Think back as a child, what did your future look like? Guys… maybe you were going to be a football star, or playing right alongside Michael Jordan as you take the game winning shot. Girls… how about a professional ballerina, teacher, maybe you wanted to be just like your mom and raise a beautiful family. Remember back to High School, what did your future look like then? What do I do if no one likes me, what if I am not popular? What do I do is she says no to a date with me…or better yet, what if she says YES? What do I do after high school… should I go on a mission, go to College, or enter the Workforce? What about your first REAL love or relationship…how did they make you feel, what did you put into it, and where did it go wrong. When it ended, what did that mean? What did it do to your soul, your self-worth and confidence?
Now the next stage in life, High school is over, you have served your mission, college is finished, adulthood… sort of, family check. Yup it was all planned out; everything was in place, until it wasn’t. Disappointment seems to find its way into all of our lives. Our expectations of how WE want things to go, how WE want our lives to be, often times set us up for our OWN fall.
Think back again, for some of us this may be very recent while for others it may seem like a lifetime ago. Think about your first REAL failure. Often times the smallest of choices will have largest impacts. How did your first failure impact your road, how did your decisions during that challenging time change the course of your life?
For me failure = worthlessness & love and acceptance = success
The things that I hold/held dear—education, career, family, friends and spirituality—they all had performance associated with them. My personal performance would be the determining factor on whether I achieved success or failure, whether I achieved love and acceptance or exile. My belief was one of, if I am doing everything right, performing at a high level…EVERYTHING WILL BE OK! As long as I am living a righteous and honest life, everything I desire will be mine. Career, spouse, children, health, financial stability…I will be blessed. Virtue and vise. If I believe the above statement, then I also must believe the opposite. If I am NOT living a righteous life, then all of the above will escape me…my performance will create an atmosphere of failure.
This is where my story takes a dramatic turn from Ashlee’s, and my hope is that together through hearing it; we can gain a different perspective on disappointments, expectations, performance and our own beliefs on each of our own very different roads.
I was married for 9 years. Typical relationship, dated for a year, proposal on the temple grounds, big plans, and even bigger dreams. We had it all figured out, until we didn’t. We had been married for about 3 years, and during that time we had overcome our own unique set of challenges…challenges that could have ended a marriage. My wife and I decided to try to start having a baby, and after almost two years of disappointment, failed attempts, & numerous failed artificial inseminations, we had to face the reality that we would be unable to have a biological child together. This was a major disappointment, full of heartache, anger, and bitterness. Why us? Why are there so many “parents” that don’t even want children, and they are able to have them? Why when we have been doing everything right, we are unable. ITS NOT FAIR! Adoption was always something that I thought I would do, even from a young age, so about a year later we started the adoption process, and we were chosen almost immediately. The circumstances with the birth mother and her situation were not ideal, but a baby…man A BABY!
The next 6 months passed so quickly, and our perfect, beautiful and healthy baby girl was born on November 9th 2006. Off to Detroit MI we went, once again planning our future. Everything was now perfect, she was perfect, our plans and future were perfect…until it wasn’t. You see out of state adoption hadn’t been done prior with the LDS family services in Michigan. What should have taken a week, turned in to weeks, and then a month…4 of them to be exact. We fought— fought for our dreams, fought for our daughter, fought for our marriage.
We won, we had this perfect little girl, successful careers, the home, the cars, everything looked good from the outside, doesn’t it always? But the ugly truth was, we were falling apart. We were better parents, than husband and wife, we were better co-workers than husband and wife, and eventually we became better roommates than husband and wife.
Choices, expectations, and decisions no matter how little or insignificant, they all have a ripple effect, and for me this reality came crashing in on me. My failure as a husband was purely based on my performance, and the failure of my marriage was largely mine to own. My belief that performance dictates love was truly put to the test. You see, I had failed. I failed as a husband for not keeping covenants and commitments, I failed as a father for breaking up a family, and most devastating of all, I had failed my Heavenly Father. My choices got me here, my lack of obedience got me here, and my selfishness got me here.
Where is here? Here was a 32 year old, single father and not temple worthy…not even close. There were times that I didn’t even feel worthy to step inside of a church building, let alone the Temple. Every time I did go to church I felt so out of place, so alone. I felt unworthy, judged, and stared at. So I stopped going. Again a disappointment…to myself, my family and to God. Over the next several months I was inactive. No church meetings, no sacrament, no scriptures, I barely even prayed. I was empty, alone, bitter, and it was all MY doing, my creation.
Sure I could blame others, and I really wanted to. I could blame her, heck I could even try to blame my Heavenly Father, but ultimately the failure was me! UNTIL IT WASN’T! You see, God’s grace, and Jesus’ sacrifice was for me—I mean custom made just for me. My failures could be redeemed through Him and His sacrifice.
At that moment, it all changed. I drove to church one Sunday afternoon with my little girl. I sat through a nerve wracking sacrament meeting and walked right up to my Bishop whom I had never met. I shook his hand with tears rolling down my face. He met with me that day, and my road…my story changed forever. I didn’t pray anymore for the life I didn’t have, I didn’t plead to my Heavenly Father for the life that passed me by, I didn’t pray for the perfect life. I prayed that I would find the road that He built… the one that was designed and paved just for me, even if it had pot holes and speed bumps.
Whatever speed bumps are in your way, don’t stop in front of them, don’t turn around and go the opposite direction, proceed with caution…but proceed. Because in life, just like in this metaphor, you never know what is around the corner.
Disappointments, failed expectations, hurt, loss, loneliness, temptation, among the hundreds of life’s challenges. The road to happiness and fulfillment was the one that was designed just for us, by our Heavenly Father…speed bumps and all.
My name is Shawn Birk. Sometimes life is hard and seems unfair. Divorce, adoption, and remarriage have all been struggles I never knew I always wanted. I am now the father of six children, none of whom share my genetics. My life isn't "normal", but it is mine, and it is beautiful. Because of Him, and His grace, I will stand.
**Shawn has been speaking with me some recently and it has been amazing to watch him grow and learn and share parts of his story. This weekend we spoke for a young newly married and engaged group at Boise State and this is the talk he gave. Thanks Shawn for sharing your heart. I am thankful for the road that brought us here.