August 17, 2015

The Darkest Light

Looking back it is clear we survived in a state of limbo. For almost two years, I waited for the trial— then once it was over I began to wait for Dateline to wrap up the past . . . so I could move on.

I just knew that our life would be so simple and easy once the past was all cleared from it.

We got back from Hawaii with the greatest intentions to start living OUR life. My past had finally had some loose ends tied— the hype of Dateline had worn off—and I was ready to move forward.

A new kind of reality began to settle in our home. The seemingly small—compared to a murder trail—such as blending family problems that had been so neatly swept beneath rugs, began to grow large in our newly shined eyes. We didn’t just start drowning in the pain of real realities—we began suffocating in our world.

The battle of blending our families—for the first time—was the only priority on our radar, and we were amateurs. The dark jabbing annoyances we once could easily dismiss . . . were blaring boldly in our faces. Living in limbo—waiting for the trial to end— began to seem to be a lot easier than living in real life. The issues that would arise had nowhere to hide, and for the first time Shawn and I were at war against each other. There was no defense side of the courtroom for us to team up against—the teams were split between us.

The battles we were waging were no longer from the past—we were opening up new combat scars. The fears and emotions were no longer directed to some other power . . . but against ourselves.

The “your kids/my kids” conversations were directed with much more anger and fear than they had been before. The memory of the time we had sacrificed away from each other during the trial began to become a wedge that separated us from each other. Fears of unmet expectations brewed in our hearts and kept our minds spinning.

Many nights were spent in hate—not toward the things that had actually hurt us in our lives—but for each other.

Fear was our constant companion and a dark cloud hung over our marriage. Many nights ended with bags packed and the “D” word spoken. We didn’t know how to live without the chaos keeping us afloat. Our relationship had been built upon a dream of living it together, but we didn’t know how to find each other through the fog.

Months past. Time ticked by, each new day a bright hope for life to begin—but we didn’t know how. Each step we took toward each other, we fell back a few. All the things that had kept us together now seemed to be pulling us apart. The kids—who once helped us find the joy and purpose in family—began to be the topic of most of our heated battles. Shawn’s desire to hold on to his relationship with Jordyn—as it once was—began to pose as a threat to my need to feel like I was enough. For every moment he wanted to spend with her, I desired him to want the same with each of the others . . . and me.

The pure love of hope and faith we had once found in our anchor for each other began to be replaced with a wedge of bitterness and resentment.

What was happening to the perfect world we promised each other we would give to this family? What happened to the spark that we had felt in our marriage? What happened to the protection plan we had said would never fail?

The doubts that grew inside of me turned into hallucinations on how the past would have been an easier road. Shawn started to talk about wishing he could just have his simple life back and be rid of the stress and chaos. Hate in our pain blinded us and tried to make us despise each other. 

The plan of starting our life was failing. Every other week was like a rollercoaster. Shawn would long for time with Jordyn when she was gone, and fight for it when she returned. I would fight to be seen, and for all of the children to be his number one.

The more he pushed to have his past back, the more I felt like he didn’t want the future. The more I tried to force the future, the more he missed the past. We each stood at a crossroad—and neither of us could see each other.  

Months went on and Shawn had to go out of town on a business trip. It was almost nice to have a break from the contention, and I looked forward to soaking up the few days I would have alone with my thoughts, when the kids were asleep.

As night settled on my house I reflected over the year—just one year before Shawn had gone to the same business conference.

I remembered how a few hours after he left to catch his plane my phone began to ring. Emmett’s belongings were being released from evidence and were to be dropped off at my house within the hour.

Within minutes I held Emmett’s possessions in my hands.

I spent the rest of that day buried in the past. Reading every text he had sent—the final testaments of his poor choices. His phone was filled with stories of the lies, none of which brought me any comfort in my fear of inadequacy. The fear of not being enough settled into my bones as I viewed for the first time— in his own words— his betrayal of me. 

When night came I ventured into his other belongings. His iPod was filled with pornography and nasty videos. I glanced down the list of filth for three seconds before I turned it off and burst into tears. Betrayal. Ultimate despair settled deep inside in a new way I had never felt. I wasn’t listening to others spout off facts about Emmett’s bad choices—they were glaring loudly from a screen. And just like the realities Shawn and I were now facing about our imperfect family—there was nowhere to hide. No detectives keeping me from the facts I had been missing. No locks to keep me from the evidence I held in my hand.

Chills went down my spine as I tried to snap myself out of that memory. I started to feel panicked about the truths I had learned just twelve months before. As the memory of the anniversary of that tramatic day replayed in my mind, anger filled my heart. Didn’t Shawn remember all the pain I had been through? He had been there for me in so many ways through the struggles of my past—but he was failing to be there for me now.

I wasn’t enough for anyone.

I fell onto my bed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I cried so hard it felt like the walls were shaking and caving in on me. Hours of the night passed and I did not move. My house was dark. Everything was quiet, and I was all alone.

Shawn was again gone for the week, only this time I wasn’t spending the evening angry at Emmett—I was filled with feelings of hate for Shawn. He was the man who wasn’t giving me all that I deserved. He was the one I was blaming for my unhappiness and moments I did not feel seen. He was the one who wasn’t meeting my perfect expectations on everything I had decided he should be.

The time I thought I was going to be able to enjoy being alone with my thoughts soon proved to be a distant dream. Being alone was the last thing I wanted—yet there I was. All I wanted to be desired as a wife and partner, but just like the year before I was full of proof that I was not.

There was a split second that night that I wanted to die—I could not feel a purpose or a reason to keep living. I wanted to be freed from the pain of the past, and the battles I was facing in reality. My sobs burned my cheeks and the temptation to give up beckoned my soul.

In fear of myself I fell to my knees on the side of my bed. I pleaded, “Heavenly Father. Guess it’s true . . . I knew I wasn’t enough. Because if I was . . . Shawn would want me . . . I would be his number one. If I was . . . Emmett wouldn’t have been all of the lies I found last year. If I was enough for anyone in this world . . . I would feel happy. They would see me. I wouldn’t have to beg for someone to see my worth, if I was worth fighting for. I thought Emmett was just blind, that maybe he didn’t want me because spiritually he couldn’t see what he had. But now I see, that it is me. Emmett didn’t want me because I am unlovable. I am not the girls he watched in those videos. I am not a supermodel or even a model of anything. I am worthless. My life isn’t going to make a difference for anyone. Shawn has said so himself . . . his life was easier without me. I don’t bring anything good into this world . . . so what am I still doing here? Everyone would be better off if I . . . just wasn’t here. Maybe all those people were right. If I would have been a better wife, Emmett wouldn’t have cheated on me.  If I was a good wife, he would still be alive and he would have been fighting for me. If I was a good wife, Shawn and I would be able to figure out how to love each other and blend this family. I just . . . I am worthless. I am garbage . . . and I am pretty sure no one will ever see me . . . because I am invisible. I can’t hide . . . but I can’t be seen. ”

It wasn’t much of a prayer, but a plea from the darkest part of my soul. Almost instantly—as I ended my pity party prayer in the quiet of my room, I felt a warmth rush over me. I could feel peace, and love, and purpose. I felt full of truth. It felt as though I could almost hear my Savior reassuring me, “Ashlee . . . I see you. And you are beautiful. I hear you . . . and feel your fears. They are real. You want to be seen—but who is it you are turning to for that approval? Them . . . or me?”

Happiness. I get so wrapped up in looking for it in everyone around me. My heart begs for others to reassure me that I am enough. I long to feel a tender embrace—reassuring me that I am ok just the way I am. I crave that unconditional eternal love . . . and I want it right now, in every form possible. I don’t want to wait. I need it when I need it and the unrealistic expectations I have for how it must come—do little to further my cause . . . because I set myself up to fail. I assume the universe will collaborate to play out my desired expectation so I can be happy. I easily forget that my unmet expectations are to help me turn to the only true source of happiness and self worth. I forget that my happiness cannot be built and founded by someone else’s approval of who I am. 

About the time the sun was rising, so was my heart. I looked out into the shadows of the morning searching for hope. Peace filled my heart and for the next three days I gave my kids all of me.

I didn’t think about the nasty videos on Emmett’s ipod; I didn’t give in to the temptations to go and open up another text on Emmett’s phone. I didn’t even stew about my need to be seen by Shawn. Every time fear tried to enter my life—I grabbed onto hope.

This time the evening Shawn flew home was Valentines Day. I was nervous to step back into our turmoil, and life that had become full of miscommunications and contention. The hope I had fought for that night on my bed—just a few days before— threatened to leave as I worried about Shawn’s return.

To my surprise, he had arranged for a babysitter so we could spend Valentines Day evening together. He told me to wear something nice and be ready to go when he arrived at home. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going—he said he had a surprise he had been planning just for me.

We didn’t talk much on the drive—and I felt anxious to see where we were going— but couldn’t help feel the fear of doubt of his love for me. Scared of repeating our pattern of crazy I began to put up a wall. My believed need to protect myself from rejection or disapproval began to multiply and I started to prepare myself for the let down of an “all about Shawn” surprise—instead of something he was really going to do just for me.  In fear of my expectations not being met, I decided to pretend I didn’t have any.

Soon we pulled into the parking lot of the temple. All the nights of fighting and fear felt like a dark cloud holding me back from seeing the expression of love my husband was trying to give me. Fear of his rejection echoed through my mind as I walked into the front doors. I tried hard to snap out of the pain of the past and live in the moment, but my protective wall was on high alert.

Soon we found ourselves sitting in the sealing room. Shawn kept looking over at me. Finally he leaned over and grabbed my arm. He whispered, “ You know this is hard for me. Coming here with you . . . and not knowing . . . I really want all the answers right now on what forever is going to look like for us . . . it is hard to let go of the whys and unknowns and see how it is all going to turn out and it is hard to not spend time dwelling on the answers . . . but today I just . . . I just want . . . I just wanted to see you.”

Before I could even respond a little lady stood up and began to speak. She said, “Before we begin . . . I am ninety years old . . . I am just a little old lady.  I just need to tell you about the people on these stacks of papers. This was my great great grandmother who lived many years ago. She had a very interesting life. She was blessed with nine children . . . but over the course of a few years . . . she lost seven of them to death. So today on Valentines Day we came here to give her the chance to be with those beautiful babies forever.” Tears were streaming down her face as she continued on, “So I know our lives are hard, and we get busy . . . and everyone of you are facing your own battles, but thank you for coming here today to help me give this sweet family this gift on Valentines Day. Family is the most important thing we will take with us when we die, it is what love is all about—being with each other forever.”

I couldn’t stop my tears. I stared at this couple—who had probably been married for more than seventy years—look into each others eyes and hold hands. I watched tears fall down this little woman’s face as she was serving a great great grandmother she had never met—giving her a gift for a day of love. The room was filled with charity: the pure love of Christ.

She wasn’t here, as I was, begging for someone to see her—she was standing in the temple with the gift to see.

I looked over to Shawn and thought about our six babies at home. I thought of losing one of them and the pain that would come through that trial—and this family had lost seven.

I thought about all the things Shawn had done right as my husband and as their new father. Memories of the mean things I had said to him, and all the times I had refused to see him filled my heart. Remorse for all the moments I had let him down played like a movie inside of me.

I silently pleaded for forgiveness from the pain I had caused him—in my fear, in my harsh words, and in my expectations of who he was supposed to be. I asked for forgiveness for all the times I had been blind—for all the times I had selfishly prayed that he could see me. Instantly my heart opened to a new hope—not that I could make my husband see me, but that I could be blessed to see him.

Forgiveness is such a lonely battle, especially when we wait around for the other person to give us the words or actions we need to help us feel whole. True forgiveness isn’t about the other person coming to make it all right—it is about turning it all over to God. Instead of reaching toward man, and almost suffocating them for their love, we have to reach up to heaven.

Forgiveness isn’t about what others can do to make it right. It is an every day choice we get to make. It is a battle we have to fight against Satan. He wants us to be miserable and believe that we are not enough. He wants us to have unrealistic expectations about who and what others should be for us so we fail to see them and the good that they DO do. So really our pride cycle that holds us back from true forgiveness and repentance is a battle we fight against Satan—not a blessing we withhold from some one else.

If I could give advice to anyone who is fighting this lonely battle of forgiveness and repentance I would say this: Pray for angels to take the lies from you. Pray for them to replace those lies with truth—truth that you are enough for God, truth that He can see you—truth that you do not need others to fulfill your expectations of them for you to be happy. Truth that there is good in others, even when they aren’t performing at your desired expectations.

That moment of fear or heartache is another chance for you to fight to see that His grace will make you whole. Another person on the earth cannot make us find our purpose. That can only come from Him. He can bring us the eternal love we are desperately trying to find in man—the unconditional love we all crave. 

Don't let man block your view of Heaven. You are enough. Don't look for that truth in anyone else but Heavenly Father and his Son. He won't leave you alone. Maybe cruel selfish people will, but not Him. 

And in the end . . . He is all that matters. He loves you. He always has, and He always will. 

So many days—in our lives here on earth—we will be reminded of the fear that we are invisible. We will be threatened with the sense of losing sight of who we are, when someone else can’t see us. 

These trials we face are meant to help us turn to Him. Don't let Satan use it against you. Give power to the truth. Truth will not only set us free from the pain of the past—it will set us free from the lies that are right in front of us.

Our journeys can feel lonely, but one truth will always remain: We are not alone. Everything we are made of is filled with truth. Everything we are, our true selves, is made up of perfect love.

Charity is the pure love of Christ. So next time I am singing the lonely lullabies of the “invisible woman” I pray I can remember to be seen—not by man, but by God.

If charity never faileth, then maybe that is the answer. For all the times I have spent crying on my bed to be seen . . . what if I would have been praying for the ability to see. Instead of pleading for my husband to come and soothe my fears and wipe my tears . . . what if I could have had empathy for his pain? What if I could have the gift to see his fears, or look into helping him through his insecurity of not being enough for me? How would those lonely nights looked differently . . . if I would have used my eyes to see instead of watching for someone to notice me?

Maybe we can’t take away each other’s pain; maybe we do not have the ability to entirely heal each other’s burdens—but what if there is more to life than worrying about what we can get from our relationships . . . and start seeing what we can give.

I am full of expectations—some for those around me, and some unrealistic ideas of who I should be. I desire to be seen. I desire to be adored, loved, and enough. I am full of expectations on what that should look like for me to be happy.

But the truth is . . . we were not given eyes to watch for imperfection—we were given the gift to see to look for those who need us. We are blessed with charity (the pure love of Christ) when we are willing to give it.

So maybe Christ didn’t just ask us to be His hands—He also needs us to be His eyes. Watch for those who are desperately seeking in the dark to be seen. Maybe your willingness to step outside of yourself will be the moment they remember they are not forgotten. Maybe that will be the day they remember the unspoken truth we have all at times forgotten—we are enough for Him, and we are enough to be an instrument in His Hands . . . to see.

Thank you to my husband Shawn for his support in writing this post. This song is for you . . . 
Both of Us


Anonymous said...

For heavens sake...why do you keep tying your happiness, and sense of self worth to other people? It is no one's responsibility to make you feel good about yourself. Only you can do that...get out of your own head, and get out of your pity closet, and go on. Let your husband have time with his daughter. Let him have time by himself. Take time to be by yourself...figure out HOW to be by yourself without assuming you must be unloveable. Get over yourself. Perhaps Emmett' s failure as a husband and father wasn't about made it about you. Stop it.

Jenny said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I needed it so, so much!! How did you know? :) Thank you to both you and Shawn for sharing this. It was true and helpful!!

ashley said...

I loved your thoughts on praying to see others, rather than to be seen. All too often, I want to be noticed, recognized, appreciated by others, etc. when really God's acceptance is what matters. I am enough. And knowing that I can pray to see others and help them feel that value from God as well. Thanks for sharing your story and insights!

Cashelle said...

I loved this so much!!!! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow you're very compassionate .......😑

MaMa Karla said...

How rude to such a wonderful
Woman! Your post was exactly what I needed tonight
Thank you

Janean Justham said...

Ashlee, you are beautiful and courageous. Thank you for sharing in such a personal and humble way that you help us all step a little closer to the goal.

Anonymous said...

Can't you see she realizes where she lacked and that's exactly why she's opening up and talking about it? I wonder what your faults are that are making you so judgemental about it. Probably something you don't want to face or you wouldn't be so upset and intent on lecturing her. Stop being so critical of how others feel in a time of crisis. Stop it.

Anonymous said...

I feel like this post was written for me. For the first time in my life, just two days ago I said out loud, "I used to think God cared whether or not I was happy, but I don't anymore." Feeling like nobody, including Heavenly Father, cares about how I feel, is just about the loneliest place I've ever been. I used to think everything in life was for a purpose, a greater cause, my grand journey home. But lately I just feel forgotten and like none of the prayers I've been saying are going anywhere. I feel like God has given up on me, and I'm really struggling to not give up on Him. Anyway, thanks for being brave enough to write this post. My issues don't come from the same place as yours, but the sentiments are the same. Today, I'm going to focus on seeing others. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Getting our feedback from the Savior is certainly key. It's the key to testimony, it's the key to self esteem, it's the key to feeling loved. President Benson in his talk "Beware of Pride" in 1989 said "If you love God, do his will, and fear his judgment more than men's, you will have self-esteem.". I think that little statement is truly the key to happiness. It is independent of our trials, our situations, our families, it is all about us and the Savior. Beautiful.

Janna said...

To the first "Anonymous" commenter... did you not read the entire post? I think Ashlee's honesty is refreshing! Because, if we're being honest with ourselves, we all struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Many times it is irrational, but hopefully we snap out of it and learn from it. That is exactly what Ashlee was explaining. And for heaven's sake... please don't judge someone when you haven't been in their shoes. I certainly can't imagine the hell that she lived through and how everything Emmett did (and ultimately died from) affected her kids. And she had that ALL on her plate! It is hard enough blending families without the trauma that Ashlee and her 5 kids went through. I can totally understand why she had a hard time believing in her self worth. Emmett treated her like garbage toward the end and was hiding some seriously dark secrets. And while she certainly should never blame herself for what he did, I can understand how she did take then on her shoulders. We are often our own worst critics. I thank God she knows Him as her Savior because only He could walk her through this without it destroying her. Life is a journey (as cliché as that sounds)... but it is. We all learn from each "chapter" that we go through. Ashlee has had to learn how to forgive so many people who have hurt her and that is not always an easy process. I truly believe she has done a remarkable job in her efforts to process everything she has gone through and in her efforts to help her children do the same. God bless you & your family Ashlee! You are an inspiration! I admire your honesty and transparency in your struggles. You are helping more people than you know!

glenda said...

Thank you and Shawn for sharing your trials with all of us, with truth, love and forgiveness. Best to the two of you and the children.

Unknown said...

Despite the fact that I'm a complete stranger to her, she has talked to me and listened to me many times. It's meant a lot to me. Someone who is what you're accusing her of being wouldn't have done that.

Besides this is just what I needed to read today.

Anonymous said...

Powerful, beautiful, and true! Thank you for sharing! My life and heart has been touched and enlightened through your humble sharing.

Anonymous said...

I've gone through divorce and have had five miscarriages, but I'm thinking that the trial of blending families and being a step-parent is in some ways more difficult than the other heartbreaking things I've been through. It's so hard to make two families feel like one. It's hard not to feel jealousy. It's hard to see your own kids treated with less tolerance, and then to realize that you have the same short-comings with his kids. And if all goes well, the trial seems like it will have no end. You will always be a blended family. Your step kids might always resent you simply for existing. There will always be other parents who retain the loyalty from their children and it seems as though loyalty can't be shared. I struggle with this every day. But it's all worth it to be married to my wonderful husband.

Anonymous said...

Read the WHOLE post, meany head.

Anonymous said...

I have read every post ever written but never commented. But this is by far the most touching post. What honesty! To the critics who have to find fault in everything- why do you even read these blogs if you are just looking to critique? What she has shared here isn't something she is proud of- she opened up and shared something so personal to help those of us who struggle with our own things. Why someone would feel the need to be so rude is beyond me. Have you no compassion for someone who has gone through something so horrific? I think we would all be feeling the way she did if we went through all this. I am so proud of her for turning to the Lord for healing. We are all broken people in some way or another and we all just want to be loved. Let's all show more kindness and love! Thank you Ashlee for having the courage to bear your soul. You are a beautiful person inside and out.

Samantha said...

Perhaps my favorite post yet. You are amazing.

Kristen Ann said...

I appreciate those who honestly put themselves out there, who have been through tough things and are able to take a stand for good. You and others have been an example to me that marriages can improve and happiness is to be found through Jesus Christ. You give hope to many who are deep in similar struggles.

brigette said...

Beautiful post!! You are an amazing inspiration to me!!! Thank you for your beautiful words they come to me at the perfect time always!!!

Anonymous said...

Ashlee.... You have lived a life of extreme lessons and early wisdom has come to you. Thru tragedy, lies, and other peoples self destruction we often get lost and believe we are the cause. We are not. However, signs of bad character are usually there early on but we fail to see it because of our need to be loved and to love.
You can't live in the past anymore because it's gone. Your present is filled with a family who loves you and needs you. All are blessings. Keep healing thru the Lord and be patient with Shawn. He's a good man.

Dannielle said...

I have to say. Wow. I watched Dr. Phil today and did my research and found your blog. Thank you. Recently lost our home and it's been like a horrible terrible nightmare. I'm so scared, we don't hardly have any food and in many ways being let down by people I trusted and thought had my true interests as heart but they didn't. I realized today how happy they are to see me this way, as if it brings me to some type of level of darkness. It was hard pill to swallow and indeed, the hatred of these people towards me has really weighed me down because I couldn't understand it. Thank you Ashlee for this blog post. I didn't realize how seeing you and seeing what you've lived through and the it would affect me as I'd never heard of any of this before. Thank you. Perhaps it is time for me to stand too, to see that I'm not alone and I pray for mercy, for myself and my family and even to the ones who delighted in seeing us fall. I can do this. Thank you Ashlee Birk..

Anonymous said...

"With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself, or consider it a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow, or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose." ....Wayne Dyer

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog years ago. It was heart breaking but something that only happens to other people. Oh boy how foolish I was!
My husband cheated all last summer with an 18 year old family friend. Turns out he has battled a porn addiction since the age of 10. I am having a huge struggle forgiving him or the LDS church, they sent her on a mission just weeks after I discovered the affair. I believe in forgiveness but to send her without any form of apology or even acknowledgment of me is telling her and myself that my marriage and family don't matter.

Em9272 said...

To the last comment. I am wondering if that girl did not come clean about what she had done. I can't imagine her being sent on a mission if there was any type of confession. So sorry you're struggling !

Anonymous said...

I sat on the bathroom floor and cried as I read this post. I read your blog over a year ago, but came across this on Facebook today. I am trying so hard to see out of my black hole and feel Christ's love for me. My marriage has been a mess since it began 19 years ago, and I'm finally trying to learn how to set boundaries for myself and not allow the addiction/affairs/abuse to isolate me and make me feel worthless. I don't even recognize the person I am today, but I'm trying to be more open about my experiences. Hiding my reality from others has only caused more shame. I appreciate your willingness to share your weaknesses and private struggles. I wish I could be so vulnerable and honest. I have felt every feeling you shared. I long to be enough for my husband, but I feel stuck because my kids would be devastated about a divorce and I don't think anyone else would ever want me, because I'm an emotional and spiritual wreck.

Unknown said...

I don't like that people can post anonymously. I am worried the mean anonymous is that creepy Candi. And she is one person who should never be able to hurt you again.

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