December 12, 2017

Blessed are those that mourn

“Blessed are they that mourn” Matthew 5:4 #lighttheworld

I remember the morning of Emmett’s viewing sobbing in my mother’s arms. I said, “I can’t do this mom. I can’t have another person walk in here and hug me—I can’t keep pretending I have anything left to give—I can’t even stand it when they touch me. Today I just want to be left alone.”

My wise mother held me close and said, “Ashlee . . . then don’t do it for you—do it for them. Hug them—not because you want to— but because they came to mourn. They lost something too—a brother, a son, a friend. Every person who knew him will never be the same. So let them in. Sometimes it will be for you—but most of the time you will have to do it for them. Comfort them.”


A few things I have learned—since that day— about grief, loss, and mourning. 

1. It is an individual journey . . . but nearly impossible to do alone.

2. Others might have lost similar to you, but they might handle it differently.

3. No one prepares you for how hard it is going to be and that it doesn’t truly ever end.

4. It is a road that never leads you back to who you once were . . . but a path that takes you to a new place—of who you can become. 

5. Faith doesn’t take away the pain—it just helps you remember you are not doing it alone.

6. God will give you more than you can handle—but He will also give you a Savior . . . who will carry you through the days you cannot stand on your own.



Grief is impossible to put into words, and I have failed many times to describe the pain that one experiences in the midst of great loss.  But one thing I do know something about—is that we can mourn with those who mourn...because we all need each other. Through the good times and the bad. You are never ever alone.




December 11, 2017

A new kind of Champion

Since this month I am focusing on the youth, I thought it would be a good time to share this post written by a young woman who has a very unique journey. One of championships and trophies. But in the road that got her where she is now, she has learned to be a different kind of champion. One who has learned to stand. 


A new kind of Champion 
by Olivia Ekberg


I’m lying in the back of an ambulance racing towards the hospital in Walnut Creek, California. The EMT above me is trying to stabilize my seizing body enough to get an IV in my arm, and the oxygen blowing into my nose makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I feel tears roll down my cheeks. I try not to cry. I get kicked out of the pool if I cry. As the cold tears gather by all the tubes and wires attached to me, I feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I’m seventeen years old, living alone, two states away from my family, training for the Olympic Games. It is in this moment—with the setting November sky outside the ambulance window—speeding down the highway, that I know. If I continue the way I’m going, I will die in the pool one way or another.



I am a synchronized swimmer on the USA Senior National Team. I made this team when I was sixteen years old and found myself on the 2015 World Championship Stage just a few months later. I’m pretty good at what I do. At eight years old I made my debut at the National Championship, and I represented the U.S. internationally for the first time at twelve. The 2016 Olympic Qualifier is 5 months away. Two years separate me from the next youngest on the team, deeming me the “future” of USA Synchro. I have a point to prove. I have a country to represent. I have people to please, I have family I need to make proud. I have dreams.

I thought I had dreams.

Soon after my trip to the hospital, I booked a one-way flight home to Arizona to run countless tests on my body and be with my mom. I had no idea when I would be back in California, I had no idea what was wrong with my health, and I had no idea what the future held for me in the world of synchronized swimming.

What I did know was that I was miserable. The pursuit of constant perfection every day in the pool, the piercing eyes and vulgar words from my coaches, the disconnect, the inhumanity they represented, and being alone that young—it was killing me. For months I had prayed that God would let me tear my ACL, take me out of the water, save me. I didn’t want to make the choice to step away, that meant weakness. I recoiled at the thought.

I found myself in and out of the hospital in Arizona. My mom constantly holding my hand. My body in constant pain. My mind in constant worry. The worst part wasn’t the results we got, it was the results we didn’t get. All my blood work came back normal. My EKG was perfect. MRI spotless. EEG showed no seizure activity, though I had seizure-like episodes while hooked up to the wires. I was shaking every 30 minutes, up to twelve times a day, yet I was deemed completely healthy. There was no end in sight, no one believed my pain was real.

The ER Attending was the first to diagnose me with “conversion disorder”: a psychological disorder where past emotional trauma and severe stress will manifest itself in physical, neurological symptoms. In my case, seizure-like activity.

The shaking always starts in my right arm and as soon as I lie down, the convulsions take over my entire body and I shake uncontrollably, on average, for about twenty minutes, hitting the ground with the weight of my body and tears streaming down my face. I am fully conscious. I feel absolutely everything.

Because my mind was the cause of so much physical distress, I needed to fix my thinking if I ever wanted my body to stop shaking. That meant walking away from the sport that had shaped my personality, my growth, my faith, my work ethic, my every decision. It meant stepping away from all that I was, all that I hoped to be, and all the worth I thought I possessed. Walking away meant imperfection, in it’s deepest sense. That shook me to the very core.

What would people think of me? How would they view my failure? I was the girl who almost went to the Olympic Games. The girl who just wasn’t strong enough to handle the pressure. The girl who everyone believed made up her pain to get away from it all.

All those questions were ones I vomited onto my counselor the second I sat in our first session. I then proceeded to tell him that there was nothing wrong with me, I was completely fine! Despite what he thought, I could be perfect. I could reach the unattainable. Because I have a work ethic that no one else has. I was on the Olympic Team, for goodness sakes! I know what perfection is, what it looks like, so why can’t I just be perfect? Why can’t I just not ever make any mistakes? Isn’t it that simple? It’s a perfectly reasonable goal, a perfectly attainable goal. The problem, I told him, was with my weakness, my inadequacy, not my pursuit of perfection.

He laughed.

I cried.

For months we toggled with this idea that I could be perfect. I was addicted to the idea that I could reach a point in my life where I would never disappoint anyone, I would never hurt anyone, everyone would like me, and I would never be judged for my mistakes.

This idea came from a little girl who jumped into a perfectionistic sport. A teenager thrust directly into the middle of her parent’s horrific divorce. Watching her angel mother on her knees with rolling tears. Feeling her forever family shatter, leaving everyone empty and heartbroken, clinging to faith that was weakening. Leaving home to train for the Olympic Games to escape it all. Emotional abuse, rejection, disappointment, failure, and utter loneliness followed in a dark shadow. It was anything but an escape.

My spirit was old and tired, trying to fit inside the body of an emotionally depleted seventeen year old.




It took a long time to see that little girl inside me again.

One day my counselor had me look into the mirror he had in his office. He told me to look myself in the eyes. I stood there and looked at myself for a long time, until silent tears poured down my face and I couldn’t stand.

In my eyes, I saw all that I was running away from. I was drowning in those deep pools of brown. But I finally understood.

Behind all the medals, all the National Anthems, all the victory and all the success was a girl that had shame, emptiness, and deep insecurity hiding beneath the heart that drove her to be a champion.  Behind the mask of perfect capability was just a girl who feared imperfection more than anything else in the world. It was hard, admitting that I wasn’t okay. It was even harder to be okay with not being okay.


I spent the next year and a half learning to think again. Starting from square one and learning how to retrain my thought processes and thinking patterns. Learning who God was again, contemplating what I really believed about the nature of God. Learning who I was, where my worth lied, where I was going, and the crucial difference between progress and perfection. It was a constant marathon in my mind day after day. Tears continuously poured down my cheeks. I took every situation that drove me back to the depths of hellish perfectionism and pulled them apart and analyzed every minute, every feeling, every decision, and every improvement. I had to understand the relationship between what my mind was telling me and what my body was feeling, because that natural companionship was one that was robbed from me the second I made the decision to pursue perfection over life.

Like a baby learning to walk, I had to learn to feel. I had to learn to think. I had to learn to live.

The process was far from perfect. Like any addiction, I had relapse and withdrawal. But ultimately, I had to learn to simplify. I had to understand the power behind saying “no,” behind recognizing my limitations, admitting my limitations, and learning that limitations are anything but weaknesses. The more I started saying “no” to the little things in my life, (like working extra hours, making a treat for the next church function, babysitting a neighbors daughter), I was actually saying yes to myself, my family, and my God. Though I disappointed many people in the process of learning to say “yes” to myself, I found that my “no’s” were never a “no” to my love for them, but just me understanding how much I could really give. Giving myself a resounding “yes” mended my soul, brought God back into my life, and taught me how much I am valued. I rediscovered love. I felt love: real, lasting, unconditional love for the first time. I will never go back.

But what do you do when your life is erupting in flames around you? What do you do when you are drowning when you spent your entire life learning to swim? What do you do when you feel your God has abandoned you? Where do you start?


You just live. Day by day, second by second, one moment to the next. You start by waking up every morning, by getting out of bed. You live raw and unfiltered. When you find yourself at the corner of darkness and light, understand that path you desire is illuminated by the other. It is often necessary to walk in darkness before you naturally veer where we all belong—in the light. A journey I have trekked through many times, and found impossible to do without God. Do not rob yourself of the present. Feel the now, do not run from grief. Move forward, especially when it is dark. Perfect has nothing on your soul.

For those of you who are in the thick of drowning in perfectionism, athletic disappointments, breaking families or lost souls, you are not alone. I wish I could reach out and lay with you in your hell. But I promise that God lays on the floor with you, with the same tears. He won’t leave.




To read more about Olivia her blog is:  https://oliviaekberg.com and you can find her on Instagram: _oliviaekberg (https://www.instagram.com/_oliviaekberg/)

December 10, 2017

The box that saved my life

This morning I sat in bed and thought about a moment of service that changed my life.  A box to "people of Japan". If you have read my first book, you know this story . . . but I wanted to share it with you again today in a new way.  #lighttheworld

December 5, 2017

Meet Officer Gomez

November 30, 2017

25 ways in 25 days

Here is the flyer for our event on December 14th:


Day one, December 1st: 
"Freely you have received, freely give"

Ideas for day one:
-make someone dinner
-pay for the person behind you in line in a drive thru
-make a donation to a local food bank
-go through your closet and find the clothes you will never wear that someone else could use (to bring on the 14th!!)
-make a sacrifice for someone you love
-make a sacrifice for a stranger
-serve dinner for a shelter
-take cookies to your neighbor (possibly one who doesn't like you)
-leave a generous tip at dinner



There are so many ways to serve. As you think of what this quote means to you, follow your heart on the service that comes to your mind. I know you can #lighttheworld around you. 

November 29, 2017

Teens helping teens




This year as I team with mormon.org for their #lighttheworld campaign,  I am putting out a call to our youth to help each other. There are so many stories of high school students who are in need of all the things so many of us take advantage of. I am excited to see how these youth show up and serve each other.

December 14th. LDS chapel by the new Meridian temple. 5-9PM

Needs:
New or lightly used shoes
Spirit wear hoodies (or sweat shirts with logos)
deodorant
mechanical pencils and notebooks
clothes
hygiene products
makeup
toothpaste and tooth brushes

Basically I want the youth to think of the things that each morning they do to help themselves feel clean, confident, and ready to learn. Go through your closets and find the shoes you have that you will never wear, that would make someone else excited.  Buy an extra set of your favorite makeup or deodorant. Bring a few sets of your favorite pencils. Whatever you think someone your age would enjoy during this holiday season and throughout the year. We want to stock the officers closets at the High Schools so they have supplies on hand for students who need help feeling part, and ready to learn each day.

If you can imagine, a student who has to borrow their mother's shoes to come to school each day might feel a little self conscious walking into a room full of strangers. Those little things can and will make a big difference in their high school experience, and in tern can and will make a difference in their future.

You can make a difference, and I know that these young people are going to remember the love they are going to feel as we bring together hope for some of their peers.

If you are a mother or father in the Boise area and could use some of these items for Christmas time, please email me and we can get you set up with Officer Gomez in the days after the collection day.

Thank you to those of you who have offered to send in jewelry, and makeup, and the extras you have laying around. I am thankful for your willingness to help our efforts to light the world.





Side note! With my Standing Beautiful project, I have become a makeup artist for Maskcara Beauty and have loved putting quality makeup on peoples beautiful faces the last few months. It has brought me joy in so many ways.

So, if you have wanted to try the Maskcara makeup from my favorite things, now is your time to do it! I am going to be doing a fundraiser to help buy more supplies for these closets. Go to www.maskcarabeauty.com/standingbeautiful and order anything from the site using party number 13857. and I will donate 100% of my sales to this youth project.

And same goes with www.rodanandfields.com order anything from this website under my name in the month of December and will  donate the proceeds to this project!! So everyone wins. You get the most quality skin care and makeup on the market, and I get more ways to help these youth help each other!!



November 25, 2017

Are you there?

So even after all these years of blending our families, Shawn and I still don’t have this marriage thing all figured out. There are times when we struggle with trust issues. Trust is one of—if not—THE MOST important foundation of a healthy marriage, yet one so hard to build after it has eroded.

We still struggle monthly, weekly, daily—even by the hour at times— trusting one another, trying to heal from the trust that has been broken—and often times its not even by the person in front of us.

So we found ourselves on that path again last night, and what could have—and should have—been a relatively easy conversation . . . turned into a fear driven insecurity fest. One of us defending . . . one accusing . . . neither one healing. We were getting nowhere, and fast.

Soon, I gave up and shut down—all the while sitting in my silence, wishing he would just see the truth. I took a break from my frustrations and said a little prayer—at first asking God to change Shawn’s heart, help him to see things MY way.

After my prayer I secretly waited and hoped for the apology I felt I deserved, but soon I found myself telling him all the reasons I loved him—all the things I—had and—was always going to do to protect our marriage, and then asked him if he ever prayed for clarity when trust issues were clouding his view.

He said, “It doesn’t really matter anyway . . . God doesn’t ever hear me. He doesn’t answer MY prayers.” There it was. His fear was that God not only didn’t answer his prayers, but He didn’t even hear them.

A statement I knew in my heart was a lie.

I looked into his big blue eyes and said, “So I want you to think about something . . .
For the past few months Bostyn has been begging for a hamster. And for months we have been saying no. Once Christmas lists started being made—talk of the hamster only increased. It was the only thing she wanted for Christmas. She even spent hours researching facts about hamster breeds and their care—and presented her case in an informal debate against you. Even after all of that . . . we still said no. But then she just kept asking and asking and asking. Each moment of begging, breaking you down a little more until yesterday you went out and bought her an early Christmas present and had it all set up to surprise her when we got home. Not because you wanted a hamster, but because you listened to a little girl who you finally saw as ready for the responsibility— and the blessing— of owning her own pet.

I don’t think prayer is much different. Not that we have to break Heavenly Father down . . . but we do have to show him our willingness to work hard, research, look at all the options, and consistently show him that we are humble enough to keep asking for what we want—and that we have righteous desires we know He can help us achieve. But we can’t do any of it without His help.

And just like us—He is a parent who wants to help His children find happiness. And though I don’t know that buying Bostyn a hamster makes us good parents, . . . I do know that today we listened to one of her desires. But how many times did she have to tell us how important it was to her—before we really took her seriously? 100? If you want answers . . . or blessings, or to overcome struggles, you have to keep asking. He might not send the answer the first 10 or 100 times you ask . . . but I know when you are ready, He will bring you the answers you need to feel peace.”

Prayer is real. It is a direct communication we can have with our Creator. It is a gift we were given way before we came here. And it is—without a doubt—a two-way conversation. So if you have tried it—and didn’t hear back, don’t give up just yet. You might have a few more times to try before your true humility shows through.

Prayer is not something we can do with the expectation of a certain outcome—it is an act of faith that we perform to show God we trust His timing, and we need His help. It is an act of humility—letting go of any pride that we think we can do this life on our own.

Fear is the opposite of faith. Trust issues are fears—of the past and future—brewed together creating chaos. The antidote to fears of the past and future—is faith in the present—faith in the plan that got you here.


So make today count—and never stop asking God for His hand in your life. It might just surprise you what path He has in store . . . to lead you back to Him.










Happy Thanksgiving from our crew (that are all growing way too fast)...

November 24, 2017

Podcast: Voice America


Karen Milsap and I took part in a podcast called Voice America last week. Here is the link if missed it.

VOICE AMERICA

November 23, 2017

Light the World

I wanted to share the video for day one and announce one of the big projects we are going to be working on. We have some teens in our area that need our help. In the next few days I am going to be sharing a few of their stories and how we can help. So this year our #lighttheworld event is going to be a call for teens to help each other. I hope this video gets you thinking about ways you can make a difference to the people around you. You can make a difference, and I know you will.

November 16, 2017

Light the World

I have been asked to host a community event for this years #lighttheworld campaign. I am so excited to bring together people of all religions and back grounds and celebrate our community and the birth, life, and service of the Savior.

The event will take place on December 14th, from 5-9 PM at the LDS church building by the new Meridian temple. I am working with a few local, and some global non profits to raise awareness of their programs and hopefully bring together some donations for them to use this holiday season. 

If you are local please come by and bring donations and enjoy the program and food. If you are not local and want to take part please email me! Let's light this world and help those who might need a little extra light in their life remember Christ this Christmas. 

I am using this blog to update info and share what will be happening for the event in December, but also will continue to write my articles and share other peoples stories, so if you can't find the info you need please feel free to email me. 

themomentswestand@gmail.com

Please take a minute to watch this little video on what we are trying to do and share. Also there is a cute little face you might recognize towards the end of the video. 



 
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