February 15, 2014

Voices

At the beginning of April, after Emmett’s death, it was time for LDS General Conference. We had always made Conference weekends special when I was a kid, and Emmett and I had carried on the tradition. We would sit as a family, listening to every talk . . . snuggled on the couch with our favorite treats and snacks.

I felt uneasy about just sitting around our house and watching it this year. My mom, who was still staying with us, suggested we call my Aunt Diane—who lived just two hours away—to see if we could go and spend the weekend with her. Rob had just been bailed out of jail, so I really felt the need to get away for a while. We decided to go to Diane’s. All of us needed to get out of the house, and I looked forward to some time away to think, and not do anything but listen to the counsel and direction from the leaders of the Church.

As we drove away from the house, it almost felt as if a weight had been lifted off my back. I looked out over the valley. It looked so dark and grey. It felt nice to leave the heaviness of our reality, and drive towards a place where so many people loved us. The kids were calm in the car. Everyone seemed to be lapping up the peace that seemed to have enveloped the car. It felt good to have some time to just think and be . . . not worrying about life, or death, or anything, really. My mind felt at peace.

As we pulled into Diane’s driveway, my phone rang. It was an unidentified number, which usually meant a detective or an attorney on the case.

I stayed in the car to answer the phone while my mother unloaded the kids. I sat watching my family joyfully run in and give kisses to everyone. The call was from the victim’s witness coordinator with the Attorney General’s Office. She was calling to tell me about the upcoming hearing dates, information about Rob, and to update me on everything the office had been working on. At the end of our conversation she said, “So, we were all wondering, do you want to be involved? … Do you want to come to these hearings? … Do you want us to reserve a spot for you, or do you just want us to call you after each hearing and give you an update so you don’t have to sit through them?” I didn’t reply immediately. I just sat there for a minute . . . unsure about what I really did want. What should I do? “Well, I guess . . .” I began. “I’m not really sure . . . what do you recommend to someone in my position . . . what do people usually do? What do you tell everyone else to do?”

She was silent for a minute. “Ashlee . . . you know . . . I don’t know that we’ve ever had anyone who has been in your position before, so this is one of those cases . . . where I can’t really tell you what people usually do, because . . .  well, I’ve never really known anyone who has been where you are right now.”

I hung up the phone. I felt paralyzed. I felt alone. I know she was just trying to help me realize that I would have to make my own decision, but in that moment, her words spoke to my insecurities and doubts. I really was alone. There was no one else who had ever been exactly where I was. It was just me. I felt cold . . . almost bitter. I had no one to call for advice. They couldn’t refer me to the last woman who had walked in my shoes. I was not the norm. Despite all my desires to just have a normal life—the life I had always craved—I was the exception. There was no one who had ever been in my same situation.

My excitement to listen to Conference faded as I picked up my bag and carried it inside. The weight that had been briefly lifted as we had driven away from home, fell once again onto my back. I was all alone. I felt like none of the talks that weekend would be for me. No, they would be for all the perfect husbands and wives. They would be for all the perfect parents raising perfect children. I started to feel like Conference wouldn’t be for me this year. That fear wouldn’t prevent me from listening, but nonetheless, I was certain I would be disappointed. Nobody knew what my pain felt like . . . and nobody had ever been where I had been.

When Saturday morning came, I still had a pit in my stomach. I wasn’t excited about Conference the way I had always been in the past. I sat through the first three or four talks almost purposefully refusing to allow anything to penetrate the wall I had erected around myself. I stared out toward the TV . . . but I didn’t hear a word. I was completely focused inward, feeling sorry for myself—no one had ever been through what I had suffered, or had felt the type of pain that was my constant companion.

Another talk began, and I folded my arms . . . perhaps an unconscious sign of self-pity. Then, I prayed to God for a miracle . . . that I could hear something that would speak to my frozen heart. I pled with Him to lift the black hole surrounding me so I could feel light again. Even though I knew that none of the speakers had ever walked in my shoes, I begged God to inspire one of them to let me know that I was not alone.

All of the sudden . . . my ears started working, and for the first time that day, I listened to the words being spoken and the principles being taught. The speaker, Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy, spoke of pain, and as his words filled the room, I felt in my heart that the pain I felt that day had not been forgotten. These are the words Elder Richards spoke to my soul:


As a surgeon, I found that a significant portion of my professional time was taken up with the subject of pain. Of necessity I surgically inflicted it almost daily—and much of my effort was then spent trying to control and alleviate pain.

I have pondered about the purpose of pain. None of us is immune from experiencing pain. I have seen people cope with it very differently. Some turn away from God in anger, and others allow their suffering to bring them closer to God.

Like you, I have experienced pain myself. Pain is a gauge of the healing process. It often teaches us patience. Perhaps that is why we use the term patient in referring to the sick.

Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”

Similarly, Elder Robert D. Hales has said: “Pain brings you to a humility that allows you to ponder. It is an experience I am grateful to have endured. …

“I learned that the physical pain and the healing of the body after major surgery are remarkably similar to the spiritual pain and the healing of the soul in the process of repentance.”

Much of our suffering is not necessarily our fault. Unexpected events, contradicting or disappointing circumstances, interrupting illness, and even death surround us and penetrate our mortal experience. Additionally, we may suffer afflictions because of the actions of others. Lehi noted that Jacob had “suffered … much sorrow, because of the rudeness of [his] brethren.” Opposition is part of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. We all encounter enough to bring us to an awareness of our Father’s love and of our need for the Savior’s help.

The Savior is not a silent observer. He Himself knows personally and infinitely the pain we face.

“He suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children.”

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Sometimes in the depth of pain, we are tempted to ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” I testify the answer is yes, there is a physician. The Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all these conditions and purposes of mortality.

There is another kind of pain for which we are responsible. Spiritual pain lies deep within our souls and can feel unquenchable, even as being racked with an “inexpressible horror,” as Alma described. It comes from our sinful actions and lack of repentance. For this pain too there is a cure that is universal and absolute. It is from the Father, through the Son, and it is for each of us who is willing to do all that is necessary to repent. Christ said, “Will ye not now return unto me … and be converted, that I may heal you?”

Christ Himself taught: “And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me. …

“Therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me.”

Perhaps His most significant work is in the ongoing labor with each of us individually to lift, to bless, to strengthen, to sustain, to guide, and to forgive us.

As Nephi saw in vision, much of Christ’s mortal ministry was devoted to blessing and healing the sick with all kinds of maladies—physical, emotional, and spiritual. “And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases. … And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God.”

Alma also prophesied that “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and … he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. …

“That his bowels may be filled with mercy, … that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

Late one night lying in a hospital bed, this time as a patient and not as a physician, I read those verses over and over again. I pondered: “How is it done? For whom? What is required to qualify? Is it like forgiveness of sin? Do we have to earn His love and help?” As I pondered, I came to understand that during His mortal life Christ chose to experience pains and afflictions in order to understand us. Perhaps we also need to experience the depths of mortality in order to understand Him and our eternal purposes.

President Henry B. Eyring taught: “It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. … And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.”

I felt the encircling arms of His love that night. Tears watered my pillow in gratitude. Later, as I was reading in Matthew about Christ’s mortal ministry, I made another discovery: “When the even was come, they brought unto him many … and he … healed all that were sick.” He healed all that came to Him. None were turned away.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught: “Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a ‘healing’ cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are ‘healed’ by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us.” All that will come may be “clasped in the arms of Jesus.” All souls can be healed by His power. All pain can be soothed. In Him, we can “find rest unto [our] souls.” Our mortal circumstances may not immediately change, but our pain, worry, suffering, and fear can be swallowed up in His peace and healing balm.

I have noted that children are often more naturally accepting of pain and suffering. They quietly endure with humility and meekness. I have felt a beautiful, sweet spirit surrounding these little ones.

Thirteen-year-old Sherrie underwent a 14-hour operation for a tumor on her spinal cord. As she regained consciousness in the intensive care unit, she said: “Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here, … and … Grandpa Norman … and Grandma Brown … are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you? … He looks like you, only taller. … He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.” Her uncle Jimmy had died at age 13 of cystic fibrosis.

“For nearly an hour, Sherrie … described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.”

Later she told her father, “Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them.”

To all of us the Savior said:

“Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

“Fear not, little children, for you are mine. …

“Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd.”

Our great personal challenge in mortality is to become “a saint through the atonement of Christ.” The pain you and I experience may be where this process is most measured. In extremity, we can become as children in our hearts, humble ourselves, and “pray and work and wait” patiently for the healing of our bodies and our souls. As Job, after being refined through our trials, we “shall come forth as gold.”

I bear testimony that He is our Redeemer, our Friend, our Advocate, the Great Physician, the Great Healer. In Him we can find peace and solace in and from our pain and our sins if we will but come unto Him with humble hearts. His “grace is sufficient.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Maybe nobody had been in my situation . . . maybe I didn’t have a friend to call for advice about how involved I should be in the murder trial, or how best to move forward to find peace . . . maybe I had no one to pave the way along my pathway to healing . . . maybe I was alone in my battle, but as my ears finally opened, and my emotions came pouring out as I listened to that message sent to me . . . from God, I knew He wasn’t very far away. He knew I would have pain. He knew I would be asked to make grown-up decisions—which I felt far too young to make—but He wasn’t asking me to make them without Him. He wanted me to know that, because He needed me to live like I believed every word.

I could feel every single talk after that. I knew the words being taught were not just for all the “perfect couples” surrounding me . . . they were for me, too. The next talk was about women and the strength they possess. At the end, the speaker thanked all those single women struggling to work things out on their own. In another talk after that, the speaker assured me that God “knows you and He sees your sacrifice…” In the afternoon session, there was a talk about a man who lost his wife because the doctor who came to help her deliver her baby transmitted an illness to her from an earlier patient. She died a few days later. Her husband was bitter and wanted to ruin that doctor’s life. He was told by a Church leader to “leave it alone.” Later in his life, he came to understand the wisdom of having followed that advice. He realized he would have ruined his own life—and the life of the doctor—had he not followed the counsel to “Leave it alone.” In each talk, there was a little bit of something I needed to hear.

There are voices all around us . . . telling us how we should feel . . . and who they think we should be. During this difficult time of my life, I heard many voices that tried to bring me down. Some tried to belittle me. Opinions were freely shared about how I should be feeling. People told me I should be moving on . . .  or how to grieve. Some told me I should be moving on more quickly, while others said I should slow down. None of those voices really mattered. Heavenly Father knew what path I needed to take on my journey, and only He had the true answers for my particular situation.

I was alone that day in my own personal grief . . . but I was not forgotten. Every single person has their own story. Everyone of us has our own personal path of pain. Not one of us has a handbook that details what comes next or how we should handle or make decisions. What is right for one . . . might be totally wrong for another. However, I have never been led astray when I have followed the counsel of the Prophets. Their counsel should be our handbook. They speak to us with no agenda. They volunteer their lives to speak truths to us. They care about each of us and about our relationships. They care about how we are living our lives and handling our grief.

During the trial, I had some special visitors ask to come to my home one Sunday afternoon to spend some time with me and my family. These men, who work alongside the Prophet daily, were there in my living room to see if I was okay. One of the first things they said was, “President Monson has asked that we come to see how you are doing . . . and to let you know that we have been praying for you.” They didn’t have an agenda . . . they didn’t come to get the gossip. They came to show me that I wasn’t alone. They were sent by the leader of the Church to remind me that I wasn’t alone . . . and I knew it was true. I didn’t know it because of them, I knew it was true because I felt it in my heart. Heavenly Father’s spirit was so strong. They came to comfort me and help me REMEMBER that He was not very far away . . . He knew right where I was . . . and I was not alone.

I know the words spoken by our Church leaders are true. I know that when I listen to all they teach me, I can feel joy here on earth. I believe that when we follow their teachings, we can remain immovable and true to our faith, even when the pains of this world are more than we can bear on our own.

We are all going to get knocked down. It’s not about getting knocked down . . . it’s about what we do when we get back up. Whatever pain has brought you down, find a way to get to your knees . . . and while you are there, pray for the courage to one day learn how to stand again. It may take years to let it all go. It may take a lifetime to find peace. It may take a thousand prayers to find relief from your pain. All pains in life are covered by a loving Father in Heaven who knows how to heal you. Some pains might take time to heal, some might never leave you while you are on this earth . . . but even through your pain you can find joy . . . if you have faith in Him.

The world will tell us that we are not enough. People will make us feel like we are not measuring up in any of the things we do. And most of the time, we listen. We allow the world to tell us that being a “stay at home mom” is not a worthy title. The world will whisper to us that our potential is so much more than just sitting home changing diapers. Voices are everywhere . . . in every magazine we  read, in every commercial we watch. Voices. Speaking to us. Make sure the voices you hear are the ones speaking words that are worthy of your time. Don’t let the world’s whisperings pull you away from the pathway to true happiness.

All of us walk our own roads. No one has ever been exactly where you are. In this moment right now . . . no one else has felt what you are feeling. That fact can feel overwhelmingly lonely and hard. It is a truth that sometimes leaves you wondering where to turn and what to do next. During those moments when you feel like you have no one to call, and no one to tell you who to be . . . just be YOU. You are the you that He wanted you to be. He has the power to heal the you He still sees inside. And He will. He is the one who has walked your path ahead of you. He has seen the darkness. He has felt the hurt. He walks a few steps ahead, so He is prepared to find a way to wipe the tears from your eyes, and mend the holes in your heart.


You were made to be you. If you are going to disappoint anyone, let it be those who cannot find the goodness inside of you . . . the ones who look for all that is wrong with you. They will bombard you until you lose sight of yourself. Voices are everywhere. Listen carefully. Listen to the ones that lift you up.  Surround yourself with beauty . . . and as you do, you will find your own voice. Listen to the voices that help you stand.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

A few times I have read a new post on your blog that just happens to be the very thing I am struggling with in my trial that day. This was one of those days. I needed to remember that talk. I need to be reminded of these truths. Ashlee, thank you for sharing. You are golden:)

The Musings Of Mothers said...

So grateful for women like you who are willing to share your heart break and your triumph, it teaches us all that we can overcome all through a loving Hevenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Wow, your words and testimony are so powerful. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Though no one has walked in your shoes, your testimony strengthens me in my daily life and trials. You are an amazing mother and child of God, and I look forward daily to being inspried by your words. Thank you for helping me want to be a better person and to rely more on my Savior.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sweet Ashlee. This was the very thing I was needing tonight. As the first commenter said, I really needed to be reminded of this talk and these things tonight. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I remember that talk, but I needed to hear it again today. Thank you for being an instrument in the Lord's hands, to bless the lives of so many others!

Lauren said...

Thank you for reminding me this morning that the voices around us are not always true. That our true worth is in Christ and how we are see in him. Bless you.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I have been following your blog from the beginning and your words are so powerful! You have a way to say what we all know and forget. Thank you for reminding me that we are all children of God and that He knows us and knows exactly what we're going through. We are NEVER alone.

BL said...

I love your blog, and cannot tell you how inspired you are to say the things that you say. Even though I am sure you still struggle daily, you have turned such a tragedy into something so beautiful that has helped others to learn. I have a firm testimony that that is one of the reasons bad things happen- so that others can learn from them. I could not be more grateful for your inspired words, I felt like this post was written just for me... exactly what I have been needing to hear. I appreciate you more than you could know!

Tracie said...

I so needed to hear this today, I miscarried on Valentines day and people are already telling me to move on. I needed reminding that he has felt my emotions so he can comfort me. Amazing blog as always.

Anonymous said...

I started reading your blog when I came across a link on Facebook, and I wasn't able to stop reading until I had read all of your posts. You are absolutely amazing! You have a gift for writing and are able to express yourself so beautifully! Your little family is just beautiful and they are so lucky to have you as their momma! Your story is heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. Some of your experiences, the way you describe them are beautiful. I am so sorry that you and your children have had to go through this heartbreak. I thank you for sharing your story, and I especially want to thank you for this post. I certainly can not understand the pain you have gone through and are likely still going through, but I do suffer with my own kind of pain. My pain is physical and comes from chronic back pain. I am unable to get out of bed much and really struggle with depression and guilt because I feel like I am not caring for my husband and 5 children as I should be. When I read this post and saw the conference talk on pain it really woke me up, and made me realize that there is hope, and that maybe I'm not doing my part spiritually. I need to trust in Heavenly Father. I really really needed to read these words. Thank you again so much for sharing. My prayers are with you and your beautiful children. You are an amazing woman......beautiful inside and out. Hugs to you!

Anonymous said...

Read your comment... we've been through 2 miscarriages in the last 5 months. My heart aches with yours. It is a very emotional experience and physically hard also. I read the book "Gone too soon" and it helped me.... Praying for your peace.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for about a week now and every post had touched me in ways that only Heavenly Father knew. This post really it me hard. Eversince I came home from my mission, early because I contacted an African parasite and for sick,I thought that no one really knew what I was going through and that no one really could understand where I was coming from our where I needed to be to progress. This post reminded me that even if no one on earth truly understands me, my Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ do. Christ has walked my path and will continue too. One of my closest friends reminded me the other day that Heavenly Father is ALWAYS on my side. Please know that so many of your words have spoken directly to my heart, and they are voices that I needed to hear. Thank you for sharing!!

Alina said...

I had a miscarriage on mother's day, just a few days after doing an ultrasound and hearing the heart beat, being told everything was normal...
Almost ten years ago and I still feel that loss and heartbreak clear as day, still shed some tears sometimes, but I know it's ok because it's just expressing my love. It's given me a determination to do my best spiritually so I can meet that spirit in heaven some day, knowing that it is waiting for me

Anonymous said...

For those of us who know what was going on before the tragedy, after all this time it would be nice if you moved on. You remarried quickly and should be focusing on your nrew life with your husband and kids. People who cheat firmly believe "it will never happen to me," as far as anything bad happening from their indiscretions.

Move forward, don't look back and be happy.

Anonymous said...

I am so touched by your words. I am a new mom with a baby who was born with a severe and life-threatening birth defect. Every moment of every day she must be watched to ensure she doesn't stop breathing. I, too, have felt so alone and like I do not have anyone to turn to, but I know that Christ knows my pain, and I do know that angels attend to our family and are helping my sweet baby every day. I will pray for you and your family as well when I pray today. I wish I could hug you and cry with you through it all.

Anonymous said...

I just cannot stop reading and crying and then reading some more. I love who you are and everything that you represent. I am so in awe of your incredible strength and unshakeable testimony. Thank you for sharing such personal insights with the world. You are definitely inspiring. I am so truly sorry that you had to face such horrible tragedy.

Regan said...

You shouldn't be so bossy. How dare you tell a person what to do. This didn't happen to you so shut up.

Stephy Snell said...

Im flabbergasted how people can be so bored in their own life as to so critically judge another's. This was hard to read this comment because I was sitting here silently praying to heavenly Father thank you so much for ashlee sharing this. Every single post is getting me through each day of my current trial. Ashlee is on the lords errand. And I personally am so thankful every single day.

Anonymous said...

I suffer from extreme physical pain as well. For over 20 years now. Since I was child. I have gone through anger, depression, guilt, feelings of wanting my life over. I have two small children and daily love with immeasurable guilt that they have me as a mother. Lately, I have felt almost numb because I know it won't end in this lifetime. Reading your comment and this blog do give me an element of comfort. I do need to step up my game. My kids were given to me with the knowledge of my disorder. Maybe I am the only one to teach them the specific thing they need but can get through no one else. Feeling grateful.

Kristen said...

I too am grateful that Ashlee is sharing her experiences. It is helping me process my own trials more positively. I don't think she is looking back to focus on herself or wallow in pain from the past. I think she is sharing these things to help other people. And it IS helping. Thank you Ashlee for being so open and honest and for being such a strong example of choosing love and goodness in the face of evil. I have realized that if you can do it, then maybe so can I.

Anonymous said...

We can go to others for help. To whom can we go? Elder Orson F. Whitney asked and answered this question: “To whom do we look, in days of grief and disaster, for help and consolation? … They are men and women who have suffered, and out of their experience in suffering they bring forth the riches of their sympathy and condolences as a blessing to those now in need. Could they do this had they not suffered themselves? “Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept” (2Nephi 28:30)
BY ELDER DAVID A. BEDNAR

heather said...

In January of 2011 my sister ran her 2 year old daughter over and killed her. My sisters pain, with all of ours, was great. She had guilt and sadness. She suffered nightmares along with her other 4 children. The conference talks you spoke of were her first since the accident. It was amazing. The words spoken were touching. The Lord truly knows our pain. He wants to comfort us. We have struggled with the "why" and "what ifs" We still do some days. I want you to know how wonderful I think you are. I am thankful for what you are doing. I have spent the last couple of days reading your blog. My husband came home and asked why my eyes were puffy...I only recently learned of your story and I have been praying for you ever since. As I know from experience, the pain and questions still come even years after the tragedy. It lessens, but still comes. I would never want the prayers for you to stop. Thank you. God bless you, You are a blessing to all of us.

Anonymous said...

I had been looking for that Orson F. Whitney quote after hearing it in Sacrament meeting yesterday. Thank you. We recently had a death in the family of a precious one-year-old. Things like this help us.

Mattie R. said...

Thank you so much! Your blog inspires and helps me every time I read it. It helps me remember things I may have forgotten or it helps me know what Heavenly Father would have me know. Thank you.

Post a Comment

 
Blog Design By: Sherbet Blossom Designs