September 10, 2015

The Voice to Change

Besides little notes in my journal about powerful moments in my life, I spent most of my time pretending hard things had not happened—or internally dwelling on the fact that they did. One night during the trial I got this overwhelming feeling I needed to write. I sat down at my laptop and words began to pour out of me.

Heartache, pain, fear, hate—all of the emotions that had been trapped felt clear as they escaped from their hideouts. As I typed, I pictured who would ever read the words I could now see on the screen—NO ONE. EVER. Maybe my kids when they were grown and parents of their own children; maybe at a distant time when their own personal struggles left them feeling a need to know about their past.

I pictured handing them a stack of papers—possibly made into a nice covered book—and looking into their eyes and saying, “Now you will remember why it still hurts.”

I was so full of bitterness and pain it was woven into every page I typed. Each story was filled with the hate I had been carrying for the three people in them. Each letter on the screen was racked with fear. In those moments of writing I could not see the silver linings. I could not see the angels. I couldn’t even remember the happy times—all I could write was the pain.

It only lasted a few nights. Many pages filled with my hate, and the stories of the past. Soon it became too much and I decided that writing words on a computer screen was not going to make a difference in anyone’s life . . . especially my own.

I made a vow with myself to never visit those memories again and my computer remained closed.

Sitting across from Keith Morrison with cameras and bright lights in my face . . . is where I broke that vow. We talked for hours. Every emotion—I had been working so diligently to hide—came streaming out with every story I told. He asked me questions about that night, about my family, about the trial, but the ones I remember most were the questions he asked about my pain. I had held it in so long, and so robotically during the trial, it almost hurt coming out—but nothing had ever felt so good.

My throat burned every time a question was asked. For the first time since that night, I felt like I truly had a voice—and someone cared how it felt . . . for me. I could not stop the tears from flowing. No rules were put on how I could feel; no one was watching to use my insecurities against me. I was free to speak.

I remember looking across the room to a man I had seen many times on TV and thinking . . . What am I doing here? After all those promises to keep these stories quiet? After all those nights of collaborating with myself . . . truly believing that my healing would come as everyone just forgot about our struggle? Why . . . why am I doing this?

But I just kept talking—and it actually felt good.

Even the tears didn’t hurt as much as they too were excited to fall out.  It didn’t make sense in my mind, but my heart felt free.

I thought that would be the one and only time, but it turned out my healing through sharing our story . . . had just begun.

On Jan 6, 2014 I woke up with a perfect knowledge of what I was supposed to do. I had spent the weekend wrestling this overwhelming feeling that I was to start a blog and truly document the past for my children.

On Friday the confirmation first came to me in the temple. The feeling that kept repeating in my head was: I need you to be a voice for some of my children who aren’t listening. I first thought that meant I needed to begin writing in the book I had started during the trial. Then the thought repeated with more urgency, and as clear as day the idea of the blog was imprinted in my mind.

I didn’t say a word to Shawn about it. Saturday I was an emotional wreck battling my prompting. I was moody and angry, and kept avoiding everyone. Sunday was no different. By Sunday night Shawn finally pulled me into our room and said, “Ash . . . what is going on with you? You have not been yourself this whole weekend. Pretty much since the temple on Friday you have seemed so angry. Are you upset about something? How can I help you through whatever you are going through? Do you need to go for a drive? Do you want to take a hot bath? Can I give you a blessing?” His questions wanted answered, but I didn’t dare tell him of the journey I felt I should do.

We put the kids to bed and walked back into our room so Shawn could give me a blessing. In the quiet of our house Shawn laid his hands upon my head and spoke my name. An amazing spirit filled our room. In the middle of the blessing he stopped. The pause was longer than normal and I could tell he was trying hard to say the things he felt Heavenly Father wanted me to hear. As he spoke he repeated almost word for word what I had felt in the temple a few nights before. He said, “Ashlee . . . Heavenly Father has a plan for you. He wants you to be a voice for some of His children who aren’t listening. He wants you to find peace from this pain. He wants you to find the hope you have been fighting silently for. He wants you to be free from the past, but to embrace the story. Heavenly Father needs you . . . He needs you to stand up and share His message through your healing. There is no need to fear—He will guide you. Just have faith and follow Him and you will be blessed with the healing you seek. Ashlee, this was always the plan. You are where you were made to be. You will be blessed in your faith. As you stand tall, you will feel whole. And I leave these things with you, in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.”

Shawn’s hands were still on my head. We both sat there in the silence. He finally spoke, “Hey  . . . Ash . . . Do you have any idea what all of that is about?” I replied through my tears, “Actually, yes. I am afraid I know exactly what I am supposed to do.” Shawn took his hands off of my head and walked around until we were face to face. He said, “Well, if I were you . . . I would do it . . . like now.”

In my final effort to fight for my desired silence I shared with him the last of my fears, “Shawn . . . I can’t . . . I . . . I don’t want to do it. I told you the day I met you I couldn’t wait to just have all of this behind us and not talk about it ever again . . . and now I feel like I am supposed to just start writing—on a blog—that just anyone could get on and read. I don’t know if I am ready to do this . . . I don’t want to do what I feel like I am supposed to do. It is . . . going to be so hard and humiliating all over again. And . . . I . . . don’t know how to be vulnerable, and write about something that hurt so bad. I don’t even know how to talk about it without crying, how would I even start?”

He grabbed my hands and brought his eyes closer to mine. He whispered, “Ashlee. I understand you feel scared. I have watched it all over your face this entire weekend, but what if it is part of your healing journey? What if it helps someone else? I wish I could say there was an easy way out, but I don’t think you have a choice. You can spend the rest of your life angry and bitter like you have been this whole weekend—fighting another plan—or you can just do what you know you have to do. Either way I will support you, but you have to decide what is more important. Maybe it won’t be easy, but maybe it really will be what makes you feel whole.”

I went to bed, still filled with turmoil on what I knew I should do and what I wanted to do.  I hardly slept at all that night. My mind was filled with doubt. Doubt in another part of the “plan” I never planned. Doubt in the promise that delving into the past would help me let it go. Doubt that bringing to surface my greatest pain could bring me peace. Doubt in my ability to spell, punctuate, and communicate properly in any form of the English language. Doubt that I would be able to remember anything worth passing down to my posterity. But even more than all of my fears, doubt that I would fail what seemed to be a mission from my creator.

When morning finally came I rolled out of bed and fell to my knees. I prayed with all my heart, “I believe in grace. I believe that we each came to earth with a mission and a purpose. I have seen your hand in every day I have lived. I have literally seen angels on earth. So, I believe in hope. I believe in miracles. And if this is the plan you have for me, as scary as it may seem . . . I will do it. Not for me—heaven knows I don’t want to—not necessarily for anyone who happens to stumble across this blog I am about to make . . .but for You. Heavenly Father, I have a family who one day will need to read these words. They are too young to understand now, but someday they will be so thankful for this. So I do this for them. I will not fear. I will pray every time I write that the words will be the voice you need them to be. Heavenly Father, I am still filled with so much anger and hate . . . I don’t know what else to write about. So if this is supposed to be—help me remember the good. Help me remember the angels. Help me remember the times when I had something to learn, and something to change. Help me to forgive, and repent, and let this be a journal that is real. Help my children someday to be able to use it through their own struggles. I see that this has to be. Help me to overcome this fear. I will be a humble servant in writing truths . . . please help me to learn them as I write. It’s a scary place we live in. So much of the past has caused me to doubt the future. This earth has so much evil, so much wrong every day . . . help me to see the good. I know I can’t change the world . . . but Father, please help me change myself.”

And a blog was born. It needed a name. My first thoughts all had to do with the pain and the hard times. Then I reflected on my prayer. I was going to remember the good—the times we had every reason to fall, but we didn’t . . . the times we wanted to give up—but carried on. The times we were carried by a power greater than our own. The Moments We Stand.

I typed it in and goose bumps covered my arms. It was perfect. I wasn’t sure where I would begin so I just started typing.

 In life, we are all constantly at crossroads. Some of these crossroads are life-changing, and others don’t seem to make a difference either way. These moments come to us sometimes many times a day. Which way to choose . . . what choice to make. Do I take back this lipstick that had dropped behind my purse at the store and now I’m loading all my groceries in the car and I am in a hurry and need to leave? Do I wait at the cross walk with the little boy who looks lost . . . even though I’m already running late to take my daughter to her piano lesson? It is a moment for a young high school girl when she has to decide if she will walk past the young boy who just got his binder torn out of his hands and his stuff thrown about the hallway . . . or if she will stop and help him pick it up and be late for her next class. It is the moment when a young man sits in a dressing room contemplating walking out of the store with the T-shirt he just put on under his clothes . . . or if he takes it off and saves his money to buy it when he can afford it. A young pregnant mother sits at a crossroad at the abortion clinic. . . contemplating whether or not she keeps this unborn child or walks out of there today as if nothing ever happened. Crossroads are always in our lives. They are sometimes small . . . and other times very large and heavy. They come to young and old, poor and rich, happy and depressed. We cannot always control when or how they come. The only part we have control over, is the outcome. The outcome of any crossroad can be very dark . . . or it can bring so much joy for generations to come. We will not always know the ripple effect that our decisions can have on others around us, but sometimes, our decisions will change another person’s life forever.

My name is Ashlee. I am a victim of murder. Through a series of events and by two shots of a gun, I was made a widow at the age of 28, with my youngest child just six weeks old. I am a victim of infidelity. I have felt unlovable. I have felt rejected. I have had days in my life when I wasn’t sure if I would ever take a breath again, let alone be able to raise my five children by myself. I have lived in fear. I have felt much heartache. I have felt truly broken to my core. I have carried some heavy burdens . . . not only of my own, but burdens put upon my shoulders by the death of my husband. I have felt alone. I have felt humiliated. I have been humbled to my knees. I have searched my soul to find my worth in this world, and in the life that was left for me. My world has been totally shattered. I have faced realities I never knew were possible, and found strength within myself to keep up the fight and live every day as if it was on purpose. I have been carried by Angels . . . both earthly beings and those unseen. I have found that being a “victim” doesn’t mean we have an excuse to stop living. Being a victim means finding a reason for seeking a higher road. I have picked up the pieces left and carried on. I am a mother. I am a survivor.

In one way or another, we are all victims. There are times in our lives when we are forced to question who we are at our core. When we are presented with a path . . . we can go this way or we can choose that way. For some, this moment comes when the one person whom we love the most decides we are not enough. This person leaves us—at a most vulnerable moment—alone to search within ourselves for who we really are. We are left trying to find who it is that was left behind. Sometimes the person we love dies. Sometimes it is merely an internal battle we are facing . . . all alone inside our minds. Whatever the situation and wherever you have been . . . you have been hurt. You have felt alone. You have been abandoned, either by your parents, your lover, your friends, complete strangers, or even yourself. We have all been at that crossroad where all we have left is ourselves. 

Sometimes these moments of lows have brought you to your knees and caused you to reflect and ponder your relationship with God . . . and other times they have made you question if He is even there, or if He knows you are alone. Whatever that moment has been for you, it is personal and real. It has defined and refined who you are, who you think you were, and who you want to become.

This is my story . . . the defining moments that have truly brought me to my knees, the times when I’ve questioned to my core my very existence, and the experiences I’ve had that have shown me who I really am and who my Heavenly Father still needs me to become. The night of my husband’s death was my darkest hour, but also the very moment when I saw firsthand that my Heavenly Father sent Angels on errands for me. He carried me. It was the hour when all my fears and all the pain of this world collided together and He was there . . . putting back together all the pieces, one step at a time.

I clicked publish. I felt this rush of love surround me. There was a calm and peace I had never in my life felt before.

The first time a stranger posted a comment on the blog I panicked. It took me a few hours to talk myself out of shutting the whole thing down. I had promised faith—so I carried on.

I was getting emails from strangers reaching out to share their own stories. People were stopping me in public with tears in their eyes telling me how much my words had touched them.  News stations were calling and asking for interviews for me to share my story.

I had a hard time even reading the comments, not just the mean things people said—also the kind words. I felt inadequate to be the receiver of praise for something I had almost refused to do, but for the first time in a long time—I knew I was right where I belonged. I felt a connection to a plan that was created long before me.

I watched so many miracles take place around me in those first few months. Hearts were softened; bad decisions made right. I met a lot of new friends—all with a story of their own.

After years of spending hours and hours with therapist, and living in fear of being who I was . . . another miracle happened. I started finding me.

The nights I would pour my heart out at my computer—with tears falling onto the keys—I wrote our story. And in it—I wasn’t just the victim without a voice, or the naive wife who was blindsided on a cold March night—I was standing. I wasn’t the worthless soul I had come to believe was my destiny. I wasn’t broken—I was learning how to mend. I didn’t just look back and remember all the things I had done wrong or was wronged by another—I was blessed to see it all. The words that fell from my fingertips were stories of hope and love and becoming. The memories were of the miracles and the gifts through the storm. All of the sudden the bad didn’t hurt as much as the blessings felt good. The pain wasn’t as lonely as I remembered the tender mercies.  The darkness didn’t feel so heavy as I pictured us being pulled out by the light.

The purpose of the pain showed me where I belonged. I wasn’t alone in the dark of the night typing on a tiny screen—and the perfect view I now saw of my life showed me I had never been.

Every time I went to type about hate—I remembered the blessings instead. The darkness that had overpowered my view would lift so I could see. I had a purpose—and a mission to change what I had become.

Our missions are all unique. I wish I could just tell everyone—struggling to find out who they are—to write. I wish that finding our purpose was something someone else could do for us—but it is not. When we truly find where we are supposed to be, it is when we block out all the sound around us. We listen to the still small voice inside—beckoning us to remember the plan.  Sometimes on our knees in our closet, other times alone in our car . . . without the noise. There are voices everywhere— telling us who we should be—people and things, promises of healing, price tags of happiness . . . endless noise that in the end will only leave us feeling inadequate and defeated by opinions and images of others who seem to have it all figured out.

So we can keep asking our friends on Facebook who we are supposed to be and what will make us fill the voids that hold us back inside—or we can step back and reach up. To feel whole we will not need the help of anyone else but God and the grace of Jesus Christ. He will send messengers to help us remember truths, but our connection to Him can help us remember His plan for us.

Our plans will be filled with shadows and valleys, but we can’t forget that even the darkest of nights turn to day—sometimes we just have to be patient while we wait for the timing of the sun.

You will find brighter days.

We were all sent here with a purpose. If it has been, it was always meant to. Our mission is to find where God needs us to be . . . not to change the world—but ourselves.

Jan 6th, 2014 first post on the blog:
Stand Tall: You are Not Alone

See parts of my interview on Dateline NBC:
Dateline episode


glenda said...

That's how I found this blog from watching Dateline. I've read your books and you truly have an inspiring message of life, love, forgiveness, prayer and belief. Keep going onward. Blessings to you and your family.

Renae Hurst said...

I found you reading an article in the Deseret News. I had your blog up all day at work that day and every moment of down time was spent reading. I was hooked and haven't missed a post since. You are truly inspired and inspire me. Thank you!

Courtney Dittman Jackson said...

My aunt was in your ward and told my mom and I about your blog. I started reading when I was 17, a junior in high school, and now I'm almost 20. I've kept up with every post and can assure you that I will never forget how they have made me feel. It was you who inspired me to write "my two week mission" post on my own blog. I know that sharing our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our trials and we overcame we chose to stand... will immensely strengthen and inspire others.

Thank you Ashlee. Thank you for acting on that prompting even though you didn't want to. I can only imagine the number of souls the Spirit has been able to lift up and comfort because of your words.

maybe_a_princess said...

I remember when I found your blog and spent every day after that for a while year checking if there was a new post. When things got too difficult to handle I knew, that a new post from you would carry me through. Thank you for your diligence and obedience. Thank you for your humility. And for your faith. Your faith carried me through the dark times.

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