July 26, 2014
I remember being pregnant with my twins and thinking I had it all figured out. I had a birth plan all written, and I pretty much knew exactly how my birthing experience would be. I had been on bed rest for contractions for months, and thought for sure that being induced would not be a decision I would have to come to. We had spent months fighting to keep them inside, so I figured they would just crawl out when the time came. Boy was I so wrong.
Thirty seven weeks was our golden number. When that week came my doctor was in shock that we made it that long. He took me off bed rest and told me to get out on the streets and walk my heart out. I probably walked forty miles in a few days. I was determined to get those babies out naturally. I continued to have endless contractions in my journeys on the streets, but every time I would go back into the office he would check me and I hadn’t even dilated at all.
By the end of the week, and with no progression my doctor scheduled my induction. Both babies were head down and I kept my fingers crossed that my natural birth plan I had fought so hard for would be carried out, despite my set back of being induced. I was frustrated as the next day rolled around and my scheduled induction was up. I walked in the hospital, a little deflated that the first bullet point in my designed birth plan would not be happening for me.
It was early evening and my doctor began the process. He said it could be fast, but most likely I would see slow progression throughout the night. The next morning came and went, still no babies. My contractions were consistent, but barely any progression still in my dilation. My desire to continue my natural birth plan kept me hanging on with no drugs other than the Pitocin to create stronger contractions. They would up the Pitocin every few hours in a hope to see more progression. The pain was almost unbearable by early afternoon. Every time the nurse or doctor would check me they found I had progressed very little. Nurses would beg me to get an epidural or take some pain meds, but my stubborn nature kept me driving to keep up the fight for my natural birth.
By evening I was in so much pain that tears would roll down my face every time I had a contraction. The Pitocin was turned up so high that my contractions were only about a half of a minute apart, so I had little breathing time in between. There came a point when baby B began to panic. Every time a contraction would start, her heartbeat would plummet. It was like the contractions were causing her to go into a panic attack. Her heart rate would drop dramatically and then would become very sporadic through out the whole contraction.
My doctor finally came into check the baby and me. After finding out that I was only at a three he started to get serious, “Ash . . . I know that you have written out this idea of how today was supposed to go, and we have laughed and called you the iron cervix for the last few months . . . but this isn’t working. I know you are against an epidural, but I really feel like maybe it would help you relax and allow your body to do its job. You have been fighting for this plan, and I don’t want to take it away from you, but I really want to get these babies out without doing a C- section. If baby B doesn’t start handling this labor better, I am going in after her. So you can keep fighting through this the hard way, or we can try to do something different.”
Within minutes my birth plan was gone and the epidural was in place. With the pain taken away I started focusing on my struggling baby. Every contraction seemed to affect her. Every time I saw her monitor waver I chanted in my mind, “Please let her be OK, please let her be ok.”
A half an hour after the epidural was in place I got the urge to push. I told the nurse who almost laughed, “Remember when we just checked you, and you were only a three . . .” Finally I talked her into getting my doctor, and sure enough— I was at a ten. They rushed me to the operating room. Since we were having twins, it was that hospital’s practice to deliver in the OR.
As soon as I began to push baby B’s heartbeat would almost stop. After a few more pushes my doctor started to panic, “We have to get that baby out of there!” He grabbed his tools and suctioned baby A’s head right out. She was beautiful, she had a healthy cry, and she looked perfectly pink—well perfect except for the little red yarmulke that had been left by the suction machine.
He searched for baby B’s head, “I feel a hand . . . and a foot . . .” My heart dropped—TRIPLETS? “She has flipped . . . I am going in after her.” And he did, clear to his elbow! He grabbed her by the feet and yanked her out. She was as dark as a blueberry. My heart stopped as I held my breath to hear her cry . . . Silence. The nurse could tell I was not breathing well and handed me an oxygen mask. I tried to stay calm as I could hear them flopping her around and trying to get her to breathe. As more time passed I could feel the tension in the air—something was wrong with our baby. I pulled the mask away from my face and screamed, “What is happening . . . she hasn’t made a sound . . . is she ok . . . please, somebody tell me what is going on!”
For what seemed like an hour no one said a word and all the nurses and the doctors were gathered around our baby. I felt like I was in a dream as my heart cried out, “Heavenly Father, please, help this baby girl. Please help her keep up the fight and make it through.” I sat frozen with my head in my hands. Every things seemed to be in slow motion. All the nurses scrambling—no one looking me in the eye.
And then it came . . . the loudest baby scream I had ever heard. It was as if she was answering my prayer, “Mommy, I am not only here . . . I am a warrior, I wasn’t going to give up that easy. I am a fighter!!!” The sound every mother waits for. They rushed the twins off to the NICU while I caught my breath.
As the doctor was getting me ready to head back to my room, he found something interesting. He held up the placenta, which was the last thing on earth I wanted to look at in that moment. He looked puzzled and walked over to where I could get a better look. He said, I have never seen anything quite like this before. Both babies umbilical cords are connected in different places, but baby B’s cord was barely even hooked on to this sac. Can you see where baby A’s cord wrapped around the whole right side of the sack? That is what it normally looks like. I have read about this many times, but never seen it so dramatic. I have no idea how that second little twin of yours even got any nutrients, let alone lived. Usually when it is this disproportioned, one twin ends up getting all the growth and the other one doesn’t make it. You are so lucky, obviously that little girl is a fighter.”
She was a fighter—just ten minutes into her life and we had learned a lot about our little twin . . . Bostyn. She wasn't going to give up.
Fast-forward a few years. Emmett is in law school at Gonzaga. Bostyn is four years old. We were at church one Sunday afternoon and Bostyn comes into my class crying with blood running down her eye. I took her into the bathroom and cleaned her up a little bit. A few nurses who attended our church took a look at her and suggest I take her to the little 24 hour clinic close by. I took her in, they threw some glue in her cut and sent us home. Easy enough.
That night Bostyn woke up screaming. I tiptoed in and reminded her that her eye was just sore from her cut. She went back to sleep for a few more hours. At 1:00 a.m. she was screaming again. This time I flip on the light and run over to her bed. Her eye was the size of a baseball and totally swollen shut. Emmett ran her into the hospital, which was an hour away.
For the first few days they treated her for a MRSA staph infection. By the second night Emmett and I were sitting in the room watching the infection spread like wildfire down her neck, and over to other eye. By this time she couldn’t move her head and could barely see out of her only open eye. Doctors kept reassuring us that it would start to go down, but as the evening turned to night we all started to panic. Doctors began coming in to schedule surgery for the next morning to start to drain her neck and try to get rid of all the infection.
I remember at one point stepping out in the hall and pacing the floor. My baby, who had an identical twin sister, was going to have scars all over her neck and face, or worse . . . they weren’t going to stop the infection and she wasn't going to live. I felt worthless— I was right there, and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t save my little girl. I paced the hall for twenty minutes searching for an answer inside of my mind. Nothing came.
In my pacing, I came to a dark hallway where the lights had been turned down. I rounded the corner out of plain view, and lost it. I burst into hysterical tears. Through my sobs I prayed harder than I had ever prayed in my life, “Please. The infection is spreading through her body. They are not finding answers and I feel helpless, there has to be something that can be done to save this little girl. I need an answer, and I can’t sit here any longer. Please send us someone who can save her.”
As I whispered in my mind my final AMEN, words began popping into my head. I almost ran down the hall. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew exactly what I was going to say. I finally made it to the nurses station and with a power not of my own I began shouting out demands and pointing at people, “You are going to call the infectious disease specialist . . . You are going to go order this test to make sure this infection has been properly diagnosed . . .” I don’t remember much more of what I ordered that room full of nurses to do, but I do remember by the next morning many specialists had entered her room, prescriptions were changed, and Bostyn could move her neck and see out of her good eye. She didn’t have to have the surgeries or have draining tubes inserted.
That day I fought . . . for my daughter’s life. I fought for a power to send someone to help save her, and I was given the words to command the right people to come our way.
Sometimes we fight for a purpose, and sometimes we fight for a fear.
About three months after we got married Shawn and I had our first big fight. He came to me one Sunday morning and said he was going to go to the drag strip to race his jeep while we were at church. The minute those words left his mouth here is how my mind worked: He obviously doesn’t care about me; He is willing to break a commitment he made to me about what we would spend our Sundays doing; He doesn’t care about my feelings; He doesn’t care about the example he is giving my kids; If he can be easily swayed on our simple commitments to each other then one day some girl will talk him into walking out on our big commitments; He will leave us; He will cheat on me; Then he will be murdered in a dark parking lot for sleeping with another man’s wife.
Boom, boom, boom . . . Within a fraction of a second the scenario my mind created was flaring red flags through my entire body. He can’t possibly choose a choice I don’t agree with, or else he doesn’t care about US. He can’t use Sunday for racing his jeep, or he is not going to be a good dad. He is going to abandon us. My kids deserve a perfect example in every way; we don’t deserve THIS. I guess he didn’t want to marry me in the first place. If he can’t even keep his word on something as simple as how we will spend our Sundays, he is never going to make it.
By the time he walked out the door to leave I was like a volcano spewing with all the fear of my past, and the imagined pain in my future.
I ran out into the garage and like an idiot rattled off every fear that had crossed my mind, “Shawn . . . I thought you were the kind of father that would give these kids a good example . . . I thought you were going put their need to see a good husband above your stupid ideas like white trash drag racing. If you can’t even give up a simple thing like what Sunday activities you would rather do than go to church, maybe MY kids and I deserve better than this.” My eyes burned with all the fear that was driving my words. Did he even love me? Did he really want to be their dad? In that moment I could not detach his desire to make his own decision about how he would spend his time that day, from his willingness to love my kids and me.
As he should have, after getting berated by his crazy wife, he left. I watched him drive away and I felt like a piece of me died again. My mind went back in time to Emmett telling me he was going to leave and run to Walgreens. I could almost feel my soul scream, “Don’t go . . . please . . . something is wrong. Please just stay here with me.” I could feel the toxic shock of fear wave through my entire being. Emmett had left when I felt he should stay—and he died. How could Shawn do this to me again? Was he ever going to come back? Was today going to be the day when some normal, healthy, not broken girl would come and show him all that he was missing? Or would it be the day when deceit would come his way and drive him to his death?
The thoughts that overtook my power seemed as real as the car that had just sped away. How could he say he loved me if he didn't even want me to be a part of his decisions? If he couldn’t see how important it was to me for him to go to church with us, why would he not chose my choice? How could he come back and be a father now if he wasn’t perfect in everything he did, or in the promises that he had made? If he was going to disappoint us, maybe it would just be easier to walk away. If I wasn’t worth making good decisions and fighting for, maybe we were done.
My fear of losing him was trying to get me to believe I no longer wanted or needed him. I truly thought we would get divorced that day—either because of my unwillingness to accept his personal choices and imperfections; or because of his unwillingness to include me in his decisions and follow the simple commitments we had promised each other.
He was only gone forty-five minutes. He later told me that he drove to the racetrack, determined to show me that he could do what ever he wanted without “asking permission”. He said as he pulled up to the track he sat in his silent car for a half an hour struggling with the internal battle of what to choose. He too felt the overwhelming feeling to just give up that day. To stop fighting for what we had been building, and stop trying to carry such a heavy load that had been placed upon us.
By the time he walked in the door we were both a heated mess of fear. We battled all afternoon back and forth. I was determined to show him that his stupid choices could ruin our family some day; and he was determined to show me that he had to be able to make his own choices and still be loved regardless of if they were perfect or not.
We both had very valid strong points, but this day neither of us could look through our own pain to see the other’s fear.
The crazy cycle is a wonderful definition of what we were in. My fear of living the past over again urged me to try to push Shawn into making all the right decisions— for me. His fear of feeling mothered and control caused him to want to make his own decisions— just to make sure he still could.
I don’t know about other blended families— but for ours when a major argument would happen, it seemed our natural reaction would be to walk away. We both had felt like we had been through enough in our first marriage, that this was supposed to be our easy one . . . right? Any heated fight we would have, even about simple things, would somehow end with one or the other of us thinking or saying that maybe we made the wrong decision to marry each other. Maybe we would be better off alone.
It was like no matter how many good days came our way, the minute contention showed up on our doorstep we would want to abandon any of the hard work we had made in our marriage. It seemed we would just give up the fight and walk away.
At times, blending two families is difficult. You both come into the marriage with fears from the past. Whether divorce or death— your past has been hard, and therefore your new marriage has many challenges right from the beginning. Fears are powerful especially in new families that have come from a broken past. The power of your pain can ignite at any given moment. For us in the first few years . . . it happened often.
Sometimes the strength of passion can help us overcome and fight through; but other times the weakness of passion can hold us back and hinder us in our progression.
Shawn and I have come a long way since that day, but we haven’t stopped fighting. But now, more often than not . . . we fight on the same team. We are passionate about our family, we fall victim of fears, but a few things have changed . . .
One day our crazy cycle was in full force. The kids were all downstairs and we were up in our bonus room going back and forth over something about parenting. It was going nowhere fast, and neither of us was willing to compromise our stand. All of the sudden Shawn said, “Ash . . . stop. Get on your knees.” We knelt down together and Shawn offered the sweetest prayer. He asked that the dark feeling in our home could leave and that we could see each other’s point of view.
By the end of the prayer I felt a peace surround us. We stood up and threw our arms around each other. He looked at me and said, “What were we fighting about again?” I replied with tears in my eyes, “ I have no idea . . . but whatever just happened there . . . was amazing. You are worth fighting for, I don’t want to fight with you anymore, but I want to fight for you. We are not perfect people, but I don’t want anyone else. This blending family stuff is hard. I never even had a clue how much extra work it would be to try to make our families come together . . . but I chose you. I chose us. I will fight for us!”
I wish I could say that that magic moment has cured us of the urge to nitpick the way we parent each other’s kids, or the way we baby our own . . . it hasn’t! I wish I could say that at times we both don’t want to run away and that we are the perfect blended family—we aren’t. But the prayer on my knees with my husband was a powerful reminder that God can help us even when we can’t see what things are worth fighting for.
We are all fighters in one way or another. Some are fighting for their lives; others are fighting for their country. Then there are some of us who are fighting for a cause we don't even know. Sometimes we forget what we we are fighting about, and other times will never forget the fight that got us through our battle.
We were born to be fighters. Just like my daughter Bostyn who fought her way into this world, we all have the desire to win and succeed. But what if we are fighting for the wrong cause? What if all the fighting we are doing alone is only getting us farther away from what we really want?
Every good fight starts with a drive, a powerful force of motivation: Fighting for your little girl in a hospital bed; fighting your own battle with cancer. Some fight their way out of addiction or depression. Some are fighting their way through an imperfect relationship. Sometimes the victor will have to walk away and not look back, and other times the win may come as they have to hold on— even when they can’t remember why they are there.
No matter who we are, we will have to fight a good fight. Every good fight ends with love; every bad fight ends with hate. Fighting as a team will get us a lot farther than fighting alone.
Sometimes our fight can change the world, and other times our fight will merely save ourselves. There is a battle raging in each one of us, a fight for good and a pull of evil. Not every fight is worth dying for, not every motivation a good cause. Not every fight will be viewed; some battles are never seen with the human eye. We are all warriors from the battles we have won. We are all soldiers when we battle with grace. We all have the power to be our own captain and know when it is time to just let go of a fight that can never be won, or pilot ourselves to a battle worth saving.
Don’t lose yourself by fighting a fight of destruction. Some battles only rage because of a fear of losing. If it were easy, it wouldn’t make us grow. Life is going to be full of battles, good and bad. Whatever fights you are hanging on to, make sure they will bring you up. Fight for the battles that are worth winning, and let go of the battles that are worth losing. Fight for a cause you will never lose. You are not fighting alone.
July 24, 2014
I kept expecting this grand moment when I would feel whole again. I pictured it would be like what I had seen in movies. I hoped for the rooftop scene in Beauty and the Beast when all of the sudden, light radiated from every pore as the Beast was turned into something beautiful. I watched for those moments often in the little glimpses of perfection that would come into my days. I secretly hoped that a powerful ‘rooftop experience’ would bring me the light I craved. I didn’t realize that it would take a series of steps, sometimes in reverse, for true healing to occur. As time passed, and I never had my ‘Beast to a Prince’ experience, I came to learn that such an event was not going to come.
Sometimes it is in the most simple moments that we find healing.
One Saturday, I was working with the kids in the house. We were cleaning up all of our messes from the week. Shawn said he was going to run outside and mow the lawn. We kept up our hard work indoors.
After a while, I realized that Teage wasn’t with us. I searched in all the bedrooms, and there was no sign of him. I walked through the kitchen toward the front room when out the window, I beheld the brightest view.
I sat at the window and with tears in my eyes, I remembered . . .
The summer before Emmett died, I came upon Teage sitting in the exact spot where I now found myself. He was also looking out the window, but he was watching one of the neighbor boys playing catch with his father. That day, I watched my little boy as he longed for what that neighbor boy had—a dad who put his son first, over the demands of work, and the endless hours of responsibilities. I wiped tears from Teage’s eyes that day in an attempt to heal a void I could not fill.
Teague actually asked me that night if Emmett still lived with us. I reassured him that Emmett was just very busy with his preparations to take the bar exam and starting up his new law practice. All of that information—although very true—didn’t take away Teage’s longing for his father to take a moment out of his busy schedule to play with his son. Emmett was excelling at work, and in all of the other things on which he was working so hard . . . but he was failing at the eternal things that really mattered. He was putting off being a dad for another day.
I’m certain that Emmett never thought it would get to that point. He never planned to fail as a father, but the excitement of excelling and the enticement of acquiring ‘more’ kept him from us. He wanted to be a good father. In the beginning of his years as a father, his greatest desire was to be the man his children deserved. On many occasions in the early days of parenthood, Emmett had been just that— but his responsibilities at home continued to increase and eventually his efforts slacked. No matter how many good days as a father he’d had in the past, those days didn’t make up for the fact that he needed to continue and even increase his efforts. He had become so consumed in his work and in ‘providing for his family’ that he actually forgot the real needs of the people who were in it.
Being a parent is more than the work in life. It is the little moments that they will remember.
Now on this day, my view of Teage was very different. I sat in the same spot where Teage had cried tears of disappointment for a dad who had forgotten him, but what I saw as I looked out that window was light. In the hot summer sun, my son was pushing a lawnmower. With Shawn right behind him, Teage was guiding the lawnmower over the grass as if he had just won a prize. He held his head high. His smile beamed more brightly than I had ever seen. He was like a baseball player who had just won the World Series and was walking in a parade for all to see. His trophy was not the lawnmower, or his ability to push it. No, Teage’s trophy that day . . . was Shawn. He was proud to be in the front yard walking in front of his new dad.
I continued to sit at the window as tears of joy fell down my face. All my little boy had dreamed of in his life was playing catch in the yard, or mowing the lawn with his father—and he was living it.
Had Emmett known that his time would have been cut short, I don’t think he would have let a Saturday of mowing the lawn with his son pass him by. I think he would have taken a few more afternoons to throw the ball in the front yard, or to sit on the couch and read stories to his children. If he had known he would die young, he would have remembered to live in each moment.
As I watched Shawn and Teage push that lawnmower up and down the grass, I had an overwhelming sensation that Emmett felt immense gratitude for Shawn. Shawn was giving Teage what Emmett could no longer give—the gift of fatherhood. This day, I wasn’t watching my son long for a father out the window; I was witnessing him living his dream of having a father who took the time to show him what mattered most. Shawn was taking the time to show his son what life was all about.
What is life all about? Sometimes we forget how simple it really is. We forget to let go of the little things that hold us back from the relationships we desire. We forget that all our kids really want is to know they are important and valued. We fail them over and over again . . . and for what? A clean house? More money? A raise? A new car? One more TV show? One more game? Another drink?
As the sun shines down on us, and summer brings us its warmth, let us take the time to see it. There are bright things all around us, but we must choose wisely. Money shines brightly when held up in the daylight. Diamonds glimmer when light reflects upon them. Cars are made of metal that shines brightly in the afternoon heat. Many things can shine. Some light can bring us temporary contentment for a moment . . . and other light can bring us peace and heal us forever. We need to discern between those two types of light.
Our relationships are the things that count. Take every chance you can to show the ones you love how much you care. Tell them you love them, and then show them. Show them that they are more important than the messes they make. Show them that they are more important than their mistakes. Let them see that your time with them is what can heal both of your hearts. Turn to your relationships as you search for light in this world. Show them that they are more important than one more show, another football game, one last high, or one more drink. Help them feel your love by saying no to a demand or an addiction that keeps you from them. Don’t let another day pass by when you forget what is really important . . . and don’t just tell the ones you love what they mean to you—show them.
Money can only last so long, and jobs can be lost. Cars lose their value, and rocks can scratch them. Markets can crash, and diamonds can get stolen . . . but families—families can last forever. It’s true that we will all die, but even after death our relationships do not end. That is why we must cherish them now, because whatever they are today—is how they will be remembered. Our children don’t want to hear that one day we will play catch with them in the front yard—they want to do it now. They are proud of all the hard work we do for them, but that is not what they will remember.
I wish I had the original version, but a long time ago, Emmett wrote a blog post on our family blog about Bo Jackson and the way he put his sons over his game. Emmett talked about how critical it was for all of us to remember what is really important in life. He challenged us to take a minute every day to make sure our children came before anything else. Emmett was in the middle of law school when he wrote that post. I knew at that time, he was fighting the temptation to put school over his family. Most of the time back then, he won that battle. He tried to choose us. He found little moments to come and spend with us. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line after that, he forgot to take his own advice.
None of us are exempt from that advice. The temptation to let our blinders cover the bigger view is powerful. Take the power. When you feel your eyes getting heavy with the view of what is not important—take a stand. You have the power to overcome every temptation even those that come in the form of “I’m doing it for my family.” If you have to justify the fact that you aren’t spending time with your family . . . by saying you are doing it “for them,” make sure that is what they really want. If you work your entire life “for your family,” but then at the end of it, you no longer have one—none of that work will mean a damn thing.
It doesn’t take great sacrifice to be the person you always hoped to be. Once you knock down all the walls of darkness that are clouding your view, it is the Son who will shine through YOU . . . and you will easily remember exactly who you are. It may not be in a grand moment like it was for the Beast on the rooftop, but step by step, light by light—You can become the “Prince.” The Beast didn’t want to live in his pain, and neither do you. Let it go.
If Emmett had a voice today I know without a doubt he would say, “Son . . . I am sorry for all the times I didn’t play with you. I failed when I let the moments slip by when I could have taught you about life. I am sorry for all the times my phone was more important than your questions. I am sorry for putting off being your dad for another day. I wish I could have really seen you when I had you in my arms.”
Remember what you have, and don’t let it slip through your fingertips. Our relationships can be made light, and the power of those connections can help us heal our pain.
Turn to a source of light that can help you see what is really important. The sun is a powerful source, but the Son of God is an even more powerful source of light in a world filled with darkness. Remember the sons and daughters who are waiting at the window for you to be that little ray of sunshine for them. Put down your phones, your computers, and all the other “responsibilities” that keep you from the most important ones. Be the ray of light your loved ones need. The Son of God lives, and His light can live inside of you.
July 11, 2014
I woke up one morning in a funk. Nothing in particular had sparked my foul mood, but I could not seem to stomp it out. It was a normal day. The little kids and I played and cleaned the house while the big kids were at school. I tried hard to ignore the dark gloom that seemed to be tugging at me, and I carried on with my normal routine with it constantly hanging over me.
As morning turned into afternoon, I got a call that brought a smile to my face. Rob had had his bail revoked, and was heading back to jail. It was a miracle!!! I was giddy as I went about the rest of my day. Finally, something was going my way, and he was going back to where he had belonged all along. He had killed my husband and he deserved to be back in jail. Just knowing I no longer had the possibility of running into him on the streets brought peace to my soul, but on an even deeper level, I was happy justice was being served.
The alarm on my phone soon sounded to remind me to go pick up the big kids from school. I loaded the little ones in my car and drove to the school. I couldn’t wait to tell the twins about Rob’s new “home.” I knew it would calm some of their fears, as it had mine.
As I drove, I thought back to the nights they had tapped me on my shoulder to ask about “the bad guy.” I thought of the hours spent holding them as they cried in my arms about the father they would never again see, and about their fear of the man who had taken him from them. I thought of their whispers in the silence about a stranger they would never meet and never be able to forgive for the pain he had caused. I thought about all that Rob did to deserve his time in jail. I was happy he was getting locked up again. I was angry for the punishments my children had been forced to endure because of him, and I was grateful that the justice system was sending him back to the life he deserved.
I pulled up to the school. I could see the twins walking toward our meeting place. I jumped out of the car and with a skip in my step I ran toward them. Once their hands were in mine, I kneeled down to whisper the news. “Girls, so you know how scared you have been since you found out all those months ago that the man who shot Daddy was getting out of jail? Well . . . guess what? Today . . . he . . . he made some choices that got his bail taken away . . . and so, he has to go back to jail!” I was grinning and excited for my babies who had cried through all those nights, worried this man would somehow come into their rooms. I was happy to tell them that the man who had shot and killed their dad was back in jail, locked up. I was proud that I got to deliver this declaration of their safety to them.
They didn’t look up; both of them still stared at the ground and didn’t say a word. Almost in desperation to see their excitement, I announced it again. “Girls . . . doesn’t that make you happy to know that justice is being served . . . that he . . . is . . . in jail?” I tried so hard to get them to make eye contact with me. “I thought this might make you guys happy that the man who killed Daddy is not going to be out of jail anymore. They are putting him back in jail! . . . So . . . he . . . is . . . not . . .out . . . of jail anymore.” Still no response.
A few seconds went by, and finally a sound came from my silent crowd. Bailey burst into tears, and sobbed “But what about HIS kids mom? They still have a chance to have a dad. If he goes back to jail, they don’t get a dad . . . just like us.” I was dumbfounded. This little girl I’d held in the night as she had sworn up and down she would never forgive “the bad guy,” was now in tears for him?
Bostyn finally looked up at me. “Mom, Bailey and I have been talking a lot about this,” she said as a small tear fell from her eyes, “and we . . . we will forgive him now. We just . . .What about his kids? They might need their dad. If we could have Daddy back, we would . . . but they still can. If he goes back to jail, then all of us lost our dads.”
My heart dropped. All the excitement that had gotten me through the day quickly faded. Because of my bitterness and desire for revenge, I had spent my afternoon excited that Rob had been punished for breaking the rules and was getting sent back to jail. I had anticipated that the moment I told my children about it would be healing and uplifting for them, but it wasn’t. Not because they knew him personally, or would benefit from his remaining free . . . but because they had learned to have compassion.
It wasn’t until my two six-year-olds took my hand and taught me about empathy and forgiveness that I realized how wrong my celebration had been. I had spent months building up more hate and bitterness, while my daughters had taken those same months to find love and compassion for a man who had wronged them—a lesson, I had taught them . . . but had forgotten to apply to myself.
What a humbling moment I had that day. I was not the exception to the lessons of truth I had preached. Maybe Rob had hurt me, and maybe his poor choices had gotten him where he was . . . but I had to learn to let it go. Though his actions had shattered my family, it was my hatred that was killing my heart. I had to become like my little daughters: patient, compassionate, humble, and full of love . . . even for the man who had killed their father and made me a widow.
We are all here on earth together. We are going to wrong each other and cause others to feel pain. Sometimes we will be the one in the wrong, and other times we will be the ones who are wronged. Does that mean we can’t still have compassion for each other? I learned that afternoon that forgiveness is real, not just in words . . . but in our hearts. Empathy is possible, even through our pain.
My twins walked in Rob’s shoes that day, and felt the loss his family was going to have to live with. I wasn’t that strong, but their reminder of empathy was not just enlightening . . . it was humbling. I was the mother—and yet they were my teachers.
What does it mean to walk in others’ shoes? It means actually trying to feel what they feel, and trying to see what they see. It means taking a step outside of ourselves to see another point of view. As adults, we have trained ourselves to think that our way is the best way. We have become stuck in what we can see, and we think that we have the only answers. It usually isn’t easy for us to look at something from a new perspective.
Often, it’s our children who show us what it means to have empathy: empathy for a family member, a friend, a stranger, and even a murderer. They can show us how to see the world while standing in someone else's shoes.
A lesson I had taught a million times with words became real that day. As I walked hand in hand back to my car with my babies, I felt strength from them to develop that empathy myself.
Forgiveness is real. Being able to achieve it is within our reach. Maybe it isn’t as simple as it was for my two little twins, crying tears for the children of a man who had killed their father . . . but if they can do it—so can we.
Have compassion for those who have hurt you. Find love for those who have let you down. Seek to feel empathy for those who need it the most. God will be the ultimate judge. It is Him who will have the final say. We aren’t required to be the judge for anyone . . . but ourselves.
In the Doctrine and Covenants 64:10, we read this commandment from God:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
It is a lesson I am still learning, and one that hasn’t come easily for me. To truly forgive, we must have compassion. To have compassion, we must be able to love. And to truly love, we must give God our whole heart. He is the only source of eternal love we will find on this earth. The power He can give us can strengthen all the relationships with which we have been blessed, and can help us develop love for complete strangers, even for those who may have caused us pain.
Jesus Christ has felt your pain. He has counted every tear. He died for you that even you can be forgiven for the wrongs you have committed. Even you can be forgiven for the times when you have been too full of pride, hatred or anger to forgive.
We may never forget our pain. Sometimes the scars run too deep to completely disappear . . . but we can rise above our pain. The atonement of Jesus Christ truly covers all pain. It diminishes the scars; it eases the burdens. It can bring miracles to our lives.
There is a song I have sung many times in my life. I love it for its simple message.
Greater Miracles by Hilary Weeks
Have you any that are sick? Bring them here, He will heal them.
Have you any that are lame, bent in pain, hurt or yearning?
Bring them all old and young and He will lift them up.
He will make them whole.
And if they put their faith in Him they shall see greater miracles than these.
Have you children who are blind? Bring them here, He will bless them.
He will truly make them see wondrous things when you let them.
Go to Him on bended knee and He will lift them up.
He will make them whole.
And if they put their faith in Him they shall see
Greater miracles than these.
Did you know that He can heal the widow's broken heart?
That His love can change your life, save a world torn apart?
Did you know that He holds the earth and sky at His command?
But when you feel forgiveness come, then you'll understand.
That's the miracle. The greatest miracle.
Do your burdens weigh you down?
Go to Him. He will lift them.
As your brother as your friend, He has love enough for all men.
Trust in Him, take His hand.
And He will lift you up, He will make you whole.
And if you put your faith in Him, you shall see
Greater miracles than these. Greater miracles than these.
The miracle that day was not that Rob was going back to jail. It was that my daughters showed me how to feel empathy. They taught me, by their example, about forgiveness and love. They showed me what true compassion is, and what I could strive to become one day. They reminded me that even the sinners deserve to be set free—maybe not into the world—but from the hatred in our hearts. They showed me that even I, a victim, could find a way to be a survivor.
And that was the miracle . . . the greatest miracle.
Bailey and Bostyn (age 6)