Together We Stand

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One day, Jordyn came back to our home after being away for a few days. She struggled most of the afternoon and by bedtime, she was in tears. She shared with Shawn and me the challenges and struggles she was facing because her parents’ divorce caused her to go back and forth between each household.

We did our best to comfort her and calm her down. We put all of the kids to bed and headed downstairs to enjoy the quiet of the evening.  We talked for a while about how to help Jordyn, but began getting frustrated with each other. Our ideas about how to help her were very different from each other’s, and the tension it was causing in our marriage was becoming overwhelming. We sat on the couch arguing about each of the kids, and what we each felt they deserved and needed. 

After some time, we could hear voices upstairs. We tiptoed up and perched ourselves outside the bedroom where Jordyn and the twins slept. Shawn held his arm out to stop me from entering. “Let’s just listen for a minute,” he suggested.

 

We sat outside their room and silently cupped our ears near the door to hear our daughters’ conversation. Through uncontrollable sobs, Jordyn was again talking about the struggles she was facing going back and forth between her two houses. She was teary and emotional as she told them of the pain it was causing her. She told them a few stories, and how she felt so left out when she had to leave our house. She talked about the events of her day, and how she hated having to share her time between both places. 

We continued to listen. Soon the girls began to comfort Jordyn, trying to help her through her pain. Nothing they said seemed to console her. She continued to sob and go through all of the topics over and over again. 

All of the sudden, Bostyn got a little emotional and said, “You know, Jordyn . . . I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you. It would be so hard for me leaving you guys and going back and forth to another house. I bet that isn’t easy, but something that was hard for me when Daddy Emmett died was that I don’t EVER get to see him—ever again. I miss him so bad. Our parents didn’t get divorced, but when he died, it changed our family too. I have wished so many times that I could go—when you do—to see HIM. So maybe it is hard for you to leave, but imagine if one of your parents had died and you never got to see one of them ever again.” 

By this time, Jordyn’s heavy sobs had stopped. Bailey continued Bostyn’s thoughts. “I would give anything to have the chance to get to go see Daddy Emmett. You are so lucky Jordyn, to have two houses full of people who love you. It may be hard to leave us, but how special it is that when you do . . . you always know you have both families? When you wonder if your parents love you, you get to wrap your arms around them and hear their voices. You are so lucky to have two places to go when you feel alone.” 

They talked for a few more minutes; by this time Shawn and I were the ones with tears running down our cheeks, our ears still pushed against the wall next to the cracked open door. 

Shawn grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “Man, I love you. I am so sorry.” He wiped a tear from my face and leaned in and kissed me. “We may be a broken group of individuals, but we are not alone.” 

That night, our wise twins didn’t just speak to Jordyn and calm her fears, they reminded Shawn and me to have empathy for each other. He had been through the pain of divorce and single parenthood. He had done hard things. Even though his pain was different than mine, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard for him. 

I realized that day that all of us struggle. My five kids were not the only ones that had been through loss. To the twins, Jordyn was the lucky one. She had two parents with whom she got to spend time. She got to see their faces, and touch their skin. They were jealous of her because she hadn’t lost one of them to death. A part of them almost wished Emmett and I had divorced, because at least that way, we would both still be part of their lives. And for her part, Jordyn wished she had what her new siblings had. She longed for a time when she didn’t have to leave any more. She hated going back and forth and craved the consistent home life that the other kids had. Neither of them had it perfect, but each of them were lucky in the others’ eyes. 

The grass may look greener on the other side, but that doesn’t mean it is. We all stare at each other and wonder what it would be like to stand in another’s shoes. We sometimes long for a story that is not ours. It is okay to wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else, but sometimes when we go looking for it . . . we may see that ours just needs us to give it a little love. 

Just like death, divorce is a hard fact of life that almost every family has experienced in one way or another. I saw it as a young girl. I remember being where Jordyn was that night . . . wishing that I didn’t have to go back and forth between my mother and father. I remember the pain of knowing that my parents were not going to spend their life loving each other any more; I remember feeling loss. 

It isn’t fair that we all have to lose things. I hated losing the consistency of my parents’ marriage. As the years went on and with my mother’s remarriage to a family that had lost a parent to death, I learned that there were pains that ran more deeply than my own.  Her new husband’s children had lost their mother to death. They shared the feelings in their hearts of the lonely road of learning to deal with life without her. Knowing of their pain didn’t take away my own, but it helped me see that parts of my situation were a blessing. I still got to kiss both of my parents’ cheeks and feel the embrace of their arms. 

Life is not always going to let us win at everything. After the divorce of my parents, I grew up a lot. The day my mom announced she would be remarrying, I thought my chance for my family to come together again was over. I knew that her decision to move on would mean there was never going to be a way for my dad to live with us again. 

At first, it was hard. I hated sharing my mom. I hated moving away from my friends, and the head cheerleader position I had just received. I hated selling my dog and leaving behind all of the memories we had created in our tiny little “single mom” duplex. I begrudgingly packed my things and got in the car on the day of the move. I thought for sure my mom had made a huge mistake, and that she was ruining my life as I knew it. 

Going into ninth grade in a new school was not my idea of a good time. I didn’t want to start over, or make new friends, or be a stepdaughter and stepsister. I didn’t want to share a room with my new stepsister who was almost four years older than me. I just liked the way life was in our world. I was afraid of the unknown, and I didn’t like the thought of change. 

A few weeks into the school year, I woke up in the early hours of the morning. I was soaking wet. I rolled over and screamed, “Audra . . . I had a dream I was in the bathroom and I . . . I . . . I peed the bed!”

My new sister, who was a senior in high school (I was in ninth grade and had never in my life wet the bed), started laughing hysterically. Relieved that she didn’t want to disown me and never talk to me again, I began to laugh too. We giggled for an hour as we pulled of the sheets and put new sheets on the bed. 

It was so simple, but in that moment I knew I had a sister. From that point on, she was one of my best friends. We could talk about anything. Together, we admired the Val Kilmer poster she had hung in our room, and we talked every night about our dreams for the future. I loved having an older sister for the first time in my life. 

Our stories were not the same, but the more we took the time to get to know each other . . . we truly became sisters. Our two families had never planned to be together. We each began our lives on totally separate journeys, and yet as the years have rolled by, I have come to realize . . . we were always meant to be together.  

I have seen loss, but after every loss I have learned that there have also been gains. I never hoped for my parents to divorce, but I have learned to love the blessings that have followed it. My stepbrothers and stepsisters are some of my best friends. My stepfather has been there for me in ways that nobody else has. 

Stepfamilies may not always be our first choice. They present a different level of hard work that most traditional families have never had to face.  The level of commitment to love someone who has already spent a portion of his or her life loving someone else, is trying on relationships and brings about new insecurities. 

No couple kneels across from each other at an altar and makes vows with the thought that one day their marriage will end. We all plan our futures without factoring in the bumps that inevitably will come. Nobody ever plans on the day of his or her wedding, to divorce, to have a partner die, or to struggle to love. 

Even if all the dreams you ever had for your family have been lost and you are forced to start over, don’t get discouraged. If all of your plans have had to change, find a way to see it as a new opportunity to find empathy and love. I never knew I would have a new stepsister who would have to help me clean up my bed after wetting my pants as a fourteen-year-old girl, but that was the day I knew I was truly sharing a room with a family member. As Shawn and I listened outside our daughters’ bedroom, and heard them helping each other through their sobs . . . it reminded us to be there for each other. It reminded us that even through each of our losses . . . there was much we had gained. 

Nobody ever plans to lose, and when we do, it is hard to wait around for the gains that will follow. Our losses can, at times, feel like failures. The gains don’t take away the pain of the loss, but the blessings can be sent to help us remember to keep standing together.  When we have each other’s backs . . . when we clean up each other’s messes and wipe away each other’s tears, we are never really alone. 

Even if the people who surround you were not there the day you were born, they are there now. Don’t let your original dreams stop you from standing strong together. Stepfamilies, adopted families, and even families that are just made up of true friends can be there in the moments you need them the most. Your original dreams of the perfect family may never come true, but the blessings of the family waiting for you may be even better than any you ever planned. 

The truth is, no family is perfect. Families are all made up of imperfect people, doing imperfect and sometimes hurtful things. Even those families with the immaculate yards and amazing clothes and perfect smiles in public . . . sometimes experience tears and screams behind closed doors. 

I used to look at the “perfect families” when I was a kid and longed to have what they had. Now that I am older, I can see that I always did have what they have. Even now, I have exactly what they do: I am an imperfect mother, married to an imperfect husband, trying to perfectly raise imperfect children. We are ALL right there. We all have insecurities in the family we are raising, the parenting we are doing, or the daughter or son we are trying to be. No relationship on this earth is “perfect,” therefore neither is any family perfect. 

So even if your family has been taken apart, or imperfectly put back together . . . enjoy it. Every smile you see around you . . . is right there with you. We are all one giant family, walking around blindly trying to do our best. Heavenly Father always knew that is exactly where we would be while here on earth, and He doesn’t expect perfection. All He asks is that we serve one another with love. 

“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2:17)

Service is done in love, not perfection. Don’t expect that no one will ever make a mistake, and don’t hold yourself to a perfect standard. Our families will never be perfect, no matter how much hairspray you use or pleas you make. Watch for the tender moments. It is in them that you will see the perfect words needed in a perfect moment. Perfection doesn’t come as an individual, or as a family . . . it comes in little glimpses—little moments—when you know you are right where you are supposed to be . . . standing together.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. How can you choose to see people differently?  How can you look past your own pain and see theirs?

Check out this post in the Charity Badge

Ashlee Birk is the Author of the blog and book series entitled The Moments We Stand.  In them she tells of her personal journey of healing and seeking peace after the murder of her husband Emmett.  Through her trials she has learned the importance of a personal relationship with her Father in Heaven. She has found light in the darkest of moments—and she has found hope when she thought it was lost.  She has come to find that the grace of Christ is powerful—not only in sin—but also in forgiveness and carrying you through some of your darkest moments.

Ashlee is remarried and resides in Idaho with her husband Shawn and their blended family of six children. They work hard every day to continue their journey of peace and finding the joy in life. Ashlee believes that every day is a gift—and in each one, she has learned to stand.

The Moments We Stand

spouse murdered 11/2011

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