November 25, 2015

So much to be thankful for

I can't believe it is here again. Thanksgiving.  I love bringing the family together. I love all the wonderful food, but mostly I love hearing the ones I love talk about what they are thankful for.

I always thought, years ago, that blessings were found in perfection. I didn't realize blessings could be found through heart ache, or happiness could be felt after fears. I am starting to realize that one thing I am the most thankful for is joy. Joy cannot be taken away by heart ache, or cried out through tears. Joy is still possible even after we feel broken. Joy has the ability to come, even after the hardest days. So this year, I am thankful for joy. It is not one of those emotions that can always be felt, but when it lightens my heart there is nothing better.

Those moments give me strength to keep looking for the good.

Even through the tears and the smiles, life is full of amazing blessings. 
I am so thankful for the lessons I have learned through the tears that I have cried. For the gratitude I have felt through the days that I have smiled... And for the bright rays of hope that surround me each day to remind me . . . I am right where I am supposed to be. 
Even if today was one of the hard ones... Many tomorrow's will bring the smiles again! So don't give up. There is so much to be thankful for.

Last years post about Thanksgiving: 

November 18, 2015

To Calm the Storm Inside

To say my mind has been in turmoil this last week is an understatement. I have hardly been able to watch the news or hear of the events in Paris, and the chaos in the world, without being filled with anxiety. The fears of my past have been woven into my thoughts of these tragedies. I have prayed much for this fog to be lifted from my mind but, not to my avail, have continued to feel a heavy burden tug at my heart.

I have feared for our world. I have poured out my heart in prayer to send comfort to those who are hurting because of the actions of other's decisions. I have revisited my powerful fear of guns. I have hurt for the wounded: of heart, of spirit and of mind.  

We are all in mourning. We have mourned the loss of those who have fallen, we have mourned for their families, and we are mourning the loss of the safety we once thought was ours. In our every day activities we have been given cause to doubt and fear.  

The whole week has felt weak for me, but yesterday was one of my darkest days. I could not break the wave of fear that almost held me paralyzed. I was preoccupied in my duties as a homemaker; I was doubtful in my roles in business projects; and I felt disconnected from the people around me. But for the first time in a long time—I didn’t feel connected to God. I kept getting these dark thoughts about Why? Why do these terrible things happen? Why are people so cruel? Without any real intent on finding any answers, I began stewing over the past and present tragic events. I went back to the anger I had thought was long past. I allowed bitterness to start to build. In my dreary state I could not snap out of the agonizing feeling of chaos that filled my soul.

By the time all my children were home from school—and a few extra friends—I tried hard to create a normal front on the outside while the storm still raged inside. Soon Tytus had gotten his feelings hurt and came running downstairs to find me. He said (in a dramatic voice . . . with added breaths for effect), “Mom . . . why does Kaleeya hate me? She won’t let me play with her friend. I want to follow them, I just want to play with them. I want them to be nice to me. I just don’t know why they hate me. I am trying to be kind, but they still said NO. Why do they hate me? Maybe I should hate them too.”

I grabbed his little hand and took him into my room. Teage followed. At first I tried to think of some different options to keep him occupied so Kaleeya could just enjoy her time with her friend in peace. Then an idea came to me.  I said, “So buddy, sometimes when I don’t understand something, or I really need an answer, I come in here and I open my scriptures to a random page and just start reading."

I grabbed my bible off the nightstand. I flipped it open and began to read.

John 4:18
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

I about burst into tears. A moment of seeking clarity for my self-professed-hated son, helped me find an answer for myself. The words were so simple, but in that moment it felt as if those words had been written just of me. I had been living in fear. For a week straight, it was like fear had been planted in my heart, and living in it was suffocating my faith. I could barely breathe, literally and figuratively I had been gasping for air. 

Tytus ran off to try again, while I sat on my bed staring down at the word fear. It knew me well, but how come I hadn't even seen it sneak in? Fear had surround me, and I had been too blind to see it for what it was. 

Perfect love, casteth out all fear. I had to find that kind of love. I didn't want to spend another minute stuck in this state of fear. 

My day began to feel brighter as we headed to gymnastics and basketball practice. I stopped thinking about the heaviness of the world and started seeing my family a little more. 

As night began to fall I was walking from room to room putting kids to bed. I could hear Kaleeya singing at the top of her lungs. I am a child of God, and He has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do to live with him someday.  

(I had her sing it again tonight before bed so I could record it!)

I stopped in my tracks outside of her room. For the first time in a while, I was overcome with peace. I stood in the hall for a minute as her beautiful voice echoed through its walls. The love that surrounded me was almost tangible as I thought about the words to the song. I am a child of God.  We are all children of God. These six children, who I get to raise on earth . . . are His.  In each room, where my little ones peacefully sleep each night, I sang that song to them. With the power of the words in a simple children's song I testified to my babies that they were children of a God who loved them. 

The Whys of my fears were silently hushed as I was surrounded by His love. 

During this troubled time, and with so much heart ache in the world, I have had many people turn to me asking for advise on how to combat fears—fears of the unknown, fear of guns, fears of the future, and fear in moving forward. I have felt inadequate to answer—as I must confess these recent events have tried to shatter my faith in humanity as well.

We all feel alone when the safety of our world is unknown. We all feel scared when we hear stories of everyday events turning into war zones. The uneasiness that surrounds us affects us all differently, but the reality of such trauma reminds us that much that goes on is out of our control.

When a gun sounds it shatters dreams. It cripples hopes. It has the power to end a life, and its anger can change other lives forever. Too many of us know that reality . . . and most of the time those triggers were pulled in hate, and leave an impact forever . . . settling inside of us a fear not easy to shake. Living in fear is debilitating; it makes life seem unbearable.

So as I search myself for comfort from this fear, I finally wish to share my thoughts with those who have asked. This I know after bullets try to take away our power . . . we are not alone. No terrorist, or blackened heart can take away that truth. No amount of bullets—or plans to make us feel blindsided, abandoned, and unprepared—can hide us from the light in this world. Even if you have lost someone you love to the hate of a gun—you are not alone. Even if you are in the midst of a silent battle in the walls of your own home surrounded by an unshakable fear—you are not alone. Even if you are in a distant land, separated from everything you love—and have had to step up to defend that which we should all have just been given—you are not alone.

The lie is that we are all now prisoners; prisoners to terrorists, prisoners to power, prisoners to fear and prisoners held from peace.

 But the truth we have to hold onto is that we will always be free. They can try to take away our sense of safety, they can try to take away our sense of unity, and they can even try to take away our lives . . . but in the end we will still be standing. For all of us will stand before our creator and be judged for the good works that we do and the impactful lives that we lead. We all—even the ones we call our enemies—will have to stand accountable before God.

So to those of you who have been impacted by this wave of fear, I want you to fight. Fight through the fear to greater faith and remember that you are not alone. I will not stop sharing that truth . . . because I myself am fighting for it as well. 

WE are NOT alone.

This life is hard enough without fear; some days it feels impossible. The loads that we carry get so heavy it can become hard to breath. Peace feels so far away when these dark clouds hang overhead—but we can't let it stop us from believing.

The chaos and turmoil that surrounds us during troubled times are tools to make us live in fear, instead of faith.

I am fighting today to stand tall through that fear, and not lose sight of the one thing that can bring peace. Grace.

To all of you who have lost much this week, please know that our prayers are with you, and even in the midst of this heartache there will be light. God sees all. He is there, and even He has cried for you. It is hard to imagine that it is His sons and daughters He is watching hurt each other.

I used to believe that this world was divided by: religion, social classes, countries, states, and cities. I used to think that some were better than others. I used to think that where I lived meant maybe I was loved a little more. I used to think that we were all divided by waters. 

But we aren’t. What divides this world is not oceans and borders; we are divided by lies, secrets, hate, pride, and fears.

We all have a creator—whether we believe in One or not—and He didn’t give us faith to have us hate each other. He gave us religions and beliefs so we would have something to stand on to make ourselves stronger.

We are all fighting the same war . . . and it isn’t about who is right or who is better. It is about finding love: for ourselves, for each other, and for Him.  

Hate comes easy. The world is full of it. Anger and revenge are everywhere. Fear is driving our every move. Politically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually . . . we don’t want to be wrong . . . and we sure as heck don’t want to lose.

But what we are losing—as we fight to be right—is our faith. What we are losing as guns sound to show power—is our courage. It takes courage to live life in a shattered world we cannot control. And it takes even more courage to let others believe differently than we do. But it is when our beliefs blind us—and makes us think we are better—that courage is lost.

So today—whatever your religious beliefs—and even if you don’t even believe there is a God, I want you to know we are on your team. This world is only broken because we have lost sight of the truth that we are all connected. Maybe we don’t all share the same skin color, or language, or religion, or continent . . . but we are all the same. We are connected in the fight against evil, and even those who are fighting against each other are just puppets for the darkness . . . forgetting that they are hating their own.

We are all one. We are all children of God. If we found a way to unite against the real enemy, our world could find peace. Satan knows if he can get us to fear . . . we will not have faith. If he can get us to doubt . . . we do not believe in ourselves, in each other, in our world . . . and in our creator. If he can get us to seek revenge, we will not see each other as humans. If he can get us to focus on differences, we will not see how we are all the same. If we are disconnected from love, he can get us to hate. 

So, though we will have to defend our freedom from those who have forgotten how to love . . . hopefully we can do it with faith. With God on our side, we have no need to fear.

We will be given many opportunities to doubt, as the hate of the world shows us its lies. Pray for a clear view of the truth. We are His children; He will never leave us. Though He cannot shield us from the pain, He can deliver us from our suffering.

Our world is being tested . . . to see who can hold to faith, even through the fear. Be strong. Have courage. Look for the light . . . for even though He cannot take away the storms around us, He can calm the storms inside.

Be bold . . . use your voice. Be brave . . . give your heart. Be wise . . . listen for the truth. Be real . . . remember who you are. Have Courage . . . to STAND.

November 17, 2015

You never know

Some things come at just the right moment. So grateful for this little video lifting my spirit this week.

Grief Website

A few years ago I was invited to a widows conference. I didn’t go. Then the same women invited me to come meet up to talk about a project they were working on to help other widows. I was already going to be in Utah for a few speaking engagements so I made arrangements to attend.

We all met up at a cabin and spent the night sharing stories and ideas about things that would have helped us through the loss of our spouses.

As I looked around the room—it was full of beautiful things. Four woman—all young moms—who had been through the death of their spouse. It almost didn’t seem fair. We had all been through that pain. We had all felt completely alone at times. We had all stood on top of a grave of the man we thought would be by our side through our life.

In that moment, I almost wished I could step back a few years and have these women by my side as I fumbled my way through grief. How would the process have been different, if I knew back then that I wasn’t alone?

I knew I had to be a part of the mission we had all come together to complete—we just had to figure out where to begin.

And that is where a website was a born. How do I go on?

It has been a great blessing to be a part of the building of this grief website. It has been quite the process and I am amazed at the work and diligence that has been given by these special women. A few years ago we all met as widows with the drive to make a difference for others who had been where we had been, but have watched this project bloom into something amazing. This website began as a resource for widows grieving the loss of their spouses, but has blossomed into a resource for anyone who is experiencing a loss in their life.  

When coping with grief, it is easy to feel alone, broken, and isolated. This website is to help combat that darkness and help others find hope in their pain. There are stories from all phases of the grieving process to help through these struggles. Job loss, death, divorce, infidelity, heart break, war, and depression, etc. Sometimes a loss is simply realizing you will not live the life you always thought you would. Many things we lose in life are hard to put into words, but the pain is still real. 

We all will at one time or another experience a loss of some kind. Grief, and its misery, does not have to break us. I hope this website can lighten the loads that we carry, and bring peace to our hearts.

November 12, 2015

From the inside out

I was walking around Target the other day shopping for Jordyn's birthday and they were setting up their stack of a new released movie. This movie is near to my heart. First of all, the day we went as a family to watch it was one of my favorite days we have ever had. We went on a hike and we looked like homeless people, but on our way home we decided to go to the movie. And sitting on the row with my six children and my sweet husband my heart was full with love for them. Then the movie started and it was so powerful. The messages that are lined in this sweet kids movie are moving. The thoughts that came to my mind as I pondered about what my core memories would be, what emotions I have overcome from the past, and what emotions I am still dealing with now filled my heart. I also couldn't stop thinking about each person in my family and the memories, good and bad, that they carry . . . made me want to make the most of every one.

So that day was one of my core memories. One I will never forget. So since this little baby is finally out on DVD I wanted to give one copy away, along with my books, to show thanks for the inspiration so many of you are to me.

Hop onto Instagram to enter to win. If you don't have instagram, please leave a comment below to enter yourself in the raffle. Just tell me what you are thankful for today! Winner will be chosen Saturday.

November 8, 2015

Mothers Who Know

Mothers Who Know has invited me to be a guest speaker this Tuesday morning for a free online webinar. Feel free to join and come learn what they are all about! They are a team that is sharing tools with mothers to strengthen them during a child's struggle with pornography. I listened in last week to their call, and though I don't have a child in this situation, I learned a lot about how to strengthen myself and my home! I know a lot will join anonymously, but I look forward to sharing with everyone there!

They hold these every Tuesday morning and I am excited to be able to share some things during this upcoming class! For more information go to Mothers Who Know
This group focuses on arming young mothers with knowledge and giving strength to mothers who have children battling pornography addiction. You can join the call anonymously or engage in the conversations with questions and ideas. Let me know if you have any questions! 

October 28, 2015

Be the Light

As I was about to stand up to speak last Friday at A Reason to Stand I was praying for a miracle. For weeks, every time I had gone to prepare what I was going to say my mind had drawn a blank. Even on the drive to Ogden I had little come to me—as I usually do—on what I was supposed to say.

I had spent hundreds of hours interviewing prospective presenters, typing up the programs, reserving the location, and collecting everything we needed to make the weekend a success . . . but I couldn’t even prepare for my own talk.

It is a little nerve racking emailing presenters to get their stuff together when I myself felt unprepared, but I continued to feel a void of thoughts whenever I would try to piece together my speech.

On Friday, as I stood to begin, my mind was filled with memories . . .

When I was about 9 years old I tried out for a play. I spent hours practicing my song and preparing my monolog. I was prepared. I got up in front of the judges and gave it my all. I sang with all my heart and had plenty of attitude as I belted out my memorized diolog.

The main judge didn’t say much—as I finished the last words—but looked at me with curious eyes. He asked, “Ashlee, do you have a cold or something?” I answered with truth. I said, “No. I feel great. You?” Then he said something that would echo in my mind for years to come. He said, “You are a beautiful little girl, but your voice . . . you sound like a smoker.”

Nine years old. It had taken all the courage I had to go and try out with all my anxious-to-be-a-star friends. I didn’t like to perform. I didn’t care about being on a stage. I just wanted to be with my friends. I had a hard enough time finding my confidence to even walk through the door that day . . . and now I had been put down for something I could not change.

Bitterness entered my heart in a way I had never felt it before. A feeling that nagged at me during my parents divorce the year before, settled in my mind again as a new found truth. I wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t good enough for him to just merely compliment me on what I did do. I wasn’t even good enough for him to sit quiet and just let me walk out the door with my continued hope that I would be chosen.

I didn’t make any of the parts . . . apparently they were looking for a little girl—who didn’t sound like she had just smoked a joint—to play the main role.

I remember from then on, anytime I was asked to sing or perform on stage I said no. I was happy to be a back up singer or in a large choir, but my days of singing solos would forever be done. I no longer saw my gift to sing as a blessing—I heard my voice as curse. A few times I remember watching old home videos and hearing my “smokers voice”. In my embarrassment I would turn it off.

Little did that judge know, all those years ago, the impact his words would have on me. He probably hasn’t thought twice about asking a little 9 year old girl if she had a cold, or even remember being the barer of the fact that her voice was raspier than most.

The very voice I have been able to use to share about the truths I have learned is the same voice that has almost always tried to stop me from speaking on a stage at all.

As I shared that story I thought about all the times I have been that judge. How many people have walked around with silent scars because of something I said . . . or didn’t say when they needed it the most?

We cannot wait around for others to come and make us feel whole, but we can seek out opportunities to be just that for someone else. It was on that stage last Friday that I was taught a truth even greater than the feeling of being enough for myself and my God. I thought of all the times when I have stepped outside my need to feel like I am enough and help someone else know that they are.

Healing doesn’t come just from acknowledging the truth that we are enough the way we are. True healing comes from using the gift of empathy to help someone else feel complete.

I remember a girl long ago who was different. She didn’t have light hair like me and my friends. She didn’t wear the same size jeans—like we all did. She was way taller than any of us. She just didn’t fit in . . . and even if she would have tried, we wouldn’t have let her.

One day at a girls camp, we had just spent the hour in our cabin rummaging through this girls stuff, taking pictures of ourselves in her clothes and making fun of everything in her bag. I walked out of the cabin to go to the bathrooms. I could hear someone a little deeper in the woods . . . it sounded like crying. As I got closer, I found it was her. At first I was worried she had seen what we had been doing—and I was going to be in trouble—but as I found a tree to hide behind and listened to her sobs I was overcome with remorse for the pain I had caused. She was crying . . . because of me.

From then on I was this girls friend—but not because I was a good person and helped her when no one else would—because I had seen her pain. I had felt what she was feeling. She wanted to be part, even though she was different. And so did I. The pain and fear I had felt as I rummaged through her bag . . . trying to be part of the other girls—she had to feel all alone in the middle of the woods.

I learned a valuable lesson that day as a little fourteen year old girl. Everyone wants to feel part of something. Even the ones who pretend they just want to be left alone . . . still feel the desire to be seen.

We all have fears. We have all felt abandoned at one time or another. We have all waited around for someone else to make us feel whole . . . but the truth is, until we can see that desire in someone else and help them complete that emptiness . . . ours will continue to weigh us down.  

I know people came on Friday to hear about a story. I could have told them dramatic tales about a gun, or three people’s decisions. I could have told them about a fear that took over me for 2 years. It would have been easy to speak about a night that left me at the crossroads from hell . . . stranded and abandoned and humiliated. But this time was very different. I had no desire to talk about the pain—because it is starting to be a distant memory. Most days, I am starting to feel whole.

I know my life is never going to be the same, and there will be triggers that I cannot control . . . but I can finally see beauty. Every single day. Not in the way the world defines glamour and looks. I see beauty in the imperfect past that is mine. I see beauty in the uniqueness of being me, and I see beauty on the broken paths that have lead me here.

The murder trial didn’t help me heal, because I was sitting silently dwelling on how hard things had been for me. Just as the courts had labeled me—I was a victim. That week after court had ended when I was able to bless the life of someone else in the back of a grocery store . . . that is when I could step outside the pain and see the beauty. (Post: Send Someone)

Beauty in life doesn’t come from the time we spend being victims. It comes from helping other victims find the way out of their struggles and pains and showing them how to survive. We become survivors as we break the chains of victimhood.

So maybe your journey has you labeled as a victim. Maybe your pain has been so magnificent you can hardly see past it. Maybe the world has reminded you of your “smokers voice” in every aspect of your being. Maybe you are told every night—by someone you love—that you aren’t enough for them.

The way out is not dwelling on it until you are blue in the face—trust me . . . I have tried. The way out is by leaving it behind. Like those twins I have written about. Both locked in their closet and beaten as kids. One chose to be defined by those moments and lose sight of himself, and the other knew in that moment he was worth so much more. We can let it define us, and who we think we are, or we can use those moments we feel like we have been beaten and locked in a closet to reach up, and hold our hands out. (Post: More than Broken)

We all have something that makes us unique—something that no matter how hard we try . . . will always be with us. For some of us, that is a past that has hurt. For others, it a “smokers voice” that has held us back from playing the lead role in our own life.

What if we lived in a world that wasn’t about molds and perfection? What if we celebrated our differences and helped people see their worth through what made them stand out? Are we all supposed to look the same, sound the same, and be the same? Were we all meant to follow the same journeys and live the same lives? Or were we made to shine through our differences?

Some things in this life we can change. Our hair, our clothes, our friends, the way we treat other people. But there are some things—no matter how hard we try—that will always be the same. We can never change the past. We cannot control other people’s choices. We cannot make someone love us. We cannot force others to help us feel seen.

I am finally in a place in my life that I can laugh about my smoker’s voice. I don’t give it any thought that I didn’t make the lead role in a play twenty-three years ago. I will never change my “smoker voice”, and that is ok. I am me. To find the strength to be unique is seeing that God makes no mistakes. He didn’t create us to all be the same. He sent us down to shine.

So smokers voice and all, I  . . . Ashlee Ann Birk . . . am beautiful. And so are you. Just the way you are. Get up every morning. Spend a minute highlighting your features in a way that makes you feel physically beautiful. Take one last look in that mirror. Then look away and use those same eyes to search for something broken that needs to be told how beautiful they are. Don’t get stuck in your victimhood. It is a trap. Spend your days surviving the past by finding the broken and unseen.

I wish I could say there was an easier way. I wish I could say that once we forced our husbands to say everything perfectly, and in the way we needed . . . we would find happiness. I wish I could say there was a magic pill to swallow to make us that handsome prince our wife says she deserves. But the truth is . . . no one else can define who we are. Only we can decide to see ourselves as beautiful. Only we can change our view from one that looks inward and around searching for others to complete us—to one that looks up and asks God to lead us to one of His children who isn’t able to see at all.

We won’t be seen, until we use our eyes to see. Listen for the smokers voices who are silently pleading for reassurance that they are enough. Even the ones who may act like they don’t care—want to feel like they belong.

We all belong to the same family. Religion, skin color, race, hair color, eye color, and the continent on which we live may make us believe we are different or better than another. But we are all sons and daughters of a creator. And He sees our uniqueness as the beauty that makes us who we are.

This weekend, L. Jay told a story about a woman he had recently met in Nicaragua. She had little to nothing to her name. She had a tent with one small table. She had the bare ingredients to make only her Tamales. When the interpreter talked to her she looked out at the large group of Americans and said, “Why did God put you in America and give you so much more than me? Does he love you more than me?” Silence fell upon the group; they didn't know how to answer her. After a moment she replied to her own question, “Because God knew I didn't need MORE to be happy.”

We have been given much. And because of our blessings, we have so much we can give. There are faces everywhere just waiting to be noticed. Look around, with those beautiful eyes and find them. Some may be in the walls of your own home, others are on an island thousands of miles away. But we are all the same—unique souls hoping to find happiness inside our own skin.

Broken things mend; shattered hearts heal. Use your voice—even if it is a smokers voice—to help them find their way. Be the light that helps others to see . . .and pretty soon you yourself will 
shine !!!

In Case you missed theses beautiful ladies in Ogden!! 

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