January 26, 2014

On Sacred ground

The twins kept begging to go back to school. I think they craved the feeling of the “normal life” they had known when they were there. The desire to let them go rustled in me . . . and yet, I was not ready to send them off, out of my care. I knew eventually that day would come, but I resisted, and put it off for as long as I could. I even considered home schooling . . . but I knew I was in no state to be the sole provider for my children’s education. The day inevitably came. As the car got closer to the school, my thoughts turned back . . . to the last time I had spoken with their teacher . . .

It was exactly one week before Emmett died. I found a note in both of my daughters’ backpacks informing us that they had been in a fight at school and had been sent to the office. My twins? The calmest, ‘chillest,’ most easy-going little kindergarteners anyone had ever seen? Those girls had gotten into a fight? I needed to hear the details. So the next day, I loaded my three youngest ones into the car and headed over to the school to pick up the girls. I parked right in front of their classroom door so I could leave the babies in the car while I went to talk to their teacher about the events that had taken place the day before. I walked up to her and gestured for her to come speak to me privately, away from all the kids who surrounded her. I asked her what had happened. She recounted the story of the fight, informing me that a boy had ‘messed’ with Bailey, and Bostyn had just taken him out! She literally threw him to the ground, and he hit his head on the concrete. Then another boy came over, trying to get in the middle of it, and Bailey punched him in the stomach. I just looked at the teacher in amazement, like she was full of crap . . . my mouth wide open.

My twins, the little girls who never even fought with each other had taken on some older boys? I explained to her that I was grateful for her patience with them, and then burst into tears. “We have some stuff going on at our house right now . . . I am trying to figure it all out. … Please just know that my girls are trying their best . . . and I just need you to please be patient with them. This outburst of anger is not entirely their fault.” Now she was staring at me like I was making up stories. She put her arm around me and said, “If you need to talk to someone, the school counselor is always available to help.” I realized I had better stop making a scene, and I started to wipe my tears. “Thanks for listening . . . sorry, I don’t know why I am crying, I just . . . I just don’t know what is going on . . . and I don’t know how to make it all okay for them.”

I took the twins to the car, buckled them in their car seats and pulled away from the classroom. When I came to another parking lot at the school, I pulled into a stall and broke down. I was sobbing. What the hell was going on? I could feel it, and the girls could feel it. What was so wrong in our lives that my baby girl had pushed an older boy so hard that his head had hit the concrete? Emmett and I had never used physical punishment—I don’t think either of the twins had ever even been spanked!

In that parking lot that day, I texted about ten members of my family, begging them to pray for us. Whatever was going wrong, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few of the people I loved praying for our family. I don’t think anyone knew how to respond . . . but the vagueness of my text clearly freaked out everyone! They texted me back demanding more details, the very thing I didn’t have: details about what was wrong. My brother Josh asked, “What the crap is going on?” I texted him back, “I really don’t know. I think Emmett is trying to figure out what he really wants in life . . . and I need him to choose us!”

After I sent out those cries for help, we went home and I put all the kids down for naps. I sat staring at the wall all during naptime. What was wrong? Why did my whole body feel as if it were in a constant panic? Around dinnertime, a fight broke out over a toy, and within minutes, Bailey was nowhere to be found. I looked in every nook and cranny of the house. She wasn’t anywhere. I started to freak out. I finally found her outside, around the side of the house hiding behind the garbage cans. “Mom, I have been sitting out here, thinking about running away. What is happening? … What is wrong with us? … Why do I feel so scared?” I wished I had an answer for her. “I’m not sure, Bay,” I answered, “but I’m trying to figure all this out too. I am scared too. I feel it just like you do.”

I walked into the house, grabbed my car keys, loaded all five kids into the car and drove away. I didn’t know where we were going, but we had to get out of that house. I stopped at the home of my brother, Jeff, praying someone would be there so we could go sit in their home and feel the spirit that was always so strong there. I pounded on the front door . . . but nobody answered. I didn’t want to leave. I just stood there with my head against the door, holding onto the handle. I stood on Jeff’s porch probably a good five minutes before I went back to join my crew in the car. I went through every rational idea about what could be wrong . . . then I tiptoed into the irrational parts of my brain, and began hallucinating about anything and everything that these horrible feelings we were experiencing could mean.

By the time I snapped out of my daze and got back into the car, the baby was screaming. I didn’t want to go back home and face the turmoil stirring in the air there. So we drove. Within fifteen minutes, I found my car parked in the parking lot of the LDS temple. The building looked amazing. It was glowing. The kids were patiently watching a movie in the back of the car, so I just soaked up the spirit I felt enveloping me. I offered a silent prayer, “Heavenly Father, I know you are here. I can feel so much peace just sitting and staring at this beautiful temple. My home is in a state of turmoil. My kids feel it. I feel it. We are scared. I keep having dreams that my baby boy will die. I can’t help but wonder if these dreams are preparing me for something. Please help me to find answers about this disturbing power that seems to be settling in on everyone in my family. What is going on?”

A feeling of calmness and quiet reassurance surrounded me and seemed to say, “Be still . . .” I thought that reassuring feeling was an announcement that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that encouragement to be calm would be the most important message that would ever come to my mind.

The kids began to get restless. Bostyn had the idea that we should all walk around the temple. We looked like a crew of homeless beggars, but I didn’t care. It was nice to be surrounded by the calm feelings that were so strong on the temple grounds.

 When we got near the temple, Teage asked if he could walk over and touch the wall. Then the twins began to run towards it. Kaleeya and I soon joined them. With Tytus in my arms and my other four babies by my side . . . we stood and touched the wall of the temple. In spite of the chilly, wintery air, we quickly felt warm. Nobody said any words, but the stillness that surrounded us spoke to our fears. My children’s faith buoyed me up in that moment, one I will never forget. A moment where I stood and felt peace with every fiber of my being. A moment of pure strength and love.

My mind returned to the present as my mother drove with me to take the twins to school. Now, we knew exactly what had been wrong that day just a few weeks ago. But on this day, the girls were excited and nervous to go back to their classroom. They had missed class pictures a few days earlier, but they couldn’t wait to have the photo of their classmates—a photograph without them in it. There were not there standing alongside their friends. It was a photo they would later hang up in their room . . . and every time I passed by, it was a constant reminder that life had stopped for them. They had missed a part of their childhood. They weren’t there smiling on that picture day. No, that day, they were home recalling how happy their lives used to be.

We finally pulled up to the school. My heart dropped . . . I couldn’t send them to school. The thought crossed my mind to just turn around and keep driving. Back to our house . . . the house which no longer had that lingering feeling of some unknown anxiety. The only feeling in our house now, was one of emptiness. But at least in that empty house, I felt that my children were safe from the rest of the world. I could protect them from the hurtful words that would be spoken. I could shelter them from the information about their father’s murder, which just a short time later, their classmates would share with them: exactly where the bullets had entered Daddy’s body, how many bullets were fired, exactly where the shooting took place in the Walgreens parking lot . . . that he was on a date with the “bad guy’s” wife. These were not the descriptive details I would have shared with my five-year-old girls, but they were details they would come to learn once they were back at school.

We sat in the car for a minute, in silence. How could I let them take this step back into reality? Why did they seem excited and insist that they would be okay? I knew this day would be hard for all of us. What if a bad guy came and took them away? What if people were mean to them? What if they felt alone, and I wasn’t there to hold them when they cried?

Finally, the car door opened and I somehow found myself unbuckling my girls, grabbing their hands, and slowly making our way up to the front doors of the school. My eyes burned with tears that threatened to fall down my face. I was shaking and squeezing their hands so hard. We walked into the office and I checked them in. They gave me kisses and headed off to class. Why were they being so brave?

The tears started to fall as I exited the school, and headed to my car. I walked towards it slowly, and then looked up. Parked right in front of my car was a police car! I freaked out. My mind automatically went into a state of shock. Even though I could hardly breathe, I began screaming and I ran as fast as I could back into the office. I was hysterical! “What is . . . going on? Is there . . . someone . . . in the . . . school? Is there an emergency? Did someone . . . come . . . here with a . . . gun?” Every possible scenario raced through my mind and expressed itself through my frantic screams.

The woman in the front office helped to calm me down. Then a police officer came inside to explain to me why they were there. All of the students at both schools—where our children were enrolled and where Rob and Kandi’s children attended—were having a very difficult time. Since the shooting, the police officers had been stopping by the schools daily to check up on everyone, provide reassurance, and hold assemblies to help the children understand and help the kids from both families who would be returning to school. As angry as I was that all of this was actually real, I was also relieved to know that the students were being prepared to help support my grieving daughters.

A few hours later, I got a call from the school. My girls were in the counselor’s office and couldn’t be consoled by anyone. I raced back to the school to pick them up. They didn’t want to talk in the office, so I checked them out and we returned to the car.

The car was silent for the first half of the drive. I kept looking back at them, but they just stared at their feet. Finally, Bostyn decided to speak. “Mom, I’m sorry we didn’t stay at school.” I tried to be strong. Oh how I wished Emmett were here to protect her, to help me protect her. I thought about the time when Bostyn had been in the hospital because a cut on her eye had become infected. Emmett had stayed with her every minute she lay in that hospital bed. For almost three weeks, he missed school and work and held her while the doctors tried to figure out how to get her better. He had always been there to protect her when she was hurt. Now, it was just me. “Baby . . . it’s . . . okay. I am glad you are with me now. … I don’t know that I was as ready as you two . . . for you to go back to school.”

“Mom . . . everything was good. It seemed like a normal day for a while. Then at recess . . . some boys came over and started telling us how they saw our dad on the news. They were all laughing and saying how cool it was that Daddy got shot in the head. … Did he really get shot in the head and the heart? Those boys are stupid. They don’t know anything. They think our life is like a movie. They think that guns are awesome and that we are lucky. We aren’t lucky, Mom. The world didn’t stop, Mom . . . but why does it feel like it stopped to me? This isn’t something fun! Why are they so stupid? They don’t know anything. I never want to go to school again!”

All the horrible things I had wanted to protect them from . . . over! “Baby . . . I can’t imagine how hard that was for you. I know you probably don’t feel like you ever want to go back again . . . and that is okay for today. People can be mean. Our world felt like it was not moving . . . but everyone else has just been going on with life. Maybe those boys weren’t trying to hurt you. I think maybe they probably didn’t know what to say to you. They haven’t been where we are right now. They don’t understand how real this has been for you. To them it was like in a movie. They saw it on TV . . . but they didn’t have to feel how it felt for you.”

We sat in the driveway for a while and talked about the world. How unfair life seemed. How unreal the past few weeks had felt. That day—the week before their daddy died—that we had spent at the temple. We talked about other people’s words and how they can make us feel. We spoke about the words we have said to others . . . that may have hurt them.

“Can’t we just go back and touch the temple? Maybe we can live there?”

And so we went back to our spot on the side of the temple. We held our hands on it again . . . and felt the power that was inside. We didn’t move in, we didn’t stay forever . . . but we did see the hand of the Lord comfort us in that moment, reassuring us that no matter what happened in the world . . . He still loved us.

We have to be in the world . . . but we don’t have to be of the world. There are times when darkness surrounds us. Maybe it’s in the words others say, maybe it’s just a feeling in our hearts that something is wrong. The world tells us we have to be ruthless . . . that we have to fight to the death. We were suffering the aftershocks of that approach . . . and it hadn’t brought happiness to anyone. The world cries at us to seek revenge, to find others’ mistakes and magnify them . . . and never let them go. The world tells us to hang onto all our pain.

We can’t wrap ourselves—or our children—in a plastic bubble of protection. Trust me, I have tried. We are here on earth to go through pain. It sucks. It hurts. It tries to tear us down. We just want to shelter ourselves and our little ones from anything that goes against light, but even when we try with all of our might, darkness will find us. But, we can’t just sit silent in the darkness . . . we have to fight to get back into the light. We can teach our children about faith. We can teach them to be stronger than the hurtful words of others. I wanted to go sit those boys down and scream at them at the top of my lungs. But if it wasn’t the ignorance of those boys that day . . . it would have been something else. Each day, we have struggles. It wasn’t my job to make those boys suffer for the pain they caused my daughters. It was my job to comfort my babies and help them see that, although the hardness of the world is all around them, there is also beauty and peace to be found. We need to teach our children to be strong . . . not to be mean. They will be wronged, and our job is to show them how to forgive. They will be hurt . . . and we must teach them the ways to find freedom from their pain. Clouds will rage around them . . . and we must have the strength to show them how to stand strong in the storms. We need to teach them to find goodness in the motives of others . . . not to seek a bad guy in everyone they meet. “Bad guys” will teach them that the world is ugly. . . we will have to lead them to a world where only God can be their guide. We need to show them to trust . . . but also to follow the silent whisperings that will speak to their hearts when they are not safe. We have to allow our babies to be in the world . . . but we want them to rise above the darkness and be pillars of light to the world.

Until we have walked in others’ shoes, we cannot truly understand how they feel. We have no way of seeing the pain they carry. Their struggles are unique, and only they know what it is that weighs them down. We all have our own challenges to bear. We crave the love and support from those around us to help us make it through the next step on our path. It is easy to be afraid when we feel we are doing it all alone, and sometimes, we feel like we need to just sit down and stop trying. We cannot make the world support us, even when are seeking the light, but we can look for others who also need what we are seeking. And we can make a difference. When you encounter others around you who are struggling . . . find ways to serve them through their grief. As we try to help lighten the load of their burdens . . . we might start to feel less alone as we bear our own. If someone is facing the difficult blessing of raising a special needs child day in and day out . . . find a way to lighten that ongoing burden. Maybe your neighbor is suffering from cancer . . . lend him your shoulder for strength. Maybe your co-worker just got dumped by her longtime boyfriend . . . find a way to be there for her. In our words and through our actions, we can always make a difference.

You are not alone in feeling the weight of the world. My little girls felt the unknown darkness of the world when they got into a fight with those older boys who didn’t understand the burden they were carrying. They felt it again when their load was too heavy for them to bear alone, and careless children tore them down. Every single person you meet is carrying his or her own cross. Some of those burdens can be seen, and others we will never be known. Isn’t the best solution for us to all carry them together?

It is not our job to find answers for other people in their struggles, it is not theirs to find answers in ours . . . but I can promise you that when we are there for each other . . . life here on earth can be blessed with light. We can be the Angels that Heaven is pleading for us to be for each other. Then when the storm clouds come, we can stand—hand in hand—reaching together for the peace we seek . . . like the love and reassurance my family found as we clasped our hands together and leaned against the House of the Lord. As each of us takes each other by the hand and let Him guide us, we will all stand on sacred ground.


Anonymous said...

Thank you from Arizona.

Anonymous said...

your posts are inspiring! I have been checking every day for another one. I really hope there is a happy ending for you at the end of this. I find it hard to believe anyone could come through what you and your children have suffered and be so positive and uplifting. Truly, you are amazing.

Puhlman said...

After reading this I had a feeling and just KNEW that because of your amazing attitude and how you are dealing with this.......your kids are going to be better than OK. You are instilling in them some amazing and life long ways to cope with this tragedy. They are so very blessed to have you in their life. Not all mothers would be able to deal with this in such a way. You watch...you will see...one day the influence you are sharing with them will produce outstanding children of God. I am amazed with how you write. You have a great talent. I hope you continue to blog because I love hearing how incredible you are and the faith you have blows me away. Thanks. Thanks for sharing something so HARD with the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

I too have found strength upon the Lord. Our family has been touched by the "bad guys". Our son, our only son is in jail. He has been in Jail for three years now his trial is pending for July. Our son had gotten involved in something that was on beyond his control. At his arrest our home was filled with media, cameras, phone calls. The outside world was seeping in to our quiet home. He was (supposedly) married and had four beautiful children. He lived in another state. I had no idea that at 6 in the morning I would be inundated with the media. As the case unraveled before our family there was lies, deceit and secrets that was perpetrated by his wife and in-laws. It was like a huge giant smelly old onion that was dropped in our laps. I remember distinctly rolling over to get out of bed with a prayer in my heart that I could make it through the day when peace came to my soul. The question was "Am I going to be another VICTIM ?" My answer was loud In my soul that I might had vocalized the answer.NO. After that declaration. I started to pray, ponder, and research what I needed to do to not be a victim of the "bad guy" The first step ( I pray daily for strength) is to forgive. The second step is to serve. The consequences of the actions of the "bad guys" are still resounding. But the buffeting power of testimony, gospel and above all the infinite atonement make us able to face what we need to face. Thank you for your example and wisdom. You are sharing a difficult task writing difficult experiences. Through this I feel inspired. I am very grateful.

Anonymous said...

You are simply amazing. Thank you for sharing and putting into words such hard things. May you always find strength through the temples of God. Thank you for being so inspiring!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog through another blog and have been finding myself checking and re-reading your posts daily. Your strength - your faith - your ability to share is amazing.

Anonymous said...

You're truly amazing! I've been reading your blog since couple days ago. I don't know you but I want you to know that your words has been inspired me. Your kids are blessed to have you as their mom so they can be sure that they're still safe and loved and have hope.

Genetti Family said...

I have been reading your blog ever since Ashley Sullenger shared a link for it. I don't personally know you but I wanted to thank you for reminding me that forgiveness can be the most powerful weapon in a conflict. I will start today to teach this to my sweet children. You are so wonderful and strong for letting us all into your world and letting us strengthen out testimonies through your story.

Angela S said...

Don't have much to say but thank you. I am learning great things from your example. I look forward to and appreciate each post. I pray for your family.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you and your sweet children. I love reading your posts. Prayers & hugs to you all. Thank you for your amazing perspective.

Unknown said...

A few months ago, my daughter was asked by a teacher to be a special friend to a girl whose father was in jail for abuse. after a few weeks, this little girl punched my daughter in the stomach. My daughter said she felt so bad because she knew that her new friend was probably hurting inside and asked what more she could do to help. I was so thankful for her pure heart and PRAY that I will to my best to learn from her example. it is amazing what our kids can teach us.
Thank you again for helping me start my day with the motivation to be better.

Jessie said...

Ashlee, you are one incredible woman! What an amazing testimony you have. It is so beautiful to read. You write so well, and I enjoy reading your blog. So glad I found this on Facebook. You are such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I agree with others who have said you should write a book. Sending love your way. :)

Anonymous said...

As an inactive member in the Church, you make it come back to me. You are strong. Thank you

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