February 26, 2015

Conference Ticket Giveaway

A Reason To Stand finally has a webpage. So I am doing a ticket giveaway to the conference on May 9th at The Boise Center on the Grove. Click on the link to go to the website. Just leave a comment on one of the posts on that website to enter! I will pick a winner tomorrow evening. Good luck.

February 18, 2015

All I Ever Wanted

It came. The day I had dreaded for almost two years—my turn to take the stand. I don’t remember how I got there that day. Besides Rob, I don’t remember who was sitting in the courtroom watching me. All I remember was gasping for air. When they called my name I had to physically peel myself off my bench and force my body to walk up there. Each step literally felt like I was carrying a thousand pound weight—the weight of my reality. Once those words left my mouth . . . the stories I told were real. All those months pretending like it didn’t happen—over.  

As soon as I found my seat—after holding my hand to the square and promising to tell the whole truth and nothing but it—I was asked to turn around and identify who was in the picture being projected behind me.

The first thought that went through my mind was that this was a trap—they had blown up a picture of Emmett’s body lying on the cold ground, and wanted to show the jury how that image affected me.  The fight or flight mechanism began to send off sirens in my mind.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and felt brave as I glanced toward the picture. And there it was—as tall as the ceiling—one of my favorite pictures ever taken of Emmett and me. Almost in a sigh of relief that it was a picture of his smile—and not his blood—my heart started pounding. My mind slammed me back to the very second that picture had been taken. Emmett had passed the bar. I was barely pregnant with Tytus. Life as I knew it was close to perfect. We were getting ready to go on a date with his mom and step dad in celebration of his success as a new attorney.

I remember thinking as I kissed my kids goodbye and drove to the restaurant that night—This is all I ever wanted.

Tears began to fall as I slammed my mind back into reality—the one where I was sitting on the stand—not as Emmett’s wife—as a victim in a murder trial. I could not hold it together. I don’t remember what they asked me as I tried to get a hold of my emotions. I do remember with each question asked I fought more and more to even find my voice.

The lump only grew larger as the questions rolled on. Like a robot I answered every one— but inside I was beginning another series of grieving the life that had been taken from me. I wanted to scream it from every corner of that courtroom. I wanted to yell and share my pain with anyone who could hear my voice. I wanted to tell Rob everything his gun had done to me. I wanted to let my hurt show.  

But all I was asked were facts—where and when, times and places. The only real emotion that was involved was the ones I was being forced to hide. Rob didn’t look up. Nobody asked how it felt—and in my mind I was sure nobody even cared.

When my time on the stand was over I felt like a puppy that had just gotten beaten up. All the stories of our pain were on the verge of seeping through my skin. Somehow I had built up the day in my mind—when I would take that stand—as a day of ultimate healing. I had envisioned telling the courtroom everything I had ever felt, and in my vision they all cried with me—they all felt for me.

Like a deflated balloon I took my seat. Months of rehearsing silently—felt like a wasted life.

By the time I reached my car that afternoon my deflation had turned into fierce anger. The minute my door slammed my heart gaped open and my empty car heard all the emotions that had not had a voice that day.

It started out as a gentle plea I sang to myself. Quietly I began to speak under my breath, “Nobody cares about you Ashlee. They don’t care that you have spent almost two years as a broken shell of yourself. They don’t care that every time you go to cook a meal for your family you can hardly breath thinking of the past. Nobody cares that you have spent countless hours wiping tears in the night and praying on floors that bad guys won’t come in with a gun. Rob didn’t care about you when he put that gun in his pocket. Kandi didn’t think of you as she was held in his arms. Nobody gives a shit that you thought you were living your dreams.”

By this time I was pulling out of the courthouse parking lot and onto the open roads. The angry under my breath voice gave way to shouts of pain. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Some of the screams were at the gun. Some were at the man. A few even sent Kandi’s way, but most of my anger was at the man in the picture who had abandoned me that night. I spoke louder than I ever had before to a man who wasn’t there. “Emmett . . . that was all I ever wanted. That girl in that picture—she adored you. She had set goals in her life, and she had watched them fall before her feet . . . and she deserved them . . . because she fought every day to make the right choices. She spent her entire life protecting herself so she could be worthy of such blessings. She went to college so she could be smart enough to teach her family. She woke up every morning to be the best gosh damn mother and wife—and she had everything she ever wanted. WHY WASN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU? WHY? She spent her life living to make you happy. She would have gone to the ends of the earth to make you smile. Why weren’t you home fighting for HER? Why wasn’t she the one worth dying for? All I ever wanted was to be normal, to have a normal life. I gave you everything. That girl in that picture thought she had it all. She truly believed that anyone cared. But truth is . . . nobody does. Rob didn’t care about me as he planned your fate. Kandi didn’t give a hell who I was as she pranced around in your arms . . . and YOU . . . If I was enough for you, you wouldn’t have left me that night. You wouldn’t have shared something special with HER, but even more than that . . . you wouldn’t have made me believe I had all I ever wanted. All I ever wanted was you, and our family . . . and to be enough for you. The only dream I had was to be all you ever wanted . . . to be the girl worth dying for.”

I haven’t had many grand dreams in my life. I never thought I would run for mayor, or be the first woman president. I never wanted to invent something, or fly to the moon. Honestly, I never set many goals outside of my home, because I had everything I had ever wanted right in my arms. I never hoped to have a huge career or even work at all. My dream was to be an amazing wife. I always hoped to be an incredible mother—I never wanted to miss a second.

It was hard to embrace the blatant belief that was now mine . . . I was not enough. I truly believed that day that I had lost the only goals I had worked my life to achieve. If I wasn’t even enough for the man I had given my life to—I had failed at everything.

I wasn’t enough for Rob. He knew my name, even wrote me a letter. I wasn’t enough for Kandi—she had sent me presents and cards when Tytus was born, she had shook my hand and said my name. I wasn’t even enough for Emmett. He didn’t die proving to the world how amazing his wife was. He didn’t even die fighting for me. He was shot fighting for someone else.

There hadn’t yet been a day in my life—and there hasn’t been any since—when that lie was drilled any harder into my mind. In that drive home from the courthouse I was consumed with what appeared to be my inadequacy of being—every dream I had ever lost, the evidence of my apparent fail. In an all time low I could not see one ounce of the worth of my soul. I could barely see the worth of my existence. I looked upon my past as if the lies that had broken me defined who I would become.

As I pulled off my exit I knew I had to pull it together. The dark fog had grown so thick around me I could barely spark the desire, but I knew I had to snap out of the fears that were driving me home. I uttered a tender prayer. As I spoke, I burst into tears, this time with the real emotions that had driven my anger. I whispered, “Dear Heavenly Father  . . . I feel so alone. I . . . I  . . . wasn’t enough. Nobody cares what I went through. Nobody knows how I feel. I am alone . . . I can’t feel anything through this pain. I am suffocating. I am . . . I can’t, I can’t breath . . . and nobody cares. I wasn’t enough for him . . . I am not enough for them. I wasn’t enough for anyone. All I ever wanted was for him to adore me. I just wanted to . . . I had it, I had all I ever wanted . . . why wasn’t I enough for him? Why wasn’t my plan enough for YOU?”

I continued to drive, but for once in silence. My car pulled into the driveway and I turned off the ignition and shut the door behind me. I sat quietly in the empty garage. I sighed a few times, hoping to catch my breath. My head fell onto my chair. I pushed the seat back until I could no longer see out the window. The garage light shut off and soon I found myself in the darkness.

Hot tears streamed down onto my neck. Everything inside me hurt. The overwhelming feeling of inadequacy steamed out of each tear that trailed down my face. 

I uttered one last plea, “Why wasn’t I enough for You . . . ?”

The most overwhelming feeling of love and peace flooded into my pitch-black car. In my mind a few words echoed inside of me, “Ashlee . . . maybe you were not enough for any of them . . . but you are enough for ME. I have not left you alone, and I will stand by you forever.”

Life is going to be filled with thousands of moments, and most of them we will have to do a lot of standing on our own . . . but we are never alone.

Maybe we aren’t enough for anyone else, and maybe we have lost all we ever wanted—but that doesn’t take away our worth. We were created to be strong—but even when we aren’t—we are enough for Him. My tears have burned many streams down my face, a gun shattered many holes in my family. I did not know how to see myself when so many others had helped me prove the fear of not being enough to seem so true. But that day even when reality reminded me I wasn’t the one worth dying for—I was blessed to remember someone already had.

All we ever want in this life is to be loved for who we are. Maybe nobody will ever tell you any of the reasons you are worth living for; maybe nobody will ever die fighting for you . . . but Jesus Christ did. He is the reason we are enough—because for all the days we find ourselves standing alone . . . we will look back and see He was with us all along. If all we ever wanted was for someone to believe we are worth dying for, truth is  . . . He did.

January 28, 2015

A Reason To Stand

Over the past year I have been asked to speak at all sorts of different types of conferences and other uplifting gatherings. I have had the privilege to meet people from all walks of life—young and old, male and female, single and married.

In all of these settings I have found one thing to be true—I am not alone! For the first time in my journey I have been surrounded by the love of others in pain.

So many people are hurting. Everyone I have been blessed to meet has a completely unique story, yet each one has been paved with rocky roads. I have heard thousands of stories of different struggles, and overwhelming fears of how scary the future can seem. Some struggle silently—completely alone. Others are surrounded by support, but have never felt more abandoned in their lives.

We all have something in our stories that has tried to break us. Each of us know what it is like to hold our hands to heaven and pray for an answer, a way out, or a path back.

The last few months I have been reaching my hands toward heaven for an answer for every broken soul who has come to me seeking hope. Many nights I have sat on my bed crying tears for complete strangers—I have begged Heavenly Father to help me save just one.

Today I am humbled to be part of a new journey. I have been given the opportunity to put into action the pleadings of my heart.  I am pleased to announce A Reason to Stand. A conference of healing for anyone who has ever felt broken, alone, or not enough. This years theme is going to be The Unspoken Truth: You are enough.

Starting in my own community on May 9th, 2015 at the Boise Center on the Grove, I will be holding a healing conference for men and women from 8am to 6pm.

The day will be an uplifting array of personal stories, motivational speakers, therapists, and counselors. It will be faith based, but no specific religion. We will have an hour and a half break for lunch. Light snacks will be served during the smaller breaks. We will have keynote speakers, and many break out sessions throughout the day. Each person will even have the opportunity, if they wish, to have some time in small group sessions with some of the most amazing therapists I know.

My goal is to have everyone who gets to participate in this conference to walk away with tools—to not only be motivated to make changes in their lives—but to understand how.

I have written so many times on my blog about asking why. At different times in our lives, we all ask why. Why did this have to happen to me? Why have I had to give up the dreams I always thought I would live? Why haven’t I been able to find happiness? Why am I not enough?

In this conference we are not going to spend much time on why. Many of the speakers are going to share experiences on times in their life when they were humbled to ask why—but will focus on the tools that lifted them higher and showed them how to keep moving forward.

I am excited to be part of this amazing group preparing for May 9th.

Some of the speakers I have already lined up are Jason Wright (New York times best selling author), L.jay Mitchell (therapist and author of Decide Now: The Good Life or the Best Life), Lori Zenahlik-Wallis (survivor of losing her husband and her four children in a plane crash in 1998), Will Hansen (marriage and family therapist), Polly and Jacob Scott (Addo Recovery). (More to announce soon)

Some of the break out classes will be geared to personalized struggles, and others will be less specified, personal self betterment. Each hour of the break out classes will have a few topics to choose from—but there will not be a bad seat in the house. All of these people I am inviting have something amazing to offer and I can’t wait to learn from each of them.

At the end of the conference I am going to take the last hour and wrap up the day. I am going to tell some of the stories of my past that have pulled me out of the trenches, and share some of my personal experiences on finding myself, seeking hope, reaching for faith, and learning to love again—and how I have learned to love myself, broken and all.

We are all broken. We have all been victimized by something. The world has given us a million reasons why we aren’t enough. On May 9th, I hope everyone who joins me will walk away remembering all the reasons why they are. Truth is: you are enough. We are not victims . . . we are survivors! 

The Boise Center on the Grove is excited to have us, and they are making an extra special effort to make this a beautiful day.

I have been given so much from this community. The love and support, and rally of hands who have been by my side still continue to amaze me. Thank you for helping my family when we could not stand on our own four years ago, and every day since. It feels good to finally take my turn to contribute something in return.

Thank you to everyone who has been so willing to help me pull this together. I look forward to healing along with you.

I am working on getting a website devoted to tickets sales and information for A Reason to Stand, but early bird tickets are available here. Just click on the buy now link below to secure a spot. 

Conference tickets:

We are looking for business sponsors! Please contact me for more information.

And I will be working on getting scholarship options available as donations come in!

And if anyone would like to donate—or if you have something you think you could offer this program please contact me at themomentswestand@gmail.com.  The proceeds from this event will be used to fund taking A Reason to Stand to another community this year. Thank you! 

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:

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