February 12, 2014

The Gift

I remember wanting to go to the temple. I knew the peace I would feel inside would be like no other I could feel on earth. The darkness that always seemed to be weighing heavily on me would not be allowed to come inside the Lord’s House. I finally scheduled a day to go with my sister, Abbey, and my mother.

That morning, Teage was having an extra-hard time. He was clinging to my arm, and I could hardly get ready. I felt that I needed to be home with him, but I also knew that the blessing of serving in the temple would help me be a better parent for him.

I explained to him that it would be okay, that I wanted to go to the temple to learn how to be a better mom for him. He seemed to calm down for a moment, but then as I walked to the door to leave, Teage became hysterical. “Please,” he screamed, “you can’t leave me! I need you to stay here with me, MOM. Please don’t go . . . I need you here . . . what if someone shoots you! Please don’t leave me here, Mom. … Please stay!” He grabbed onto my leg, making it impossible for me to take another step. I didn’t know what to do. I was torn between my opportunity to go to the temple . . . and my screaming boy who wouldn’t let me go. Both were important. I sat there trying to figure out what I should do . . . an internal battle for which choice was the best. All of the sudden, my Mom grabbed his hand and said, “Teage . . . I have been thinking about you all day . . . and I really want to have some time with you. Your mom needs to be in the temple today . . . but I feel like being here with you is just where I need to be.” He jumped into her arms and snuggled into her shoulder. She was inspired. I knew I needed to be in the temple that day . . . and she knew that he needed her there.

Abbey and I kissed him and the other children, and then hopped into the car. She drove. My heart still hurt leaving Teage behind, knowing he was having such a hard time . . . but I knew where I needed to be that morning. The last time I had been in the temple, I had been all alone . . . praying for answers to help my family. Emmett was on his trip. And now, even though I wasn’t driving there by myself . . . I felt more alone than words can even describe.

I knew that today was going to be emotional for me, but I thought I would be able to be strong . . . at least until we got into the celestial room. I knew the tears would hit in there. We pulled away from the house. Abbey had a CD playing in her car. I had never heard the song before, so I just listened to the words while she sang quietly along with them. He voice was soft, but she still sang with all her heart. Just as it had been many times before for me, Abbey’s voice was like a peaceful breeze calming my mind. Every word that played . . . and she sang . . . spoke to my heart. I am not sure if it was the words of the song . . . or my sister’s love, but I burst into tears.

Play: Live like you Believe (Jenny Philips)
You have felt the warmth of the fire
You have seen a glimmer of light
It’s something that you have been missing inside
Something that you have been longing to find
Hold on to the yearning
And wherever you are on your journey

Live like you believe
Live like you know
It’s one sure way
Your faith will grow
Listen to your heart
Search in your soul
And you’ll find
The strength that you need
His light, the gift of His peace
When you live like you believe

There are things you’ll have to let go
And you might feel, you’re just hanging on
When you find yourself alone and afraid
Questioning all the choices you’ve made
Hold on to the burning
He’s leading you on through the journey

Live like you believe
Live like you know
It’s one sure way
Your faith will grow
Listen to your heart
Search in your soul
And you’ll find
The strength that you need
His light, the gift of His peace
When you live like you believe

Hold on to the yearning
And wherever you are on the journey . . .

She set the song to play on repeat. We drove . . . while tears streamed down my face. I thought of all the times I had gone to the temple in the past. Our wedding day. The many moments we had walked—hand in hand—into the front doors . . . excited to be together . . . excited to feel the love we felt so strongly in one of those holy buildings. Every time we had ever even set foot onto the grounds of a temple, it helped me feel stronger in my relationships . . . with Emmett . . . with our children . . . and as a family.

Our very first outing with the twins was to the grounds of the Logan Temple. They were exactly one week old. I loved walking around in the spring sunshine, and Emmett’s mother snapped photos to capture our moment. There were flowers everywhere. Everything was so full of life. It was a perfect day for me, my babies, and my husband . . . standing in on of the Holy Places that made us an eternal family. Everyone on the temple grounds that day seemed to be watching us with our precious, little gifts who were exploring the beauty of the world for the very first time. That day was a gift to me . . . a memory I will never forget. The first time I was out in public as a mother was everything I had dreamed of, everything I had hoped for. My little daughters were amazing. Our family had grown . . . and I was enjoying every second of it.

We were like the Four Amigos. Emmett and I each had a baby in our arms. We took them everywhere with us. We were born to be parents . . . and these beautiful, little twin girls made it fun. They laughed at everything we did. All Emmett had to do was make a funny noise . . . and they were in hysterics. They thought he was the funniest person ever. I loved the way they looked into his eyes. I loved seeing the love my daughters had for their father.

When the twins were about nine months old, I got called to be the chorister at church. Either I would take one of the girls up in front of the congregation and balance her on my hip while I led the music . . . or Emmett would have them both sitting with him. It was so fun to look down and watch him trying to juggle our wiggly babies—who could see me, but couldn’t have me—as he tried so hard to keep them happy. He did everything he could to get them to stay put. He gave them anything they wanted. The girls had him wrapped around their little fingers. He never wanted to disappoint them. He had a gift to make them laugh . . . and in those early years, he seemed to live to make them smile.

I remember in the weeks before he died . . . wondering where that gift had gone. He had lost the sparkle in his eyes and the desire to make us smile and laugh. At the time, I truly believed it was my fault, and I constantly wondered what I needed to change about me for him to get that gift back into his eyes. I like to think he would have found it again . . . because it was truly one of his spiritual gifts in life . . . the ability to make his children smile. They watched him . . . and they never took their eyes off of him.

Being in the temple that day was no different than the ride there in the car had been. I sobbed. I spent the day . . . shaking . . . and sobbing . . . the whole time. I don’t think anyone around me heard a single word said. I have never felt so overcome with peace . . . and yet so filled with questions and despair. In my mind, I begged for answers as to why everything had ended the way it had. I questioned my future. I tried to sort out . . . what parts of my past had been real and genuine, and what had been lies. I cried for the memories I had of my little girls on the temple grounds . . . knowing that one day, when they married, they would have to come to the temple without their father. He wouldn’t be there for them when they brought their newborn babes for photos among the flowers on the temple grounds. I sobbed for all the little memories I felt I had to leave behind. I mourned for the loss of hope I once breathed. Every moment I was in the temple that day was exactly where I needed to be . . . and yet, it was as if all the hard work I had done to heal had vanished.

My sister, sitting next to me, held my hand as I sobbed for two straight hours. She wasn’t embarrassed by me, and she didn’t seem disappointed in me, but she just held my hand and cried with me . . . as her gift of love.

A phrase kept coming into my mind that day: “You still have the gift to draw from this world a garden of beauty.” It was a sentence from my patriarchal blessing, which I had never paid much attention to until that day as I sat . . . sobbing in the temple. I had a gift to find beauty in this world? I had never read that sentence with much thought as to how it could ever be meaningful in my life. While studying my patriarchal blessing, I had skimmed over it many times, not realizing the true power it held. I had a GIFT—a spiritual gift—to find beauty in this world. At a time in my life when the world seemed so dark and ugly, I wasn’t certain the phrase still applied to me, but as the years have passed, I have learned that that gift was not just a blessing . . . it was a driving force that helped pull me out of the darkness and into the light and beauty that still surrounded me.

Gifts. Where do they come from? What do they mean?

I will never forget the gift box of love my children made to send to families in Japan right after Emmett died. I will never forget the messages on their cards. I know that their love that day—for people they didn’t even know—was because of the examples they had seen all around them. There were many times a knock came on our door from a total stranger who came bearing gifts. Countless UPS trucks stopped at our house to deliver little tokens of love. Complete strangers sent us gifts of money. I know these examples of Christ-like love impacted my children. They felt lifted because of these gifts.

I have watched tangible gifts bring much love . . . but I have also felt how intangible, unseen gifts bring us light. I believe that each one of us on earth was sent here with a spiritual gift or gifts . . . given to us by our Heavenly Father to help us lift others and fulfill our missions here on earth.

My sister Abbey has the gift of music. When she sang that song in the car as we drove to the temple, her beauty shone brightly through her voice. Ever since she was a little girl, her gift of music has brought joy to anyone who hears her. That song was a gift to me that day. My sister has always been a gift from God, but she was especially so in that moment. My mother has a gift to comfort and give spiritual advice. I have always known that about her, but I saw it even more that day as she stepped in to comfort my grieving son so that I could go find peace for myself. She too, had been seeking solace in the temple that day, and yet she sacrificed her desires for me and Teage.

Gifts are given to us all. Some come to this earth with the gift to heal. These people find themselves in callings or professions where they can heal others both mentally and physically. Doctors and medical staff spend their days using their gifts to heal the physical needs of their patients. I have a brother, Bryan, whom I texted almost monthly for the answer to some sort of medical question. He has a gift to know what advice to give me about broken arms and bumps on the head. My father is a chiropractor whose healing gift has helped thousands of people find relief from the physical ailments that have held them back in the past. He has also helped me through many of the pains with which I have struggled.

Some people have the gift to help heal others emotionally or spiritually. My bishop has played a great role in helping me with his spiritual strength with which we was blessed. His gifts have come to him through his calling. I have been given great spiritual and emotional advice from many friends and family members who have shared their insights and knowledge. My brother Jeff gave me a priesthood blessing just weeks before Emmett died, which I will never forget.

After Emmett’s funeral, my body was so stressed that I could no longer produce enough milk to nurse Tytus. I had to start giving him a bottle, and he started developing allergic reactions to every kind of formula we tried. He had rashes all over his skin and he couldn’t keep down any food. I tried everything the doctors—or anyone else—suggested. No one seemed to have the right answer for him. For weeks, he suffered and screamed. I was becoming frantic that he would never find relief from his stomach and skin problems. At the time I most needed help for him, the answer came in the form of a friend of mine named Jennece. She was inspired to help me find answers for my baby boy. She took time to share her many spiritual gifts with me . . . as she prayed for inspiration about Tytus. She has been a great source of spiritual strength for me and my kids to help us through much of the emotional pain that has held us back both mentally and physically. Her business to heal has benefited us abundantly . . . and my appointments and conversations with her always help me feel closer to our Heavenly Father, who blessed her with the gift of wisdom, which she shares with others.

Some people will be given the gift of friendship. A little more than a year after Emmett died, we moved into a new house. I was going through some really dark days, and my new neighbor, Noelle, was always there when I needed her. She had no idea of how hard that move was for me, but she would show up at one of my dark moments with dinner, and then, for hours, she would help me unpack. Instead of crying . . . I would spend the night laughing and talking with Noelle. I have always had neighbors and friends who have generously shared their gifts with me. Ali’s gift is to help look for the positive in life . . . and to give me something deep to think or talk about. Auna’s gift is to always know when to bring dinner and just to be there to lend a listening ear. Sheryl’s gift is a green thumb, which she generously shares with others. Countless times, she has brightened my day with a gift of peaches, raspberries or some other produce from her garden. Julia’s gift has been to organize and create beauty out of the chaos in my closets. Cara and Krissy have the gift to get me out of the house for late-night walks. Britney’s gift was to help me find clothes to wear to Emmett’s funeral . . . and then to compulsively rearrange my house. Kiersten showed up with a new decorative piece to brighten my home. Diane’s gift is the ability to make me laugh. Josh’s gift has been to bring over pizza and a movie and play with my kids. Bergen comes to talk with me and make me laugh . . . or bring me something she has sewn—just for me. Amber showed up one day with a necklace with charms representing each one of my children, and then spent time with me just talking about life. Sunny’s gift was to show up when I felt all alone during the trial. She always came with snacks and jokes to lift me up while we waited long hours at the courthouse. Tiffanie’s selflessness was to sacrifice her summer and come with love to live with me, and to love me—and my children—even when I didn’t always know how to show that love back for her.

I could go on all day about the gifts of friendship and love that have blessed my life. And those I have listed here don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the gifts I have received from the  people all around me. Each person who has touched my life has brought gifts that have enriched me. Some have physically blessed me, while others have lifted me spiritually and emotionally.

I see many who have the gift of peace. They literally bring a feeling of peace when they enter a room, and they bring peace in everything they say. I see others who have the gift of patience. When most of us would just walk away and give up, these individuals have the gift to endure to the end. I have come to know many people who possess the gift of unconditional love. Some have the gift of integrity and honesty . . . others, the gift of forgiveness . . .  virtue . . . hope . . . dance . . . kindness . . . virtue. In those who have helped me along my difficult journey, I have witnessed the gift to teach . . . the gift to uplift . . . the gift of laughter . . . the gift of giving . . . the gift of moving forward . . . and the gift of calmness.

As a baby, Tytus, had the gift of a soft, calming spirit. People would hold him and feel the love of God radiating from him. I still see it every time he sings the song, “I am a child of God.” Kaleeya has been blessed with the gift of enthusiasm. She is excited about life! She always has a dance or a song for everyone she meets. Teage has the gift of being a friend. He reminds me of Emmett in his ability to love others. He always knows just what to say to make someone feel like he or she is the most important person in the world! Bostyn has been blessed with the gift of creativity. She is an artist and has the ability to create beautiful works of art, as well as songs and dances. She has also always been able to create a lot of fun for everyone around her. Bailey has been blessed with the gift of discernment and loyalty. She is very sensitive to darkness and can sense a person’s character. She is a cautious soul, and she doesn’t let everyone in as a trusted friend . . . but if you are in, she is a loyal friend who will never let you go.

Emmett had the gift of openness. He always shared personal experiences and was willing to give advice. In fact, he was always so open that sometimes, it embarrassed me. He would share very intimate parts of our lives if he could see that it would make a difference for someone in their struggles. So, it doesn’t surprise me that through inspiration, he asked me to continue sharing his and my very personal experiences for others to use, so they can grow and learn from our painful story.

Before coming to earth, each of our Father’s spirit sons and daughters was blessed with gifts. Some of us were given many . . . and some of us were just given a few. No matter how many gifts you have, they will bring you and others joy. There are even more gifts you have that you may not be aware of, and it is your responsibility to find them, for they have a power for good. When you learn of a gift that Heavenly Father has blessed you with . . . you will find strength to polish and perfect that gift, and it will become even more powerful and refined as you use it to bless the lives of others.

I am grateful for all the gifts of others that have blessed my life. Each one is unique and special. But good gifts all come from a loving Father in Heaven. Some of us haven’t even tapped into the gifts we have been given. I think we all have more spiritual power and strength then we can even comprehend. Pray for the light to be directed to find the gifts you hold inside, so that you can uplift others, and bring them to Christ. When they find Him through your gifts . . . it will be a blessing for you as well.

Even when you feel like you don’t have any spiritual gifts . . . don’t wait to dig deep to find them. I always had the gift to find beauty in this dark world, but I didn’t comprehend the power that gift would be for my family . . . until the darkness had engulfed us. All of us are born with gifts . . . and all of us have the ability to find them. Search inside yourself to find out what they are. Look for them in the people around you. Pray to see what good you can find in all of your relationships. Pray for guidance to be led to the good gifts and abilities you have inside of you.

Don’t let your gifts grow dim. Shine them and allow them to bless the lives of everyone around you . . . everyone waiting to feel your love. Don’t let Satan make you doubt your abilities or talents. He wants you to hide them from the world . . . allowing your own selfishness to take their place. Don’t do it! The minute you deprive others of your gifts . . . and darkness surrounds you . . . you risk losing them forever. Every good thing that has come my way . . . has been a gift from God, and most have come through the spiritual gifts of others. God doesn’t come and touch our pain with His own finger. He sends blessed hands here on earth to be the hands that carry those things that brighten our days. He sends us the shoulders of others, for us to lean upon, and cry on. He sees the potential in each of us. Our only limitations are of our own choosing. The greatest gift He gave to any of us . . . is the gift that we can share with others.

Cherish the gifts you have right now. Live in the moment with the little blessings you’ve been given. Let the gift of music sing to your heart. Smile for the gift of photography . . . so that one day, when all you have left are memories . . . you will find joy from that gift. Cultivate your gifts so they will never be taken from you.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (King James Bible: Matthew 5:16).

When all is said and done, the ultimate gift He gives to us . . . is the gift of Eternal life . . . that we may live forever. Take these gifts you have received, and make forever count.


Anonymous said...

Thank You! You have blessed my aching soul with your post. I so needed this as I struggle to find balance in all I'm asked to do.

Anonymous said...

Ashlee, I found your blog when it was posted on the Sullenger's as a guest post. I saw your story on Dateline and was totally heartbroken for you and your gorgeous children. I pray for you often and want to thank you for sharing your words of wisdom as you walk through your journey of life after tragedy. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!

James said...

Cool post. Probably my favorite so far. You have a lot of gifts yourself including a gift to write and share your experience in such a manner that is so uplifting. Always love to read what you write. -Lauri

Anonymous said...

Not only are you drawing a garden of beauty from this world, you are helping others to see it as well. You are truly inspired and while I am sorry that such pain has been the catalyst, I am grateful for what you are sharing. Your posts have helped me maintain focus on the right things, and I am sure that you have helped many, many people re-assess their own lives and priorities. Thank you for sharing the person that Emmett was and must be returning to, I think that your continued healing and sharing must be helping him in his own journey. I wish I had been lucky enough to know you both (I think I was at Rick's the same time that Emmett was) but I feel blessed to be able to read your story now. Thank you seems an inadequate response, but I'll say it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ashlee, you don't know me but I grew up in Bear lake so I know some people you know and I really wanted to message you on facebook and thank you but it wont let me so im going to add you as a friend which may seem a little weird but if you want to add me I can message you. If your wondering I am friends with Cordie and that's how I know about your blog:) thanks Lori

Lisa said...

I'm sorry you had to go through this, but I am learning and feeling of your gift. Your gift of testimony of beauty of writing. You have an amazingly strong spirit that can be felt through all your words.

SheriJane said...

I have been reading every post since Ashley Sullenger shared your blog. You are amazing! Thank you for sharing your story and your testimony! I can't even imagine what an affect you are having on sooo many people! I shared your story on facebook hoping it can help at least one person because you have a way of relating the gospel principles to just about everyone in one way or another. I love that you (especially in this post) don't let the last few mistakes/months of Emmetts life define who he was. Heaven help us all if we were only remembered by our mistakes. Your kids are going to be continually blessed for the way you have risen above your trials. My brother is our ward mission leader and he gave a talk yesterday. He related a story about his first area on his mission in Brazil, their motto was "abrir a boca" (open your mouth). Once he mustered up the courage to do just that their work really took off. Just the same, I believe you're testimony will light the fire in many others' lives. You really should write a book! Thanks again for taking the time to "abrir a boca"!

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