Photos by K2 Images
If you go to Huntsville Church of Christ website, you will see a picture of youth minister Casey Lankford, his wife, and two of their three children. This snapshot tells little of the tragedies experienced by his wife Ashley. This beautiful young lady’s story shows how God can make “beauty from ashes.” As Executive Director of the Pregnancy Care Center, Ashley, with baby Gatlin at her side, ministers to the people—drawing strength from her Savior and spreading His love.
When I was 19, I became pregnant with my oldest child, Audrey. I was brought up in a home where abortion was not an option. My parents did have me consider adoption, but I chose to parent Audrey.
While I was seven months pregnant, I was introduced to my first husband, Michael. When you are single and pregnant, everyone’s agenda includes match-making. A sweet, little lady from his church matched us up. I agreed to go out on a blind date, waddling around, seven months pregnant. After our first date, he stuck with me. He and his wonderful family were such a huge blessing. After Audrey was born, I was expecting him to run away. He didn’t.
I was at Blinn, going to school full time. My next move was to transfer to Texas A&M. To put myself through college, I fed horses, mucked stalls, and pet-sat. Around this time, my dad found out he had lost most of the family’s money due to the Enron scandal. Early one morning, my baby sister, who was 14, called me and told me both our parents were dead. My dad had stabbed my mom and shot himself. My parents had been married 34 years. It was very surreal.
My sisters and I did not know how we were going to pay for the funerals. We put the $11,000 expense on a business credit card, which we were going to have to pay off at the end of the month. A few days after the incident, I was venting to one of the ladies for whom I worked. She walked away while I was finishing up with the stalls. When she returned, she had a check for $11,000. I remember telling her, “I cannot pay you back for this anytime soon.” She responded that it was an act of kindness and love. “One day you will have an opportunity to do something grand. Remember this, and do it.” I saw God’s selfless love.
Although that one problem was taken care of, I was still going to be homeless when I transferred to A&M. My best friend had an apartment, which she was sharing with another girl. She moved her room around so that she, Audrey, and I could share her bedroom. Child care was the next issue. I couldn’t find any daycare centers with openings for Audrey. The other roommate worked for a daycare. She told the facility of my situation. They proceeded to graduate some babies out of one class to make a spot for Audrey. When I went in to fill out the paperwork, they offered me a 50% discount if I would go to church one time. I did, and realized I did not have experience with a grace-filled relationship with Christ.
I was still dating Michael. He was not scared off. He used to tell me that he stayed with me because he saw how I handled these tragedies. He said, “If you can handle that, you can handle anything.” We got married when Audrey was almost two.
We were blessed with another baby girl, Addison. Everything was amazing. We were really involved in a church, and we both loved our jobs. About a week before his 35th birthday, Michael had a brain aneurysm. I was living in God’s blessings. I was doing things the “right way.” It was very hard to understand why this tragedy struck. We had thousands upon thousands of people praying, hundreds of people in the waiting room. After about four days, we realized he was not going to make it. My amazing in-laws and I stood together during this time.
About a year later, we took cookies to the nurses who had taken such good care of us. I started to say, “You probably don’t remember me,” and one of the nurses said, “Of course I remember you.” He told us that watching us walk through this difficulty renewed his faith. He said, “You walked with such grace and love. You were singing hymns, and you knew exactly where Michael was going to go. It made me realize I wasn’t sure where I was going to go. I started going to church the next Sunday and have been going ever since.”
Yes, definitely. I love to show women their baby’s heartbeat and movement with the ultrasound machine. We also have a screen in the waiting room where the families can see the ultrasound at the same time. Over the last two years, we have completed 569 ultrasounds. We can help women determine their due dates, check for ectopic pregnancies, and show that this baby is not just a lump of cells. The babies like to “perform” during the ultrasound. It is interesting to see how God uses this tool. The Holy Spirit really works through all of our staff and volunteers to share what the women and the families need to hear, to see, and to know.
We have a registered nurse on staff who comes in four days a week. On Fridays, we have a registered nurse who volunteers her time. On Tuesday night we usually have two nurses as well. We also have a sonographer who volunteers as well. She has 25 years of experience, and she is phenomenal. Dr. Montgomery is our Medical Director. He reviews every single ultrasound. If he sees anything he is concerned about, we can call and refer the woman to a doctor. We are always trying to get the ladies under a doctor’s care.
We perform pregnancy tests. In order to get on Pregnancy Medicaid, you have to have a verification of pregnancy; however, someone trying to obtain this government assistance probably can’t afford to go to the doctor. It is a big loop. Many people assume most of our clients are single moms, but we see all walks of life. We have seen an increase of married couples as many people are being laid-off from the oil fields. We are a resource to discuss nutrition, vitamins, etc.
In our lab area, we not only do the pregnancy test, but also STD (sexually transmitted diseases) testing. Last year alone, we completed over 4,000 STD tests. We test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. It has allowed us to minister to a whole new population. We have a huge number of homosexual males who meet with our men’s ministry for an HIV-awareness group on campus.
We also are able to share about abstinence. Erin Thompson serves as our Abstinence Director. Last fall, she started an Abstinence Support Group. Many young women in the support group came to us initially for STD testing, and are now a part of this group. One young lady had been here and tested positive multiple times. She didn’t want to do that anymore and she shared her testimony this year at our annual banquet.
We are also able to guide our clients through social services. We help them get free car seats and brand new cribs. We do a great deal of problem solving.
Each of the five rooms is decorated differently. The rooms are comfortable, not simply a “sterile” environment. We wanted the rooms to be warm and inviting, not necessarily like a medical office. Our clients can feel relaxed as they share with our staff or the men and women who volunteer their time to our ministry.
In our Board Room, we conduct our parenting classes, which are free to our clients. Again, we talk about nutrition, parent techniques, etc. The clients can earn “bucks” for attending the classes. Then, they can “spend” the money in the Hope Project, where they can get diapers, crocheted items, etc.
The shop supports about one-third of our budget. The proceeds from items that are donated and then sold go straight to our ministry. We are also so blessed by the contributions from the banquet every year. Last year, we had over 750 people at our banquet. God works out all the details. The forecast predicted 95% rain for the evening of our banquet. People don’t like to get out in the rain. After the banquet, I put the money in the safe, and then it began to pour.
Also, our shop is a ministry in and of itself. If someone in the community experiences a house fire, we help to replace necessities. Recently, we were able to help someone who had just received custody of their children. We were able to provide clothes, etc.
All of the nonprofits in this community work together. We send women to the SAAFE House. Good Shepherd will call us when they have extra baby food. We are not in competition here. We are supportive of each other because our services are so different.
We are a bi-ministerial family. Casey has his ministry, and I’ve got my ministry. We make it work with lots of juggling who’s picking up kids from soccer practice and what’s for dinner. We married our Google Calendars—that’s our key.
Ashley ended our interview with these words: “I serve here because I was one of those women. I didn’t know what I was going to do being pregnant and 19. This was supposed to happen to other people, not me. Being young with a child and the tragedies which I’ve experienced have shaped me. I just want my story to glorify God. Being the Executive Director of the PCC is the most amazing position that I ever could have imagined. It has allowed me to serve God in a powerful way!
1215 15th Street
Huntsville, TX 77340