July 28, 2015

Life Expert

I had the opportunity to do a lot of speaking engagements and interviews during the month of June. It is amazing how much I learn each time I do: things that I remember—or lessons I am taught—as I go around to share my passion, in a message that has become a part of who I am. 

For a long time, as I would share our story, I thought it was to save someone from choosing evil. I thought if I could just help one person stay away from a bad choice, it would change the course of their life . . . or save them from an unexpected death. I hoped that I could save just one wife from ever sitting across from a room full of strangers, being told of a real life nightmare. I hoped if I could save someone from hurting their spouse—that would be one less victim doubting their own existence. 

I set out on a journey to open up my pain—in a desperate plea to all who could hear—to help them see that they could never let anyone they loved feel the pain that ate me alive. 

But this funny thing has happened—more and more, I am starting to learn that the real purpose of sharing our story is to bring hope—not just in a reminder of trauma and death—but in a light full of life. To remind people that no matter where they have been—they still have good inside of them. To help others see, that no matter who has doubted them or left them alone . . . they are still enough. To not only give people a list of the things that they should avoid—but to help them remember all the good inside of them that they might be forgetting. 

In a search to find how to be enough for myself I have found thousands of friends who are on that same journey. A silent battle against our own minds—looking and hoping to find a place where we feel like we can be free from the pain of the past. 

So friends. Our journeys are not the same—but I feel one with so many of you. We are all fulfilling a mission: trying to become experts in life. 

Thank you for letting me have a voice these last few years. I never would have asked to stand on a stage and pour out my soul—or sit on my bed and type through my tears—but I have never known more, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was right where I was supposed to be. 

On my road to healing I have found my way to a new journey. And it has been beautiful. 

A few weeks ago I got an email insisting that I just must be an expert in life. Ironically, the same day, I got another email insisting that I must be a fraud . . . that the hard things I have had to endured were my own fault because of who I am. One of these woman saw the good I have been trying to find; the other only saw flaws and imperfections.  

Sometimes I have felt very inadequate for the task of talking about life. I am NOT an expert on anything. I doubt myself in one way or another every single day. I mess up. I say the wrong thing, or screw up in some form or some way. I lack in perfection in parenting, and obviously in love. I have days that I suck at being a wife. My laundry—is a joke. My cooking has been weak. I compulsively check on my children in the middle of the night. I get jealous and insecure. I have panic attacks and get paralyzed—some days—in fear. On the bad days I am a horrible friend. I forget to call people back, and am told I never respond to questions on Facebook, and sometimes weeks before I answer emails. Hurtful emails have been given the power to ruin my day or cause me to doubt my purpose and mission. I have only mopped my floor twice this whole summer. I get nervous every time I have to speak in front of people. Some weeks the only clean clothes I fold for myself are pjs and sweats.  I hate swimming in water that I cannot see what is beneath me and I am afraid of the dark. (And these are just a few examples of the negative characteristics that I posses that cause me to doubt myself in the roles that I play.)

For every fight I wage to find goodness, I fight against my self-doubt, or others who willingly share their opinions of who I am. 

One thing is for sure—every word I have ever written and every speech I have ever given . . . has not been intended as a sermon from anyone who has perfected anything. On the contrary . . . the words that have come from my heart, have only been written because they are what I needed to hear. As the opposite of an expert in life—I have found that I have much to learn, and hope that I can always strive to grow and stand a little taller. To fight less, and let go of things that are not in my control. 

But there are some things I will never stop fighting for.

#1.  I will—at the end of this life—have completely forgiven all who have wronged me. 

#2.   I will not let a day go by without telling my family how much they mean to me. 

#3.  I will fight to find joy in being a mother. 

#4.   I will love faithfully. 

#5.   I will fight for the light. 

#6.   I will search for hope. 

#7.   I will testify of Jesus Christ and his infinite grace. 

#8.   I will strive each day to be better than the last. 

#9.   I will smile. 

#10.  I will put my family first. 

I still have much to write on this blog. I have stories in journals, and in my mind, that testify of these truths and the moments I am still learning how to stand tall in them. Thank you to everyone who has believed in me as I fulfill this mission—to find hope and healing. 

Life is going to be filled with storms. It has been said many times . . . it isn’t about calming the storms—it is about learning to stand through them. 

Our storms are never done, so our faith has to be unmovable. Looking back, after the storm, we might not be given the answers to why . . . but God will always show us how. 

Find your purpose and seek out your mission. With those two things, the answers will come. We may never become experts in all that we do—but we will become full of life. Life is not about perfecting ourselves . . . it is about perfectly being where Heavenly Father needs us to be. 

It is through Him we will find our purpose. It is through His grace we will be lead to our mission. I do not fully comprehend the WHY’s of my own life, but I will never again let them hold me back. 

The most amazing blessings come after the greatest sacrifice. Most of the time we don't get to choose what those losses and lessons will look like . . . but somehow it must have been part of the plan, or it wouldn’t have been. 

So to all the other experts that have only found perfection in failure—I get ya—the only thing I have constantly succeed in . . . is imperfection and failure. We are all experts in losing in one form or another, but as long as we don’t ever lose sight of what really matters . . . we will win.

Put your family first. Put your trust in God and rely on His Son’s grace to carry you through your storms—and you will make it through. Not because it will be easy . . . but because there is so much good in you. You are stronger than you think and smarter than you will ever know. You have gifts you haven’t even began to realize. The spiritual strength that is hiding inside of you is the powerful tool that will be the armor that helps you win all of the battles worth fighting. 

So maybe we will continue to lose. Maybe we will always suck at laundry, and burn our dinner. Maybe our children will see us stub our toes, and hear us scream. Maybe a small army could eat their dinner off of our kitchen floor. Maybe the world is reminding us of all our inadequacies every single day—but they are not the experts in our life . . . we are.  

From the outside, some might think we are experts at everything they do not know. From the inside, we might see ourselves as the farthest thing from perfecting anything . . . especially life.

We are all right there. Imperfect messes, hoping to at least become the expert at one thing. I hope I can give my whole heart to my family—perfectly be there for them in the way that Christ would want me to be.  I hope if I perfect anything in this life—it is that I always put my family first.

Life isn’t easy. Love can be scary—especially when you know what it is like to lose it. Don’t let your fear of losing something stop you from loving it with all your heart. 

You don’t have to be an expert to live life . . . you just have to perfectly be where you were created to be. As long as the right One is seeing the good in your journey, who cares about all the rest. 

Be in the moment. Stand. You are the expert of your own destiny. You are the perfect one to . . . be you. Only you can fulfill the mission you were sent here to live. So when all the experts around you, try to get you to believe you should be something else . . . just be you. Perfectly imperfect. 

Expect imperfection. Expect to grow. Expect to change. Expect to hurt. Expect to lose. Expect to be surprised. But even more importantly . . . expect that the real experts in life . . . are the ones living it.

Moments in June that I will never forget. 
 From my journal in June: 

(Not too long ago, a boy met a girl. Just as the stories say it was almost love at first sight. Only Unlike the movies . . . The girl was what some might see as broken, used garbage. This girl had a rocky past and a lot of baggage. The boy had a past, and his own hurt heart. Somehow they saw past all of that and saw each each other for who they really were. But life has a way of blurring that view. There have been a lot of days along the way that this boy and girl have wondered if they made the right choice. They have wondered if their love was worth all the fight. They have battled the broken—together—to try make things feel whole. Tonight I got to speak at a fireside and for the first time in all these years this guy came with me. Looking out into the audience—and seeing tears fall down his face as he stared back at me with those big blue eyes—I saw that boy I fell in love with years ago. He is something else, and I am so proud to be his wife)

(For the first time I got to speak with my four daughters in the audience. It was amazing to speak up in the mountains to a group of strong young woman, and look out and see these four girls. I am so proud to be their mom. They each have a unique spirit they bring to my life and I want to be better because of them.)

A few of the podcast interviews I was able to be a part of: 

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

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