July 16, 2015

A Reason To Stand in Utah!!!

A Reason To Stand
coming to Ogden, Utah
October 23rd & 24th, 2015

Click the link for more details and to reserve your ticket now. Early bird prices will be available for the next month! 

July 13, 2015

No Excuses

A few months ago we had a landscape designer draw out a vision of what we wanted our yard to one day be. She drew up a rough draft and printed out a large copy to go over and discuss different options of layout and plant ideas. We spent hours going over all the choices and picking out exactly what plants I wanted and where. Shawn said he had no opinion and let me take the reins and design the yard how I wanted it to look. Down to the smallest bush I had it all planned out in my mind. She printed out a few copies of the final draft and dropped them off at our house.

Weeks went by and we finally had picked out a few landscapers to get us bids. A few of them asked for the plans and we freely passed them out. A landscaper was hired and he began his work. Flowerbeds were framed and the day finally came that the plants were being installed.

I looked outside to admire their work, but to my surprise none of the plants I had picked out in our final design were anywhere to be found. I freaked. I ran outside and started demanding answers. The landscaper reassured me that he had done exactly what the plans had stated he should do. He grabbed the sheet and started showing me line by line how his purchases matched our design plan.

I looked closer at the paper and there was handwriting all over it. Then it dawned on me . . . he was given the wrong set of plans. Somehow he was handed the designer's first copy of her purposed ideas. Nowhere on his paper were the hours of work and choices I had made. Nowhere on his paper was my plan. 

I began demanding he replant everything and start over. I ran inside and grabbed a fresh copy of the final design to show him how I wanted it. He reassured me he was sorry we had given him the wrong copy, but that he was unable to return the purchased plants and would not be able to redo my yard.

Deflated I ran to my room and into my closet. I sobbed . . . about plants. I fell to my knees and cried out, “Just one time . . . I can’t just have this one plan work out how I designed it? Really. It is just plants. Why can’t they be the ones I had spent all that time and thought on how I wanted them? Why can’t I just catch a break? What was so wrong with my plan?”

I called Shawn and let it rip. I told him of the tragedy that had just taken place and the upset I was raging in. He tried to calm my anger and reassured me that it would be amazing. He told me how excited he was to come home and see how great it was going to be.

I hung up the phone and at first I was ticked that he wasn’t just as mad as me, but as I sat there in my frustration an all-too-well-known feeling entered my heart and I was almost embarrassed I had been sobbing about a few plants. Oh Ashlee . . . you and your plans. When are you going to stop basing your happiness on YOUR plan and just enjoy life as it comes?

I looked around my closet, hoping no one had been hiding in there viewing my big baby fit. The coast was clear—it was just me and my bull headedness to wipe away my sulky tears.

Soon I had let it go. My yard was not going to look like it had in my mind—but I could still be happy. I could choose to look at the new plan as a failure and become bitter about a few plants, or I could let go of my plan and enjoy the one that had become.

Life is full of plans. Each big moment that comes is given a set of expectations on what we perceive it to be. Usually without a thought that it might not be perfect, we almost set ourselves up to fail with an unrealistic view of each one of our moments to go exactly according to the plan we have created in our minds.

And its not just the big days . . . it is every day.

I remember one of those days—Bostyn and Bailey’s baptism (May 2013). Their eighth birthday had just passed and they made the decision to be baptized. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The girls looked amazing. We entered the church early to get them ready— they each had a skip to their step. The few family members we invited began to arrive and the chapel filled with love with each embrace.

Soon it was the girls' turn to go into the baptismal room and step into the water. We had determined that Bailey was to go first—since of course . . . she was six minutes older. She walked into the water on one side of the font—Shawn entered from the other—they met in the middle with a smile.

Soon Bailey was dripping wet from head to toe. I hurried her into the bathroom as to get her dressed quickly so we could go out and watch Bostyn take her turn.

In the middle of zipping up Bailey’s dress I heard the water splash and soon the dressing room door slowly opened—it was Bostyn . . . she was soaking wet. My heart sank. I ran over and knelt down, staring into her big blue eyes. I said, “Bostyn . . . did you . . . already go? I . . . how did I miss it? . . . I thought . . . I thought they were going to wait for Bailey and me to come back out and watch you? They didn’t wait for us? We missed it? How . . . I didn’t . . . I didn’t know. I didn’t know I was going to miss it.  I have no excuse. I just . . . I just didn’t know. I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”

Tears began to well up in her eyes. She cried, “Mom . . . how did you miss it . . . you were right there. I thought . . . we thought . . . you were waiting for me too.  I thought you were watching. You missed it Mom. You missed it.” She threw her wet arms around me and sobbed. She whispered, “You missed it, and so did . . . so did . . . you both missed it.”

I had failed.

I didn’t know what to say. I had missed my daughter’s baptism—her mom, and her twin sister hadn’t been there to see. There was nothing I could do to make it right—nothing I could say to fix what had been done. My heart was broken for my little girl. I felt as though I had given her another loss in her life—I hadn’t protected her like she deserved.

My throat burned and I choked back my emotions. Fears of the past flooded my mind—I was filled with that powerless feeling of not being able to control the disappointments and losses my children would have to face, that vulnerable emotion of realizing I couldn’t control my plan. Her sobs were not just a reminder of how I didn’t watch her get baptized—her tears flashed memories through my mind of the past years that had shown me I would not be enough to prevent her from feeling pain. I felt hopeless and powerless—and like one of the worst parents on the face of the earth.

She was hurting—and it was my fault.

The rest of the day I spent internally feeling sorry for Bostyn . . . and myself. A silent internal pity party was raging, while everyone else celebrated a grand day. I was embarrassed I hadn’t been there for her. A day that was supposed to feel so exciting and joyful started to feel like another epic fail. I smiled for all the pictures, and interacted with all the family . . . but a huge pit in my stomach reminded me of the failure I had been for Bostyn.

It wasn’t until later that evening I was taught a great lesson by my eight-year-old daughter— it was then that I saw the true purpose of that day.

All the other kids were tucked in bed. I walked into Bostyn and Bailey’s room to give them one last kiss and wish them sweet dreams. They were both writing in their new journals. Bostyn set hers on the nightstand and gave me a kiss. I said, “Bostyn, I am . . . I am so . . . so sorry I wasn’t there watching you when you got baptized today. I can’t imagine how that felt for you. I love you and I would have never meant to miss this important choice you made. I am so proud of you and all the wonderful decisions you are making in your life. You are an amazing little girl and I am so sorry I let you down today. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I love you so much.”

Quietly she opened up her journal and handed it to me. I began to read.

Me and Bailey got baptized today. Lots of family came to see us get baptized. I got to wear a beautiful dress. Daddy Shawn baptized me. I love him. When I got baptized mom had already left to help Bailey get dressed. She missed it. She didn’t see me get baptized, and neither did Daddy Emmett. They both missed it. I was really sad it happened that way. I didn’t ever think both of them would miss my baptism. I always thought they would be there. I got lots of gifts today. This journal, a necklace, and a bunch of other things. But the greatest gift I received today was the gift of the Holy Ghost.  What really matters is that Jesus knows I made the right choice and He was there. I don’t have anything to be mad about. I got the greatest gift.

How great it is to behold everything you want your children’s life to hold . . . in one precious little paragraph. The dark fog that had engulfed me all day finally dispersed, and tears of joy fell off my cheeks.

Another moment where my greatest teacher was one who had been sent to me . . . to learn.

No excuses. Just love.

Bostyn had a list of things she could have dwelt on that day. She could have made the choice to be angry at me, at Emmett . . . or at God. But instead she saw the light. She saw the beautiful things that surrounded her—and didn’t hold onto the failures that had tried to bring her down. She pushed away the excuses to be bitter—and became better.

My testimony of many truths grew stronger in that moment—the greatest in my daughter and her evident love for her Heavenly Father and her brother Jesus Christ.

What do we believe? What is it that strengthens us when others might fall? Where do we turn when life gets hard? For some of us it is a TV show, or inspirational quotes. Some turn to exercise or spending money. Some turn to virtual realities, others can’t seem to find life in any reality. Some of us turn towards our families—others run away. Some of us turn to addictions—others fight to be free from them. Some of us get angry and loud—others stop interacting altogether. Some of us turn to another person to give us strength—a spouse’s praise . . . or our mother watching us as we make a big life decision.

Sometimes our search for support leaves us feeling isolated and alone. In those moments of feeling desperate we search for light in any form—even many times grabbing onto darkness disguised as hope. We seek for something to hang on to—because inside we do not feel like we can make it on our own.

I am starting to learn that life isn’t about how much light we can borrow from someone or something else—or our false comfort in our own plan—it is about how much light we can gain for ourselves through God’s plan.

Bostyn was at a crossroad. She could have felt alone. She could have easily felt forgotten or picked on. She could have questioned her decision to get baptized and wondered why Heavenly Father had let her down.

The possibilities for excuses were there—they always are.

Every day is going to present us with some sort of crossroad. Each moment will present us with an excuse, a reason to be the exception, or an easier road. It is up to us—which way we choose to go. God has a plan for each of us . . . but has given us the freedom to choose His way, or our own plan. Either way we will have a final destination, but if our goal is to be with Him in the end—we have to choose Him now.

Just like Satan—if we get too caught up in our own plan—our pride will keep us from the true plan of happiness. It wasn’t the goal of the end result that got Satan to fall . . . it was his love for his own plan. (A temptation he tries to use on me often.) His initial goal was just like ours: to get to live with God forever . . . but because of his stubbornness in his own plan, he gave up the end goal all together.

Our end goal has to be what keeps our faith in HIS plan. Without excuse, and without pride we can, and will, make it through anything even stronger. With a Heavenly brother as our greatest advocate when we pray—and one coming to us as a still small voice to answer our prayers—we can make it through everything we are asked to endure. In the name of Jesus Christ, and through the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can have our own communication with our Heavenly Father. We don’t need any other earthly person, or thing—just a willing heart and an open mind—to receive His divine personal revelations.

This course of testing—we call life—works perfectly for us to prove our eternal love for our Eternal Father. At the end of it all He won’t have to wonder where we belong  . . . because we will have shown Him every day.

So those moments—when you want to run to your closet and scream, “Uncle . . . I give up, I can’t take any more. Can’t I just get one break? Can’t I just have it easy this one time? What is so wrong with MY plan?”—those are the defining moments for each of us. The plan was always for us to be tested often to make sure we remembered Him. It is not because we aren’t grateful or we are unworthy—but because He loves us that much. As we show Him we choose His plan—even when presented with an excuse not to—He sees that we love Him. He loves us so much He gives us opportunities to remember Him and rely on his grace. He loves us enough to make sure we are among the crowd gathered at His feet—praising His plan and the ability it gave us to strive to not only be like Him . . . but to be with Him forever.

Our daily trials—our losses and our pains—are not just to keep us humble . . . they are gifts and opportunities for us to show that we choose grace to get us through. Sometimes we don’t turn to Him until our spiritual crutches are taken away. If Bostyn would have had the day she had always planned, with Emmett and me by her side . . . I honestly don’t believe she would have fought to see what the greatest gift was. It wasn’t until she stood at the crossroad—alone—and choose better over bitter that she could see the true purpose of her baptism day. Without someone else telling her how great her decision was, she was blessed to receive that still small voice telling her it was right. It was then that she was able to receive her own inspiration straight from her Father in Heaven.

When the chips are down, and the sky is dark . . . where are you? Are you searching for the love of man to lift you up, or are you seeking for the grace of Jesus Christ to set you free?  

Life is going to try to bring us down. Take it from a little eight-year-old girl who has lost much—some days will be a reminder of the pain of those failures—but we still have things to be grateful for.  Happiness is ours to CHOOSE. Even with a million excuses—we can use our pain to become better. We don’t have to be bitter. We can choose to remember we are not alone. Even when others let us down, there is One who is pleading for us to remember Him.

I am grateful for a daughter, who despite her many excuses to fall . . . has shown me even more reasons to stand.

Maybe you are running to your closet to cry about plants—maybe you just realized no one was watching when you thought that they would . . . You aren’t alone. We have all been there. But those plants . . . they will be beautiful. That life . . . it will be worth it. Don’t give up. Do not let yourself quit because of a few ugly bushes that look like they came straight from the 70’s. Your plan has not failed . . . it is not over—just different.

Not one of us is living our perfect plan, but each of us can—without exception—live the one that was written for us. No excuses—just a lot of life. Make it count. The greatest gifts aren’t those that come with ease—they are the ones that come when we turn to Him—without excuses—but filled with hope in His plan.  

Stories and thoughts for children grieving: 

June 21, 2015

Fathers: A Reason to Live

The sun has gone down. My house is silent—besides the sound of the air conditioning turning on and off, and the thoughts in my mind.

It was a beautiful summer Sunday. We celebrated a lot of fathers today—my own father, Shawn’s dad, Emmett’s dad, my brother-in-law Will, my brother Josh, and Shawn. A room full of dads—fathers worth celebrating. The day was close to perfect for me.

Tonight as I ponder over the word father, my heart is full reflecting on all the men in my life I have watched live that title. Some have lived it with class and grace; others have had many moments of failures. Some have chosen a different course for a while, and others have willingly stepped up to a plate that wasn’t always theirs to begin with.

There are all different types of fathers. Some only participate in creating a life. Some fathers only stick around until things get hard; some are there through the ups and the downs. Some fathers work so much they hardly see their children; others just wish they could find a job to provide for their family. Some have money where love is lacking; other fathers have time where money runs short. Some give parenthood everything they have; others only give when there is something left. Some fathers think only of their children; others only of themselves. Some fathers know how to love; some have forgotten along the way. Some fathers are forced into parenthood; and others choose it willingly.

So what makes a father? Is it just a one-time event—or is it a life long journey? Can just anyone be a father, a “sperm donor”, or a check writer . . . or is being a dad a daily choice these men have to make?

I don’t know the answers for anyone individually, but I know as a mother I have so many dreams for my children.

I used to dream of perfection—to start a family with a man who would be everything our creations deserved—loyal, caring, kind, happy, playful, loving, honoring, and virtuous. I used to have a plan for my children’s happiness—a perfect life that would always bring them smiles.

Only today—as I look back—I can see the very moment where my plan failed me, and tried to break my family. And today—as I look back—I can see the very moment where a different plan began.

My children have two dads. One who gave them life—who lost his way and never made it back to us to finish the job he had started. And one who has given them a reason to live—who will finish the job that was left undone.

I didn’t know, when I brought these babies into the world, that I wouldn’t be able to protect them from pain—but I also wasn’t aware that their Heavenly Father was going to watch over them at all costs.

Maybe that is the gift the real dads of the world have been given—the gift to protect. The gift to cherish what they have been given—and the gift to see the blessings that are right in front of their eyes.

Fatherhood is not a right—it is a privilege. Parenthood is a God given blessing given to us from Him, in an effort for us to strive to be like Him. To protect these children of ours, and to cherish them.

If the father you were given has forgotten the beautiful gift that you are . . . never forget you have a Heavenly Father who remembers. He is proud that you are His creation. He doesn’t just smile at the unique person you are—He cherishes the fact that you are His.

To all the fathers who wonder why you work so hard, please know we see you . . . we honor you—and we love you.

It is a job that never ends. Every day your willingness to fight for it will be challenged in different ways. Every day your struggles will try to get you to doubt your worthiness of this blessing of fatherhood.

Fathers . . . don’t stop fighting. We need you. We want you—not to write checks or babysit so we can have a break—we need you to put on your armor and step up to the plate. Be the father your family deserves. Show them that you cherish their mother. I can promise you it will change the way they see themselves—and the way they choose their spouse. Treat their mother the way you would want your daughter to be treated, because the only example she will have someday is what she saw you do.

Little boys want to be their dad someday, and little girls want to marry a man just like him.

So dads . . . no pressure, but it is time to live life for real. If today was your very last day—who is it you are going to be?

I thought for so long my mission was to help people avoid all the bad things of the world so their spouse never found themselves sitting on a couch with detectives hearing about a secret life and two shots of a gun. But I am starting to realize there is more to life than avoiding deadly sins. Living life isn’t just avoiding bad choices, death and heartache. Living life is about being present—protecting the ones we love, but also being there for them.

At the end of it all what are they going to remember?

As a daughter and a wife I beg each father to clear your view and see. Feel. Love. Those children, and that sweetheart need . . . YOU. They want the real you, the one who laughs, the one who holds them close, and the one who doesn’t just give them life . . . but gives them a reason to live.

Fathers, your job is important. You are the one these children are looking to—to know they are enough. Thank you for all the good you bring to this world—for all the moments you choose to stand.

Fathers Day 2015

June 4, 2015

Summer Book Giveaway Winner

The winner of book 2 on the blog is Jamie Lloyd. Please send me your contact info. Thanks everyone for the support and sweet comments.

My kids were watching videos this morning and this one was perfect for the first day of summer . . . for all the parents who are beginning summer vacation. Sometimes it seems little, unappreciated, and very hard . . . but we never know how much good we are doing with these little ones. Maybe we are missing out on many other things, but at the end of it all there are some things that will matter a lot more than others. Hope I never forget to put those things first. Happy summer!

You never know how much good you do

May 28, 2015

I promised one of these...

Book 2 Giveaway. Three chances to win. Just leave a comment here, Instagram, or  Facebook to enter yourself in the giveaway. Good luck! I will pick one winner from all three locations! 

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