March 17, 2016

To Make Us Stronger

Two of the hardest things I have ever done both happened in the last five years—the funeral was five years ago today to be exact. Two things I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have to do. Losing a spouse to death, and taking the leap of a second marriage—blending two families into one.

This world is full of blended families, trying to wade through traumas and grief.  Trying to become stronger.

No matter where your blended family began, there has been some sort of loss for either or both parties. Divorce and death—though looked at by the world as completely different—both leave an imprint in many lives. A trauma with triggers and pain and people left to pick up the pieces.

And then on top of a looming trauma, newly singled or widowed are left to dance around the thought of what the future holds. Family members tell them they need to give themselves time before they even think of dating; friends tell them it is time to move on.  Some of these singles try to please everyone—dating before they feel ready in an effort to not be presumed as stuck in the past. Others fear dating and relationships and moving on, fearing looking as if the past didn’t hurt them.

There is no way to win. If you move on “too quickly” you are judged. If you stay single too long you feel judged. There will always be people with opinions who—“out of love”—want to tell you what is best for you. But lets get one thing straight. This is your life. This journey you have traveled, up to this point and to the great beyond will be yours . . . and only yours.

Ok, tangent over. Back to blended families.

I have met so many blended families who have been right where we have. Struggling to work it all out, stuck in patterns of fears and beliefs, and constantly wondering if they were going to make it.

I have heard many say, “If I would have known how hard this was, I would have never committed to do it.” “I often wonder if we made a mistake thinking we could make this work.” “Maybe my kids needed more time, and I shouldn’t have been so selfish.” “I just wish she loved my kids like she loves her own.” “I don’t feel like he wants to parent with me.” “I just feel like a replacement . . . but will never be as good as the original.” “We deserved to be normal.”

 “Step parents” Remember when you were single and felt like you couldn’t win? Bonus. Now you are in a relationship that many days you are going to feel like you cannot win. Because sometimes when you do parent the “step child” you might not do it in the way their “real parent” would have . . . or does. And if you don’t parent at all, you are going to make the other parent wonder if you really want to be there. So this leaves you stuck again constantly at a crossroads on which way you are going to do it “wrong”.  

Honeymoon? You can forget about that . . .

Shawn and I hopped into a marriage that looked from the outside like we had been building a family for ten years. Trying to get to know each other, trying not screw up six kids, trying to be newlyweds, and parents, and step parents all at the same time. Some days I would long for just a moment with just him. I wondered what it would have been like to just date like “normal” people, without worrying about an infants feeding schedule or how to entertain six kids every day.

Some years, especially during the murder trial, we were so far away from each other we could hardly find anything in common outside of the kids. We both longed for unity and closeness but didn’t know how to find our way out of our fear cycles and triggers.

Anniversaries of our traumas have added to the rollercoaster we sometimes found ourselves on. Every March—for the last five years—it has been hard to cut the gloom of the memories of the past. My PTSD would cloud my view and make it even harder to try to be a team, blend our family, and create unity. Many of Shawn’s struggles from a divorce were similar with different triggered events.

This year as February rolled around and the time of year began to remind me of the pain, I made a choice that I was going to do it differently. I made a vow to myself that this year I was not going to be a victim of the past or the pain. Some mornings were harder than others, but each day I felt even more filled with strength as I fought off the lies that normally would have taken me captive. My plan to not only avoid the pain, but break through it was working.

Then Shawn surprised me with an even better plan. A getaway, just the two of us. (our first since Hawaii three years ago) A week in Orlando, Florida to act like a couple of sixteen year olds. No kids, no obligations, or commitments . . . just us.

I think I caught a glimpse this last week what “normal” dating would have been like for us had we been given a different path in life. And though it was amazing and perfect and beautiful, it helped me realize something I had been forgetting lately.

Though blending our family has been a very unique, incredibly emotional challenge . . . I know without a doubt it is right where God wants us to be. He knew that it was going to be a daily challenge and a constant battle to make our family strong—I guess anything really worth fighting for always is.

So this year—looking back to the moment five years ago when I thought my life had ended. I am beginning to see that it had only begun. I am not afraid to let it go. It was hard, the pain was real . . . but it will no longer define me.

When I go back to those moments now, I take tools with me. Tools of hope. Tools of love and forgiveness and grace. Tools that remind me that I am enough. Then and now.  

I, just like many of you, didn’t listen to the haters. I took a leap and remarried not long after a tragedy exploded in my life. And I know God was there. He was there when the explosions were trying to tell me that I wasn’t enough. He was there when I took that leap to marry again. And He is here with us now. Watching us make mistakes, watching us try to parent together and sometimes fail miserably . . . and He is there watching us learn to love again.

So thank you God for believing in us enough to trust us with all of this. Thank you for giving us a moment on this journey to see what normal could have felt like . . . not because we still long for that—but because you are trying to help us remember we are right where we belong.

Grace. When applied to our homes can be just as powerful as when it is applied to a man in a prison cell. Grace will get us through the bumps in the road, over the mountains and the valleys in our lives, and in our minds.

You are not alone. Remember that, if nothing else. If you are struggling as a single, as a widow, as a mother, as a father, as a sister or a brother or in a blended family . . . there are so many of us on a similar path of struggle.

Nobody has it all figured out. Each day we get to reevaluate how we can be better than the last. So single, married, widowed, or blended . . . all of them can feel hard and lonely and overwhelming. Don’t give up. God is there. And He not only believes in you . . . He love you. As His son or daughter He sees the good you are trying to do. It is through His view we might be able to see ourselves differently, and those around us.

“Normal” is not a destination . . . it is a lie. Your journey is going to be unique and broken . . . and unbelievably beautiful. 

*Here is a video of our trip. Being kids and loving every minute of it. Have a great St. Patrick's Day.*

Thank you Shawn for letting me be a kid and reminding me of all the reasons why I fell in love with you!  This was always the plan and I wouldn't want to be traveling it with anyone but you. 


glenda said...

Beautiful video. Love the lyrics of the song. What's the title of the song?

maybe_a_princess said...

Ashlee, did you ever feel jealous of Shawn's relationship with Jordyn? I find myself unable to shake it off and it hinders the development of my relationship with my husband, to the point that I am wanting to leave the marriage being a few months pregnant..

Melyssa said...

Ashlee, you have to read this little story on forgiveness. If you haven't heard it before I think you will love it!

Thanks for all your amazing insights!

KB Stanger Art and Design said...

Super sweet video and words. I know you are both beautiful on the inside, but dang, you two are gorgeous on the outside too. Like artwork which I happen to love. :)

Ashlee said...

Stronger by Mary J Blige. Love it!!

Ashlee said...

For sure! That is one of the hardest parts of blended families!! You are so not alone. Don't give up! So many of us have been right there!

Expectations of how it should be, or what we want it to be, sometimes block our view of the blessings. One thing I have learned that helps me on the hard days is to remember all he adds to our family. Instead of focusing on what he isn't I try to remember that before him we didn't have anything. So whatever he brings that is positive is a blessing and ads to what we had before him... Which was nothing!

Ashlee said...

That is so sweet! Thank you!!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

You both have touched my heart tonight. God is so amazing. He restores what the locusts have eaten and I believe He has given you the most beautiful love story. You have a beautiful heart! I also agree with another post of the beautiful match God made. Your smiles, your radiance of God's love and glory! Prayers of a continued beautiful God journey. XO

Unknown said...

You both have touched my heart tonight. God is so amazing. He restores what the locusts have eaten and I believe He has given you the most beautiful love story. You have a beautiful heart! I also agree with another post of the beautiful match God made. Your smiles, your radiance of God's love and glory! Prayers of a continued beautiful God journey. XO

Unknown said...

You are an inspiration in your marriage, your walk with the Lord and in your parenting! Thank you for being so real, so bold and so broken. Big hugs to you both!!! ♡♡♡♡

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