February 14, 2019

To my broken friend on Valentine’s Day

To my broken friend on Valentine’s Day,

About a few times every week I get an email from one of you asking me the same question, “How do you learn to trust again?” So today I would like to talk about that, and explore some thoughts for you to ponder as you walk down that journey of finding trust again—ultimately your pathway to forgiveness.

Whatever we go through in life, there will be times when people do things—despite who we are—to lead us to question if we should trust. Infidelity and murder might be extreme cases, that you haven’t personally had to go through, but the concept of trusting another human being has, or will, most likely come into question at some point in your life.

For the purposes of exploring different concepts—and knowing we all have our own experiences—I am going to be talking about some of the extreme cases that I have encountered, or others have shared with me . . . and how they have effected us. It is my prayer that as you read this, the spirit will guide you on how you can remember your truths, and be able to apply them to your desire of seeking trust after you have been wronged deeply by someone you love.

As a woman in her third marriage, I can say for sure . . . this was not my plan. Devotion and fidelity have been strengths I have carried through all of the relationships I have been in, but I haven’t always been blessed to get that back. Reflecting on those times—when I found out about affairs, or caught, the one person who was supposed to be protecting me, doing things against that promise—every time it cut me deep, left me wondering what about me made them choose to look somewhere else for what I was willingly giving with love. I have spent a lot of time battling that fear—that something was just wrong with me. Many days I carried the blame—of another person’s choices—on my own shoulders . . . thinking that maybe if I was something different, they would have loved me as much as I was willing to love.

Then one day it hit me—it wasn’t about me.  Sharing those fears outloud, has not only helped me heal, those experiences have lead me to create relationships with thousands of others who have been there too. Each one of us at one time or another feeling alone, isolated, and forgotten, but eager to hear that others know the pain we thought only we had felt.

Over the years I have interviewed hundreds of people who have dealt with this sort of betrayal, most of the stories with common themes—even down to the words that were yelled at them during the darkest days—of fear, pain, and extreme heart ache. Each of them expressing how those words filled with so much hate and darkness—made them feel so small. Crazy—every single one of them felt crazy; the blame always shifting to them when they would ask for answers. Alone. Scared. Hopeless. Worthless. Depressed. Triggered by PTSD. Afraid to go into public. Hideous. Fat. Panic attacks. Suicidal thoughts. Lack of faith. Crippling fear. NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Every story completely unique—yet so similar.

Many have shared, “I just wish I could have saved him.” “I just wish I could have changed so (s)he would have seen me.” “I just wish I could be the person I was before I found out. I am broken now.” “I must not have been good enough.” “Well she was younger than me . . .” “I still wonder if he ever did love me.” “Now I have to be a detective to make sure he isn’t out doing things he shouldn’t”  “My life is over . . . and everything I have done is a waste.” “I can’t look at myself in the mirror.” “I am in a fog.” “I have never felt so alone.” “My world went black when I heard the truth.” Men and women full of fear and now so insecure, because they were forgotten—they were not protected; no matter how devoted, loving, and supportive they had been—their life was now changed by the actions of another person, and yet they had come to believe it was all their fault.

And this is where the hope becomes a challenge—you step out ready and wanting to love, and then your fear tells you to retreat . . . tries to remind you of the times when your power has been taken from you. Your PTSD—and yes this a real thing and not just in military survivors who were in combat—kicks in and showers you with panic. What if  becomes your constant companion, and you start to believe that you just no longer have what it takes—to trust, to love, to be open and vulnerable, to let down your guard—to let someone in.

So here is the secret many of us have finally learned. Through my own detective years . . . and now removed from it all, but hearing the same stories over and over we are finding a common thread. The ones who are thriving have begun to believe in forgiveness—not to save the other person . . . but to save their selves. We aren’t here to save each other. We are here to be the best version of ourselves, and not everyone is going to protect that. Some people aren’t even going to be capable of seeing how amazing we are—or seeing us at all. Not because of anything we do, or don’t do . . . but because of their own personal insecurities, fears, and bad choices. We have to let them own it. We have to stop taking on their struggles as if they were ours, because the minute we do—we become worthless, and that my friend is the lie. If we live in the lies . . . how can we trust ourselves again, let alone anyone else trying to come and see the good in us? We want someone to love us, but we forget to love ourselves.

Being able to trust another human being is a personal ability we all have—nobody can take that away from us . . . though many will try. Narcissists exist, selfishness is real, and there will be those we care about who don’t care back, but they CANNOT take away our ability to love—and to trust again. There will be moments when love will be one sided—there might be a time when God asks you to stop putting your love out for someone, because He knows that your gift could be used better somewhere else—spending time remembering how to just love yourself, or He might lead you to a person who will honor that ability you have willingly been giving.

Forgiveness is the how . . . and it takes empathy and faith, and a whole heck of a lot of love. Forgiveness doesn’t have to include letting an abuser back into your world . . . but it does include letting yourself back in. It might not lead to that person ever seeing you, or the hurt they caused, but it gives you permission to see yourself and the powerful being that has been strong through a storm. You start to let go of the fear and for the first time see yourself as a brave survivor instead of a worthless victim—believing in all the good you are capable of, and letting go of all the lies that told you: if you were different this wouldn’t have happened.

So here is the bottom line. It wasn’t about you. Don’t let another person’s choices stop you from moving forward on all the paths you have tried to walk before—or the new ones that have been paved. You are worthy of kindness, love, and being seen for all the wonderful things that you are, but it has to start with you. Let yourself back in—have your back even when nobody else does. You are freaking awesome. This wasn’t your fault—and it does not change your worthiness of trying again.

Sometimes people just don’t see you. And that’s ok. You are too precious to be forgotten. So remember . . . you are enough. Say it out loud a million times today until it is all you can think about. Your worth is great in the sight of God. Your being is important to Him. Your life—your fears, your joy—matter to Him.  Go to Him in prayer, He will help you. He will send you what you need, and in many of these cases, we have been surprised at moments of exactly what that was, but as we have trusted in not only ourselves, but in God . . . we have found that light again.

If you are living in the darkness of another person’s shadow, today give yourself permission to step out into the light. They didn’t break you—they just spent a lot of time showing you how broken they were. Today you get to start living free of those chains . . . because they were never yours to carry anyway. Each of us has a Savior, and He will never ask us to do His job. We cannot force another person to use the power of grace, but—with Him—we are always capable of using it in our own story.  

To the brave survivors on this Valentine’s Day—you are not alone. You are way more than broken—you are brave. Trust that truth and it will become part of the stepping-stones to free you from the shadows. Your gifts are not dependent on the receiver . . . they will always be worthy of giving again. Get yourself a box of chocolates this year and celebrate your ability to love.

Can't wait to see all of you brave survivors on March 1st. A Reason to Stand .org for tickets and more information. 

January 7, 2019

Gender reveal. It's a...

January 3, 2019

Big News

So, this has been a long time coming, and I am so excited to share my news with you. Four years ago I started putting together conferences for trauma victims to unite and know they are not alone—and frankly—I wanted to help get some of my new-found online friends to leave their house. I heard thousands of stories of pain and I couldn’t stand the thought of them hurting alone.

So an organization began. I called it A Reason to Stand, in hopes that it would give every person who walked in the door, a new reason to put one foot in front of the other—to remember their fight and why they were worth showing up for, and to help them find their worth . . . no matter what their story.

This week I received the official documents that A Reason to Stand will now be functioning as a non-profit organization. I am so proud to be able to build a team and connect with other organizations to bring more light to this community that started right here on this little blog.

Thank you to each of you who have encouraged me to share this vulnerable journey called life, and have given me strength when I felt so weak and broken. This blog started my healing journey, and I know that we can all help each other on that path.

Thank you for your support and love. Our first event—running as a non profit—will be held in North Ogden, Utah on March 1, 2019 from 6-10pm. Please share with anyone you know who could benefit and be uplifted. We would be honored to share the night with all of you.

To find out more or find out how you can get involved please visit www.areasontostand.org

December 13, 2018

Christmas: Heaven is Here

I remember a Christmas—I had to have been about eleven—when my single mother took me a side one day and said, “Ash”—she probably really called me by my nickname SMASH—“I have to ask you a favor.” She then proceeded to tell me that this year her Christmas budget was close to nothing. She said, “I need your help, the only thing I was able to purchase for you was a nail polish, and this year I need you to be ok with that.”

I was long past the years of asking Santa for presents, but I had never imagined a Christmas when there was going to be close to nothing under our tree. Being the brave young woman I was, I looked my mother in the eye and said, “Do not buy me another thing, if you have any money left get something for the little girls.” My little sisters were 5 and 7 years younger than me, and I was pretty sure they still had faith in the little jolly man with the red suit.

Christmas morning came, and just as she had promised all I opened was my nail polish. I sat quietly as the others opened their meager gifts.

It was hard to breathe as I chocked back tears. I wasn’t sad about the presents, but it killed me to watch my mother go around trying to smile—I could see it all over her face . . . she felt like she had failed us.

Soon there was a knock. We all scampered to the door of our little duplex and as it swung open we were surprised to see what looked like a little miniature tree standing boldly on our porch. Instead of leaves, this little tree proudly sported little wrapped up dollar bills—tiny ribbons held them tightly to each branch.

Tears filled my eyes as we picked up the little magic plant and carried it into our tiny kitchen. I looked up to see my mother’s face—it was wet from tears—as she watched us count what felt like a million dollars. We felt rich that Christmas—rich in blessings, rich in dollars, and rich in love. Someone loved us enough to know that year . . . we just needed a tiny sprout of hope, not in a little jolly man in a red suit . . . but in Christ. They were His hands that day. Angels that dropped off a tiny reminder in that tiny duplex: we were not forgotten.

Fast forward about five or six years. It is Christmas time again. My mother has remarried a very generous kind man who announced, “Kids”—there were twelve of us between the two of them, probably six of us living at home—“This year we want to do Christmas a little differently, we want to give our presents to a family who needs it. We will give you a budget and assign you partners to shop for each of their children and we will drop everything off at their house on Christmas Eve. Our goal is to make sure they have no idea where it came from. It will be really fun . . . the only catch is: we won’t be buying anything for any of you.”

My mind quickly took me back to the nail polish and the money tree, and the look in my mother’s eye. I shouted with excitement, “Yes!”

I took it to another level—as I often tend to do—and knocked on their door with a fake “research questionnaire for school”. I had to meet the people we were going to be shopping for. These total strangers let me in their house. I surveyed the room. They had no TV, and I didn’t see any sign of a scrap of food.  They had four little kids. They talked very kindly to their children as they filled out my fake questionnaire. As I drove home that night tears fell down my cheeks as I thought about all the fun things I was going to purchase for their family.

Christmas Eve came. The boxes were all lined in our front room, decorated beautifully. We loaded them into our cars. We drove in silence and when we approached their tiny apartment my step dad turned and said, “Ashlee, you are the fastest kid I know. Once we get all the presents loaded on the porch, why don’t you be the one to ring the doorbell and run around the corner.”

The porch was loaded and everyone had piled into the cars. I rang the doorbell and ran as fast as my legs could carry me.  I slammed myself into the car and we sped away. I noticed over the fence from their apartment was a Kmart. I suggested we go over to the parking lot and look over the huge cinderblock fence to see if we could see the family. (Like I said, always trying to take it to the next level.)

My stepbrother hoisted me up so I could barely peek my eyes over the wall. And there on the porch were all the presents . . . along with a mother, weeping so hard she couldn’t even bend over to pick up one box. I could hear her sobs, I could feel of the gratitude she felt, but I also could remember a moment when my own mother had cried those same tears—and I felt joy.

This time we got to be His hands—someone else had the opportunity to remember His love . . . and we got to be apart of it.

I will never forget either of these Christmas’ and the lessons I learned feeling the earthly angels . . . and how powerful it feels to be one.

Heaven is close, there are angels all around us—some we can see, and others we can only feel. This Christmas let us always remember the miracles—we even have the power to create some.  Three wise men followed a star to bring their love to a little baby far away. Most of the time we don’t have to look or travel too far to find someone who needs to be reminded that they are loved—a little glimmer of light can help us remember we are not forgotten.

December 10, 2018

Miracle in every storm

Karen shares that there is a message and a miracle in every storm . Parenting advise that just might change the way you view our fight as a mother or father. Her journey of divorce, betrayal, and helping your children connect to their one source of light...Christ. As Karen learned to step back, she saw that what her son needed was a cheerleader, he already had a Savior.

November 30, 2018

Perfect Love Casteth out all Fear

I want to share with you a very personal experience. Not because I am proud of it . . . but because I am tired of the shame that I feel when I have experienced it, and hope that this visual can help you understand a little more about the voice in your own head, and the dark trap it can feel like.

This pregnancy has been a big struggle for me. I know I talked about it briefly a few posts back, but I want to get a little more real with you about some of the battles I have been fighting. The battle of “Am I enough?” has been a silent one for me for a long time. I have shared with all of you the times in the past when I have had to face that deamon, but I wanted to describe ways in which it still tries to show up now.

Being enough isn’t just a one-time battle, but a lifetime pursuit.

Every day we will face triggers—reminders of trauma from the past—that try to take us to our weakest points. Sometimes we will feel armed and ready for them, other times they will shake us to our core. Fear of inadequacy is not always a fight we will be prepared to win.

For the first time in months, this week I finally felt pretty good. I went out and bought maternity clothes—so I would stop trying to squeeze into my old pants and feel depressed when they didn’t fit. A few weeks back I had discovered I was low on iron and it was really messing with my emotions—and that was finally leveling out. Morning sickness had faded away, and I had stopped dry heaving every time I walked into a room. I had overcome a lot of the triggers that had come up during the early months of my pregnancy—I talked about a few posts back—I was feeling ready to embrace this changing body and just enjoy the miracle that was growing inside of me. Life was feeling pretty good.

I couldn’t wait for my doctor’s appointment—and hear that reassuring sound of the baby’s heart beat. Everything went smoothly, until my doctor stepped right onto the landmine that I had thought I had covered pretty well. She looked up from her chart and said, “My only concern is . . . you have gained a lot more weight then we want you to at this point.” I looked over at Scott with a get me out of here look on my face. I tried to hold back the tears as I listened to her remind me of the “healthy choices” I should be making.

By the time I got to my car I wasn’t really embarrassed and ashamed of my body any more—I was just pissed. Angry that a fear I had been working through for weeks now had voice again. I said a little prayer, “Heavenly Father, I see what he is trying to do. Get me all worked up about my changing body and lose my focus on the things that really matter. I know what I can do to help my body and my baby be healthy, please help me stay focused and not let this fear creep back in and make me lose track of the progress I have made in working through this truma and help me to be able to see pregnancy as the blessing that it is. A few extra pounds—I don’t care about that—I just want a healthy baby.”

The night went on. We put up all of our Christmas trees and had fun decorating the house. Morning came and I got all ready in one of my new maternity sweaters. Everything fit, and I actually felt pretty in my own skin. I walked into the kitchen where Kaleeya was sitting at the bar. She looked at me and in the sweetest little voice said, “Wow, Mom! You don’t even look pregnant in that shirt, you just look fat!” A meaningful complement I am sure, sunk deep into my heart . . . where it met the little voice that spoke even louder than it had for months, “You aren’t enough—Scott isn’t going to love you with that disgusting body.”

My soul sunk low—believing every fearful word in my head. I got the kids off to school and as I walked in my house and shut the door, I burst into tears. Every fear—all the dark memories of the past—surrounded me. I felt trapped. For a split second I was taken back to a moment when I was sitting in the bathtub almost 8 years ago.  Tytus was just a few weeks old. I had already started to feel the tension and knew that something wasn’t right. Emmett came walking into the bathroom. After weeks of wondering what was wrong whenever he was around, I had come to the conclusion he didn’t want me because of my just had a baby body. All I needed in that moment was for him to look over and tell me I was beautiful, but instead he looked into the mirror, checked himself out for a few minutes and then announced he was heading out.

The fear came back as strong as it had been that day, and in the few weeks that followed. Chaos is what followed. Murder. Truth of affairs. A life turned upside down. Somehow my little mind was just sure, it all started with a changing body—a body too fat to love.

And there it was again—this toxic feeling of wondering if I was going to be enough.

I changed my clothes, got in my car and drove to the only place I know where pure darkness cannot follow. As I sat in the chapel at the temple I opened up a set of scriptures to a random page. I looked down in the middle of the page and there was a scripture I know well.

“For perfect love casteth out all fear”. Tears filled my eyes as I was taken back to another memory—the day I had to write Emmett’s funeral. In all my anger, and fear, and shame, and guilt, and humiliation . . . that was the only scripture or quote I read that felt worthy of being on the bottom of the program. Everything else seemed like a sham—in that moment, those were the only words I could believe.

So again those words spoke to me. As I sat there I tried to picture perfect love. All I could see was the Savior. He is perfect love. He is the only one who can take it all away. The fear, the pain, the unknown, the uncomfortable, the guilt, the anger, all the ‘I am not enough’s, the grief—losing a loved one, or losing a relationship you cherish . . . He has the power to carry it away and bring peace. He has angels standing around us daily ready to go on errands, just for us. To take away the darkness we feel trapped in, and to help Him carry in the light.

With that truth, no amount of fear can take us down. We have to remember we only have one enemy, and his goal is to bring us fear—to remind us often that we are not enough—it is never from God.

We all have scars. Instead of shaming the parts of us we think make us not enough, I was reminded that—because of Him—I have the power to love me, which makes me even more capable of loving those around me. I have the gift to heal after divorce, abuse, infidelity and murder. I have a healthy body capable of creating life. I have a strong spirit and a trusting heart. Because of Him, I have the power that can help me find my truths, over and over again. I can move forward. I have the ability to let go of the pain of losing a relationship with a stepdaughter I adore. I have the chance to forgive the people who have hurt me in my life. Because of Him, I can be forgiven when I have forgotten who I am. I am capable of anything. I am worthy of fighting for.

Because of Him, we can overcome. Because of Him, we can feel light. Because of Him we can one day feel perfect love. And because of Him . . . perfect love casteth out all fear.  

Here we are 13 weeks. We will find out December 20th if it is a boy or girl. What do you think?

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