June 21, 2015

Fathers: A Reason to Live

The sun has gone down. My house is silent—besides the sound of the air conditioning turning on and off, and the thoughts in my mind.

It was a beautiful summer Sunday. We celebrated a lot of fathers today—my own father, Shawn’s dad, Emmett’s dad, my brother in law Will, my brother Josh, and Shawn. A room full of dads—fathers worth celebrating. The day was close to perfect for me.

Tonight as I ponder over the word father, my heart is full reflecting on all the men in my life I have watched live that title. Some have lived it with class and grace; others have had many moments of failures. Some have chosen a different course for a while, and others have willingly stepped up to a plate that wasn’t always theirs to begin with.

There are all different types of fathers. Some only participate in creating a life. Some fathers only stick around until things get hard; some are there through the ups and the downs. Some fathers work so much they hardly see their children; others just wish they could find a job to provide for their family. Some have money where love is lacking; other fathers have time where money runs short. Some give parenthood everything they have; others only give when there is something left. Some fathers think only of their children; others only of themselves. Some fathers know how to love; some have forgotten along the way. Some fathers are forced into parenthood; and others choose it willingly.

So what makes a father? Is it just a one-time event—or is it a life long journey? Can just anyone be a father, a “sperm donor”, or a check writer . . . or is being a dad a daily choice these men have to make?

I don’t know the answers for anyone individually, but I know as a mother I have so many dreams for my children.

I used to dream of perfection—to start a family with a man who would be everything our creations deserved—loyal, caring, kind, happy, playful, loving, honoring, and virtuous. I used to have a plan for my children’s happiness—a perfect life that would always bring them smiles.

Only today—as I look back—I can see the very moment where my plan failed me, and tried to break my family. And today—as I look back—I can see the very moment where a different plan began.

My children have two dads. One who gave them life—who lost his way and never made it back to us to finish the job he had started. And one who has given them a reason to live—who will finish the job that was left undone.

I didn’t know, when I brought these babies into the world, that I wouldn’t be able to protect them from pain—but I also wasn’t aware that their Heavenly Father was going to watch over them at all costs.

Maybe that is the gift the real dads of the world have been given—the gift to protect. The gift to cherish what they have been given—and the gift to see the blessings that are right in front of their eyes.

Fatherhood is not a right—it is a privilege. Parenthood is a God given blessing given to us from Him, in an effort for us to strive to be like Him. To protect these children of ours, and to cherish them.

If the father you were given has forgotten the beautiful gift that you are . . . never forget you have a Heavenly Father who remembers. He is proud that you are His creation. He doesn’t just smile at the unique person you are—He cherishes the fact that you are His.

To all the fathers who wonder why you work so hard, please know we see you . . . we honor you—and we love you.

It is a job that never ends. Every day your willingness to fight for it will be challenged in different ways. Every day your struggles will try to get you to doubt your worthiness of this blessing of fatherhood.

Fathers . . . don’t stop fighting. We need you. We want you—not to write checks or babysit so we can have a break—we need you to put on your armor and step up to the plate. Be the father your family deserves. Show them that you cherish their mother. I can promise you it will change the way they see themselves—and the way they choose their spouse. Treat their mother the way you would want your daughter to be treated, because the only example she will have someday is what she saw you do.

Little boys want to be their dad someday, and little girls want to marry a man just like him.

So dads . . . no pressure, but it is time to live life for real. If today was your very last day—who is it you are going to be?

I thought for so long my mission was to help people avoid all the bad things of the world so their spouse never found themselves sitting on a couch with detectives hearing about a secret life and two shots of a gun. But I am starting to realize there is more to life than avoiding deadly sins. Living life isn’t just avoiding bad choices, death and heartache. Living life is about being present—protecting the ones we love, but also being there for them.

At the end of it all what are they going to remember?

As a daughter and a wife I beg each father to clear your view and see. Feel. Love. Those children, and that sweetheart need . . . YOU. They want the real you, the one who laughs, the one who holds them close, and the one who doesn’t just give them life . . . but gives them a reason to live.

Fathers, your job is important. You are the one these children are looking to—to know they are enough. Thank you for all the good you bring to this world—for all the moments you choose to stand.

Fathers Day 2015

June 4, 2015

Summer Book Giveaway Winner

The winner of book 2 on the blog is Jamie Lloyd. Please send me your contact info. Thanks everyone for the support and sweet comments.

My kids were watching videos this morning and this one was perfect for the first day of summer . . . for all the parents who are beginning summer vacation. Sometimes it seems little, unappreciated, and very hard . . . but we never know how much good we are doing with these little ones. Maybe we are missing out on many other things, but at the end of it all there are some things that will matter a lot more than others. Hope I never forget to put those things first. Happy summer!

You never know how much good you do

May 28, 2015

I promised one of these...

Book 2 Giveaway. Three chances to win. Just leave a comment here, Instagram, or  Facebook to enter yourself in the giveaway. Good luck! I will pick one winner from all three locations! 

May 25, 2015

Wait For Me

Dateline had just aired; the twins had just been baptized (I am going out of order big time). Shawn and I felt as if we finally could get away for the first time, and go on a honeymoon.

Our bags were packed and the kids' schedule was set. The drive to the airport seemed surreal—I kept looking at him as if he were not real. Besides the few days we had stayed in a hotel in our own town, we had never gone a day without the daily tasks of our household and raising our six children.

We held hands when we walked. We smooched in every seat we sat that day. We didn’t care that people surrounded us—we didn’t notice them as they walked by—all we could see was each other.

We had lists of things we were planning to do during our week in Hawaii; we had grand places we were told we had to see. As the week progressed—and our list still remained unchecked—we realized we didn’t care about seeing the world . . .we had come to see each other. We didn’t end up going to any of them. We sat by the pool, dove in the waves on the beach, snorkeled, relaxed, ate good food, laughed, hot tubbed, and went on a nightly walk hand-in-hand on the beach.

It felt like we were newlyweds—not the kind with six kids, a divorce and a murder in our past—real newlyweds. There was a sparkle in our eyes unlike any I had ever felt. A few people asked us if we were on our honeymoon—apparently our first time being able to even pretend we had just gotten married was displayed all over our faces.  Little did they know the baggage we carried. We always just smiled and said, “Yes! We are!”

It was amazing having nothing to see but each other—a blessing all couples should have . . . one we need to do again.

I remember at one point looking across a quiet table at a small little local restaurant in Maui, and thinking: I have never loved anything more.

It is amazing what we can see when our view is not obstructed by dirty dishes and laundry.

I have a theory. I believe that this is one of Satan’s greatest tools: blinding us. He gets us so in over our heads that we forget to see each other. We can hear bits and pieces of what we want to hear, but our vision of each other gets so foggy. Why would he want us to not see each other? That is easy . . . because the minute we stop seeing each other, we lose sight of what is worth fighting for when things get hard.  When we stop seeing each other, all of the sudden we are opponents instead of team mates.

Shawn and I have had our share of fights. With scars from the past, comes a lot of fear for the future. Our fears have ignited more battles than I care to count. Sometimes it has been my fears that have waged our wars—other times it has been his, but it is always the same and it always starts with one or both of us not seeing each other.

Our week in Hawaii was the most perfect week I could have imagined. It was almost as if we were seeing each other for the very first time. We didn’t have any battles with fears of the past, we didn’t even talk much about the future . . . we lived in the moment—a place that doesn’t even acknowledge the past or fear the future.

One night while walking on the beach hand-in-hand, tears began to fall down my cheeks. Soon Shawn noticed my silence and glanced my way. He stopped and turned me around to face him. I looked into his eyes and it felt as though I could see his soul. This spiritual giant looked back at me. I didn’t see his addictive personality, or all the times he forgot to take out the garbage like he said he would. I didn’t see the pile of clothes he had strewn all over the dresser, or his wet towel on the floor—I just saw him.

My love for him felt so overwhelmingly huge—and for the first time in a long time, I was vulnerable and willing to give my whole heart to him. I finally managed to get a few words out into the night air. I whispered, “Shawn. I want to see you like this every day. Why does it take coming to Hawaii for me to feel so much love for you? I have never loved anything in the world like I feel for you at this very moment. I have never had a more perfect week in my entire life. But one thing about you doesn’t make sense. How do you love something so broken . . . you know? How have you been there for me through all of this . . . why? Why haven’t you run away and just given up? I went every day to a courtroom of a murder trial of my husband who you never met. I agreed to go on Dateline to tell our story. There have been days that I have been a shell of a person . . . and still you stayed. Why? What makes you love me, when I am not even sure how to love myself? One day . . . I want to love you with all my heart. I want to let you in . . . and I want to be the wife you deserve . . . but I am not . . . but you are still here waiting for me. Why have you waited for me . . . how . . . how have you loved me even when I didn’t always know how to love you back?”

(Don’t tell Shawn I told you this part J) He had a tear in his eye. He looked out over the ocean and gripped my hand harder than he ever had. His words were like poetry, “Ashlee Ann Birk . . . love isn’t always about what is easy. You have to work every day to make it last. I DIDN’T know it was going to be this hard. And I would be lying if I said some days I wasn’t tempted to just walk away and go back to the simple days before I met you . . . but Ash . . . it would never be the same. I fell in love with you back then, and I am going to fall in love with you over and over again. Life was not complete before I met you—yes it was simple, but it was lonely and empty. Would a conventional family have been a way easier route—hell yes—but then we wouldn’t be us . . . and that is what makes you and me so special.  I didn’t just marry you because I think you are beautiful . . . I married you because you are worth fighting for. So, maybe sometimes it has been hard waiting for you, and sometimes you have had to wait for me . . . but hopefully we never stop waiting for each other . . . hopefully we never lose sight of all the reasons our love is worth fighting for. I will wait for you, and I will do my best to stand by your side through all life has to bring . . . because I love you Ashlee.”

 I had never felt so safe. I didn’t know much about who I was in those days, but I did learn the power of feeling protected—truly feeling that no matter what was to come . . . someone had my back.

It is a powerful emotion . . . LOVE.

It can break us, and it can make us feel whole. It can challenge us to our core, and it can be a rock for our weakened hearts to lean on. It can strengthen us, and it can leave us empty when it is gone.

But is it ever really gone? Even when love is taken from us, does it just disappear . . . or does our ability to give and receive it stay inside of us?

So many people have asked me how I was able to love again after losing so much. To that I answer this: we never forget how. Love is a gift from God—not man. If it feels impossible, that has little to do with our ability and more to do with our connection to a gift that God has given to us. The times in my marriage to Shawn when I have wondered how I was ever going to love him as he deserved, was not because of my inability to love him—but because of my inability to see him how Heavenly Father sees him.

It is that view we must strive to have in our marriages, because quite frankly there will always be something negative trying to block our view of that pure love. But here is the catch: we have to ask for it. We have to get on our knees in those moments where we cannot see that other person and we have to pray for that view to be cleared. We can pray for angels if we have to—to come and clear our view.

Whether your marriage has got you feeling disconnected, uninterested, alone, scared, wandering, empty, and/or frustrated—you are not alone. We will all, at one time or another, experiences these temptations. They are real, because literally they were orchestrated for each of us. There is not a marriage on the planet that has not felt a low time.

It is these low times that remind us of all we have to fight for. When life is going smooth, it is easy to get complacent and lazy—forgetting that love is a project we have to work on every day. If your marriage (or any relationship for that matter) is not the Hollywood version of love you always thought it would be, maybe you need to find someone else—or maybe you just need to clear your view and remember all the reasons you picked that one.

It doesn’t take a trip to Hawaii to be able to see each other—just an adventure around the fog. Fog is filled with hate. The answer to love is not hate. It never has been and never will be.

If love is what we seek—it must be what we are willing to give.

I have learned a few things about love: no matter what I will never live without it. I know that sounds crazy—I, of all people should know that I cannot control what will happen to me in life. But as an expert on losing love, I can promise you it is never gone. Love isn’t a person—it is a gift from God. One I will never stop fighting for.

One thing is for sure—those days when we can really see each other, we are never more close to heaven. God’s love for us never ends—and neither does the gift He has given each one of us. Love is eternal—it has no end. Sometimes we will take a turn waiting around for love, sometimes others may wait for us  . . . but love is never truly lost.

So if love has left you wondering where it has gone—a little hint . . . it doesn’t take a trip to Hawaii to find it. It is wherever you are . . . behind the fog. Find your way through that—and you will see it again. The gift of love is more than a powerful emotion—a piece of our hearts. It is the gift to see another person through Heavenly Father’s eyes.

May 20, 2015

Choose a Side

On the day the jury went to Walgreens—to see the crime scene all mapped out—they first allowed us, as victims, time to walk through with the detectives and ask questions.

I remember getting out of my car—shaking I was so nervous—wanting to burst into tears. It was daytime, but the chill in the October air was not much different than it would have been that cold March night. There was tape blocking off the parking lot. That sight alone sent chills down my spine. There were markers for everything—where the gun was found, where the cars were parked, any spot blood had fallen, where Rob was found . . . and where Emmett had died.

My mind fell back to the day the kids and I had spent in the parking lot—trying to figure out where he had taken his last breath . . . now I knew. A desire I had months before all the sudden slipped away as I forced myself to learn more truths.

While I walked around looking at facts and listening to evidence, my mind played the scenario over and over again—each time watching him fall to the ground where markers now showed the outline of exactly where he landed.

All of the sudden I looked up and spotted a man with a camera hiding on the other side of the parking lot snapping pictures of us. I wanted to run across the stalls and punch him in the face. What on earth was he doing there? What part of this pain we were battling was worth sneaking pictures of us as we worked our way through it? I felt violated and broken.  

My panic and the thoughts I had been fighting all morning about facing these hard truths, soon gave way to an all-too-well-known humiliation—I had no idea where those pictures were going to end up . . . and that vulnerable feeling left me leaving that parking lot feeling even more alone than I had in the fog of darkness that had surrounded me walking the murder scene.

I couldn’t even grieve and heal without someone watching?

My bitterness nagged at me for the rest of the day, and soon we all found ourselves back in the courtroom. Hate festered in my heart as I stared at the back of Rob's head—this time with a perfect knowledge of exactly where and how he executed his plan.

I saw him as a beast those days—a monster.

Each day that passed, my desire to find forgiveness gave way to my need for justice to be served.

The Sunday before Rob was to be sentenced I sat quietly in the back of a Sunday school room. A question was posed to the class. The teacher asked, “What is the difference between justice and mercy?”

I don’t remember who the teacher was—or anything else said that day—but I will never forget that question.

Mercy. Justice. What were those two to look like standing side by side? How could they—if possible—be used together? I spent a lot of that afternoon challenging my belief of their definition and how to apply them to myself. What was justice supposed to look like if I was viewing the world as Christ would? What mercy was I supposed to be seeking? 

A few days later the trial came to an end and we were asked to leave the courtroom so the jury could take the facts and determine a verdict.

A few friends of mine had come to take me to lunch. We decided to make our way down to the just-opened café on the bottom floor of the courthouse. I was almost annoyed that after spending a month in that building today was the day they opened, but as I pushed through the doors the smell of good food replaced the annoyance of all the days before when I had to search all over downtown for my lunch.  

I wasn’t sure I had an appetite, but my stomach had a different opinion—I was starving. 

We ordered our food and made our way to the table. I threw my purse on my chair and headed over to fill up my drink. 

As I reached for the ice lever I realized I was standing right next to Rob’s sister. Anxiously I started to panic—my first thought was to just go sit back down and give her some space to fill up her drink, but as I turned to leave I reached for her arm. I got a little choked up as I spoke, “I . . . um . . . I don’t know if we are supposed to talk, or what the rules are on all of this, but I  . . . I just want you to know how sorry I am for all you guys have had to go through—this can’t be easy for anyone. And I want you to know . . . I . . .  I have prayed for your family, and I can’t imagine how this has felt on your side of the room.” 

She stared at me. I had no idea if I had just offended her or if I was totally out of line. I started to turn to leave. With a quiver in her voice she leaned in and said, “We have thought about you guys as well, and I can’t imagine what you have been through. I have thought about your kids . . . and you.”

And there it was. Someone HAD thought about me. Someone really did care how all of this had felt for us. For the first time I realized that man—that pulled the trigger—was a brother. He had a mom, and a sister—and a family who loved him. Not because he was perfect, or they didn’t hear the facts of the choices he made . . . but just as I had said I would have stayed by Emmett’s side as he worked through his struggles—Rob had a family willing to do the same for him. 

Unconditional love is sitting through a month long murder trial on the other side of the room—the one where people stare from their seats and send hate from tear stung eyes—to someone you still have faith in. Hope . . . good enough to sit behind him and let him know that no matter what choices he made, what facts prove his mistakes . . . you still stay, because you love him.  

All of the sudden—realizing there was another side to that courtroom—my view of the verdict began to get foggy. 

Waiting for a jury to decide the fate of a man is an experience that is hard to explain. It is a nerve-racking situation full of fears, emotions, and internal battles. My heart felt torn as I watched his family and thought about the children who called him father. My twins' words echoed in my mind whenever I battled the need for revenge, “But mom . . . what about his kids? If he is in jail, then all of us lost our dads.” The empathy my children had shown that day when Rob was to go back to jail pulled at my heart and beckoned me to find forgiveness. 

The dance I now was swaying to, was one of the need for justice . . . and the hope to find mercy inside myself. Forgiveness didn’t seem possible if I was filled with a desire for a sentencing to put him behind bars. My mind was filled with the emotions of who I needed to be—and what I was to hope for. 

The clock seemed to slow down as I waited in a small room hidden away from the world. Friends would stop by and bring me snacks and a few laughs, but the pit in my stomach was not fed by anything.

My eye literally started to twitch just hours after we were sent to wait for the jury—every few minutes it would start to spasm and there was no way to stop it. It felt like the outside of my body was about to have a break down—to match the inside chaos I was facing all alone.

The time we would have to wait was unknown and even the days could be unnumbered—but while the jury stayed in session I wouldn’t leave the building.  

For almost two years I thought the pinnacle of my healing would be the day of the trial when Rob was sentenced—boy was I wrong. As I stood in that courtroom and on day two the jury finally had come to a verdict my heart dropped as it was announced.

I looked around the room and it felt as though everything was in slow motion. I looked at his mother and sister and watched them as they heard the judge announce “Second Degree Murder . . . 30 years in prison”.

I was filled with turmoil as my body told me to celebrate justice . . . and my heart told me to mourn with those who would now be mourning.

I have never lost a child to death. I have never had to hear that my son’s actions would have him taken away from me . . . but that day my heart hurt for a group of mothers. Emmett’s mother . . . and Rob’s. One praying for justice . . . the other pleading for mercy.

Why does life have to be so hard? Why can't we all just win? Why do we have to choose stupid choices and react to our fears? Why do we have to feel hate? Why do we have to choose a side?

Justice and mercy. Mercy tells us we must forgive . . . whereas justice tells us those who do wrong must be accountable for their actions. Sometimes when these two collide inside us—it is hard to choose a side.

Months after Rob was sentenced all victims of his crime were offered a chance to read a victim statement.

Every version I wrote became part of my battle between justice and mercy. I couldn’t wait to tell him how his choices had broken my family, and I knew I would never forgive that gun . . . but I wanted to forgive him.

First I talked to him directly about my battle to forgive—to forgive him—the man whose voice I had never even heard—the man who took a gun. I talked about my struggle to find forgiveness for his wife and the choices she made, and the impossible battle to find forgiveness for a husband I would never see again.

 I held up a picture, one I had taken in the weeks before Emmett died. It was a picture of all five of our kids—Tytus was just a few weeks old. They looked so adorable and their smiles were like beams of sunshine. As I held it up, tears began to fall from my cheeks. I said, “I have had the pleasure of taking care of a few “victims” that couldn’t be here today—except they aren’t just “victims” . . . they are five of the most amazing children I could have ever asked for. They have been my strength and I wanted their voices to be heard today.

Then I played a video statement from each of my kids. (I had shared with them a few days before, in a family home evening lesson about forgiveness, what I was preparing to do that week. They asked if they could come with me and tell Rob how he hurt them, so instead I let them do a video of their statements.) My twins each talked about how much his choice had hurt them and their family. Teage just cried uncontrollably and said, “I don’t want to talk to Rob, I don’t ever even want to hear his name ever again.” Kaleeya talked about her Doggy Doggy and how Daddy Emmett gave it to her and she takes it everywhere with her, “In spring, and spring, and summer and summer and everywhere!” Then I showed a video of the first time Tytus danced. At first he started out really slowly and uneasy, and by the end he was laughing and smiling and shaking his whole body.

Then I got the chance I had been waiting for. I got to read the statement I had been writing in my head every day for two years. I had gone over it again and again any time I was alone in the car. Its words built up inside of me every time I sat outside my son’s door at night listening to his sobs, or mornings when I had to force myself out of bed.

I looked straight at Rob as I read:

“Dear Judge,

My name is Ashlee. In March 2011 I was married to a man named Emmett Corrigan. We had just celebrated our 7th anniversary. We were married in Lehi, Utah on March 6th, 2004. Together we had five children: twin girls named Bostyn and Bailey who were almost six, a four year old son named Teage, a twenty month old daughter named Kaleeya, and a six week old son named Tytus. 

We spent years together creating this family. A few of those years we were both going to Utah State University for our undergrad degrees. Next came 3 long years of Law school in Spokane Washington. At the finish of law school, we had just had baby number 4, and decided to settle in Meridian, Idaho. The opportunity to work with Jake Petersen Law helped to finalize that decision. Emmett had been in practice with Jake since the very end of law school up until the day he died. He had made a great name for himself in that firm and also with his own criminal law practice and was very excited about finally being out of school and providing for our family.

The events that took place on March 11, 2011—that ended Emmett’s life—shattered my family. The night itself was a traumatic event for each of us, and the year and nine months that have followed have brought much heartache and pain. The decisions made that night that resulted in Emmett being shot in the heart and in the head didn’t just end an affair and a life—it ended a family. That gun that was placed in his pocket and driven to that Walgreens shot two bullets at a man who was a father. It ended a family. He was a husband. He was my husband and he was my babies’ father. He wasn’t always a perfect husband, and just like the rest of us…sometimes he wasn’t a perfect father; but he was OURS. He was the man who was greeted every night by 10 tiny hands held out waiting for their welcome home hugs. He was the man that sang ‘Take me out to the ball game’ before bed to his son. He was the leader of our home. He was his little girls’ protector and his sons’ super hero.

I could spend endless hours typing up painful moments that have shaken the childhood of my five little children. I could type of nights screaming in their beds because they had a dream that a bad guy came into their house and shot them in the head. Nights full of tip toes in my room, followed by tears and questions like, “What if he is still there?...what if he is waiting for us and he shoots you too?”, “What if you leave the house and you die…who will love us?” Any time I even stand up to go to another room . . . five little ones tug on me and break into screams . . . “Where are you going? Don’t leave us… just sit down.” 

I could write about Teage’s tears shed in a bathroom where a young boy cried while his class performed for their Moms and Dads celebrating their preschool graduation….sobbing and shaking because he was the only one who didn’t have a Dad. He never said one word or sang one note…just sat in a bathroom crying. I could talk about the thousands and thousands of dollars and time we have spent at therapist and grief counseling groups. I could talk about Kaleeya and her doggy doggy that Emmett gave her a few weeks before he died. A doggie that now looks like a pile of rags because she won’t spend a minute away from him—one of the only lasting memories she has of her father. 

I could type about days where we didn’t leave our house because every time we did fireworks would go off and my kids would almost stop breathing in panic attacks thinking that they heard the gun. Every time an ambulance passes by our house the whole house freezes. They have endless questions about policemen and why they didn’t do their job…if they have guns to protect people, “Why didn’t they protect my DAD!” Twin kindergarteners finally decide to go back to school after their Dad’s murder, and I get a call from the school counselor saying my innocent daughters are sitting in her office with broken hearts because some of the boys in their class thought it was cool their Daddy got shot. Weeks later neighbor boys are playing cops and robbers in their front yard and my kids are running inside screaming about a gun that once—as my daughter Bostyn has described it many times—“stopped their world”. 

Nightmares. Endless nightmares. Sometimes even during the day they are afraid to go to sleep that night for fear another nightmare will haunt their dreams. No day has brought my kids back to the normal carefree childhood days before March 11, 2011. At least once every day, even still, something reminds one of them of that night. They are reminded that their Dad died lying on the cold concrete of a parking lot. Scared to be alone—but also scared to go to a friend’s or into public. Fear and pain that most kids have never even seen yet on a movie screen. Fear of “the bad guy”, fear of reality, anger at a man they never met nor will they ever see.

I teach them of forgiveness, hope, and faith in their future, but that doesn’t bring back the man who should be sitting by my side and helping his babies through their lives. Years of missed laughs. Millions of missed memories. He didn’t see Tytus take his first bite of real food and make that sour face—or dance his first dance. He didn’t get to see him take his first steps or laugh his first laugh. Five missed graduations and five missed weddings. He won’t be there to walk Kaleeya down the aisle. He will miss the first day of college for Teage. He won’t get to sit on the couch with Bostyn and Bailey some day and talk about their first kisses. He will miss it all.

When I pictured the life I always wanted to give my children I never pictured spending hours every week in a counselor’s office listening to them try to put together the pieces that were left of their life. I never pictured sitting them all down and telling them of a decision made by the man that ended the life of their hero. When I brought these babies into the world I always pictured that I would be able to protect them and keep them safe at all costs. I always thought that we would live a life of peace and they would never feel the sting that death brings at such a young age in such a horrific way. I certainly never thought I would be teaching my babies what murder is before they knew how to spell it.

The death of Emmett by an angry gunman has taught me that I have no control over the choices others make. It has caused me many days of anxiety and fear. I thought my life in many ways was close to perfect…. But now it was shattered. My marriage was ended by a series of bullets as I was sitting at home reading marriage help books and rocking my screaming infant who could feel the same panic I felt that dark night. Little did I know in just a few short hours I wouldn’t even have a marriage to help. A marriage that I had worked so hard on and was willing to work on even more was taken from me. I will never get to sit across a courtroom, as I watched the others involved do, and hear, “I am sorrys and I still love you!”. I will never get to see his face one last time and get answers to the questions that now haunt my dreams. I was robbed of the man whom I had devoted my life to. He was taken from me at the age of 30. At the age of 28, I was left with a widow with a shattered heart, reality of the fears I had been seeking answers to, and five babies to raise without their father.

Sitting in that room with the detectives that night, in many ways is a blur. I can remember feeling like I was not able to breathe. I can remember my heart racing and scared to death to sit my babies down the next day and tell them what happened. A part of me just wanted to pretend he got in a car wreck and turn it into a more simple conversation for my babies…but that was not our reality. Our reality was plain and simple. Our family would never be the same, and has never felt the same from that very moment. Our reality was this….Emmett didn’t die because he over corrected his car or because he forgot to stop at a stop light. Emmett didn’t even die because of an affair. Emmett died because of a gun, an angry gunman and an unforgiving shot to his head and his chest. I wish as the gunman was reminding Emmett of the five kids he had left at home, he himself would have thought about those same five kids as he aimed to pull the trigger.

That decision and that gun have forever changed my children and me. I don’t feel like I will ever be whole again. We have picked up the pieces of life and tried to move forward—that is all we had left to do—but there is a void in our lives and in our hearts that will never be replaced. We will try to patch it as the years roll on but it will never be whole. Like a soldier who loses an eye in combat, we may be able to live and carry on…but it has and will continue to be a hard spot in our lives and in all that we do.

My children lost their childhood, something I, or anyone else, can never give them back. They aren’t like they used to be, or like other kids are, when it comes to being a carefree kid. They are fearful, they are in pain, and they have been forever hurt. If only I could have sheltered them and written a different story. But once the past is written, we cannot take it back. They will forever be the sons and daughters of a man who died in a Walgreens parking lot on a cold Friday night in March.”

For me, reading those words was so healing. It was a release of so much pain. I got to let those words go that day! It was a moment for which I had been waiting for so long. It was one of the many giant steps that I had to take, another check off my list on my road to recovery—on my path to find the purpose of living.

I will never know for sure how those words affected anyone in that room—and frankly . . . I was finally to a point that it didn’t matter. I wasn’t reading them in a plea for justice, but a hope that I could find peace as I set them free. 

Maybe justice was served when a jury sentenced Rob with second-degree murder and put him behind bars. Maybe that was supposed to heal parts of the broken pieces inside of me—it didn’t. But what it did do was remind me of the mercy Christ has for all of us.

He is that sister—that mother—that literal Brother sitting behind us, even when all the facts point to our sentence. He is there. He is always going to have our back . . . even when we don’t always feel we deserve it.

His mercy . . . His grace makes it possible for Him to unconditionally sit on the forbidden side of our courtroom just to show us He still cares.

His grace not only can—but will—heal those broken parts of us that don’t get put together in the ways we think they will after a month long murder trial waiting for the justice of the world to make us feel complete. His grace will be the mercy that helps us forgive—to move forward—even when we think all we have left to do is fall. His grace is enough for you. His grace is enough . . . for us all. 

Sometimes we may have to choose a side—but He will never leave us alone. Some days we may sit in a courtroom all by ourselves, or in an isolated room waiting for a jury to decide the fate of a man who has wronged us . . . but I can promise you one thing—there is a side we must choose. Because if we don’t . . . we will fall.

The line between the darkness of this world—and His light—grows even more clear as we understand that mercy is what heals our wounds—love and hope for a greater plan. Justice may bring an earthly calm, but it is mercy that will bring peace that can last forever.

For all the things we do not know . . . we will be blessed to one day understand. I am starting to have faith in this truth. I don’t understand all of the hard things that we face in our lives, but I do comprehend that these struggles will strengthen us to be stronger than we ever knew.

We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can decide where it leads us. 

I would have never chosen the side I have had to sit on—the victim’s row. I have spent many days paralyzed in a world of unknowns. The unseen fear that has racked my soul has sometimes been more than I can bear. The battles of darkness that have surrounded my young family have been wars I never knew we would have to face, but we never faced them alone.

We are strong. We are still standing.

Last week at our conference A Reason To Stand, as I sat and listened to many stories much different than mine—I realized something about the human race. We get to choose a side. We get to choose if we will stand. Life is going to continually give us reasons to find excuses on why it is easier to fall. We will constantly be at a crossroad and have to decide which side we will choose. Standing is personal choice we make each day regardless of where we are. Some of the strongest people I have met—the ones who stand the tallest—are quadriplegics who will spend their life in a wheelchair. 

Life isn’t about how tall we measure up—it is about how strong we can become when all we are surrounded by is ugly and dark.

The dark days are going to come. The one thing we know for sure is that we control nothing. We will hurt and we will lose. We can wait around for justice to bring us a false sense of our own power—a patch job for our pain—or we can begin to understand that mercy is what will make us whole.

Just like with Rob’s sister at that café all those years ago . . . I don’t know how this all works, I don’t know if we are allowed to help each other through the hard days when we are forced to choose a side . . . but I hope someday we all understand the power of healing what is really broken.

For all of you who have ever waited around for justice to set you free . . . stop. The answer to mercy may not change the outcome of what justice will bring, but inside our hearts we can use mercy to find a way to remember that we are all children of God. We have a Heavenly Father who loves us all . . . no matter what side of the courtroom we are sitting on.

He will always have our back. And that is the unspoken truth—We are, and always were, enough for Him no matter where we stand. 

Blog Design By: Sherbet Blossom Designs