December 14, 2014

Impact

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 . . .
im·pact:
          -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!

Love,
Ashlee Birk and family 

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


December 2, 2014

Click


I had programed my mind. I knew I would have to attend the murder trial in a forced, locked down, zombie mode. I prayed that I could put myself into autopilot—I hoped I could hear and see . . . but not feel the facts of the story that had broken me.  I knew I had to be that fly on the wall—the one with no emotion or passion shown—just an everyday citizen learning about a crime.

The scary thing about allowing yourself to slip into autopilot . . . it is not easy to find your way out—and other times a single moment of weakness can lead you to snapping out of it in uncontrollable ways.

Our bodies were not made to work properly in autopilot—it is a fight or flight mechanism that was never meant to be permanent. Autopilot—or as I have called it, zombie mode—is something our bodies do to keep us safe. We can see what is around us, we can hear—but in this type of mindset . . . we cannot feel.

I had lived in autopilot many months—unintentionally—but during the trial I had to put myself back in it . . . on purpose. I knew I could not feel, even if I wanted to—but sometimes I would begin to feel regardless of how hard I tried to fight it. The hardest part of all was when I would go home for the night . . . and I couldn’t snap out—I could hear my family . . . I could see their sweet faces—but I could not feel anything.

It was October 2012 and the murder trial was about to begin.

The morning came—it was still dark outside when I pulled myself out of bed. My eyes burned from the tears I had cried the night before. My heart was heavy knowing I was going to be leaving the kids all day—but I knew my mom had come to pick up my slack. I was in turmoil as I tried to accept the reality that today was the day—I was anything but prepared.

I stared at myself in the mirror. My pep talk was less than loving. Ashlee . . . you have to stop. This is not about how it felt for YOU. You have to suck it up, get over yourself and put on your game face. Stop crying. Stop feeling. There is nothing that will be said that is going to change anything. Once this is over—and Dateline wraps it up—it will be done. You will be able to put together all the pieces—then come home and start living for real. You cannot feel . . . you cannot wish . . . all you can do is listen. The past is in the past . . . but today— it is here again. It isn’t real this time . . . just a recap of all that is was. Game face. Stop crying. Do NOT feel. Autopilot time. Do not feel. Everything is going to be fine . . . ? . . . you are going to have to be numb. See, hear . . . but do NOT feel.

I knew this day was going to be strange. I had a new life—I had learned to love, but a broken past I still longed to heal. My nerves were getting the better of me, but I tried to smile despite my inevitable butterflies. I was hopeful with the reassurance I had received during jury selection. I knew this time in court would be hard—but I felt peace that my healing would come . . . regardless of the verdict.

My friend Brittany volunteered to drive me down so I wouldn’t have to walk in alone. It was nice having a friend to talk to on the drive—to the beginning of what would come to be the longest month of my life.

By the time we reached the courthouse I was so flustered I was shaking. I was nervous to see Rob again—but this time my thoughts were consumed more on the fact I was going to have to face Kandi—I didn’t feel prepared. I wasn’t ready to embrace the pain her decisions had caused me. I didn’t want to look into her eyes and search her soul for her pain. I didn’t want to let go of the anger I had towards her—because in my mind—she didn’t deserve it.

I walked into the courtroom; my eyes darted in all directions. I scanned the room to make sure I hadn’t missed any hidden corners—if she was there I didn’t want any surprises like I had been given the first time seeing Rob—she was nowhere to be seen.

I took my seat on the victim side along with Emmett’s parents. His mom and I had not had many conversations since he died. We had both taken some time to piece together our own realities. Emmett’s dad had only come for me—with no personal desire to be there—he came to be my support.  It was nice to have them both on the bench with me—a gentle reassurance that I would not face these truths alone.

As we sat silently staring into the empty room, I couldn’t help but look at the bench just across the walkway from us—the ones who had come to support the other side. I could see what looked to be Rob’s parents and sister. I could almost feel the butterflies that must have been dancing around inside each of them.  My eyes stared—fixed on them, almost in bewilderment. How could they come to support a murderer? Could they not see the obvious ending to this trial? What hope was inside them that brought them here—did they think he was going to be able to walk out with them at the end of the day? How could any parent watch something like this? Maybe they are in denial about their son? . . .

My judgmental thoughts were happy to take the place of my insecurities—my mind did all it could to keep me from feeling my own emotions. It was easier to sit and wonder about other’s personal struggles—then to be surrounded by my own.  

Soon Rob was escorted into the room. He was in chains, but this time he was wearing a suit—not a prisoner jump suit—a business suit. I guess it made sense he would want to look presentable—but it was weird for me to see him dressed like one of the attorneys. Who is he pretending to be? . . . Does he really think a suit will let anyone see past the gun he held in his hand? . . .

I swallowed hard—trying yet again to slow down my self-righteous mind. I guess inside, since I knew I was not allowed to feel my own pain—I had created an unspoken rule that everyone else’s pain was fair game.

The minute Rob took his seat, and the judge began to speak, my numb mind began to slip out of autopilot.  I had to control it. I pinched my arm. Ashlee . . . this isn’t real. You are only here as an outside on-looker. Remember nothing you see here today is going to hurt you anymore. You have to be brave. You cannot feel. You can see—but you will NOT feel. These are just going to be facts . . . pieces to your puzzle. See them, collect them . . . but do NOT feel them.

I tried with every fiber of my being to buy my own BS. My heart was pounding as the jury walked in and took their seats. I tried not to make eye contact with any of them—one catch of my stare, and my secret pain would be revealed.

Tears began to form—I fought the urge to wipe them, for fear someone would see. I choked back my emotions and my throat closed off. I began to think I had made a mistake. PANIC—I felt claustrophobic. I can’t do it. I can’t sit here like this doesn’t affect me. I can’t pretend everything is ok. It took everything in my power to not scream and run out of the room.

My eyes darted around again searching for something to stare at. Rob . . . jury . . . judge . . . Emmett’s family . . . Rob’s family. Nothing in that room was a safe place to rest my weary eyes. Every bench held a reminder of why I was there—a reason for my heart to feel.

I wished so badly I had Shawn sitting by my side—a neutral safe haven to turn to for strength. I wished I could grab his hand and try to calm my beating heart. My mind darted back and forth—in and out of the past and present—trying to wrap around it what was real. I wanted to press pause for a minute on the past and step back into my present life.  I wanted to go home and be surrounded by things I was allowed to feel.

Have you seen the movie CLICK? Don’t you wish sometimes you could press a fast forward button through life's really hard trials?  Everything would move quickly and you wouldn’t be able to feel any of the pain?

The murder trial was just like that for me—only my autopilot wasn’t at a fast forwarding speed . . . it was all in slow motion—oh and I could feel the pain . . . only I had to pretend I could not.

I went in that day with the knowledge I could not let the information affect me—at least I couldn’t show it if it did. I knew I had to sit back and be a silent observer—an everyday citizen with no emotion to what was being said. The only problem was—I wasn’t an average citizen who had come to hear about the violence that happened in my city—I was a wife to a man who had been gunned down in a parking lot. Every word spoken affected my children and me—every fact displayed . . . had changed our lives. I drove there each morning already in autopilot—knowing I was willingly walking into an emotional torture chamber.

There are many forms of brutal torture. No one should ever be physically or emotionally abused; no one should ever have to watch a loved one die. I have heard stories about torture camps decades ago, and read many books about lives affected by that kind of torment. But I hadn’t endured any form of torture in my life—I knew nothing about a pain purposefully inflicted upon me. The torture I learned about for the month of October 2012—was a different kind of torture.

This torture was a slow motion detailed description of not only the horrible choices my husband was making, but the details of how two bullets sunk into his heart and skull. Slow motion details of text messages, and emails; slow motion pictures of the crime scene that will be sketched into my mind forever. Slow motion details of the activities of three people that night—leading up to 10:00. Slow motion details of how Rob circled around inside of Walgreens looking for him. Slow motion details of how Rob moved his truck out of the views of the camera. Slow motion details of how he waited in that truck for seven minutes for Emmett and Kandi to return . . . with a letter written to me on his front seat. Slow motion details of how Emmett and Kandi pulled up together inside his truck. Slow motion details of each of them getting out of their cars, and gathering out of the view of the camera. Three people—all going in slow motion. Slow motion details of every possible witness that came and went. Slow motion details of the angle the bullets entered him. Slow motion details of how and where the blood splattered all over his truck and the ground. Slow motion details of Emmett taking his last breathe. Slow motion details of every person within the sound of the gun—witnesses trying to remember if they heard a bang bang . . . bang, or a bang . . . bang bang. Slow motion details of every emergency person who walked onto the scene, and every detective that investigated that night—every angle and every fact that played into the murder. Three people standing at three different crossroads . . . all coming together in one big bang—a slow motion explosion of bad choices and broken hearts . . . ending a life. Click. 

Slow motion details of how two shots of gun—changed our lives forever. A slow motion torture I could not talk myself into walking away from.

I spent a month with a lump in my throat— and a new kind of pain in my heart. I don’t remember taking a breath in those days I spent in that courtroom. My eyes burned and my hands shook as I soaked in the pieces to the broken puzzle from our story . . . day after day after day—every one with a new topic—a different expert explaining what they had spent nineteen months researching and analyzing.

Just like the day I spent in jury selection—with my eyes fixed on Rob—I studied people’s souls. I watched each movement the attorneys made. I stared into the eyes of every witness—barely able to look away. I studied Rob, and the interactions he had with his crew of defense. I eyed each witness as they would come and go. I watched as Kandi pranced onto the stage and held her hand to the square. I watched Rob’s family hear the same facts I did—day after day after day.

I sometimes wondered if anyone else had pushed the same button I had—the one where you were put into some sort of trance resembling no emotion—but you were really dying inside.

Each day brought different knowledge—a new challenge in forgiveness of the three people whose crossroads collided that night. Every day was like someone had pushed the reset button on my remote—like the hope I had received in the past vanished into thin air.I always pictured my road to forgive as an uphill climb. I thought for sure that each step I took would be supported by the next step.

That month I learned that hope and empathy are very fluid. The more I listened about the bad decisions made that night, the more anger I felt towards all of them. The more anger I felt towards the three of them—the more I fought the urge to hate myself and question my worth. Every word spoken about the affair pierced me like a knife—a blatant attack on my worthiness of being enough as a wife. Every fact proven about the gun, reopened the wounds it had caused in my own heart. Every word Kandi said on that stand—beckoned me to hate.

Every ounce of self worth I had tried to find for a year and half was lost as I lived it all again.  The battle of hope and despair became a cycle I ran over and over and over each day. The search for empathy for each of their circumstances—many days— seized from my heart as I tried to force myself to not feel my own pain. I learned a lot about the power of the mind as I purposefully pretended to be in autopilot and not feel—but felt every word—and the more I didn’t allow myself to feel  . . . the less empathy I saw for them.

A trial I knew would not change anything from the past became an emotional internal battle of darkness and light. The temptation to hate had never been stronger. The battle to conceal my pain was overwhelming . . . and the hours my body went home to try to sleep—my mind did not follow. The trance took over my body—autopilot became me. Shawn and I didn’t talk much that month, some days hardly at all. I saw many meals brought in, I received many hugs—but that month, I did not feel the love that was all around me.

The learning experiences and opportunities for growth in our lives are not going to be concrete—they will be fluid. For every step we take into the light, there may be nine steps backwards trying to take us back into the darkness. Each day we will go in a different direction. Some days we will jump forward, others we will fall back.

Forgiveness, hope, charity, and empathy—all virtues we are trying to perfect—will flow in this same manner. Perfect mastering of any virtue will not come in this life. They will constantly be at battle with the opposition. Our hearts may be full with empathy and love for a foe one day—and the next day we may remember the pain they have caused. Some days we may fail in our battle to perfect our virtues—but we can start again the next. I learned a lot about this cycle of virtuous autopilot . . . the dance of despair and defeat being replaced with feelings of peace and hope.

I began to see that for me, forgiveness and hope were not an uphill climb—but a mountainous obstacle. And some days I did not win. Some moments I hit valleys; others I saw stars. Some moments I could see myself—and others all I could see was defeat.

We each hold inside of us a power of self—who we perceive ourselves to be. During, and even before the trial, I allowed just about anyone to determine my vision of my self.  I did not know I could be the keeper of this power.

Some days—when I learned different facts about the case—I willingly handed over my sense of self to the perpetrator of the crime. When they spoke about the affair—I didn’t just listen to the facts—I internalized them and focused on what I did wrong. I shifted my power of self over to Emmett or Kandi. (Because they did this—I must be this.) When I learned a fact about Rob’s actions, I internalized his decisions and shifted my power of self over to him.

I allowed the facts to bring me to many of my own crossroads—where I stood waiting for their approval . . . that I was enough.

I listened every day for one of them to change the story—I secretly waited to hear the part when I was enough for any of them. I longed to hear Kandi say she was sorry, or for Rob to stand up and cry for the pain he had caused me. I yearned to have Emmett walk in and tell me this didn’t all happen because I was not enough for him.

But guess what?—nobody did.

The battle to hate had little to do with anyone in that room, or with Emmett. The difference between a good day, and a bad day in court had little to do with the facts that were displayed . . . and everything to do with the power of self I could see.

When the facts were presented I had two opportunities—two different outcomes. One was to hold my power in my mind and allow myself to feel the effect of that decision—but not allow my power to be given to that person. The other opportunity, I often times allowed, when a fact was presented—I gave away the power of my sense of self, and imaginarily handed it to the person who caused the pain.

And that is what made the difference between a dark day, and a light one. The information was not different—but the way I allowed it to affect me was drastically not the same. Maybe Kandi was a slut, Emmett was a jack ass . . . and Rob was a freaking idiot—but their actions were not mine to own. They would have to own their roles in the story—not me. Their bad decisions could only break me . . . if I gave them my power. Regardless of who I was, or wasn’t, those three had made their own choices—and the days I could remember that . . . I stood tall.

The click of that gun was powerful. These horrible decisions, made by three people, were impactful in my life—they had changed the course of the journey I thought I would live . . . but they didn’t break me. The only way I could be broken was if I chose to let the world destroy me—if I gave away my power to anyone but myself.  

The world is going to try to break us—trials are never going to end. Even when the murder trial was over, its power has never ceased to try to destroy who I viewed myself to be. Truth is—the world is never going to want us to see ourselves, because the minute we do—we hold in our mind the power to be everything we were created to be.

It is not the trials in life that define who we will become—it is our reactions to them. The days I walked into that courtroom in darkness and despair—I felt it run through me. I saw and heard with a broken heart. I hated and I despised. I was numb to anything uplifting me, and I was on an emotional journey of heartache. But those days I walked into that courtroom willing to hear, see, and not feel the pain—but feel the spirit—those were the days I was given the miracles I needed to remember who I was. I was not a broken widow who was going to be plowed out of her own life. I was a strong daughter of God who was being given a new way to view myself—regardless of what others saw in me . . . or failed to see. 

The past has been cracked, the pain has been deep . . . but I am not broken. Because of Him . . . even I . . . the widow to a man who was gun downed in a Walgreens parking lot for stepping out on the promises he had made to me—to protect me, and adore me, and hold true to our marriage—even I could have a life filled with dreams. Even I could find more reasons to smile, and see myself for who I really am.

Life is going to be a roller coaster of dark days and light days. But I can promise you this: if we pray for the ability to see ourselves as God sees us—even the moments when we feel broken and weak—let me rephrase that . . . especially in the moments when we feel broken and weak—we will be blessed with a different view. We will be given the ability to see our own strength and the gifts we have been given. We will be able to view ourselves as an eternal being, and not just a temporary body. We will be able to find our ability to one day be made whole from anything in our past that has shaken us.

Somedays autopilot may take the reins so you can stay safe—but don’t give anyone else your power. See, hear . . . but only FEEL the truth. Sometimes truths are hard to feel. Sometimes facing the truths that cracked you—breaks you all over again, but it is truth that puts together the broken puzzle pieces of the past, and that sets you free from the dark roads you have walked. And it is truth that brings you to the knowledge that you are enough.

Don’t let others destroy you. Be you. Find strength in your story—even the parts that want to take your power away and leave you with nothing left. Even if the jury of life is sitting in front of you . . . staring—and you are wondering if there is anything left for them to see—God still sees it all. He feels the silent tears you are crying inside. He hears the gentle whispers your heart is pleading. Maybe you feel alone from where you are standing—but He is not far away. In those moments that darkness has surrounded you, and you wonder if everyone has forgotten who you are—pray that you can remember, even if no one else does.

Sometimes the greatest miracle of all is—waiting around for someone to see your worth . . . but finding it for yourself instead.

God is not dead. He lives. He is waiting for each one of us to remember Him, to find hope not only in our stories, but in His creations. He sent His Son to die for us—that we could one day live again. So we could make it through the trials and the days our bodies go into autopilot. He knew it would be hard. He knew there would be no remote to click fast forward through the darkness and the pain—so He allowed His perfect Son to die to atone for the world.

Grace—it is the power that is inside each one of us. Because of Him  . . . the trials we spend pretending we do not feel the pain—will strengthen the view we have of ourselves. The power that lies in each one of us is greater than anyone else can see. It is a hope that only we can find; in the stories only we can live.

Believe in Him. Believe in his plan—and never stop believing in the one person he gave you to be your greatest cheerleader . . . YOU. No one else has been where you have been—the pilot of your destiny is you. Truth is—you are His greatest creation of all. And when you can see that . . . you will know He is not very far away.










November 30, 2014

Cyber Monday

Right now Amazon has my book marked down for one more sale day! Click on the book to link to the sale!

 

November 26, 2014

Thankful

Tonight I had planned on spending a few minutes working on my post about the murder trial, but instead I have other thoughts that have been on my mind about Thanksgiving and what it has been in my life.


-The definition of Thanksgiving is: the expression of gratitude, especially to God.

-Gratitude is defined as: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I have so many memories of the Thanksgivings of my past . . .

I remember cramming sixty or so people into my grandma and grandpa's farm house and eating the most delicious food ever. I remember cousins and aunts and uncles, and most of all, my great grandma who lived in a little house next door.

I remember staring at her paralyzed arms that hung by her side, and listening to her stories of Thanksgivings gone by. I would sit in her living room for hours—and watch her little space heater light up and turn off—as she repeated old stories and remembered new ones. I studied her white hair and her wrinkled skin. Every word she spoke to me was filled with life, and so many memories of her past.

I never thought about the memories I was creating—that they would one day be the stories I would sit and tell my great grand daughter some day. I just figured life would always be the way it was. It never crossed my mind that each holiday I spent would one day be a distant snap shot in my mind. I always thought I would be the young carefree child running through pastures and chasing pigs. I had no idea that Thanksgivings would ever be any different—but I soon learned that truth.

When my parents got divorced our traditions changed. Everything that once seemed concrete and secure—was all the sudden different every year. I came to understand my new normal and appreciated the different kinds of memories that were created each year—at the two different houses. My parents both remarried and our families grew. New relationships brought an even broader spectrum to the memories of my holidays gone by.

I remember Thanksgivings at my mom’s with our blended family. They were full of people, and full of love. We had so much to be thankful for—and we were.

Every year was a different group of siblings, and different memories created.

Soon I was off to college. I stuck to the rotations of holidays with my little sisters—switching off at our parents' houses each one. A few weeks after Emmett and I started dating I planned to go to my dad’s for Thanksgiving—by chance his dad lived in the same town. We decided to go together. We drove a few hours out of our way to pick up my little sisters, and headed to see our fathers.

By the time we were half way there snow had begun to fall—and we were in a full on snowstorm. We could barely see the road and I started to get nervous. Emmett reassured me that everything was going to be ok—that he could see the tracks of the truck in front of him and he would follow them closely.

Way past midnight we rolled into town. We met each other’s fathers for the first time the next day. That was our first Thanksgiving together, and the first time Emmett told me he loved me.

The next time Thanksgiving came around we were married. We went down to Arizona with Emmett’s mom to visit his stepbrother and their family. We hadn’t found out I was pregnant with twins yet—but my belly was huge! Everywhere we went people would ask me when I was due. . . I was only three months along! A few weeks later, on Christmas Eve, we found out there were two babies—and they were identical girls!!

The next few years of Thanksgiving traditions were filled with babies. We always traveled to see family—switching between our four sets of parents. With so many parents, we always had somewhere fun to go and celebrate. I loved watching our babies with the extended parts of our families that meant so much to us.  

Thanksgiving 2009 we moved into our house. The next Thanksgiving, before Emmett died, we went and stayed with my Aunt Diane and Uncle Dave. The house was filled with people. It reminded me of the Thanksgivings from my childhood—filled with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents.

So many memories of Thanksgiving bring peace to my heart. It is weird to look back, and hard to not wish to have a piece of those days come to life again. So many family members, in my memories, have passed away. It is strange sometimes to continue to celebrate without them.

Thanksgiving is a tradition that has always meant a lot to me, but one memory in particular stands out in my mind—the moment I felt in my heart the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Shawn and I had not been married long when Thanksgiving rolled around. We had no traditions together—and frankly we were both a bit scared to share any traditions from our previous marriages—neither one of us wanted to feel like a replacement in the other person’s holiday celebrations.

My brother Josh invited us over for dinner. My sisters, and dad were all getting together there, so we decided to go and take Shawn’s parents with us.

Walking in I was a little bit nervous. It was our first real family event all together. I didn’t know how everyone was going to respond to each other. Everything was so new. I didn’t want any awkward conversations that made any of the parties feel uncomfortable—or not part of the family. I hoped no one would bring up Emmett, or things from the past we used to do with him. I worried Shawn would feel like a replacement if anyone was to say how they missed Emmett.

Then on the other hand, I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to pretend they didn’t miss Emmett. There was a hole in our family from his death. He had brought many of them together and had been the glue to so many of the relationships in our family. I wanted to be able to honor their grief . . . but I was so scared it would push Shawn or his family away.

I became so worried about what others were saying and doing . . . I was hardly enjoying the day.

Dinner was great. The food was amazing. Everyone was kind. Nobody brought up Emmett, or said anything to make things uncomfortable. After dinner we were all sitting around and each person began to say something they were thankful for.

When my turn came I stood up. I did not know where to begin. I felt a lump in my throat as I pictured memories of Thanksgiving past. I stared around the room. Gratitude filled my heart as I looked at each face in front of me. Tears came to my eyes as I fumbled for the words to express the thankfulness that was in my heart. I said, “This has been a very hard year for us . . . As I look around this room I am overwhelmed with so much emotion. When Emmett died . . . we were broken—we were lost. That was really hard, trying to be everything for everyone—and wondering how we were going to make it through. Because of everyone in this room, we didn’t do it alone. I am thankful for each one of you. We have been blessed with so many blessings. One in particular—we were given a miracle. This amazing man who swept us up and gave us a reason to find good in this world. Shawn, you didn’t come to replace Emmett—you were sent as an angel to give us hope. You believed in us in a moment anyone else would have walked away.” I looked over at his parents, “Your son is what I am thankful for this holiday—and I am thankful for both of you for raising a noble man who was worthy to be such an angel. Life has not been what I thought it would be—but I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you to everyone in this room for being there for us—and giving us a reason to remember all that we still DO have. I am thankful for this amazing family and the many blessings Heavenly Father has sent us . . . each one of you.”

I hadn’t planned a single word—but once they hit the air, my fear of anyone else making everyone uncomfortable by mentioning the past . . . was gone. I was so afraid that the past was going to ruin the moment—but it was in that moment that I realized  . . . it was the past that had brought us all there.

 (Pictures from our first Thanksgiving)











Every Thanksgiving I had ever celebrated made up my memories—but the things that were in front of me that day—were going to help make up the future. And I was thankful for them all.

Thanksgiving—a time to give thanks. There will be memories of the years gone by; there will always be hopes for the years ahead . . . but really all we have besides a snapshot and a hope—is today.

Wherever you are this Thanksgiving—make it count. Find the beauty in the room with you. Don’t worry about the memories you are missing, or the ones gone by—focus on the memories you are making. Live in the moment. Put away your phones and your computers—and live for today. Make a memory you can tell to your great granddaughter someday as she sits on your couch . . . not knowing all the memories her life will bring.

Life is not going to be the same every year. People will come, and others will go. Traditions of the past are fun—but they do not make a holiday. Holidays are for relationships—strengthening the bonds of the people we love. Don’t let your fear of losing traditions stop you from creating new ones. Embrace the imperfect things you are thankful for just as they are. No year will ever be just like this one—so that makes today pretty dang special.

Thank you for finding hope, for seeking faith, and for embracing your story.The ideals of our pasts and the hopes for our future are only a little part of our lives. 

Thanksgiving is giving thanks for what we have right now. I am thankful for grandparents who have given me so many memories. I am thankful for my parents who have taught me so much and given me life. I am thankful for Emmett and the love I shared with him that brought me five of my babies. I am thankful for my healthy body that made it possible for me to bear each one. I am thankful for my children and the different gifts they have brought into my life. I am thankful for Shawn and his willingness to see past the fractured parts of me—and find the good.  I am thankful for Jordyn who came to complete my motherhood. I am thankful for our very imperfect family that continually teaches me about patience, hope, and hard work . . . but most of all LOVE. 

I am thankful for the broken road . . . that has lead me to today—because without it . . . I am not.

Here is to new traditions—living the stories that will one day just be a faded memory of the past.

God has given us a lot to be thankful for . . . the hope that all of these memories can last forever. The grace of His Son—Eternal families—Life that does not end. And for that, this day—I am so thankful.


Happy Thanksgiving. May your day be filled with gratitude—and your heart be filled with love, for the memories of Thanksgiving past, for the hope of Thanksgivings to come . . . but mainly for what we have to be thankful for today.




 
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