After Emmett died, and even after I married Shawn, I remember spending hours trying to change myself. I didn’t feel good enough to leave my room without my make-up on, or my hair done. I didn’t like to look people in the eyes, for fear they would see all the broken pieces I had inside of me. I wore high heels everywhere I went. Even on a morning adventure to the park with all the kids, I would get dressed up and waddle around in my fancy shoes.
Why? I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it is all so simple. I was scared to be me. I was frightened that the minute I relaxed and walked around as me, people would see why Emmett chose her.
I wasn’t enough for Emmett then, I was scared to not be enough for Shawn, and I had come to not be enough for myself. My fear of inadequacy in my marriage didn’t just build a wall of protection around me; it gave me a false sense of who I felt I was supposed to be.
Shawn spent many days begging me to just stick on some jeans, tennis shoes and a t-shirt—but I could not do it. I didn’t want to feel inadequate in anyway. I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to talk about why I wasn’t enough, and I especially didn’t want to be put in a situation where I felt like I didn’t measure up.
It was like I lived in this imaginary world—where everyone was looking down on me and laughing at all of my imperfections. The accusations that had been sent my way didn’t just flash across my computer screen, or enter in my ear—they pierced my heart. I read them over and over, and recited them to myself as if they were gospel. If you had been a better wife . . . Emmett would still be here. If you would have given him all that he needed, he wouldn’t have gone looking for it somewhere else. If you were enough for him, he wouldn’t have turned to her. It is your fault Emmett died.
Though I had the perfect knowledge that I was not there when he died, and I did not pull that trigger, those lies posed as truths inside of me—and they burned holes in my soul. I spent much time pretending that they did not hurt, but the more they lay hidden . . . the deeper they reached.
Instead of working on digging up my own pain, I spent much of my time trying to help my children heal. One afternoon on a quest to find a grief therapy group for the kids—I came across one for me. After I hung up the phone I almost laughed at the thought. What would a grief therapy group do for me? I don’t need anyone else to tell me how hard death is to face in reality. I have already faced the fact that Emmett had died, and he was gone. I was beyond the need to talk about my grief. I quickly forgot about the grief group and carried on with my day.
A few days passed and the grief group kept popping into my mind. One night before turning out the lights for bed, Shawn said, “Hey, you ok? You seem very deep in thought.”
I finally shared my thoughts. I said, “So I have been looking for a grief group for the kids to go to—I think it will help them work through some more of the stuff that counseling hasn’t done—and I . . . I didn’t find them a group, but the number I called was . . . it’s a grief group for adults. It is a six-week course, and it starts tomorrow. I don’t want to talk about my stuff, and I don’t want to go . . . but I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe I should go . . . so I can help people in the group. ”
Shawn grabbed my hand. “You should go, Ash. What do you have to lose? I mean, just because we are married doesn’t mean that it has just gone away. You walk around like everything is perfect, but I can see sometimes that you are still hurting inside. If you want to go, I support you. I think you could help people in the group . . . but I think it might be good for you.”
When morning came the next day I was so nervous my stomach was churning. I said goodbye to my family and got in the car. As I drove I could feel my tears on the verge of breaking. My first thought was that I didn’t want to mess up my mascara. I didn’t want to ruin this group’s first impression of me. No! I was going to drive alone in the car without my pain. I didn’t want to think about Emmett’s death. I wasn’t going to ponder what I was going to have to say at the trial; I wasn’t going to rehearse what I would say if I walked into the grief group and Kandi was there. I was going to be strong and not show any of these emotions.
I was afraid to cry in fear that it would mess up my makeup, but most importantly I didn’t want to let anyone in. I decided as I drove that I was going to be stronger than ever. The past was in the past. I was a warrior, and I was going to this grief group so I could help all the sad people in it who were not as strong as me.
I pulled up to the address the woman had given me over the phone. As I stepped out of the car a wave of the past rushed over me. I knew this place well. Emmett’s step mom Denise—who had died a few weeks before Teage was born—had her funeral here. A funeral home? Really? My new grief group was going to take place every week in a funeral home? Why did it have to be a memory from my past? How was I going to be able to help people if I was busy thinking about my own pain?
I tried hard to push that hard memory out of my mind as I pushed down the even larger lump in my throat. I was not here to cry, I was here to help others. Just like the many other times I had tried to lie to myself about my emotions, my face burned with all of those I was trying to hide.
I sat down with my arms folded. I glanced around the room. It was filled with sad faces, many who had been on the earth many more years than I had. Each person had a story, and you could see it written all over his or her face. My heart raced as my soul could feel all of the pain that filled the room.
The session began. The discussion leader asked us to go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell a little about why we were there. As each person spoke and the spotlight got closer and closer to me I began to rehearse in my mind what I was willing to share.
And then my turn came. I began. “My name is Ashlee. I . . . I was made a widow last year in March and I have five kids. I am remarried now and have a new daughter.” I bent my knees to take my seat.
Then my heart took over. “I . . . My husband was killed . . . because he was cheating on me. I . . . my heart still hurts. I try to pretend that everything is perfect. I try to tell myself that it didn’t break me, but I am drowning. I . . . just want to feel normal again. I want to remember how to feel, and how to love. I . . . just . . . I am trying to figure out how to make my life right, but it is just so hard. The trial hasn’t even begun and . . . some days it is all I can think about. I just don’t understand any of it. Why . . . did he have to die? Why did that gun have to fire? I . . . just don’t understand. I am here, because I don’t know what I am doing. I am trying to figure out how to be enough for a man again, but really I just want to know how to be enough for myself. My husband wasn’t just killed . . . he was murdered by a mistress’s angry husband. He didn’t want me. He was choosing someone else. But what hurts the most is the fact that I still wanted him. I still wanted our life. He wasn’t the perfect husband. He wasn’t always the perfect father, and he was making a really big mistake. But he was OURS. He was the man who I devoted my life to, and he was taken from me before I got to do that. I had a perfect plan . . . and it was going to be . . . perfect. So now I just want to know how to let that go, so hopefully someday I can breath again. I want to perfectly love again. I want to be the girl I was before he died, but I don’t know how. I miss him, I miss the perfect life I had . . . but most importantly I miss me.”
And there it was. I was not perfect. For the first time since Emmett died I was standing in front of a group of strangers telling them how imperfect my life was. I wasn’t pretending to be something or someone else. I was just me.
What is perfection? My view of this word has changed in the last few years. It started as a glimpse of a life I thought I had. Then it changed to an image I thought I must be. That week I came to see perfection in a whole new way.
Once my heart poured itself out to this group of strangers I knew I wasn’t just there to teach—I was there to learn.
Perfection is sitting for hours in a room full of elderly widows learning about love. They poured their souls about a life they once had. They cried tears for the perfect days they shared and the imperfect partner they had loved; they opened up their hearts about the dreams they had watched come true.
As I sat in that perfect moment, in that perfect room, I felt a glimpse of hope. I had so much that had been taken from me, but all of my dreams could still come true. Though my life with Emmett was over, my story was not complete. Though my perfect dreams had once felt shattered, I could still learn to live a new one.
Perfection feels like the only dream we should want to obtain. But what if perfection is happening right now? What if—even through the imperfect past and the imperfect days we now live—we are living the perfect life we were always meant to?
Our days will be hard. They will not be perfect. Our makeup may smudge with the tears of our pain; some days we might not ever make it out of our pajamas . . . but life is so much more than what we once thought would make it perfect.
To truly find your worth you have to search for it inside. You will find it when you least expect it. Your worth in God’s eyes will not be found in a box; it will not carry a price tag. It will be a radiant light that permeates from inside of you. Life is about love. Love is about family. And families are not perfect. Some days we may lose; others we may win—but in the end all that will remain are all the things that make us imperfect. High heels are not what make us whole; and makeup doesn’t change who we are. To truly find your worth you have to search for it inside.
You will find it when you least expect it. Your worth in God’s eyes will not be found in a box; it will not carry a price tag. It will be a radiant light that permeates from inside of you.
It hurts to feel that you do not measure up, it is scary to wonder if you are enough. Before you wait around for someone else to build your sense of who you are—Find it in yourself.
There is One who has always seen your perfection through your flaws. God’s grace can be found in the little moments that are there to remind you that even though you are not perfect, and even though your path has been rocky—you are perfect to Him.
You are perfectly imperfect, just the way you are.
Questions to Ponder:
- How can you learn to let go of the things that make you imperfect? How can God’s grace make you enough?
- How can you better accept your imperfect life as the perfect experience for your learning and growth?