January 30, 2014

Footprints in the Sand

When Emmett died, he had many clients whose cases he had just begun working on, or whose cases were not yet completed. These clients called requesting refunds, and it was ultimately my responsibility to decide who would get their money back, or how much of their money should be returned. It freaked me out to decide who among his criminal defense clients should have money withheld. I felt overwhelmed and frightened to refuse anyone their requested full-refund. The last thing I wanted was to upset someone battling a criminal case, and have them come looking for me. Every time I had to go talk about the requests at his office, I worked myself up into a frenzy.

I hated the twenty-five minute drive to his office, alone in my car. I hated going inside the office. I hated how it smelled . . . exactly the same as every other time I had gone there to see Emmett. It was hard that all the same people worked there . . . especially because most of them had known about the affair before he even died. Sometimes, I felt mad at them. … It’s not like any of this was their fault, but somewhere inside of me . . . I was angry at them for not warning me.

On one occasion, as I drove towards the office, I felt like a stone-cold zombie. I didn’t cry during the entire drive, like I usually did. … I was pissed off. I didn’t want to spend any more time away from my kids cleaning up his crap. I didn’t want to hear Emmett’s name. I didn’t want to sign my name by his signature. I didn’t want to see his and Kandi’s handwriting all over the paperwork . . .  together . . . taunting me. I didn’t want to read any of the labels on the files Kandi had prepared for him. I didn’t want to stare at the silly “i”s she wrote with little hearts replacing the dots. I didn’t want to see the paint on Emmett’s walls. I had picked those colors. We had spent hours going to Home Depot and Lowes trying to pick the perfect shades so the trim and walls would be the same colors as our house. … Ironically, Emmett had wanted that office to remind him of our home. The paint-job looked so great the first time I had seen it all done . . . the dark brown trim and the tan walls turned out exactly as we had planned. It was just how we wanted it to be. Now, that paint-job was there to mock me . . . it stared down at me as a nasty, little reminder of all the plans we had made together . . . and that now, I was living without him.

I walked into the office that day with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t feel like letting anyone in. I didn’t want any sympathy hugs. I was going to get down to business . . . I was not going to feel . . . I was not going to think. Just write checks, sign papers and get my butt out of there. I sat down with Emmett’s employees and began to talk about these piles of criminal cases. I tried so hard to focus on the task at hand. Luckily, despite my stone-cold demeanor . . . everyone at the office was very willing to help me. I followed their counsel. They gave me all the facts about each case, and we worked together to decide who to pay and how much each of them should receive.

My mind began to wander back to the last time I had sat in this room. … It was a few days after the shooting. I had to meet with the detectives there to sign some release papers and clean out Emmett’s office. They had boxed up a lot of it for me already as they had searched for evidence. I glanced through the boxes. I looked through all of his desk drawers. Inside one of the drawers was a portrait portfolio of my bridal pictures . . . I remembered the day it was taken like it was yesterday . . . I had taken off my shoes in the snow to get the perfect look I wanted for the photos. Man, I loved my dress so much. … I slammed the album shut and put it in the box. After I had gone through each drawer, I realized that something was missing. … I started to panic. Where was our family portrait? At one point, Emmett had a family portrait sitting on his desk. Now, it was nowhere to be found. I went through every square inch of that room. Nothing. I got really emotional and frantically begged everyone to help me in my search. I had detectives and everyone at the office searching high and low for it. I think, in my panic, I even grabbed the shirt of one of the detectives and pretty much yelled at him that the portrait was very important to me . . . and that I had to have it! It had to be there and I wasn’t leaving without it.

In the back of my mind, that picture was so symbolic. I needed them to find it . . . because a part of me truly believed if we could find that portrait in this office—this room filled with all of those lost hours when Emmett wasn’t at home, and those nights he had spent here with her—that maybe it somehow meant we were worth something to him. My panic wasn’t about the stupid frame, the glass, or the piece of paper inside . . . it was about a fear inside of me that needed to be calmed. It was easier for me to be furious about not knowing where the missing portrait was, than it was to blame a dead man for not letting me into his life. Even after we had searched everywhere . . . we never found it. During the nights following the search, I spent hours trying to figure out where our family photo had ended up . . . maybe into evidence? Maybe Kandi hid it from him . . . maybe he threw it into the dumpster. That lost family photo symbolized the family unit we had lost . . . and it pulled at every one of my aching heartstrings.

So on this day, I wasn’t going to get frustrated about lost photographs. I wasn’t going to cry over handwriting on a document. I was going to be strong. I was going to accomplish what I came to do, and I was going to leave. Once we had gone through the entire list of everyone who had called, and the checks had all been signed, I said goodbye and got back into my car. Now, all my bottled-up emotions had even more power. They sat in my throat like a red-hot pepper. However, I was determined not to let them win. I drove off even angrier than when I had arrived. This place was stupid! It smelled stupid. It looked dumb. I tried hard to pretend I hated it because of everything that it was . . . and not for all its reminders of memories and heartache.

Robotically, I drove home. A few times, I screamed out in anger against Kandi or Emmett, but for the most part . . . my car was silent. By the time I walked in the door at my house, I couldn’t feel anything. I felt isolated and numb. I sat on my couch like a brick wall. I watched my kids as they threw their arms around me. I heard their tender voices saying they had missed me. I felt their lips as they kissed my cheeks . . . but I couldn’t feel their love.

Soon, I heard Tytus whimpering over the monitor. I was excited to see his little face, and I ran to get him out of his crib. As I walked into the room, I could hear the strains of music from my iPod, which we always turned on for him when he was sleeping. I walked toward his crib and picked him up. He wasn’t all the way awake, so I just held him . . . to see if he was really ready to get up or to go back to sleep. Within seconds, he was fast asleep in my arms, still swaddled like a little burrito.

The song that was playing ended, and for a moment it was silent. Tytus smelled like baby lotion. His skin was so soft on my face. The music began to play again. I recognized the song. As the first word was sung . . . all the emotions I had bottled-up all day . . . suddenly found their voice. As the tears fell . . . I rocked my sleeping baby boy, and I could feel the love surrounding me. I could not only smell his sweet skin, but I could feel his tender spirit snuggle up close to mine.

You walked with me, footprints in the sand*
And helped me understand where I’m going

You walked with me when I was all alone
With so much unknown along the way

Then I heard you say

I promise you, I’m always there
When your heart is filled with sorrow and despair

I’ll carry you when you need a friend
You’ll find my footprints in the sand

I see my life flash across the sky
So many times have I been so afraid

And just when I have thought I lost my way
You give me strength to carry on

That’s when I heard you say

I promise you, I’m always there
When your heart is filled with sorrow and despair

And I’ll carry you when you need a friend
You’ll find my footprints in the sand

When I’m weary, well, I know you’ll be there
And I can feel you when you say

I promise you, I’m always there
When your heart is filled with sadness and despair

I’ll carry you when you need a friend
You’ll find my footprints in the sand

I promise you, I’m always there

When your heart is full of sadness and despair

I’ll carry you when you need a friend
You’ll find my footprints in the sand

I had sung this song to my babies a million times before. It was one of my favorites. But this day, I didn’t just sing it to my sleeping baby boy . . . I sang it to myself. I bore testimony to my own soul that I was not alone. I wasn’t rocking my baby without my Heavenly Father by my side. I wasn’t driving down to the office alone. I wasn’t glancing over paperwork covered in Emmett’s and Kandi’s handwriting . . . without Him being there with me. I wasn’t even searching for a lost family picture alone in the dark.

Heavenly Father kept trying to tell me, in every way He could, that He was there for me . . . and even when I tried to shut Him out and pretend that everything inside of me was okay . . . He knew it wasn’t. Even on the days when I truly believed I could do it all by myself . . . He patiently waited for the moment when I would be humbled, and let Him in again.

He must have felt like He was taking crazy pills at times with me . . . “Ashlee . . . we have been over this . . .  I am not going to leave you alone. … I can see that in this moment you can’t feel Me . . . but I am here waiting for you to let Me in.” Every time I pushed Him away . . . He sent me gentle reminders that He hadn’t deserted me. He was still there . . . and all I had to do was let Him in. When I slowed down and really listened . . . His love was everywhere. The words to this song spoke that truth to me once again . . . “You are not alone . . . I am still right here.”

Those times when we feel like we’ve been given every chance in the world to let Him in—but we haven’t taken them—they aren’t over. Even if you have denied those impressions every day of your life . . . your opportunity has not passed you by. Satan wants you to think that who you are right now, is all that you can become. He wants you to doubt yourself. He wants you to doubt your faith. He wants you to deny those gentle reminders of Christ’s love. He encourages you to give up on your dreams. He wants you to stay right where you are . . .  and be content with being “good enough.” He wants you to feel satisfaction in being comfortable. He doesn’t want you to push on to a better day. He doesn’t want you to put others above yourself. He wants you to enjoy whatever compulsion sounds fun at the moment. He wants you to view yourself as the exception. He hopes you look down on others from a pedestal. He wants you to believe you are a little bit better than everyone else. But then . . . he hopes you see yourself as worthless, as unworthy, and forgotten. He will find your weaknesses and insecurities every day . . . and make sure they are drilled into your mind . . . until you just give up the fight. He wants you to hand over all your power to the things that try to bring you down. He is happy to take it into his own hands. He wants you to lose everything you’ve ever loved. He wants you to fall on your face . . . and when you do . . . he walks away. His plan was simple. If we followed him, we would never feel pain . . . but that same plan would leave us without joy. His plan was foolproof . . . but joy is what makes our lives now so special. We didn’t want simple. We wanted to grow. We wanted to come to earth to progress. We didn’t follow Satan because we saw the potential in ourselves then . . . and Christ still sees it in us now.

He wants to hear your voice. He is patiently sending you sign after sign that He is waiting for your love . . . and while He waits, He has a love for you beyond any measure you can comprehend. And it’s there with no strings attached, and without expectations. It is there regardless of the mistakes you have made, the choices you have messed up . . . even the shots you have taken. He loves us all.


Even if you’ve never even spoken His name, He knows YOURS. He hears your heart and sees all of the goodness that you ARE inside. He has seen every footprint you have made in the sands of your life. He has watched through the hard times . . . and He has seen all the joy. But in those moments when you feel He has abandoned you, when you look back and see only one set of footprints . . .  it isn’t because He has left you alone. It is because He is carrying you.


*[1]Mary Stevenson (Zangare) is the author of the poem Footprints in the Sand. She wrote it in 1936, when she was only fourteen years old. The song I played was written by: Leona Lewis

Leona Lewis Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand  (my sister Abbey Roll)

14 comments:

Jordan and Heidi Jensen said...

Ashlee you truly are an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your beautiful testimony. I honestly can not even begin to imagine what you and your little ones have been through in the past three years. I am praying for you and your little family.....I am so amazed at your strength and your faith....your children are so blessed to have you! I wish you so much happiness.

Tracie said...

Ashlee you amaze me continuously. I can't help think that everytime I read your blog that it was written for me and something I needed to hear. As I am sure that many others do. As I read the words to the song I could see the picture of the footprints in the sand and it made me think of all the times I know he has carried me through.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine shared your blog with me on fb. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for being strong for your children and for being a wonderful mother and wife. Yes heavenly father is always there for us. Everytime i go to the temple i will remember you always with your children. Much Alohas to you all xxx

Anonymous said...

This one got to me. I'm riding a stationary bike and thinking no way am I going to cry while breaking a sweat! But nope, I'm sobbing! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your extraordinary story and your God given gift with us. You and your family are in my prayers! Bless you!

Home of the Bergs said...

Isn't God amazing...that he is willing to carry us even when we don't ask him to. Thank you for your beautiful words, they have really touched me today. I needed to hear this and am so in awe that God will use a blog to speak to us. Thank you for being obedient.

glenda said...

Thinking of you and your beautiful kids. May love, peace and strength continue to be a part of your day every day!

Anonymous said...

I sit here and bawl at these posts. I cry for the hardships that you've had to endure but also for the way you are able to find little pieces of comfort and joy through a bunch of horrible crap. You are awesome. Wish I could hug it up with you!! :)

Tammy said...

Ashlee, I don't know you but I find myself thinking about you and praying for you all the time. Heavenly Father only gives trials he know we can handle and you are proving that. You are so incredibly strong. I am amazed at your strength and testimony. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart. You are an amazingly talented writer and you have completely touched my heart with your words. I am finding answers to my prayers through them. Thank you. Much love to you and your family, Tammy

Rach said...

Much needed.
Thank you for sharing your journey.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that I'm grateful for you sharing your story and the things you've learned as you've relied on the Lord. I've been through some heavy trials... I even lost the desire to go on.
The best way I've found to get through this is to reach out to others that are going through their own dark moments. I believe lifting others is the definition of what it means to rely on the Lord. I hope you realize on some level what your story means to people.
There's something beautiful about sharing our stories of climbing out of darkness. There's something ironically beautiful about massive amounts of pain and how it enables us to focus on others who are struggling in a way that we wouldn't have had we not gone through our own trials. This is a gift to others... and a gift to the giver as well.
I sincerely hope you find joy in the fact that your story is an inspiration to others. Nobody can fully relate to your story. It's yours. But we can all relate to pain. We can all be inspired as we see others sift through heavy trials by opening their lives up to light and clinging to it.
As I read the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies recently, I was struck by Alma 24:27 "Thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people." As you know, the context of this is 1005 innocent people just died mercilessly... seemingly meaninglessly. And yet, it says that the Lord can even use this to bring the victims (and the savages who did this) to Him???
This was insightful to me because I would love to change the past. I would give anything to go back in time and try to do things differently knowing what I know now.
But I can't. And neither can God. Not even God can change the past, nor can He intervene with free agency. But what He offers is His infinite resourcefulness in turning the most tragic events into lessons that refine, that inspire, that have a saving effect (as we participate in it with Him).
He offers the ability to turn meaningless, merciless tragedy into something of meaningful, merciful beauty.
May the Lord continue to bless you and your beautiful family.

Bonnie Mahlum said...

How great shall be your joy with him if you bring but one soul unto me- those words ring through my head as I read your blog... you have a very special gift and you are surely bringing lost souls in turmoil to Christ in humility and repentance.

Anna Lisa Young said...

Dear Ashlee, I saw the Dateline show tonight and my mind was filled with so many emotions; anger towards Rob and Kandi but amazement at your strength. You are a woman of character and Kandi could not even be compared and is in jail where she belongs. I hope you can turn your journals into a book and show others how to deal with life's hardships and to think of others before making the mistake of going down the path that leads to destruction. I will pray for you and your children. Lisa

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this last part of your post. Talking about all the ways Satan tries to tear us down. It gave me so much motivation to fight him off tomorrow! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"But those moments when you felt like he has left you alone, and you look back and only see one set of footprints leading down your path... it is not because he has left you alone. It is because he was carrying you through". These are profound words. If there is ever a time that I feel my faith waiver I will try and remember these words, thank you for your post.

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