and drained and just getting out of bed is the biggest task now. And so I don't I can't even give myself credit for even being able to intentionally to anything except for what I intentionally am trying to do right now is connect with other people, something that has been amazing and heartbreaking at the same time since all this happened is.


Ashley LeMieux

It's amazing to me that as you share your story, whatever your story is and other people receive it, that they then feel like they can share their story with you, too, and you can kind of go through it together. And so for me, you know, as I have the memories of the children, which I want so desperately to hold onto, but also certain times, those same exact memories will come where and yesterday they made me so happy and it was so fun remembering.


Ashley LeMieux

And then the very next day, the same memory can come. And I'm just a puddle on the floor and I have to end my day because I can't go forward anymore as I experienced that and then have met people who have gone through such horrible things in their lives and they're triumphing over it. It it has helped me find my place again. I'm trying to figure out my purpose and my place. And I've realized that it's to be with those who also are experienced pain and suffering and to help be their cheerleader and kind of walk that path together.


Ashley LeMieux

I've kept really, really busy with work, probably too busy with work. And but it's been it's been good. And I'm I'm happy and grateful that we can be busy with with something that can help propel our lives forward. But there's no and when tragedy happens, what makes it so hard is that there's never a right answer and there's no right answer on how to get through it or the best way to get through it or. And there's no guidebook.


Ashley LeMieux

There's no guidebook for this. There's no answers. And so every day, you know, sometimes I'm very intentional about doing certain things. And other days, again, it's just applaud myself for getting up and getting clothes on in the morning. And so, yeah, I hope that answers your question.


Branden Harvey

Do you think that you're going to see the kids again?


Ashley LeMieux

I hope so. I mean, that's why we're still living right now, to be honest, when the day comes that we see our kids again. I want them to be able to know and to see that their mom is still lived for them and. And that that they were the biggest foundation in our lives and that they were the people and the reason that propelled us forward to to keep living and dreaming and and hoping. And so that is my that's my biggest hope in my life, is that we get to see our children again someday.


Branden Harvey

I think I think it's beautiful the way that you. That you put your love for them out into the world, you know, whether that's something that that they might see one day or whether that's something that that that love just goes out into the world and into thousands and thousands and thousands of people like. I love imagining that impacting them in one way or another


Ashley LeMieux

So I'm so happy with how social media is right now, where you could really reach so many people and I'm so happy about it because that means that potentially one day my kids will be able to find me and I can reach them.


Ashley LeMieux

And so I've tried to take social media and use that as a way to leave little love notes and love no trails for my kids. So one day, one day they'll find me, whether it's in person first or on the Internet first. But they can see that they were never forgotten and they were so, so loved. I write them letters often to just private love letters from home that I put in a notebook. And I just want them to know when the day comes that I do get to see them again, whenever that is that that they were just so loved, even if they weren't physically with us, that they were always a part of of our family.


Ashley LeMieux

And they're the two that made me a mama. And that's not that's not something that just goes away.


Branden Harvey

That's going to mean the world to them.


Ashley LeMieux

I hope so.


Ashley LeMieux

It will. That's beautiful.


Branden Harvey

This has been such like a powerful conversation and such like I'm so honored that you were willing to share your story and dive into this.


Branden Harvey

And I have no doubt that listeners are connecting in such a multitude of ways, just like you were talking about earlier, with, you know, it inspires people to be able to share their stories and share the things that are going on in their lives for people who are experiencing the things that they never thought that they would experience, that they never believed could happen to them right now. Like what's. What would you say to them as somebody who's in the middle of it as well?


Ashley LeMieux

You know, I'm not I'm not on the other side of mine, and I we never will be. And and so something that I I want to share with everybody is that no matter where you're at or what side of of the pain that you're on or if you're right in the middle of it, just keep going. And I live with a hope that one day that all of this will be worth it. And that is my deepest hope. But right now, I know that it can get so hard to even feel just a glimmer of hope some days.


Ashley LeMieux

So I just keep going and you can do it. And and I also want you to know that you're not alone and you're you're so not alone. I've learned that this past year that, you know, there are times where I just felt so, so lonely. And then when I was able to open up more and connect with other people and go through our journey together, it really it really just was proof to me that that you're not alone and your story is yours and feel what you need to feel and don't be ashamed about it.


Ashley LeMieux

That's something that's been so helpful to me, is that, again, there's no right way to go through something. And so allow yourself to feel what you need to feel and then just keep going. And I can't promise you that, you know, there's going to be this huge fairy tale at the end of it. But I can promise you that. That it's going it's going to come back to you someday in a good way, whatever that looks like, and that you have more strength inside of you than you could ever imagine and to just keep going.


Branden Harvey

That's beautiful. I think that's a perfect place for us to leave this, Ashley. I'm I'm so thankful that you said yes to being on the show and for sharing your story. And I'm thankful especially for the love that you're putting out in the world and. The love that you've poured into your kids and the people that you've poured into through your company and the whole the whole like your life is a testament to the love that you pour out.


Ashley LeMieux

So thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me and for creating a space for people to share their stories and to connect with each other. And I you know, this might sound so silly, but it brings me hope and purpose when I'm able to share my story. And this is the first time I've really shared it kind of more in a in its entirety. And, um, so, yeah. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.


Branden Harvey

I have not been able to stop thinking about this conversation since Ashley and I talked, I just keep on thinking about how Ashley leaves so many little love notes for her children on social media so that someday they'll find her and they'll know that they were loved this whole time.

And a lot of ways, this podcast episode, this is a love letter to Ashley's children and it is a beautiful love letter. It was what a testament to her, her care for these kids that she sat in the studio. She cried her way through this story, and she shared this coupling of sorrow and joy in a way that I've never seen before. And I'm so glad that she had left us with this message. She said no matter what side of the pain you're on, just keep going.

I live with the hope that someday this will all be worth it. Remember that you are not alone. And then later, she said that you have more strength inside of you than you could ever imagine. And I'm so glad that Ashley wrapped up this conversation with those words because they are powerful and there are people that need to hear them.

You should absolutely follow Ashley on Instagram and everywhere else online. You can read through her Instagram captions and get to know her on a deeper level.

And at The Shine Project, you can also visit our website and learn more about what she's up to at The Shine Project dot com. And I didn't even get a chance to mention this in the conversation because we had so many other things to talk about. But Ashley also has an online clothing boutique with clothing designed to fit the lifestyle of women. Who do you can find that shop? Ashley LeMieux on Instagram and online at Ashley LeMieux dotcom slash shop.

If you're new to Sounds Good, if this is the very first time you listen to the show, I would absolutely love for you to stick around. This is the community for you.

We have so many meaningful and important conversations with people who are living real lives, with so many incredible conversations with people who are inspiring and hopeful and making a difference in the world. And I would love for you to dig through our archives.

So wherever you're listening to this podcast, whether it's on Apple podcast or online on SoundCloud or whatever app you love to use, you can dig through more episodes.

I especially recommend our conversation with Grace Theisen about making peace with your pain. Grace lives daily with chronic pain. But despite all of that, she creates beautiful music for the world and started a nonprofit to help save people from human trafficking.

You should also check out one of our earliest episodes with Ruthie Lindsey about finding purpose in the pain. I feel like we touched on so many of the same topics in that episode and I think it would be really meaningful for so many of you.

So absolutely check those episodes out and check out plenty more wherever you listen to podcasts.

This podcast is created by me Branden Harvey and as a part of Good Good Good, a community that believes in the power of celebrating good news and becoming good news.

You can get lots of hopeful stories on social media by following us everywhere at at Good Good Good. So we've got Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. We even have a private Facebook group filled with good news. We also create a beautiful quarterly newspaper that celebrates the people, ideas and movements that are changing the world for the better.

Yes, it's a real newspaper in 2017 and you can order it today. Check out the Goodnewspaper and see what else we do at goodgoodgood.co

And on that note, that is a wrap for this week's episode. Go out and do some good this week and we'll be back next week with another inspiring conversation from an incredible person. Sound Good?

Episode Details

July 24, 2017

Gifts That Do Good Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of year! And with it comes the season of giving. If you are looking for the perfect gift for the perfect someone, we suggest shopping some of our hand-curated and giftable picks so you can give well and do good.

13 Good News Stories About Animals to Leave You Feeling More Hopeful

Good news stories about rhinos, dogs, bees, humpback whales, bison, and so much more. There's no shortage of good animal news stories to celebrate!

About Sounds Good

Apple Podcasts – Spotify – Google PodcastsEverywhere Else

Sounds Good is the weekly podcast that hosts hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the headlines we can be hopeful about — and how you can get involved and make a difference.

Every week, Good Good Good founder Branden Harvey sits down with the people driving positive change against the world's greatest problems. Each episode will leave you with a sense of hope about the good in the world — and a sense of direction on how we can all be a part of that good. Episodes are released every Monday.

Want to stay up-to-date on good news?

One email.
Every Tuesday.
Filled with the week's best good news.

Thank you for celebrating good news with us. We'll see you on Tuesday!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.