Your Story

hope in your story

Well, as my new on-line friend had promised, he asked me out to dinner, and before I knew it, the day had come. I was as cool as a cucumber as I got ready and kissed my kids goodbye. I had picked the meeting spot to be in a public place, an eating establishment only a minute from my house, in case I needed to make a quick getaway.

I was the first one to get there, so I went to the table alone waiting for him to show up. As I sat there, I looked around the room. Emmett and I had been there so many times. It was one of our favorite restaurants, and it felt so weird to be sitting here waiting for someone else. Every other time I had sat in these chairs, I had been with my husband. We had shared the very table I was sitting at not too long ago. I tried very hard to banish from my mind the memories of my times there with Emmett. It was also hard for me not to think back to the scripts I had written in my head when I was a little girl . . . about how my life would be. I had lived some of those storylines, but the ending of my marriage was certainly not in the story I had written.

I could remember as plain as day the first time I began ‘writing’ my story. It was the day when going on a date with a boy finally became a reality: my sixteenth birthday. It was the first day of what I considered to be the “beginning of my life.” I planned out in my mind all about the many handsome young men who would take me on perfect dates. I pictured the years I would spend being adored by the man of my choosing.

That birthday, I drew the map of my life as I planned out my future. It was the story of what was to come. Every detail was considered in my mind, and every day was written to be perfect. I would marry young, and I would become a mother. I pictured my children, and vowed that I would have at least have two boys, because, of course, every boy needs a brother.

And so at the age of sixteen, I had already written my story. All my “t”s were crossed and my “i”s were dotted. All I knew back then, is that I wouldn’t give up until every aspect of my story came true.

And it did. As of March 11, 2011, I had checked off nearly every item on my storybook list. I had just given birth to my fifth child . . .  our second son, giving Teage his promised brother. We finally lived in my dream house, and my husband had the dream job every graduating law school student hopes to achieve. 

I had written the perfect story, and I thought I was living my perfect plan.

Every book ever written has an ending. However, in real life with the stories we write . . . we don’t always get to chose the ending. Sometimes, life throws us an alternate ending. The timing is never right, and the plot can sometimes be one that no one would intentionally ever plan.

My story with Emmett had ended, even though cleaning up the mess he had made of my past would continue on for years. I sat alone in that restaurant. I had no hope for a second date; I had no expectations . . . I had little faith that I would even be able to enjoy myself that night, but I was determined to be myself. 

The door into the restaurant opened and the sun flashed into my eyes. I tried to squint through the light to see who had entered the room . . . and there he was. I could see the blue in his eyes from where I sat. There was a sparkle in them, like one I had never before seen. When the sun pierced my eyes, all my fear of the past seemed to be swept out of me. I held my head high and watched him as he came toward me.

He walked to the table with a confidence in his step, and he was just as cute as his photos. He sat down and introduced himself: “Hello, I’m Shawn . . .” As he spoke, it felt as if I had always known him. My eyes didn’t leave his during our introductions. 

Not a second went by that night when we weren’t talking. We spoke about everything and anything. I told him parts of my story that I hadn’t told anyone, and he opened up about his. It was almost like poetry as we buoyed each other up and shared the pain—and the joys—of our respective pasts. In some ways, he had been in my shoes, and it felt reassuring to know that he had felt the same type of pain that was in my heart.

Our stories were not the same, but my soul felt safe as he reassured me that I was not alone in having suffered through serious pain. We talked and talked. In what seemed like just a matter of seconds . . . two and a half hours had actually passed.

For the first time since Emmett died, I spent an entire evening feeling completely safe. I felt safe in sharing my feelings, I felt safe having Shawn sit at the table with me, and I felt safe knowing that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Not one single time did I think about the murder trial, which was always at the back of my mind. I didn’t talk about Kandi or Rob, or for that matter, even think about them. That night, the sick-to-my-stomach feeling I usually felt was replaced with peaceful butterflies. 

Shawn and I walked out of the restaurant together, still talking with every step we took. It was raining, so I told him about my curse: that my hair controlled the weather. He reassured me that my hair couldn’t possibly have that much power . . . but I stood firm in the belief that my curly hair chose whether or not it would rain. I insisted that because I had straightened my hair that day, it rained. It was my tried and true method to forecast the weather. He laughed at my weirdness, and humored me by admitting that I must have pretty powerful hair! We were about to say goodbye and part ways, but I didn’t want to leave. I looked into those blue eyes of his and said, “Do you want to go for a drive?” He smiled back and said, “Heck ya!”

We got into his car and drove around town in the rain. He was so witty and funny. He almost made me forget about all the mountains I had been scaling in recent months. I felt filled with life, and even through the rain . . . I could see light.

While we were driving, he received a phone call and answered it. When he hung up he said, “I’m so sorry, but I have to go pick up my little girl. I don’t usually introduce her to women I’m dating, but I need to get her right now. Would you be okay with that?”

We pulled up to the arranged meeting place, and his daughter Jordyn hopped into the car. She was so sweet and cute. I started asking her questions, and during the rest of the drive Shawn sat quietly while Jordyn and I got to know each other. She reminded me so much of Bostyn and Bailey. She was not at all shy, and she talked to me just like my own children did. She opened up to me about her day, and about what she had been doing all evening. We laughed and joked together.

I felt reluctant to leave as we pulled up to the parking lot where I had parked Tiffanie’s car (yeah, I made her lend me her car for the night in case Lakersfan24 turned out to be a crazy person—in which case, I didn’t want him to know what I drove)!! When we stopped, I just wanted to bottle up the evening and take it back home with me, in hopes that the peace that had surrounded me would carry me through the rest of the night. 

Shawn got out of the car. He looked a little baffled. He stared into my eyes and said, “Jordyn usually doesn’t say a word to anyone she doesn’t know. I have never seen her talk to anyone the way she just opened up to you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to her and appreciate her.”

He gave me a hug, and I started to clam up. Slowly he pulled me in a little bit more. I didn’t want to let him . . . and yet, I didn’t want him to ever let go, either.

I looked into the car at Jordyn’s big brown eyes and black spiral curls. She looked exactly like the Cabbage Patch doll I had received for Christmas when I was four years old. She was smiling from ear to ear. I waved to her, and let go of Shawn, not sure when or if I would ever see them again, but hoping I would. That night, for the first time in a long time, I felt hope. Hope that I could be me. Hope that some day, my story would have some bonus chapters written with a new alternative ending. And most of all hope because I had felt so much peace. Before that night, I had come to believe that for me, a true sense of peace was just going to be something I read about in other people’s stories. But that second, I saw of glimmer of it in my own.

I drove home in reflective silence. I felt good about my decision to meet Shawn that night. I didn’t feel frightened anymore. I could feel the peace that God had sent to bless and heal me . . . almost to the point where I felt that my healing was nearly complete! I thought of the incredible promise I had received in past blessings: that a man would come to heal me . . . and somehow hoped that meant . . . it would be in the blink of an eye.

I didn’t know then that I still had a very long journey of healing yet to come . . . but that night gave me the hope that healing was actually possible. My story—which had not played out as I wrote it—might possibly have a chapter about finding peace!

Each of our stories is unique. God has written a different storyline for all of us. Don’t be afraid to embrace your story as you climb the mountains and jump the hurdles in your life. They were made just for you. As you reach a little higher, each jump might get a little easier. When you fall and scrape your knee, it might take a while to get back up and enjoy the hurdles again, but at least you will have learned that it is easier if you learn how to jump over them correctly and make it over the first time.

The broken pieces of our dreams that surround us all are there to remind us to keep moving forward and jumping high enough to clear even the tallest hurdle.

Your story may not be the one you wrote in your journal when you were sixteen . . . but it is yours. Embrace it.

I have learned that hope has to come before faith.
Have hope for a brighter day and use your faith to jump with all of your heart.

What is your story? Wherever you are right now, your story is unique. The night Emmett died, I felt like my story had ended . . . as a tragedy. I frantically searched for hope . . . before I could find my faith again.

Hope comes in many forms, like in boxes filled with letters addressed to “the people of Japan.” My hope has been restored when a special song has been sung just for me. My hope has grown as angels have sewn blankets for me in which to wrap my precious babies.

Heavenly Father sends you the little reminders of His love to help you build your hope, because He knows that until you see a glimmer of hope . . . you will not be able to feel or see your faith.

At the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni almost pleads with us to find hope. He shares one of his last desperate cries as he writes in MoroniChapter 7:

41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

42 Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.

44 If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek  and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.

45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

When we miss the light sent our way each and every day . . . we will fail to have the faith required to develop or feel the pure love of Christ. When we are surrounded by darkness, and we let it prevail . . . we cannot see the good that is also trying to play out in our stories.

We have all been hurt, and at times, each one of us is frightened. Unfortunately, the righteous desires we planned in the stories we wrote for ourselves when we were young are not always achieved. When that happens, we might lose the hope we have in our own story. We begin to see our life as a failure of the one we had planned. 

However, the hope that we must never lose is the hope that the story we are living will be enough, and that will happen only if we are certain of who is writing our story.

I have a brother who I felt pushed all of us away for a long period of time. We as his family were often not a part of the life he was living. We all missed him, and for many years, we were totally and completely separated from him.

I remember one Christmas as I watched my mom bundle up a care package for him with a sweet letter enclosed. I asked “Mom? . . . What are you doing? Why do you even care any more? Why don’t you just give up and let him go. He obviously doesn’t need you any more, or want you to be part of his life . . . so please just get over it and stop trying. I don’t get why you are still fighting for him.”

She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said something I will never forget. “Ashlee . . . your brother is still my son. He has pushed me away, he has let me know that he doesn’t need me . . . but sweet daughter . . . I end every letter I write to him with ‘I hope you are finding the happiness you are searching for.’ Ashlee, one day, he is going to be searching for that happiness he hasn’t found elsewhere, and guess what? . . . He’s going to know right where he can come to be safe. I am not going to give up on this boy because I believe in him. I love him, and one day, he’s going to remember that I have always been right here.”

My mom had a hope I knew nothing about. 

Four months ago, I received a phone call late one night. It was my brother. We had rebuilt our relationship over the years, especially since Emmett died, and I had seen him come back into our lives, but this call was different. He said, “Ash . . . hey, so I . . . I just prayed for the first time in eighteen years. I spoke to God, and He was listening. Ash, I think He has missed me.”

A few days later, he sat in my living room and with tears in his eyes, he bore his soul to me about the type of love he had been missing in his life. He said, “I don’t know much, but I do know this . . . every single person who has been a true hero in my life . . . has something that I have been forgetting. I need that light back.”

My mom was right. I had no idea that her love had carried him, even when she hadn’t physically been around him all of those years. He was standing at the crossroad she knew would come. . . and her hope in her son had been the anchor he needed to know where to turn. 

Sometimes, we search for happiness where it can’t be found. Sometimes, we frantically rummage through boxes of crap in our garage, or skim through e-mails searching for peace. Real peace doesn’t come from anything we can tangibly touch here on the earth. Real peace comes through the healing power of Jesus Christ.

In the same way my mother waited patiently for my brother, our Heavenly Father sends each of us quiet notes and care packages to remind us that He is right here when our search for happiness elsewhere fails. When we have finished sorting through all the phony substitutes for genuine peace and happiness . . . He is quietly waiting on the sidelines for us to return. 

When we finally do turn to Him, He doesn’t stand there reminding us of all the things we did wrong. No, He stands with open arms, ready to pour out His love upon us . . . and help us write the rest of our stories.

Genuine happiness comes from relationships: friends, family, service . . . but first with God. NO matter what other relationships we have, our relationship with God has to be our anchor. In marriage, as in single life, Heavenly Father has to be the author of our story, and it is never over . . . until it is over. Every day presents a new opportunity for us to increase our hope in ourselves, in others, and in God.

 We need faith. We need to find hope. Hope cannot come in the form of another person, place or thing . . .  for all of those things can be taken away. Hope has to come from our relationship with God, and our reassurance that the story we are living is being written by Him.

 Maybe your story has more bumps in it than you had planned. Maybe everyone you have ever loved is gone. God is still there. He hears your prayers and He has numbered your tears. You are not crying alone.

The story He has written for you may be far different from the one you wrote on your bed on your sixteenth birthday . . . but you have to live the story that is being written right now. Live your own story, and find hope that it is enough for God. His version of your story is what leads you to your own ‘happily ever after.’ 

Questions to Ponder:

  1. How can hope sustain you and help you act in faith?
  2. How can you renew your hope through your relationship with God?

Check out this post in the Faith and Hope Badge

Ashlee Birk is the Author of the blog and book series entitled The Moments We Stand.  In them she tells of her personal journey of healing and seeking peace after the murder of her husband Emmett.  Through her trials she has learned the importance of a personal relationship with her Father in Heaven. She has found light in the darkest of moments—and she has found hope when she thought it was lost.  She has come to find that the grace of Christ is powerful—not only in sin—but also in forgiveness and carrying you through some of your darkest moments.

Ashlee is remarried and resides in Idaho with her husband Shawn and their blended family of six children. They work hard every day to continue their journey of peace and finding the joy in life. Ashlee believes that every day is a gift—and in each one, she has learned to stand.

The Moments We Stand

spouse murdered 11/2011

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