May 8, 2014

Free pass

It didn’t take long for Shawn to call again. Before I knew it, we were sitting on my couch spending another evening in non-stop conversation. The kids were asleep, and he hadn’t met any of them yet. I wasn’t really ready to introduce them to him, but I enjoyed talking with him for hours as we sat together on the couch.

Before coming to see me, Shawn had spent the evening playing basketball. He warned me that he was all sweaty and stinky, but I didn’t even notice. He looked so cute in his basketball shorts and T-shirt.

We shared with each other more of our personal stories that night; I shared things with Shawn that only the detectives knew. I told him about the night Emmett died, revealing the details of the emotions I’d felt leading up to the hour of his death. I shared the explosion of relief, and the other waves of emotions I’d felt since that moment I had sat with the detectives . . . on the very couch where we were now sitting.

It was getting late and as we talked about his need to go home and get to bed, I leaned in and kissed him. For a few seconds, our lips touched and I could feel sparks fly. For me, it was a perfect kiss accompanied by happy butterflies in my tummy.

I was smitten.

The next day, I was out with Tytus for a doctor’s appointment and I stopped by the pharmacy on the way home, which just happened to be right across the street from Shawn’s work. I texted him and asked him if he would like to come and meet us there.

While waiting for him to come, I walked around the pharmacy filling my cart with random things, a little nervous at the thought of being seen in public with Shawn . . . but mainly scared to have him meet one of my children. Tytus was all smiles, and I talked to him gently as we strolled down each aisle.

As I was trying to decide on what color of nail polish to buy, I looked up and saw Shawn walking toward us, with a huge grin on his face. When he got to our cart, I introduced him to Tytus, who was now almost five months old. He smiled and cooed at Shawn for a few minutes, and then started to fuss. “Man,” I said, “he is so tired. … It has been a long morning.” I took my pointer finger and, starting between his eyes, rubbed it down the bridge of his nose. As I reached the tip of his nose, his eyes closed and he was fast asleep.

Shawn looked at me in surprise. “What in the heck was that? Is that how he always falls asleep? That is so unfair!! I’ve never in my life seen a baby fall asleep so fast.” We laughed about it for a minute and chit-chatted while Tytus slept in his car seat.

It felt surreal to have my two worlds coming together. I didn’t know how I would be able to be in both: being a single mother, and learning to love again. I felt awkward as I smiled at Shawn, and then looked down at my little sleeping infant. I never pictured that such a day would ever be a part of my life. In my mind, dating and parenting were worlds apart.

When I went out on a date with Shawn, or sat with him on my couch after the kids were in bed, it was easy to momentarily step away from the darkness always lurking in my world with the trial pending . . . but it was overwhelming and frightening bringing both of those worlds together. I feared they would collide, and that one would destroy the other.

The next weekend, Teage left on an outing with some friends, the “Fathers and Sons Campout” for our church. It was his first time camping, and his first “father and son” outing. I tried hard to feel okay about the fact that he was not going with his own father and I choked back tears as I packed his bag and buckled him into his friend’s car. I was grateful for the chance for him to go, but longed to have him share such a weekend with Emmett.

The night after Teage left, Shawn brought his daughter Jordyn over to meet my girls. We all watched a movie and the kids enjoyed laughing and playing together. In the middle of the movie, I started getting choked up as I witnessed the mixing of my two worlds, which was taking place before my eyes. I looked at the twins who were almost squishing Jordyn between them. I looked at Kaleeya with such a sweet smile on her face, and Tytus cuddled in Shawn’s arms. It was a perfect moment, and the spirit was so strong as I looked around the room. It didn’t feel complete without Teage there, but it felt amazing to see some of the holes . . . that usually gaped open darkly . . . filled with so much light.

The kids started complaining about being hungry so Shawn and I got up to find them a snack. I opened the pantry to look inside, when all of the sudden, Shawn grabbed me and pulled me into the pantry and pulled the door shut behind us. There in the quiet of my pantry, we smooched. I could hear the kids giggling out on the couch, and I could smell food surrounding me, which since Emmett’s death had been so hard for me to prepare. The darkened pantry—which just weeks earlier had witnessed me spilling tears of sorrow—now held me quietly wrapped in the arms of peace.

All of the sudden, the door opened and Jordyn said “I think my dad was kissing your mom!!!!” They all ran off giggling and squirming.

That night, as I tucked the kids into bed, Bailey very matter-of-factly stated, “Mom, we don’t have a dad anymore . . . and Jordyn and Shawn, they need a mom . . . so I don’t get why we don’t just ask them to be part of our family.” I gave her a squeeze. “Bay, I wish that life were that easy. They are great friends, and it is fun to have them here spending time with us, so let’s just be really grateful for that!”

My two worlds seemed to be merging into one, more easily than I could have imagined. 

We spent the next few weeks enjoying our time together. Shawn and Jordyn met Teage when he got back from the campout. We had lots of fun days and everyone got along great. For the first time since Emmett died . . . we laughed more than we cried.

One morning, I got a call from the detective on the case, and reality set in once again. I don’t remember why he called, or what he said, but I do remember the lump that settled in my throat as I imagined making Shawn and Jordyn go through this horrible nightmare with us. I got the kids ready for the day, and I headed to the temple. I needed to clear my head. The excitement of my new friend had almost made me forget about the trial that still loomed over me.

As I drove to the temple, I thought about all the times I had laughed that week. How unfair it was of me to make Shawn think I was happy. What kind of deception was I perpetrating on this poor man? I wasn’t happy. I was scared, I was broken, and the reality was . . . I still had a life to clean up before I could start living a new one.

I walked into the temple with my stomach tied in knots. During the entire session, an internal battle was raging inside me between my desire to move on and heal, and my need to stay stuck in my pain so I could somehow bear the murder trial that would be coming. I felt strongly that I couldn’t do both at the same time.

For the millionth time, I sat in the Celestial Room praying for peace. I knew in my heart, that I was wrong to turn my back on this new possibility . . . but I struggled to see how I could in good conscience ask this innocent man to crawl through the trenches with me. I knew what I had to do. I knew what he deserved . . . he needed a free pass. He needed me to tell him that I didn’t want or need him so he could go on and live a normal life without us.

As soon as I got back in my car, I called him and asked him to meet me at my house. I drove home still feeling very unsettled and full of despair. I walked into the house almost in tears, knowing that what I had to do was going to be very difficult. Shawn arrived soon after I got home. He came to the door, knowing exactly what my intentions were. I didn’t even invite him to come in, but I just grabbed my phone and asked him to come and walk with me.

We walked to a little waterfall at the entrance of my neighborhood, found a bench and took a seat. I looked up into his big blue eyes and let it all out. “So . . . I like you a lot, but I am in no way ready to be in a relationship. I think I have been forgetting about the reality of my life . . . and I, um . . . you . . . you don’t deserve this. I wish I could say that I could sit around and date you, but this isn’t fair to you. I’m scared and I don’t know how to make this work. My world is so different than yours.” I didn’t have the courage to look in his eyes any longer, so I stared out past the green trees, and continued with my explanation. 

“We are broken, see . . . and we haven’t even begun to process everything we’ve been through. Teage is a raging ball of anger. Kaleeya bites holes in her binkies and punches the baby in the face, the twins are so sad some days that I don’t even see them smile . . . and then you just walk in like you can’t see how broken we are. Come on, you don’t deserve this . . . and one day you’re going to realize what a storm you just jumped into and you are going to want to run as far away from us as you can.” 

I started to get choked up, so I tried to get right to the point. “So, here is what we are going to do. You are going to walk me home, and then you’re going to get in your car . . . and you are going to pretend that we never met. You go find a normal girl who has the ability to love . . . who wants to have a normal family with you . . . one who won’t drag you through hell in the next few years trying to figure out how to exist. You deserve a woman who doesn’t fall down at the park in a panic attack because an ambulance drives by . . . one who knows how to love. So you go find her . . . and be happy forever. I can’t let you stick around and be disappointed for the rest of your life that you settled for a broken widow and her five broken children. You are going to find a normal girl, one who knows how to love . . . one who actually has the ability to make you happy. Find a young girl who doesn’t have any baggage, one you can start a real life with . . . one that isn’t just pretending to be normal . . . and when you find her . . . don’t look back. I’m scared about what the next few years are going to bring. It’s going to be hard. I . . . I talked to the detective this morning and just hearing his voice reminded me of all the mess I have left to live through. I can’t do this to you, and I’m scared to let you even try to ride along with me . . . because eventually it will be too much for you . . . and you’ll leave. So, I’m asking you to leave now, so I don’t have to wonder when you’ll go. I just can’t do this . . . again. I . . . I don’t . . . I just need you to pretend you never met me, and just let me figure this out on my own.” 

I don’t think I even took one breath.

I looked back toward him. There were tears falling down his cheeks. He sat quietly for what seemed to be an eternity. He finally began to speak as he looked into my eyes. “Ashlee, I . . . I have dated all those so-called ‘normal’ girls you talk about. I’ve tried to picture my life with each one of them. It . . . wasn’t just you I fell in love with during the first five minutes I talked to you. No, I’ve fallen head over heals with you and your children. I have never in my life felt what I feel when I am with you. I know the road that has brought you to me has been very hard, and I will never pretend that it has been easy for you . . . but right now, I need you to believe me when I say . . . you are beautiful. You are beautiful inside and out. Maybe Emmett couldn’t see that when he died, but I am sitting right here in front of you . . . right now, and I see you. I know you have a difficult road ahead of you with the trial, and with the other challenges and responsibilities that are yet to come because of Emmett’s murder, but I am not going to walk away . . . not after seeing everything I’ve always dreamed of . . . right here . . . right now. You may feel broken, and I get that because I’ve felt that way myself, but I . . . I love you Ashlee. I love all six of you . . . just the way you are.”

As I watched Shawn wipe away his tears, I knew in that moment that he wouldn’t let me talk him into walking away. I felt relieved. I had given him his free pass, and here he was . . . still able to see the me that had been hidden by so much tragedy.

But the possibility of this relationship going somewhere still wasn’t quite as easy for me as it was for Shawn. It was as if I was trapped between two worlds. My dreams were still of Emmett, but my real life was trying so hard to piece itself together and move on. I was holding the hand of one man, while trying to figure out how to let go of the other.

My anger at Emmett pushed me into easily finding Shawn, but my pain held me back from giving Shawn my whole heart. I missed Emmett, and yet I adored Shawn. What kind of hell was this supposed to be? I lived in two worlds: one where Shawn loved me and the kids . . . and another where my heart was constantly racing in anticipation of the trial, and feeling Emmett’s presence in my dreams. I didn’t know how to let go so that I could take hold of something new.

In spite of my confusion, that day was when I understood that in spite of having set Shawn free, in spite of having given him a way out of our crazy world with no strings attached, he had still—and without any reservations—chosen us . . . just the way we were . . . broken and all.

Sometimes, even when we are broken and trying hard to hide all of our imperfections, people see the good in us anyway. I did all that I could to push Shawn out of my life so that I could continue being fractured . . . all by myself. I didn’t want him to spend his life trying to fix me. I thought it would be easier for him to go and have a ‘normal’ life, but he stayed anyway.

We are all given a ‘free pass’ at one time or another . . . a pass given to us because Jesus Christ died for us. He sees that we are broken, and yet He still loves us unconditionally. The pass He shares with us, is only possible through Him. He died on the cross so that every day we are given the opportunity to use our ‘free pass’ to heal, to forgive and to repent of our sins.

Shawn’s decision at the waterfall that day changed the course of my life. His ability to see me, even when I couldn’t see myself . . . built me up. I didn’t need him to survive, but to truly be whole again . . . I had to let him in. He was a blessing sent straight from Heavenly Father. He has sacrificed for me, he has given me courage when I couldn’t find it on my own, and he has shown me that even in my empty state . . . I was still lovable.

I was being given a ‘free pass’ to a new life. My happiness had not ended permanently. I had given my all to Emmett, even when he didn’t deserve it . . . and somewhere inside myself, I still had the ability to do the same for Shawn.

It would not be an easy journey. It would not always be smooth . . . but it was being made possible for me.

When I was in high school, I suffered from some mental and emotional problems. I had a very unrealistic view of myself, and at different times, I went through various phases of eating disorders. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating, and it was a painful battle I had to fight every single day. I struggled with many of the relationships in my life, and failed to see the role I played in many of those struggles I was having.

My parents ended up sending me to a therapeutic wilderness boarding school. I learned more about myself in those two and a half months than I had in all the previous eighteen years of my life. I learned I had been carrying a shadowy bundle of incorrect beliefs around with me, and I came to understand the power they had on the view I possessed of myself and how I thought others viewed me. I learned about personal virtues and why each one played a role in the person I wanted to become.

I even made it through a three-day solo period. I set up my camp, and without being allowed to leave that site . . . I had to spend three days in a row all alone, by myself. Up until that point in my life, I hadn’t even spent a few hours alone without another person close by. I laughed, I sang songs, I cried. Those were three of the hardest days of my life . . . and yet, I had never felt so alive and empowered.

Through that experience, I learned a lot about the roles I had played in my own life at home, which contributed to my failure to develop authentic caring relationships with my family and friends. I thought about the ingratitude that had diluted so many of my words, and so many of the hurtful decisions I had made without any regard for the people who loved me. I seriously pondered my own contributions and responsibilities in the negative scenarios of my life.

When my time at that camp came to an end, I was almost afraid to return to real life. It was my senior year, and I didn’t feel ready to go back to that reality. However, when I got home, I realized something . . . those two and half months had been a free pass for me. I didn’t have to be afraid any more to step back into real life, because I had finally found out what life was all about.

It was hard to go back to the relationships I had taken advantage of as a snotty teenager. As I stepped back into life with a new found knowledge of what it was all about, my eyes felt as if they had been opened.

My ‘free pass’ to change the direction my path was heading . . . saved my life. I no longer viewed the world as something to manipulate in order to get my way, or as an excuse to be selfish or mean. I saw it with the beauty I had found inside of myself.

Sometimes our ‘free pass’ is offered at a time when we need to change our course, and other times it is given to remind us of the things we already have, which we are fighting so hard to keep.

Shawn didn’t want to walk away from the path we were starting to travel together, because he knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be. He saw the pathway long before I allowed myself to find it. His free pass, given by me, didn’t make him want to leave . . . instead, it gave him even more reason to fight for what he knew was right.

On the other hand, there are free passes that are not for our good. These are the type of false ‘free passes’ Satan offers us or we offer ourselves when we want to step away from reality or when we have a secret we want to hide. Emmett took a ‘free pass’ offered to him as an enticing gimmick. He must have honestly believed that with his ‘pass,’ he could come and go in our marriage as he pleased, and that no one of importance would ever find out that he had taken it . . . but he did, and ultimately . . . that is what changed the course of all of our lives.

Use your ‘free passes’ wisely. They can, and will, change you. The course of your life can be destroyed if they are used to indulge your own selfishness or lust. The easy way is seldom the Lord’s way. Shawn showed me an example of that as I gave him an easy way out, and he chose the right way instead.

God doesn’t expect us to walk each step in life with ease . . . but when we walk it with Him, our burdens can be made light. If you are being tempted to manipulate yourself into thinking that you need a ‘free pass’ to distance yourself from the broken pieces of your life . . . make sure that it is Christ who is offering it to you. Satan will try to make his ‘free pass’ sound as if it will change you for the better, but in the end . . . he will not stand with you. Depending on the dealmaker, a ‘free pass’ can either help you rise above your pain . . . or cause more pain to follow.

In reality, there are really no ‘free’ passes in life. Even the ones from Heavenly Father have been paid for by Jesus Christ through the atonement. Shawn had no idea of the hard work he had yet to endure as he decided to continue dating me. He would have to work and sacrifice and find patience and love, even at times when I was not at all lovable. Just like our Savior, Shawn’s pass didn’t come without a price. And just like Jesus Christ, Shawn would have to go through pain of his own as he worked hard to make our journey together work.

Being in the right place at the right time doesn’t mean that it will be easy!!!!

Wherever you are in your life, there will be times when a free pass sounds like it will save you from the difficulties of mortality. However, nothing can take all of your hardships away. There is no way around the pain of this world, just resources to help you through them. Spend less time trying to dodge them, and more time building yourself up to have the power to stand strong even as the storms rage around you.

That bottle of liquor may mask your pain for the night, but the fear will find its place again in the morning. That shopping bag full of new clothes may numb your loneliness for the afternoon, but your despair will not be washed away as you put them on. That trip to Disneyland may disguise the pain in your family for the week, but it will not fix the fractures in your marriage. The ‘free passes’ that just offer a temporary fix, do not change the problems or take away the pain . . . they merely postpone the suffering.

So many of us are hurting and longing to find a free pass from our pain. But, there is no pill to take, and there is no magic wand to wave. Hard work and diligence in respecting the truths we know will provide us with a foundation of strength and give us the courage to face our pain. Learn and study the genuine truths in the world. Search, ponder and pray about which of the principles you learn about are true. There is truth all around us, truths that can help us along our pathway to healing.

Be selective and only use the ‘free passes’ that come from God. Sometimes even the hardest trials ARE the ‘free passes’ we need to become the person that we long to be.

Waiting for, or fearing tomorrow only stops us from living today. Don’t wait for another day to bring you peace. Search for peace, as you live through each day. The perfect calm in life may never come. In fact, even when you think you have gone through all of the hard times, more trials seem to find their way to you.

The good news is that we are not alone. All of us are trying hard to figure out what paths to choose and what storms to navigate. Don’t let the good days pass you by as you wait around for the ‘free passes’ that lead you to what you think is your desired state of perfection. Sometimes, it is merely life itself that is the true gift you fail to recognize. Your time is now. Don’t let it pass you by. Let each hour be the reason you choose to stand. Your ‘free pass’ might come to help you change your path, or it might come to remind you that you need to fight to stay on the pathway on which you are already traveling. Life is too short to spend it waiting. Live it and love it, wherever your free pass takes you.

Don't you worry child


Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I am happy you have been blessed with a man who respects you and adores you. You make a very cute couple. Thank you also for sharing your struggles with self perception and eating disorders. My oldest daughter turned to bulimia following her father's infidelity and walking out on our family. I tried to get her in counseling as soon as I learned about her struggle. I don't know that it's helping and I don't know what I can do. It breaks my heart to see my children suffering so much emotionally. I feel like I'm failing them --even though I am trying so hard to surround them love and positive experiences. Thank you for sharing your faith and testimony. I was so happy to see a new post tonight. I've been a bit down and it has given me some hope and comfort tonight.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, you are an amazing woman!

Anonymous said...

To Unknown: If you want to help your daughter, check out the LDS Addiction Recovery Program. I struggled with a eating disorder for years, spent a fortune on 'getting better', yet, it didn't make me better. When I found the program it changed my life and it didn't cost a thing. It will also help you as a mother. Actually anyone can benefit from living the steps. Good luck...... Thank you Ashlee for sharing your story, It's truly inspiring.

Anonymous said...

This post really touched me tonight. My husband and I have just made the choice to walk down a very difficult path. There is suddenly so much uncertainty in our future, but we know this is the path that will bring the growth we both desire at this time. It is so hard to keep going down this path sometimes. But we have to keep going back to those feelings and experiences we have had that brought us to this path. It is so tempting to choose to stay on the much easier path that we're already on, but we know that in the long run we will find more happiness in the more challenging path.

Thank you for writing this blog. You are truly inspired and are touching so many lives.

Bri!!! said...

It is so awesome to hear about your wilderness experience! I worked as a field senior staff for a few years at Second Nature wilderness therapy. I LOVED IT! The wilderness is such a powerful teacher. I love that you applied all that you learned and that you were able to change your life for good! Thank you for sharing this! I love reading about Shawn! Such a sweet love story!

Anonymous said...

Ashlee, your Brazilian friend again here! :-)
You blow my mind every time I read your posts, I want you to know that I look forward to hearing your experiences and understanding of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has helped you in living through the trials of you life. You help me so much to stand up and keep moving towards eternity. I have felt so lonely for so long not being able to find someone to marry me. Thank you for reminding me to leave life each day so that I don't miss out on the opportunities life are already bringing my way. I love you very much and I am grateful for your genuine desire to be so vulnerable and strong.

Lisa said...

Anonymous- Thank you for suggesting the LDS Addiction Recovery program. It never crossed my mind. I have been through that program with my ex-husband when we were trying to get him help with his pornography and sex addiction. He had no desire so it didn't work for him because he didn't apply it in his life. Thank you for reminding me that program is for other addictions besides alcohol and pornography.
And thank you Ashlee for giving us a safe place to share.

Jess said...

Ashlee, thank you so much for sharing your story and heart! You are such a strong woman and amazing mother. I have been so anxious waiting to hear the story of Shawn. Your blog is like reading a great book that i can't put down. I am constantly praying for your happy ending and it seems like Shawn completes that.

Anonymous said...

Ashley, thank you for your words. You have helped me in ways you will never know. Please keep writing...others are finding strength in your words. May God continue to bless you and your tender family!

KaycieQ said...

I'm so happy you shared your 'solo' experience at wilderness. I worked at a residential treatment center for teenage girls and they all had to do a solo before going home. It was always one of their best experiences. Thank you for being so open and honest and authentic about who you are, who you've been, and what you've been through.

danika said...

I worked at a wilderness program in southern Utah and I loved it! Solos are awesome. I'm glad you decided to put your story out there. I appreciate your testimony. There is so much I would like to say, but best leave it at thank you.

boytrapped4 said...

Beautiful as always! Thank you for being you Ashlee!

Betsy said...

Ashlee - you can use the comment controls in the blogger dashboard to delete spammy comments like the above.

Lori Harris said...

I so wish you would write a book!! Love your blog. A movie would be inspirational.

Veronica said...

Loved the guts out of this one!! :)

Ashlee said...

Thanks everyone for the appropriate comments. And for the person who sent me an email letting me know of all the spam. I will try to stay on top of this stuff! I would make it so I had to approve all comments, but then I would have to have someone to email me to remind me to approve them. Haha.

Blue said...

what Betsy said, and also, even though they're a little tedious, you could put a captcha on so machines can't spam comment you.

There's so much I would say, but I don't really even have the words. Suffice to say, reading your journey has been instrumental in sorting my life out. I've never felt peace like this before. And your strength and experiences were one of the primary catalysts for the good things happening. I wish we were friends IRL. ♥

Blue said...

(a captcha is where you have to type the words/numbers to prove you're not a robot...It's in the settings.)

Megan Ungerer said...

Words can't express how much I love this blog!! Thank you for opening up and sharing your experiences with all of us. Thank you for reminding me to have hope, and reminding me that I am never alone. I have a wonderful father in heaven who loves me, and his son who died for me, who is always there. I was married too, but got divorced at 27, and it broke my heart. At times I feel as broken as the day I moved out. It has been the hardest thing I have ever gone through. Thank you for reminding me that there is hope. That I can be strong, and continue on down a path I never thought I would be walking on. Your blog has helped me in so many ways, and I will be forever grateful!! Thank you! 💜

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ashlee!! Your so honest and real and you have touched sooo many people!!

Lori P. said...

Thank you for sharing Ashlee!

Leslie said...

Your faith is inspiring. Your story, incredible. Your writing, beautiful.
Thank you for sharing!

Blue said...

I love how you tie in a message with every experience you share. I don't know how you do it, but you do it so beautifully. ♥

Maybury said...

This is probably my favorite post so far. Ashlee you are an amazing woman and I am so lucky I even know you! You are such an inspiration to so many people. I am so grateful you are writing this blog. You are amazing!

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. Even though the difficulties I am going through are very different from yours, your words inspire me and encourage me. Thank you.

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