February 23, 2014

Taking the leap

Emmett and I got hooked on the show Parenthood. It is about an extended family and the highs and lows of their lives. We loved all the different dynamics of the characters and how they each had such an authentic story. All of the families had their own dramas, but they worked together to get through them. We loved the reality of their stories and the different circumstances they portrayed.

One night, not long after the funeral, my sister Abbey and I decided to watch the show for the first time since Emmett’s death. The episode was called Taking the Leap. It was not as eventful as some of the past episodes, but I remember having a pit in my stomach as we watched that day. I had seen these characters so many times, facing all sorts of situations and hardships of everyday family life. Nothing in particular about the episode connected with me, but I started bawling like a baby. My sister turned to me, “Ash . . . are you okay? Do you want me to turn it off?” I replied through my sobs, almost laughing at the same time, “Remember when we used to watch this show . . . and I thought these people had problems? Now, I would trade places with them in a heartbeat. Their problems seem so simple now.”

I had sat on this couch so many times before following the lives of these characters, being almost judgmental of the decisions they made and of how they handled their hardships. I sat on my pedestal looking down on the way they handled their stress, and I was disgusted by how they constantly messed up when they came to a crossroad. Now, I wanted to beg these people, whom I once pitied,  to switch places with me! I was stuck—even more than any of them—in a situation I was struggling with, and which I hadn’t chosen. I was left with a path to walk, that I had never planned on trudging. For the first time, I saw these characters for what they really were . . . normal families living their lives to the best of their abilities with what they had been given. They were struggling to find answers; they were striving to find joy, even when life had thrown them lemons. They were working hard to be the best parents they could be, even on the hard days. I realized that they were taking a leap, every single day. They were taking leaps of faith in all of their relationships and were striving to live the best lives they could.
After Emmett’s death, Bostyn and Bailey were the first ones to have a birthday—just a little over a month after the funeral. As the day approached, I found myself dreading it. When I had been growing up, my family had never been big on birthdays. Emmett’s family, on the other hand, always knew how to make birthdays special. For most of his childhood, he was an only child and his mom had always put a lot of time and energy into his birthdays. She always threw him an amazing party with a theme, and after our children were born, she and Emmett loved making their birthdays fun and full of life. This year, I simply couldn’t do it alone. There wasn’t much life left in me, and how could I possibly give any of my remaining energy to a birthday?
The day came. I was down and low, feeling so sorry for myself. I spent much of the morning sneaking into my closet sanctuary to shed private tears. Once again, I was in zombie mode, not sure how to celebrate without Emmett. I was overwhelmed with the thought that he was missing their birthday, and I felt even more uneasy about my ability to make it a special day for them. I had hardly planned a thing.

I have no idea where the cake came from. Before Emmett’s death, I made the girls a special cake every year. When they turned one, their favorite animals were ducks, so Emmetts’ mother and I made the most adorable 3-D duck cakes. She decked them out in beautiful gowns, and we took them to the zoo with all their little friends to feed the ducks. It was an adorable birthday celebration that I would never have been able to put together without the help of Emmett and his mom. Every birthday since then had been the same: fun, themed, and organized. It wasn’t because of me. I just followed their lead and did my best to keep up.

This time, however, it was just me. I didn’t know how to do it without Emmett. When it was almost time to sing . . . I found myself heading back to my closet again. I couldn’t do this. I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to watch these girls celebrate when Emmett couldn’t be there. He was the one that always swore he would never miss a birthday . . . not me. As I turned the corner to escape to my safe haven, my Aunt Diane grabbed my arm. “Hey, are you okay? Is there something I can do to help you through this today?” I fell into her arms and let out the tears I had been shedding alone. “I don’t know how to do this. It’s not fair. Why is he missing it? He is going to miss it all . . . every birthday. It’s not like this will be the only one. He isn’t coming back.” She held me for a minute while I sobbed. Her embrace reassured me as I thought back on all of the kids’ special birthdays in the past. She whispered, “You can do this for them, Ash.”

I looked back at her. I could do this? I knew she was right . . . I had to take a leap and live this day. I told her I would be out in a minute, and I went and sought a moment of refuge in my closet. I sat there remembering all the days we had spent singing Happy Birthday to our babies. I thought about all the times we sang their favorite songs. I wrestled with the anger I felt toward Emmett for leaving me alone, and the conflicting sadness that gnawed inside of me because he was going to miss it all. The words of a song kept coming to my mind. It was a song we had sung to the twins every night since the day they were born.

What a Wonderful World (by Bob Thiele)
I see trees of green, red roses too. 
I see them bloom, for me and you. 
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white. 
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. 
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. 

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, 
Are also on the faces, of people going by.
I see friends shaking hands. Saying, “How do you do?” 
They’re really saying, “I love you.” 

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, 
They’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know. 
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. 
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

The world had proven to me that it wasn’t always kind, and my heart kept telling me that there was nothing wonderful left. I was hearing my babies cry . . . and I was watching them grow, but Emmett was gone. The skies didn’t seem to be blue at all. The nights had all become dark . . . and there wasn’t anything sacred about them. Yes, I knew that everything in the world wasn’t wonderful, but I also knew I had to force myself to find the wonder that was still there. I had to take the leap to understand that the babies I used to rock to sleep while I sang of the earth’s wonder . . . needed me to see that they were among those wonderful parts left in the world. There was beauty all around me. I was failing to see that the only thing holding me back from feeling it, was myself.

Humbled, I walked out of my closet into a room full of smiles. We sang Happy Birthday—for the first time since Emmett had died. Each word of the song hit my soul a little harder. I stared at my babies, the girls I now had to watch grow up without a husband by my side. And they had to grow up without their father. Their eyes never left my gaze. It was as if their souls were waiting for me to smile, to let them know that I could see them, and that I could remember they were wonderful. Their precious blue eyes—which always used to sparkle—seemed covered in a fog. They were smiling, but that haze wasn’t going to clear up until I showed them how to make it go. I thought of all the pain Emmett’s absence brought to my heart. I could see the same pain in the eyes of everyone in the room . . . and yet they were still smiling. I took a leap . . . a tiny smile came to my face. The girls’ grins became bigger as mine grew. Almost instantly, I saw some of the fog clear from their eyes. There was still good in this world, and I could smile. I was looking into the eyes of the good, and it became brighter as they saw me smile for them.

It sounds so small now . . . but I had to take a leap that day. I had to jump into that moment, which I had almost allowed myself to miss. I didn’t know how to do it without Emmett, but I had to learn to try. My babies had already lost enough. They needed me to be there for them, even if I couldn’t bring them the same sparkle that birthdays had once held. I couldn’t bring back their father to smile for them, so I leaped for them. I leaped into a day filled with wonder and goodness, even when all I wanted to do was to feel my own pain.

Whatever you are going through in your own family . . . it is unique and challenging in its own way. Sometimes our struggles are about huge issues, when we are forced to question who we are or wonder when our days will end . . . and sometimes, they are about simple moments . . . a birthday cake and a song. Some days, we are attempting to live our dreams without the sparkle we once had. But, we must remember that we are not the only ones struggling or hurting. There may be someone next door who is going through a nightmare even worse than ours. Many parts of our lives are going to be really hard, and we all have our own journeys to take, but we are not alone in our struggles. Every single person who walks this earth is going to experience life’s pains and the heartache of mortality. We must realize that we are not the only ones wading through pain. For every smile that is smiled, there is also a pain somewhere inside.

We don’t get to choose our trials. We do not know what tragedies lie ahead in our paths. We all have our very own “crap.” Some may never be asked to share with the world what they are going through, and others might wish they could . . . but that doesn’t take away the fact that your pain is real . . . and it is hard.

We don’t know what others are really coping with in their lives. They might post on the web, or in public, show a side of themselves they want the world to see. Believe me, I know. I have been there! But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t pain and fear hiding behind their closed doors.

We see the smiles in their photos of their trip to the Bahamas . . . but we don’t see their credit card bills that got them there, which they argue over in the late hours of the night. We see the perfect hairdos and spectacular outfits in all the photographs of their children . . . but we don’t see the screams and tears it might have taken to get those pictures. You might stare at the online photos of the first smile of your friend’s baby . . .  and think ‘what is wrong with my baby? Why doesn’t she smile like that?’ but you didn’t see that two seconds after the smile was captured,  that baby had a blow-out and got poop all over everyone in the room! You see a friend in a dream relationship . . . posting pictures every hour of her bliss. However, when the cameras are put away, you don’t see the pain in her heart because her partner has a pornography addiction that has been tearing them apart. 

We all have our struggles. It is easy to follow others on Facebook, or even in real life, and wish we had what they have. The truth is . . . they might be feeling the same thing, but about you! As I watched a family on reality television living out their every-day lives on camera, I began to wish I could have what they had. Their struggles seemed simple compared to mine. What I failed to realize was that . . . I was trying to live someone else’s dream. I’m certain that no one watches my life and wishes it for themselves—especially the part where my husband was murdered or was cheating on me, or any of the other bumps in MY road—but there are people out there watching me with my five beautiful children, wishing they could just have one baby! There are people watching me who simply wish to have a child to love, and the chance to watch that child blow out candles on a birthday cake.

As I have looked back, I wish I would have enjoyed the things I did have much more. Before Emmett died, there were moments when I focused on his messes, or his obnoxious habits, like popping my fingers whenever he held my hand. Now, all I had left were memories and a sweatshirt. Oh, how I longed to have his crap back. If I could have all those little irritants back, I would never again be frustrated when he popped my fingers or left his wet towel on my side of the bed. I would laugh when he peed all over the toilet seat in the middle of the night. I would wash his favorite workout shirt every night so he could wear it again the next day, even though he had twenty-five more shirts in his drawer. I would cook him steak every night without complaining that I wanted something different. What battles are we fighting with our loved ones now that, one day, after they are gone and we look back, we will miss? We will see that those battles were so small and trivial. What mountains seem hard to climb . . . only because we are building them ourselves? What ’crap’ do we constantly complain about that really doesn’t matter? Save your fights for the things that do matter, and for the people who aren’t on your team. Fight less often with those who need you to see their worth, and love those more who can’t find worth in themselves.

We need to stop living our lives just to take pictures to show the world . . . and start enjoying the moments that are real. Take pictures to remember those moments instead of staging pictures that fake them. The next time you wish you had someone else’s life . . . remember that that person has his or her own darkness to fight. Those you might envy have their own stories, which might be more difficult to bear than your own story you are trying so hard to forget. Maybe you will never see their crap . . . but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t stink.

Even though being a parent comes with so many joys, it also holds just as many struggles and heartaches. As parents, sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and trust our children to write their own stories. As spouses, we have to jump into marriage with both feet, and trust and love. As children, we have to look to our parents for their wisdom and counsel because of their love for us and their years of experience. Taking a leap is hard. I like the power of control and knowing that I am in charge of what happens to me. But, the truth is . . . I am not. If nothing else, this is the lesson I have learned. I cannot control what storms rage around me. My power lies in who I choose to become regardless of the storms. All I can do is MY best for me . . . and try to be there for others who are doing the best with what they have. I can give counsel and I can offer prayers . . . but ultimately, I have to take a leap of faith and let it go. Doing that makes us feel vulnerable, and it is scary . . . but relationships are so rewarding in so many ways when you can let go of the things that are not in your control. Healthy relationships require a series of leaps of faith: faith that your partner is honest, faith that he or she will be true to you. Heavenly Father doesn’t ask us to take those leaps with the promise that we will never fall. Some days will suck. Sometimes the leaps of faith will end up with us crashing, but we can’t let our fears of getting tangled up stop us from living with faith. Sometimes our leaps will leave us writhing in pain . . . but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth taking. We must do our best to give it our all. Take the Leap. Find the smile.

Parenthood is going to be hard. Just as in the TV show I had come to love, we are going to have highs and lows. The struggles are going to weigh us down at times. If you are blessed with the opportunity to live that blessing . . . take the leap. Give it your all. Every moment of every day, be the parent your kids deserve. Even if you are alone, without a spouse, while watching your children blow out candles on a birthday cake . . . take a leap and smile for all the love in their eyes as they look to you for reassurance that it is a wonderful world. You may be watching them alone in your pain . . .  but you are not alone. Life’s pains are all around you. Others may look like they are smiling on the outside, but inside they may be hurting just like you. Life can be exhausting, it can seem unfair . . . but allow yourself to live the little joys that still all surround you. Your loved ones are waiting for you to take a leap and smile for them.

Spend less time dreaming about things you no longer have, and more on the dreams you can make right now. Find joy in living the life, and being the you that you are today. Don’t wait around to find yourself . . . or wait for the year that will bring you the “life you deserve.” Let life deserve all of you right now. Forget about the yesterdays when it was so easy to laugh; forget about the tomorrows that might bring you brighter days; smile for the todays and the moments you stand. Smile for the family you do have . . . even if it is just you. You may feel lonely, you may be all you have left . . . so look in the mirror and smile because you are worth smiling for . . . even when there is no one there to smile back. Find the wonder in the world. You might be living the ‘glory days’ right now, but missing them because you are too busy waiting for them to come in the future. Don’t wait to celebrate . . . because tomorrow might be too late. Take the opportunity to show all the eyes watching you that even when it hurts, you can still smile for them. Don’t let a moment pass when you don’t soak it all in. The world can be wonderful, even when it is hard. The trees might not look green from where you are standing . . . so find a way to take yourself to higher ground to get a different view. Take a leap and find joy as you soar . . . one smile at a time.

Daily Bread: Experience


Jenelle said...

Welp, pregnancy pee time and look what I find...yay! You hit it right on ;) Back to sleep...I hope!

Unknown said...

I've been following your blog for awhile. This post is incredible.

Natalie said...

This is something I really needed to read. I have been struggling being the parent my kids need me to be and have felt angry at them for needing so much of me when I feel I have nothing to give them at the time. I can smile for them and be happy for them--I can push through. Thank you for your beautiful and guided words :)

Liz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzi said...

Definitely needed to read this today! Thank you!

Liz said...

Thank you! You touched on so many things I have had going on in my head lately. I have read all of your posts and think you are wise beyond your years! I have felt inspired to do a little better after reading each and every post! I am so sorry for all that you and your sweet children have gone through. I think it is amazing that you have been able to find a way to help and inspire so many people, including perfect strangers. You are heaven sent in my life right now!

Ashlee said...

I love love the show parenthood! I also love love this post! It's really inspiring like always! You are amazing. Thanks for sharing!

glenda said...

So spot on! Thanks for sharing and enlightening so many of us. Pushing onward... the only way to go!

Debbie said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful!!! I needed this reminder today. Now I am ready to go out and enjoy each moment that is good today with a smile through the imperfections. My view has changed to what I do have instead of sulking in what I don't. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this, and everything else you have written. What you wrote about someone suffering silently because of their partner's struggle with pornography hit really close to home because...well, I'm the partner struggling with a pornography addiction, and I've caused more than anyone's fair share of pain. But thank you for giving me hope, and thank you for writing something I can share with my wife to give her hope.

Sarah said...


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