January 21, 2015

The Broken Road to Faith

Why does it always feel as though my faith has to be challenged for it to grow? Is there no other way? Can’t there be an easy route—or is there one and nobody has told me about it . . . and I keep taking the long way? Sometimes I want to scream, “Didn’t we already cover this one?” Why is it that the same lessons seem to repeat themselves for me? Obviously I still have room to grow in all of the areas of my faith, but sometimes I fail to see why the same challenges come up over and over—why couldn’t I learn all I needed to the first time around?

The perpetual lessons of faith have been the catapult for my growth, but the pattern of their reoccurrence has also been a trigger for my fear. If the lessons of the past have been what have taught me to rely on my faith in God—if there has always been a pattern in these lessons coming up again to make sure I fully comprehended their magnitude—will I one day have to face every pain of the past all over again? If every obstacle I have ever crossed seems to be accompanied by a follow up lesson. . . what on earth do I have to look forward to?

This has been one of my greatest battles since Emmett was killed: to let the past be in the past, and to have faith in the future. For these two things have come to define my thoughts and challenge my peace as they have battled each other. My pain of the past has caused me to hold onto fear in an effort to protect myself from obtaining any more of it.

Some days have been a unique rollercoaster of holding on and letting go and surrounding myself in a wall of fear—always hypothetically prepared for the next storm to hit . . . but somehow this way of living has been the one thing keeping me from doing so.

I remember a day at the murder trial when I had become so numb it felt I was no longer hearing about Emmett. I felt like I was genuinely learning about facts from a movie. Specialists were being marched off and on the stand; I saw many hold up their hand and swear to tell the truth. I don’t even recall what types of experts they each were, I just remember they came and went more rapidly than normal that day.

The afternoon was progressing well, and I hadn’t even had to pinch my arm to keep from crying all morning. I felt strong; I felt reassured that I was capable of making it through without causing a mistrial by my own over reactions to the facts.

A new witness was brought to the stand. The prosecution went through all of their questions smoothly. As the prosecuting attorney took her seat, the judge invited the defense to take a turn questioning the expert. He rustled around in a bag before standing to face the witness. As he arose from his seat, he pulled from his bag an oversized picture of Emmett—one I had purposefully never seen before.

Every detail I had tried to avoid for so long flashed boldly in my face. I could see Emmett’s bluish purple shirt— I had washed it just the day before he died. I could see his dark thick hair—I had cut it every month since the day we met. I could see his hand—with no sign of a wedding ring. I could see his face, and his skin, and his big eyes. All the parts of him I loved were captured inside that picture—but all over the body that was lying on the ground . . . was blood. He looked broken, and empty, and haunting—because he was dead. For the first time since he was killed, I had a view of what I had not seen.

Instantly my mind whirled through every detail of the moments after his death: to the viewing where I tried to see through the makeup that covered his wounds, and find the man who I had shared my dreams; to the funeral where thousands looked to me to find peace; to the burial where my children screamed at me to let them open the box and say goodbye.

I could not breath. Before my screams hit the air I ran into the hall. My panic attack was stronger than any I had ever felt. The hallway was long, and each step I took felt full of all the pain I had been bottling inside. Finally I reached a door I could hide behind—I pulled it open to find stairs leading up and down. With no knowledge of where either of them would lead me, I threw myself onto the window’s ledge and hugged my knees tight to my chest.

I sobbed like I have never sobbed before. It was real. It was all real—these facts about bullets and blood—they were not just stories and words and percentages . . . they were real. Emmett was the man in that picture. He was the man we had been talking about for days on end. He was the man who had written all those emails, and made all those phone calls, and slept with another man’s wife. He was the man who angry bullets had caused to fall to the ground. He left me here. It wasn’t a movie. This was all real. Emmett was really dead—and he died fighting for HER.

My chest pounded as the sobs finally found their freedom from the prison they had been hiding in—my head throbbed as my tears burned holes in my cheeks.

Soon, the victim witness coordinator found my hiding place. As she walked through the door my emotions finally came out in words. I sobbed, “Do they not know he was a real person? Do they forget who sits behind them every day? Do they not care that this changed our world? Does anyone want to know how this all felt for me . . . or for the kids? He was a person . . . he was ours. He was their dad . . . they act like this is all just a movie we are critiquing . . . but those bullets . . . they . . . they killed a man. That angry gun was fired at a father . . . and they silenced a husband. I won’t ever get to hear ‘I am sorry’. Do they not understand that? He was a man . . . not just a bloody body on the ground. Are they going to show a picture of him when he was alive? All we talk about is the body . . . do they even know he was real? These aren’t just facts—this isn’t just a story—that gun changed our life. This is all real . . . Emmett is dead because of that gun, and that gun was fired because of that man. ”

My heart gaped open wide and the wounds inside were exposed for the first time in a long time. The tears continued to fall and the sobs did not cease. Each breath I drew in was like a desperate plea for someone to care I was alive, or at least remember that Emmett once was. Each sob that forced itself into that empty stairway—a lonely song that felt as if no one would ever really hear. Each tear that fell, a hope for someone to remember the life that was taken that brought us all there.

It felt freeing to release all the emotions that had been eating me alive, and to have an ear to hear them. She didn’t say much; she just let me get it all out. Soon my body calmed down and my breathing became more consistent. Then she began to speak.

I don’t remember everything we talked about in that stairway, but I do remember she sat by me for some time. She told me about her baby boy, just a few months younger than Tytus. She told me about his Halloween costume and their holiday plans.

She told me about her memories of the times we had spent together, and our conversations on my couch the night Emmett died. I remembered her being pregnant, but not much of what we had said to each other. It was strange to reflect upon that raw moment of finding out all the truths.  What a blessing it was to know she was sitting with me all those months ago—and she was right by my side again, symbolically holding my hand through another broken moment. My heart was filled with gratitude that I had been blessed with a friend who had, in a small way, been where I had been.  

I have always said there is a glimmer of hope in every day. This day, during a long murder trial full silent despair, my tender mercy came in the form of an unexpected friend. In a time where I felt so alone and like no one cared how all of those facts had felt for me—she did.

The hard thing about glimmers of hope is the moment when they fade away. That night the hope had faded into fear: fear of the future; fear of loss; fear of love; fear of everything I had seen and felt coming true again. I lay in bed—with Shawn by my side—unable to separate the pain of the past from the fear that raged inside of me about our future. I didn’t look at him, or touch him, for fear I would love him . . . and lose.

So many of the nights during the trial went just like that. The new details to add to my remembrance of the past were like an open flame to the fears that burned in my heart. Some days it was hard to find hope, or remember any of the tender mercies I had been blessed to see. Most of the time if hope had shown its head during the day, by the end of the night my mind had twisted it into fear—taking those facts and putting them into the hypothetical scenarios for my future.  

In life, sometimes it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I promise I understand! Every day seems to present itself with a new angle to challenge our faith—and cause our hope to cease. I am starting to accept the fact that I will never arrive—because whenever I feel like I am almost there, I am thrown a new curve ball or blindsided with a flash of the past—igniting my fears at the drop of a hat.

Not long ago I was sitting in my therapist’s office. I was stuck in the pain of my story and fearing the future. Like a roller coaster, I kept spewing out all of the fears that had consumed me that week. I told him about all of the possible scenarios that played out in my mind in my weakest moments of fear about what was to come. I hashed over the past, and cried about my paranoia of it replaying in the future.

 The therapist finally slowed me down and said, “Ashlee . . . I want you to look around this room and name twenty things you see.”

I looked at him dumbfounded, questioning in my mind: Now how the hell is this going to help me figure out my struggles today doc? Reluctantly I began. I said, “Well, I see a clock. I see a telephone. I see a box of Kleenex. I see a book shelf . . .” And so on and so on.

When I was done I waited silently for the moral of the story. It finally came. He said, “Ashlee what were you thinking about when you were telling me your list?” I replied, “Well . . . nothing really. I was just trying to find my twenty things. I was just trying to focus on what you asked me to do.” He said, “Exactly. In that moment you were focused on what is going on right here and now. You were not worried about the past, and you were not fearing the future, because you were focused on what was right in front of you in this moment.”

My light bulb finally turned on. He said, “Ashlee, your story has been hard. The past has tried to destroy you in ways not many of us will ever understand . . . but you have to let it free, because the more you hold on to it and fear that it is duplicating itself—the more you fear moving forward. You fear your fate because of the past . . . but if you don’t start living in today—you are not going to have a future.”

Today? Was that really the answer to my fear? Living in the moment? It all made sense, and it was so clear how true that statement was. My fear of the past was destroying my view of the future.

Fear is toxic, even more poisonous than the pain. Our pain is what we try to protect with our fear—but ultimately we just cause more of it. We become control freaks, not because we want to make everyone do things our way—but more because we don’t ever want to lose the things we love. Letting go of this fear is really just accepting the fact we do not own the control.

Life is so hard. It is scary, the unknown—all the possible scenarios that might play out tomorrow. What if someone I love dies? What if I lose at love? What if someone hurts me?

I guarantee those scenarios will someday come tomorrow, but I am finally starting to have a testimony of the truth that no matter how much I worry about them today—it isn’t going to change the outcome tomorrow.

I didn’t know when I was a young girl that so much pain was ever going to come my way. I had fears like any young child, but the actual fears that try to destroy me now were created by actual pain I have felt in my life. So I guess you can say they are mine to own—they were creations of my own mind. But one thing is for sure—if I created these fears, I guess I am the only one who can overcome them.

Easier said than done—I know these truths, I have learned them over and over . . . but I still get scared. I fear because I don’t want to feel the pain I have lived ever again. This fear tries to break me, and every glimpse of the past is a trigger for it to ignite. Every single day holds a reminder of the past, but in my experience dwelling on protecting myself from it only causes intense fear. And no night spent in it has destroyed the pain . . . it has consistently created more.

We cannot control tomorrow, now matter how much we worry about it today. With that knowledge, I am fighting hard to live in the moment. When I am present—I do not feel the pain of the past, or the fear of the future. And that is a freedom worth fighting for!

Take a moment wherever you are to look past the pain, to push away the fear, and to see the little glimmers of hope that are right in front of you. Maybe it is an unexpected friend who wipes your tears when a picture of the past flashes in your face and tries to slap you off the track of hope you have been clinging to.

It’s going to be different for each of us each day. Maybe today it is a warm hug from the autistic son who rarely shows affection. Maybe it is a phone call from your mother you haven’t spoken to in years; or maybe it is merely the sun shinning on your broken heart.

I can’t promise every moment of every day will bring you joy—in fact a lot of them are going to be dang hard—but I have a testimony of living in the moment, seeing the beauty in the beast, and searching for a glimmer of light in the dark.

So when you get blind sided by the pain of the past, don’t let your fear cause you to forget to see the friend who is wiping your tears, or the hand that is trying to hold yours through your lonely sobs in the night.

Avoiding pain is more than controlling the future—it is living each day to its fullest. When we are living in today, we are not consumed by tomorrow or stuck in yesterday. I believe it is then that we get to heal from the pain of the past and we are blessed with faith for whatever is to come.

Look around the room. Name twenty things you see.

Look in the mirror, past the pain and the broken heart—and into the perfect soul inside yourself. Deep down inside each of us is a spirit rejoicing to just be alive. That spirit has a perfect knowledge of why we are here. We each have a mission—a unique plan designed to refine us. So one day we can become as perfect as the spirit that urges us to seek for hope in ourselves. We each have our own personal broken pathway to our faith.

Fear is the lack of hope. The only way to fight fear is to find hope—to have faith for things we cannot always see, and live today for a future we don’t always know. God is near. In fact—for all the things we do not understand—He will one day help us see how it was all part of His greater plan. Turn to Christ when the road gets dark and the fog too hard to make it through. His hand is never far from yours. Reach to Him for the lack of faith that keeps you from overcoming your fears. Through His grace all things are made whole. With His love, even the broken roads that brought you here . . . can be made your pathway home.

Whatever hand you have been given, don’t let it stop you from playing the game. Live for today, and let go of the yesterdays that are holding you back from smiling tomorrow. Maybe your road to faith has not been paved in gold and your pathway to heaven has been hard—me too! We are all part of that same club—our very own earthly fight club.

All the roads that lead to faith are broken—the difference between the outcomes has more to do with what we do with our fear and how we develop our faith. Pain is real, fears run deep . . . but faith is greater than them all. So that moment when fear is planning your fate—pray for the truth to know how to see yourself as you really are.

May this moment be enough to remind us just how near we are to Him. May every broken road bring us hope for things we cannot see, and faith to live each day . . . for a future we don’t always know. Not all yesterdays are worth living for, so live today like you almost forgot just how broken it has been. This moment—right here and now— is the one worth fighting for.

The broken road to your faith is perfectly imperfect, and so are you.

January 4, 2015

Proceed to the Route

This summer while driving to a speaking engagement in Morgan, Utah, we ran into some road construction. The detour caused us to have to ride on the other side of a widely divided highway. My phone began to panic—Siri kept yelling, “Proceed to the route! Proceed to the route!!!” as loud as I have ever heard her speak. She knew something was wrong— the route I had asked her to guide me to, was not the one I seemed to be following. To my phone, I was traveling on the wrong side of a one-way highway.

It almost scared me how persistent my GPS was that I was headed down the wrong course. It caused me to reflect upon my actions and ponder all the turns I had taken. At one point I even stopped and asked a stranger outside of a gas station if I was on the right course. It turned out I was still very far away from my destination, but had been on the right path to get there. 

I don’t know how many times in my life I have felt like I have taken a wrong turn. There have been many occasions when I have had to slow down and reflect upon the course I have taken to lead me to where I was. I have questioned some of my turns, as they have brought me to some pretty rocky roads.

But other times, no matter who has told me I was on a wrong path—I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. Life is strange, each one of ours is so very unique.

With this time of year, as one year turns into the next, I have paused to reflect on where I have been . . . but even more on where I am headed—and where I want to end up.

Exactly a year ago tomorrow I was having one of the biggest internal battles of my life. I had spent Friday night in the temple and had received the strongest prompting to start blogging about my journey. I wrestled with that feeling all weekend long. I didn't say a word to anyone about it. I was cross and snappy; I was scared and felt so alone. I was in a depression just thinking about opening up and sharing the deepest pains of my heart, and could not talk the rational side of my brain into believing this would be a good path for me.

By Monday night Shawn called me out, “Ash . . . is everything ok? You have been like somewhere else all weekend long, and I . . . just . . . how can I help you with whatever you are dealing with? Ever since we were in the temple and you were crying so hard, I  . . . you seem like something is wrong.”

I didn’t want to say a word about the powerful feeling I had received. I didn’t want to put him through anymore of me “dealing with the past”. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to scare him off, or have this be another thing that made him feel like we could never just be a family. And even more, for the first time in our marriage, he had been the one to ask me to go to the temple for him. I thought I was going that day to help him with a struggle he was having, not to get inspiration on anything I was supposed to do. I felt very selfish. I didn't dare tell him about the decision I was wrestling with.  I dodged around the truth.

By the end of our (fake on my end) conversation he offered to give me a blessing. The blessing was powerful. The words he spoke pierced my soul. One of the very phrases that had come to my mind in the temple, was spoken by my husband into the air, “I need you to be a voice to others of my children who aren’t listening. They are hurting too.”

When the blessing was over Shawn flipped me around and hugged me. He looked into my eyes and grabbed my shoulders and said, “Ash . . . do you know what all of that meant? Please tell me you know what you are supposed to do? I have never in my life heard or given a blessing like that.” I reluctantly answered as I sobbed out loud, “Yes . . . but I don’t want to do it . . . and I don’t know how I am going to. I know exactly what I am supposed to do, but I can’t . . . I can’t. It is going to hurt more than anything I have ever done. It isn’t fair. I have been through enough humiliation . . . why me? Why?”

He grabbed my hand and said the exact words I needed to hear, “Ash . . . Whatever it is . . . if I were you, I would stop fighting . . . and just have faith—and do it! I will support you . . . heck we have been through so much. You know I am not going anywhere. Whatever is going on—I know more than I have ever known anything . . . you have to do it.”

The next day this blog was born.

When I went to push publish on the first post I paused for a few minutes. I remember praying so hard with bullheaded tears falling down my cheeks, “Heavenly Father . . . I don’t know why I am supposed to do this, I don’t understand how this is going to help anyone but me and the kids . . . but I have faith that the one person who needs this will find it. I pray that it can make a difference for them. I don’t really want to do this, I am scared to share so much humiliation and heartache . . . but I do this for THEE. I dedicate this blog to my children who will one day need to hear the stories it will hold . . . but only because Thou has asked me to. I have been carried by angels, I have seen Thy hand in my life every single day . . . I have faith that You are putting me on the right course. Please let anyone in pain, who reads these stories, find hope . . . in Thee.”  Chills covered my body. I felt so much love surround me. I knew what I had to do. I clicked publish.

If you would have told me, even weeks before that very minute, this journey would have been mine—I would have shrugged my shoulders and laughed. There has been little about this journaling mission that has been fun for me—but it has brought me so much joy. I have so powerfully felt, for the first time since Emmett died, that I am on the right course.

Yes there have been others who have tried to tell me I am doing this for a purpose different than I am—there have been many with cruel opinions about who they think I am . . . and that is ok. If there is one thing I have learned it is this: when God believes in you—or asks you to be more than you are on your own—you grab His hand and follow. You don’t wait around to see who thinks it is a good idea, or ask for the support of anyone but Him. You merely have faith that the right GPS is the one telling you to get back on the right path.

Sometimes God is whispering, “Proceed to the route.” (Sometimes He has to shout it quite loud . . . especially for me!). And sometimes He is merely sticking you on a trail He needs you to be.

Faith—as scary as it is—is what brings us to find our missions.

This blog has not just been an amazing outlet of the pain and anger from my heart—as I thought it would be when I started last January. It has saved me from myself. It has helped me remember all the truths I have known all along. It has given me an opportunity to remember the good times I had before the murder, and to look forward to the ones that lay ahead. It has been a time for me to reflect upon my relationship with God and the foundation He has been in every single day of my life.

It is strange to look back on certain days, that I once felt were as black as night, and remember all the tender mercies that have been a light to help me find my way through them. In the moment, tender mercies seem to be mere coincidences. Sometimes for me, it isn’t until I look back upon them that I truly see Heavenly Father’s hand.

So this New Year doesn’t just mark the change of one year to the next. It marks, for me, a milestone of the blessing this opportunity has been for me. Thank you, anyone who has cheered me along. (Though the first time I got a comment from a stranger I almost shut the whole thing down)—the kind words and tender stories have been a huge support to help me remember why this was the path I was supposed to take.

For all those years I felt so alone—I cannot feel so now. There is a whole world of quiet pain—each one unique. Maybe your answer will not be to share publicly how it has felt for you—but please know you are not alone. Heavenly Father is always on your side. Our older brother Jesus Christ has shared with Him every pain you feel, and every fight you have battled.

So as you reflect upon your story of the years gone by—look for the times when He was there for you. As you look to the future, pray that the course you are walking is for Him. Maybe others will tell you to “proceed to the route”, but the only trail worth traveling is the one being paved by God.

I hope 2015 is the best this world has seen. I pray there will be more love and we will be able to better serve one another. I hope we will think a little more before we speak, and we may love before we hate. I wish for peace, healing, and hope for all. 

But even more than all of this—I pray for each of us to feel of God’s love. When things are going your way, and even when you are flat on your face . . . pray to be able to see yourself how He sees you—and you will feel joy.

If you have lost your way, now is your time to “proceed to the route”. This life isn’t over until it is over. If you are standing at a crossroads, and have forgotten what trail you were trying to follow—seek the right guidance to help you proceed back to the route where you will be able to protect, and be protected.

Not all crossroads are a battle of right and wrong, but each path we follow will lead us to the next. Protect the dreams you are already living, but don’t doubt yourself when you are asked to proceed to the next trail. Each of us will have a unique route to conquer, but only you can know which trails were meant to be followed.

I feel as insignificant as I did a year ago as I pour my heart out with memories of the past, but many things have changed: I am starting to remember who I always have been, I am embracing my story, I am seeking truth, and I am finding hope every day. I still battle the temptation to doubt that I am enough. I still fight the dark fears that try to creep in and destroy everything I know to be true. Life is still hard, and I struggle in some form or another every day. But one thing is for sure— for every time I fall—I am still finding reasons to stand.

For the one year anniversary of Emmett's death Bostyn and Bailey wrote a song they called Memory Song. I was going to write about that one year anniversary tonight but felt I needed to write about this one instead. Someday I will write about this day, but for now here is Memory Song (Bostyn and Bailey)

Looking back:

December 21, 2014

The Coat

I remember a day—a year or so ago—Teage and I were fighting all morning about whether or not he was going to wear his winter coat to school. He said he refused to wear it, and Shawn and I kept telling him all the reasons why he would. By the time school was about to start, and we needed to leave to make it in time—his coat was nowhere to be found.

I was ticked. I just knew he had hidden it from me in order to get his way and not have to wear it to school. I let him have it—and told him how embarrassing it was to send him to school without a coat . . . how every other mom would be judging my parenting, and all the teachers were going to talk about how bad of a mother I was.

By the time we got to school he didn’t even say goodbye—just slammed his door and ran out onto the playground. I was frustrated. Not so much because he slammed the door, or he was going to be cold—but because he won. He didn’t have to wear his coat, because it was nowhere to be found. I had to give in— because he had tricked me into losing.  

I drove home pissed off. I got Kaleeya and Tytus out of the car and went into the house. Soon my phone was ringing. It was Shawn and he was a bit hysterical. He said, “Ash . . . a bus got in a crash not far from my work . . . and a little boy was killed. He was good friends with one of my employee’s sons. It breaks my heart—really makes me think twice about the pettiness of arguing with Teage this morning about his stupid coat. What if that would have been one of our kids? What if that would have been Teage? My heart is hurting.”

As Shawn was explaining the events that had taken place I had sat down on the couch. In the middle of our conversation I glanced over to the kitchen table—and right under the chair Teage had been sitting in for breakfast . . . was his lost coat.

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. A little boy had died in our town. What if that would have been one of ours? What if that would have been Teage? What if the last conversation I had with my son that morning was a fight about a winter coat and me blaming him for lying to me? What if Teage had slammed his door and not kissed me . . . and then he died?

I put the little ones back in the car and drove straight to the school. With his coat in my hand I asked the office to call Teage up to meet me. As he rounded the corner tears fell from my eyes again. I held out his coat and said, “Son. I am so sorry. This morning I blamed you for lying to me . . . and you didn’t. I fought with you about wearing your winter coat so I could look like a good mom . . . I acted like an idiot . . . and I let you leave without kissing me goodbye. I am so sorry. I don’t care if you wear this coat. I don’t expect you to always follow my counsel . . . I just want you to know I love you—that no matter what happens today . . . you know that the most important thing . . . is you.”

He threw his arms around me and for a minute didn’t let go. It wasn’t about the coat . . . or who was right—all that mattered to me that day was that my son knew he was loved . . . in case I never got to tell him again.

We aren’t always going to be reminded—when we are too prideful to see—that there will come a final morning with our loved ones. It is moments like these that make us want to slow down just a little bit and see all the blessings in our lives.

Those last words—and final goodbyes—aren’t always on the forefront of our minds . . . but maybe if they were—we would make them count a little bit more.

It isn’t the coats our children wear that determine if we are good parents . . . but more about the love we give—when we remember it is them that make us great.

Not all goodbyes will be our last . . . but I am not sure I want to take that chance. So the next time a moment of frustration leaves me feeling like I have lost a fight—I hope to remember there is more to lose than an insignificant battle.

Lose a few battles—if it means gaining a little bit of love. Someday when that love is gone—you may wish you had let it win.

It isn't always about winning the battle . . . but remembering what we are fighting for.

Let us remember this Christmas season . . . the best gifts we can give are not found under a tree—they are found in our hearts.

December 14, 2014


With this time of year coming on quickly, the past few days I have been thinking a lot about the Christmas after the trial. Rob had been sentenced (I promise I will write about this soon), and we all were asked to write a victim impact statement to be read in front of the courtroom—and Rob—before the judge was to make his final decisions of the details of Rob’s sentence.

For weeks I avoided even thinking about writing my statement. It weighed heavy on my mind— but in fear, I pretended I didn’t know its due date was looming. Finally, after a text from a victim coordinator reminding me to get it turned in, I knew I must begin. She was right—if I didn’t turn in my statement in advance, it would not be approved in time for me to be allowed to read it.

And I couldn’t wait to read it—I didn’t want to write it . . . but I couldn’t wait to say the words that had been eating me alive in the dark of the night. I couldn’t wait to take my place on that stand and tell the stories of my pain. I couldn’t wait to set it free—the impact that gun had had on my family.

I finally found a free moment and headed to the solitude of my room to begin writing.

I sat on my bed, staring at the blank computer screen. I didn’t even know where to begin. I would type a few words—and then erase everything one letter at a time. Thoughts whirled through my head as I stumbled over every memory of the previous year and nine months.

Some versions began with anger—others with pity. Some started out with tears—others with hate . . . but every version would be erased from the screen just as fast as it went up. Nothing felt right.

I offered a silent prayer—hoping I could put into words the impact that had changed my life.

Thoughts continued to run through my mind. Gun. . . Rob . . . Impact . . . Rob . . . gun . . . Emmett . . . Kandi . . . Impact . . . Impact . . . Impact. . . Walgreens . . . impact . . . Rob . . . Gun . . . Emmett . . . kids . . . gun . . . impact . . . Kandi . . . affair . . . impact . . . Emmett . . . truck . . . Walgreens . . . gun . . . impact . . . Rob . . . gun . . . impact . . . widow . . . alone . . . kids . . . baby crying . . . Impact . . . detectives . . . trial . . . gun . . . impact . . . dark . . . alone . . . enough . . . impact . . . Emmett . . . gun . . . impact . . . head . . . heart . . . broken . . . impact . . . murder . . . gun . . . impact . . . impact . . . impact . . . impact . . . impact . . . impact. . .

I got stuck on the word impact. What did it mean? I knew how I had been victimized by that man and that gun . . . but what impact had it had? How was my life impacted by that choice Rob made—to take a gun?

I clicked on my Internet browser . . . and searched. I wanted to understand why; I needed to know how. At first I wanted to know what to write about—see if someone who had been in my shoes had any advise for me.

Nothing I typed in the browser got me anywhere. So I just typed in one word . . . I M P A C T.

I read some of the definitions out loud . . .
          -the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another
          -the effect or influence of one person, thing, or action, on another
have a strong effect on someone or something
          -affect, influence, have an effect on, make an impression on

It was so clear. In that moment I knew exactly why I was not being able to put into words the feelings of my heart—because I was forgetting the impacts that made me a survivor.

I was focusing so hard on all of the impacts that made me a victim—I was writing my “victim statement” without my whole heart. I was writing about impacts with hate in my heart, and revenge in my mind. I was forgetting everything but the fear. I was trying to put into words my pain—without remembering the light that had carried me through it.

All of the sudden sentences began to form—but not in the thoughts of the impacts I had intended.  My tears began to flow as my words popped up on the screen . . .

 Dear friends and family,
As I have been starting to write my victim impact statement this week . . . how Rob and his gun have affected me—and my children—it has brought back a lot of memories. It has reminded me of some of the pain and hurt that have been so long ago suppressed. Reflecting on those times has not been easy, but it has also given me the opportunity to think about the impact all of my friends and family have been on us too. I have lists of thank you notes I still need to write from the last year and 9 months. Hundreds of people who have been there for me in many different ways: endless dinners and treats, house cleaning, laundry doing, blankets sewn, girls nights, alarms installed in hours, birthdays, visits, presents, closet organizing, compulsive furniture rearranging, pictures taken, sweet emails and cards, sitting with me at the courthouse for days on end, babysitting, befriending my children, shoulders I have cried on, encouragement, and prayers, etc. Only I have not written one. Every time I have tried, for some reason I have been scared that even thinking about any of those times would strike reality back in my face. There have been months that I have been nothing but a shell of a person and have pushed everyone away. Maybe not openly, but inside there have been days that I just wanted to be done with it all. I have pretended that if I just don't even go there that somehow it would all disappear and the pain would stop and the fear would just dissolve. If I have ever sat with you in a crowded room and I haven't said a word to you . . . or you have called and I have been quiet or short—it is not because I am ungrateful or don't appreciate or like you. If you have come to my home or sent a kind note and have ever felt like it went unnoticed—I want you to know you have all been silent angels to me in so many ways. So as I think of all the impacts on my family—since that night—I am humbled to reflect upon the blessings each one of you has brought to me. Each relationship the kids and I have had, have been unique and special . . . and as a whole, the impact you have brought has been immeasurable. Thank you for being a kind friend, a patient neighbor, a loving primary teacher, and all the other roles you have played in our lives. Our lives are forever changed by a gun, but have been forever enriched by the people around us who have been there to help us find strength and courage and faith enough to remember that our Heavenly Father still loves us. He makes that clear every day by the people He has placed in our lives. I love you all so much and am truly grateful from the bottom of my heart for all that you have been for me. Merry Christmas and I hope as this year closes we can all strive to be a little bit more like Christ in all we do. He is the reason for this season and He is the one thing we can always count on in our lives. No matter where you are or what you are going through if you let Him, He will comfort you. I love you all so much. Have a very Merry Christmas!
Ashlee Birk and family

(Christmas 2012)

 Impact. Every moment can impact us—for good or bad. Every person we meet—and the actions they choose—can and will impact our lives. The times when we fall victim to these moments—we will feel the impact more powerful than anything we have ever felt.

I have said it a hundred times—we are all going to be victims in one way or another—but not all of these impacts will leave us as survivors.

Survivors are found when we are able to see the love that surrounds us—the impact of hope . . . the impressions that are made from the earthly angels sent to lighten our load.

We have to look for the impacts that are helping us survive. The moment we remember that writing our impact statement—at the end of a hard trial—isn’t just to reflect upon the impact of the pain, it is an opportunity for us to remember all the impacts that have changed us. That is the moment we will understand Why?.

So much of our lives we are going to ask Why?.  So many things we will endure will not always make sense. Life is going to test and try us over and over again, day after day—and we will be impacted by something each and every one.

We will impact this world—for good or for bad—we will all leave our mark.

Christmas is wonderful time of year to reflect upon how we are making a difference. Christmas is more than a celebration of the birth of our Savior—it is a time when He hopes we can reflect on the impact we can be in the lives of those around us.

The impressions we leave aren’t just up to chance—they are up to us. Remembering Christ in Christmas is just the first step to truly allowing the impact He left for the world to ring true in our own hearts. Remembering Him is not enough—we must strive to be like Him. We must live each day so the impact we leave on the world is . . . following in His footsteps.

To truly celebrate Christ—we cannot just remember His name—we have to remember His life . . . and the lessons He learned, and the sacrifices He made—we have to write in our hearts the impact He left for us alone.

Each drop of blood He spilt was for us as individuals . . . personally. As we impact the world for good with our actions, we show Him all the reasons His life impacted ours—we show gratitude for the personal sacrifices He made . . . to not only come into this world—and impact those He met . . . but to die for it—to save nations. 

Every choice we make—every thing we do—will impact someone. It is up to us if those impacts leave a blast—a hole in the road—or if they leave hope . . . and a pathway to follow.

Impact the world by making a difference for good. Change the lives of those around you by following the One whose impact didn’t just change the world—it saved it.

Christmas is a time of hope—even if you cannot see it from where you are standing . . . look for it anyway. Watch for those that are impacting you. Not all of them will bring light—but they will change you.

The impact of our journeys will be what everyone remembers when we die. Make an impact to remember. And remember the impacts that were made just for you.

Merry Christmas. I hope this year brings more hope and peace to all of us on this earth still searching for it. We have all been impacted in ways we never planned—whether by a gun, abuse, disease, crimes, accidents, or another person’s death. We have seen that these tragedies have left a hole in our lives. Our pain is real—and it runs deep in us all. We all know how to write a victim statement about our pain—because inside we all have.

This Christmas let us find a reason to see how the light of the world has impacted us—let us look for the good in the years that have passed, and remember those who have strived to impact us for the better.

There is always going to be a reason to sing the lonely lullabies of what our lives should have been—but in those notes we will find that hope drifts away. Hope comes when we let the pain go. Hope comes as we embrace those hard trials—and still see the good . . . and look to the future with faith that even though hard times will come again—so will the light. 

Impact the world with the light of truth—the true gift that Christ wants us all to receive this Christmas—the impact of His life, His sacrifices—but most importantly His love.

No matter where you have been—no matter who you are . . . Christ sees the differences you are making—and rejoices for the impacts you are leaving in His world.

So even if you are alone this Christmas—you are not forgotten. He is the gift. Share it with the world. Impact the survivors who are searching for a way out of the victimhood that now consumes them.

We are not just victims being impacted by each other. We are survivors who are carrying our brothers back to the hope they have lost—impacting each other—just as our Savior showed us how.

To all the survivors who have carried me and my family out of the darkness—I will never forget your names. Thank you is not enough for the angels who have been sent our way.

Yes, our family has forever been changed by a gun—but the impact of the lives who have touched ours for good will forever be remembered in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

Ashlee Birk and family 

(Tytus, Teage, Shawn, Ashlee, Bailey, Bostyn, Jordyn, and Kaleeya)
(Christmas 2014)

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