Dateline had just aired; the twins had just been baptized (I am going out of order big time). Shawn and I felt as if we finally could get away for the first time, and go on a honeymoon.
Our bags were packed and the kids' schedule was set. The drive to the airport seemed surreal—I kept looking at him as if he were not real. Besides the few days we had stayed in a hotel in our own town, we had never gone a day without the daily tasks of our household and raising our six children.
We held hands when we walked. We smooched in every seat we sat that day. We didn’t care that people surrounded us—we didn’t notice them as they walked by—all we could see was each other.
We had lists of things we were planning to do during our week in Hawaii; we had grand places we were told we had to see. As the week progressed—and our list still remained unchecked—we realized we didn’t care about seeing the world . . .we had come to see each other. We didn’t end up going to any of them. We sat by the pool, dove in the waves on the beach, snorkeled, relaxed, ate good food, laughed, hot tubbed, and went on a nightly walk hand-in-hand on the beach.
It felt like we were newlyweds—not the kind with six kids, a divorce and a murder in our past—real newlyweds. There was a sparkle in our eyes unlike any I had ever felt. A few people asked us if we were on our honeymoon—apparently our first time being able to even pretend we had just gotten married was displayed all over our faces. Little did they know the baggage we carried. We always just smiled and said, “Yes! We are!”
It was amazing having nothing to see but each other—a blessing all couples should have . . . one we need to do again.
I remember at one point looking across a quiet table at a small little local restaurant in Maui, and thinking: I have never loved anything more.
It is amazing what we can see when our view is not obstructed by dirty dishes and laundry.
I have a theory. I believe that this is one of Satan’s greatest tools: blinding us. He gets us so in over our heads that we forget to see each other. We can hear bits and pieces of what we want to hear, but our vision of each other gets so foggy. Why would he want us to not see each other? That is easy . . . because the minute we stop seeing each other, we lose sight of what is worth fighting for when things get hard. When we stop seeing each other, all of the sudden we are opponents instead of team mates.
Shawn and I have had our share of fights. With scars from the past, comes a lot of fear for the future. Our fears have ignited more battles than I care to count. Sometimes it has been my fears that have waged our wars—other times it has been his, but it is always the same and it always starts with one or both of us not seeing each other.
Our week in Hawaii was the most perfect week I could have imagined. It was almost as if we were seeing each other for the very first time. We didn’t have any battles with fears of the past, we didn’t even talk much about the future . . . we lived in the moment—a place that doesn’t even acknowledge the past or fear the future.
One night while walking on the beach hand-in-hand, tears began to fall down my cheeks. Soon Shawn noticed my silence and glanced my way. He stopped and turned me around to face him. I looked into his eyes and it felt as though I could see his soul. This spiritual giant looked back at me. I didn’t see his addictive personality, or all the times he forgot to take out the garbage like he said he would. I didn’t see the pile of clothes he had strewn all over the dresser, or his wet towel on the floor—I just saw him.
My love for him felt so overwhelmingly huge—and for the first time in a long time, I was vulnerable and willing to give my whole heart to him. I finally managed to get a few words out into the night air. I whispered, “Shawn. I want to see you like this every day. Why does it take coming to Hawaii for me to feel so much love for you? I have never loved anything in the world like I feel for you at this very moment. I have never had a more perfect week in my entire life. But one thing about you doesn’t make sense. How do you love something so broken . . . you know? How have you been there for me through all of this . . . why? Why haven’t you run away and just given up? I went every day to a courtroom of a murder trial of my husband who you never met. I agreed to go on Dateline to tell our story. There have been days that I have been a shell of a person . . . and still you stayed. Why? What makes you love me, when I am not even sure how to love myself? One day . . . I want to love you with all my heart. I want to let you in . . . and I want to be the wife you deserve . . . but I am not . . . but you are still here waiting for me. Why have you waited for me . . . how . . . how have you loved me even when I didn’t always know how to love you back?”
(Don’t tell Shawn I told you this part J) He had a tear in his eye. He looked out over the ocean and gripped my hand harder than he ever had. His words were like poetry, “Ashlee Ann Birk . . . love isn’t always about what is easy. You have to work every day to make it last. I DIDN’T know it was going to be this hard. And I would be lying if I said some days I wasn’t tempted to just walk away and go back to the simple days before I met you . . . but Ash . . . it would never be the same. I fell in love with you back then, and I am going to fall in love with you over and over again. Life was not complete before I met you—yes it was simple, but it was lonely and empty. Would a conventional family have been a way easier route—hell yes—but then we wouldn’t be us . . . and that is what makes you and me so special. I didn’t just marry you because I think you are beautiful . . . I married you because you are worth fighting for. So, maybe sometimes it has been hard waiting for you, and sometimes you have had to wait for me . . . but hopefully we never stop waiting for each other . . . hopefully we never lose sight of all the reasons our love is worth fighting for. I will wait for you, and I will do my best to stand by your side through all life has to bring . . . because I love you Ashlee.”
I had never felt so safe. I didn’t know much about who I was in those days, but I did learn the power of feeling protected—truly feeling that no matter what was to come . . . someone had my back.
It is a powerful emotion . . . LOVE.
It can break us, and it can make us feel whole. It can challenge us to our core, and it can be a rock for our weakened hearts to lean on. It can strengthen us, and it can leave us empty when it is gone.
But is it ever really gone? Even when love is taken from us, does it just disappear . . . or does our ability to give and receive it stay inside of us?
So many people have asked me how I was able to love again after losing so much. To that I answer this: we never forget how. Love is a gift from God—not man. If it feels impossible, that has little to do with our ability and more to do with our connection to a gift that God has given to us. The times in my marriage to Shawn when I have wondered how I was ever going to love him as he deserved, was not because of my inability to love him—but because of my inability to see him how Heavenly Father sees him.
It is that view we must strive to have in our marriages, because quite frankly there will always be something negative trying to block our view of that pure love. But here is the catch: we have to ask for it. We have to get on our knees in those moments where we cannot see that other person and we have to pray for that view to be cleared. We can pray for angels if we have to—to come and clear our view.
Whether your marriage has got you feeling disconnected, uninterested, alone, scared, wandering, empty, and/or frustrated—you are not alone. We will all, at one time or another, experiences these temptations. They are real, because literally they were orchestrated for each of us. There is not a marriage on the planet that has not felt a low time.
It is these low times that remind us of all we have to fight for. When life is going smooth, it is easy to get complacent and lazy—forgetting that love is a project we have to work on every day. If your marriage (or any relationship for that matter) is not the Hollywood version of love you always thought it would be, maybe you need to find someone else—or maybe you just need to clear your view and remember all the reasons you picked that one.
It doesn’t take a trip to Hawaii to be able to see each other—just an adventure around the fog. Fog is filled with hate. The answer to love is not hate. It never has been and never will be.
If love is what we seek—it must be what we are willing to give.
I have learned a few things about love: no matter what I will never live without it. I know that sounds crazy—I, of all people should know that I cannot control what will happen to me in life. But as an expert on losing love, I can promise you it is never gone. Love isn’t a person—it is a gift from God. One I will never stop fighting for.
One thing is for sure—those days when we can really see each other, we are never more close to heaven. God’s love for us never ends—and neither does the gift He has given each one of us. Love is eternal—it has no end. Sometimes we will take a turn waiting around for love, sometimes others may wait for us . . . but love is never truly lost.
So if love has left you wondering where it has gone—a little hint . . . it doesn’t take a trip to Hawaii to find it. It is wherever you are . . . behind the fog. Find your way through that—and you will see it again. The gift of love is more than a powerful emotion—a piece of our hearts. It is the gift to see another person through Heavenly Father’s eyes.