I will never comprehend how I was able to move forward or why Heavenly Father asked me to become okay with the thought of finding love again so quickly. I can only say that I didn’t do it alone. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared, and I didn’t feel able to do it . . . but I knew it was exactly what I was supposed to do.
On the Fast Sunday before going to Emmett’s grave for Memorial Day, I fasted for my little family to be blessed with healing in our hearts so we could one day move forward. My fasting and prayers were answered . . . more quickly than I ever thought possible, but I wasn’t quite emotionally prepared for that immediate response.
Sometimes for months . . . or even years Heavenly Father keeps telling us to have patience. Let’s be honest. Throughout most of my life, God had constantly been reminding me to have patience . . . and that was just exactly the lesson I needed to learn in every one of those instances. I think I was finally beginning to understand the platitude that patience is a virtue and I had almost mastered it . . . patience in His timing, and patience in His plan. I felt like I had finally begun to get the hint . . . because He kept taking the time to remind me to slow down and wait.
Then one day . . . He threw a man into my life . . . and told me to jump with both feet. Leap with faith. He asked me to stand, despite my fears and regardless of all the rational thoughts that were running through my mind . . . and the things being said by everyone else.
The first time I even saw a photo of Shawn, I knew there was something special about him. He had a light in his eyes that drew me in. On our first date, it felt like we had been lifelong best friends. There was never a dull moment in our conversations. I told him my story, and he shared his with me. We knew a lot of the same people, but we’d never met before.
I knew when I met him for the very first time that Heavenly Father had sent me someone special. I felt peace in my decision to take a leap of faith and go out with him . . . and as the weeks that followed came to show me . . . soon, I was going to be asked to jump.
It’s funny that in those moments when we think we have all the answers . . . the Lord asks us to be patient and wait. But in this instance—when it had been drilled into my mind so often that I knew nothing—He asked me to show Him that I could still have faith in His timing.
Shawn and I got engaged, and with all the opinions of the community pouring in, I began to panic. I worried about everyone judging my decision, and I struggled as people told me about the timing they thought I should be respecting.
One night, I called my mother. I didn’t even say hello, but just went off on a rampage of questions. “What if he cheats on me, or what if he dies? What if I give him my whole heart and he breaks it? Mom, I know what I’m supposed to do, but I have no idea how I can do it. I keep getting calls from all sorts of people telling me what I’m supposed to do, and it is making me doubt the answers I know I’ve received for myself.
With her usual wisdom, Mom spoke the words I needed to hear that day . . . “Ashlee, what if everything happens that has already happened? You have been where most of us in this life will never be. You have felt more pain at your young age than most people who walk the earth will ever see in all their years. You loved Emmett, and he broke your heart, but he didn’t break you. You are capable of still living all the dreams you have ever had. Even if Shawn walks away and leaves you, you will be the same person you are now. You will still be standing.”
I ended the conversation with my wise mother and called Shawn. “I need to marry you, and I want to marry you. We are supposed to do this. Let’s just do it. Why sit around and plan, and have the world tell me all the reasons why we shouldn’t get married? What do you say I call my bishop and we just get married this week?”
He laughed, thinking I was joking, then said, “You know what. As long as you and the kids, and my parents are there . . . that is all I care about.”
So our mission to plan a wedding came to an end. I called my bishop on a Monday, and by Thursday afternoon we were standing in front of him saying our vows. Surrounded by our children, some of our siblings, my Aunt Diane and cousin Tiffanie, and our parents . . . we committed to each other and our family that we would give our marriage all that it deserved . . . for better or for worse.
My mother, who at the time lived some distance away, told me she wouldn’t be able to make it to the wedding, but to my surprise, she showed up a few minutes before it started. She walked into my bathroom as I was putting on the last of my make-up, and I was so excited to have her there that day.
I felt calm and collected. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t doubt, and I didn’t fear. I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm, feeling completely confident about this new family unit Shawn and I were about to create.
It was a beautiful day, one I will never forget. It was simple. The twins begged me to wear my wedding dress from my marriage to Emmett . . . and Shawn said it didn’t matter to him, so I did.
My friends Brittany and Lindsay couldn’t stand the fact that I hadn’t arranged for any flowers, so they did some flowers for us. They even snuck in and decorated the clubhouse. It was beautiful.
When it was time to exchange the rings, Teage and Jordyn were our ring-bearers. The sun was shining, and in fact, it was so hot that we were all sweating in that tiny room.
Shawn didn’t take his eyes off of me. Tears rolled down my face as I thought of the years that had lead me to this moment. I had flashbacks of the last time I had worn that dress, but my heart made room for the new memories I was creating in it.
Just as with the first time I had worn that dress, my hopes for my future soared out of that hot room and on past the sun. I considered the six children who I now called mine. They were no different from the ones I had pictured on my bed on my sixteenth birthday. They were sweet, and kind, and respectful. They were beautiful, they were loving . . . and they were mine. I didn’t have to wait for that dream to come true. This time around, I wasn’t going to be a first-time newlywed . . . but a wife and mother living a life that looked as if we had been building it for ten years.
Although Shawn and I had not walked down all of our roads together, we deserved each other. We had no idea of the hard work that lay before us to blend our two families and to clean up messes from the past, but quite frankly, on that perfect day, we didn’t care. We were just happy to call that family ours.
We took a three-night honeymoon to a local hotel. Neither of us wanted to be too far away from the children since they had so many adjustments to make, as did we.
Our honeymoon was relaxing and wonderful, and it gave us the opportunity to get to know each other without any other cares. In fact, it was actually fun to pretend to be young newlyweds. In every restaurant we went, someone would inevitably ask us if we had just gotten married, because apparently, we were a bit dreamy-eyed!
I enjoyed those three days, but I also couldn’t wait to get home . . . back to real life. I couldn’t wait to have a husband to call my own, and I longed to snap out of the funk that had put me in a state of panic every time I cleaned, did laundry, or tried to prepare food. I was just certain that all my cares would be soothed, and all my triggers would be mended . . . now that I was a married woman again.
I felt certain that the healing Shawn would bring, which had been promised to me, would now be complete. After all, we were a family . . . that was all the healing I would need, right?
I think a part of me thought my new marriage would fill all the holes inside of me, as they were filling the holes in my household, but inside, there were still wounds gaping open and parts of me still screaming. I had so many questions still left unanswered, I had so many wrongs to forgive, and I still had mountains to climb to find the peace that I still sought.I wish that one ‘I do’ would have been the answer to all the pain Emmett’s murder had planted inside of me. I think a part of me thought my new marriage would fill all the holes inside of me, as they were filling the holes in my household. My bed was no longer empty, my nights were no longer lonely . . . but inside, there were still wounds gaping open and parts of me still screaming. I had so many questions still left unanswered, I had so many wrongs to forgive, and I still had mountains to climb to find the peace that I still sought. But, I had no regrets about taking that leap of getting married.
What if? Two little words that we, especially we women, can spend a life time asking ourselves.
We hallucinate. We map out scenarios. We try to find answers to our recurring states of panic. We search for peace inside ourselves because we fear going through what another person HAS lived. What if he doesn’t call back? What if I get in a car crash? What if this cancer is my final test in life? What if I get hit by a car? What if I never meet Mr. Right? What if . . . the girl I am supposed to marry already married the wrong guy? What if my child chokes on an apple? What if I give my whole heart, and it gets destroyed?
So many ‘what ifs!’ . . . and there will always be something. There will always be a reason to fear. Cars can crash, dogs can get sick, babies can drown, cancer can spread, spouses can cheat, and people will die. But ‘what if’ we never jump because of all our fears?
What if every single ‘what if’ we fear all came true all in one night? Where would be? Who would be left? We will never know until we jump. And when we jump, both feet must jump together. We cannot have one foot in one world, and one in the other.
Jumping with both feet may hurt. There are always risks with jumping. And even if it doesn’t hurt immediately, it may hurt later. It may cause you years of new battles to fight in the future. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t leap with faith in the first place.
What if? What if I never took another breath for fear I might get hurt? Life is too short to not live it fully because it may hurt. We will not grow if we do not feel the growing pains that are sent to refine us. We don’t know what pains lie ahead, or which pains from the past have actually purified our souls . . . but with the two soles we use to tread along our path in life . . . we also have the power to jump. We can’t be afraid to use our power to jump because of the risks, but we have to use that power wisely and choose to jump in the right direction.
Emmett and I lost a lot of family and friends in the years that followed our marriage. Almost every year we found ourselves at a funeral of someone who was very close to us.
One hot summer Sunday while living in Washington for law school, we got a call that one of my best friends had committed suicide. Everything inside of me went weak. It broke Emmett to the core; he was very close to her and her husband. Emmett had summer school that he couldn’t miss, but we got in the car and drove straight down to see her husband and the two beautiful children she had left behind.
She had been suffering from a severe post partum depression that eventually caused her to end her own life. Little did I know as I held her husband and we sobbed together that night, that Emmett would be joining his sweetheart in just a few short years.
After Emmett’s death, I had a dream one night about Emmett and our friend. In the dream, they were talking to each other as if they weren’t aware of the fact that I could hear them. They discussed their respective family members who were still living. She was saying how proud she was of her husband who was working so hard to raise their children and who was moving forward and finding love again. She also told Emmett how brave he was for helping me to find love again. She told him how happy she was that her husband and I were both finding ways to move forward from our tragedies.
Emmett began to cry and she put her arms around him. She whispered into his ear, “I wish I could do it all over again too . . . but they still can.”
I woke up from that dream unable to fully understand what it all meant at first. It took me some time to process. She had taken her own life because of an illness that compelled her to take a leap in the wrong direction. She felt the weight of her pain that came as a result of losing control over her actions. Emmett had also taken a leap in the wrong direction. He had jumped over the edge of the cliff he had been scaling, and the decisions that followed his leap ultimately got him killed.
My dear friend’s message to me in that dream rings so true. She and Emmett were suffering from the pain of their past mistakes that ended their lives, and unfortunately, neither of them had the mortal ‘do-overs’ that are still possible for the living. In spite of their regrets, my friend and Emmett could see the value in their spouses’ continued progress and search for peace in their mortal lives after they found themselves alone.
We have all had the occasion to approach the edge of a cliff. We know there is a great risk in getting too near, and yet . . . so many of us continue to tiptoe closer and closer. Some of us willingly choose to flirt with the edges in life. We seek cheap thrills, and purposefully find our way to uncharted waters. However, the way doesn’t have to be life-threatening if we would just remember to stay as far away from the edge as possible.
My dear friend and Emmett have taught me so much. Although I loved them both with all my heart, my heart also aches for the years they are missing with their families. They have moved on past mortality, but their desires for us are no different than their desires for themselves. They have taught me the importance of putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward. We must endure to move beyond our pain, and we must jump with both feet—not in the wrong direction—but into the good things of this world.
Even if all of your leaps so far have resulted in your falling on your face, you have to develop the faith that as you practice jumping with both feet in the right direction, one day, your feet will get a little lighter . . . and you will no longer fall. Some day, that same faith may require you to take a giant leap, and you will want to be certain it is in the right direction, and that both feet are equally committed. And even with that, there is no guarantee of a soft landing.
“What if I get hurt?” You will.
“What if I get rejected?” Yup . . . that too!
But ‘what if’ you never jump? It is only when you leap with faith that you will find your wings.
Questions to Ponder:
- How can having the faith to jump help you move forward? What things are holding you back from making the leaps you need to make?