Face to Face

I never knew life was going to be filled with so many moments. Moments of much strength have come when I have least expected them—but moments of overwhelming weakness have hit at a time when I thought I was strong. It is hard to prepare for all the moments we will face in our lives, because frankly we never know what is even just seconds away. 

There are some moments in life we face with a back up squad. We call our moms when we need parenting advice; we ask our dad to help us fix a broken down car. So many of our obstacles are easily tackled with someone else on our team—another set of hands to ease our burdens—a voice to urge us on. 

Then there are those moments that we have to face head on—all alone. Giving birth—yes someone can stand by your side and tell you when to breathe, or even beg someone else to come and give you drugs—but there is not a way to give any of that responsibility to any other party. Professional exams—you can study your heart out with other people, but when it comes down to the day of the big test . . . everything is up to you, and only you. 

In my younger years, I had not seen many of these “I have to face it head on all by myself” type of experiences. I have always had a team to lean on, and others to divvy out the burdens placed upon me. I did not know what it was like to be placed in front of an obstacle I had to fight alone . . . until I was face to face with my past. 

The trial date was set and just days away. Jury selection morning was finally here. I decided to take my kids to school on the way, so I knew I was going to be a little late—but it was not like it mattered, no one even knew I had decided to attend. I had butterflies in my stomach—I was nervous contemplating seeing the faces of the people who were going to be sitting through the trial, listening to all the facts of the case. I was curious what they would look like, who they would be. I wondered what they would think as they sat in their seats . . . when it was my turn to take the stand. I wondered what they would believe. I wanted to see for myself—so I knew exactly what to expect. 

The butterflies were in full force. I knew the minute I turned that handle and opened the door, the past was going to be real again. I knew that I would have to take a seat . . . and that would mean I was ready to embrace the fact that the trial was going to start. I could see my pulse in my hand as it reached for the lever . . . Stop . . . I am not ready. If you do this—you can’t undo it. Once you sit on those seats—once that judge sees your face—you are committed to hearing the truth. What if it hurts more than you can bear? If you walk in that room right now . . . you can’t hide from it anymore. You will hear the facts, you will see the pictures, and it will all be real. Not just real—it will be blaring in your face for Heaven knows how long this trial will last. Last call . . . to walk away. Ashlee. If you do this, you are doing all of it. You are coming to every minute so you can to put together the broken facts and heal your mind of this hell. If you walk in that door, you will not run away. Turn that handle . . . this is it. Maybe you are not brave enough to do this, but are you brave enough to walk away and never know?

I didn’t have it in me to walk away and never know. I needed those facts to the puzzle that still had missing pieces in my mind. I slowly turned the knob and opened the door. There were still 100 people on the panel. The room was over flowing with strange eyes—all of them on me. The bailiff grabbed my arm and led me quietly to an open seat.

I picked at my fingernails for a few seconds—still trying to talk myself into looking around at the strangers who surrounded me. I listened to a few different people answer the questions being asked of them by the judge. My heart dropped every time they said the word gun. I grabbed my phone out of my purse and stared at the clock. It had only been a few minutes, but I already was getting the urge to leave. I took a few deep breaths and reassured myself that I had the strength to do hard things. I put my phone back in my purse, determined to be present in that courtroom. 

I finally looked up . . . into the eyes of Robert Hall. 

My whole entire body froze . . . including the butterflies in my stomach. Shivers went down my spine. First of all, I had NO idea he was going to be there, and second—he was not just in the room—we were sitting face to face. They had seated me—with nothing between us but a half wall barrier—a few feet directly in front of him. The room went silent around me—all I could hear was fear pulsating around every square inch of my body. 

 

After a year and half of dreaming about the moment I would see him—and it all came to this? I couldn’t ask him any questions? I couldn’t speak to him? I still didn’t know what his voice sounded like or if he had a favorite food. I knew nothing about this man. How could a normal looking person—one I didn’t even know—have so much power over me?

It wasn’t fair that I hadn’t been able to see his face long before this day—when hundreds of people surrounded me . . . ensuring my silence. I didn’t know Rob was going to be at jury selection . . . but I knew the rules. I swallowed my emotions and choked the tears that were building up inside of me—like a volcano waiting to burst. 

He would not look me in the eye—but all I could do was stare. I hardly took my eyes off of him the entire day. He fidgeted back and forth in his seat, but he never once looked at me. 

I listened to everyone’s voices, but I didn’t hear a word. In my mind I was still rehearsing all the words that Rob Hall was going to hear some day—the heartache he had caused. The stories of the lives his decision had affected.

I found it ironic I decided to go alone that day—because that is exactly how I felt . . . all alone. 

My eyes burned as I continued to choke back tears—and I did everything in my power not to blink. I didn’t want to miss a second. When you are trying to stare into a man’s soul, the only place to look is into his eyes. He wasn’t looking back, but I could see them. His eyes were sad. He looked much older than his mug shot—like the year and a half he had waited for this day . . . was even longer for him than it had been for me. I wasn’t sure if I should throw a stone at him, or go and give him a hug. My heart hurt—not only for the pain he had caused me . . . and my children—but for the pain I could see in his eyes. Anxiety waved through my body as I tried to figure out if I hate—or pity—the man that now sat in front of me. 

I didn’t know why, but for the first time I saw the me I had lost. I saw me as the little girl who walked around the playground looking for people who were alone; the younger me who found the lost puppy at the park and walked around door to door for hours to make sure he made it safely home. I could feel empathy—the kind that my daughters had shown—I finally felt for myself. 

Once the jury panel was selected and we were dismissed, I all but ran to my car. I slammed the door behind me just in time for the emotion of the day to come pouring out. I sobbed the whole twenty-five minute drive home. I wept for the years I lost with the family I had created; I poured my heart out with all the pain I had been holding inside. I yelled at Rob for the gun he had used, I cursed his name for the choice he had made . . . but for the first time, I mourned for the pain he had caused in himself. I stepped into his shoes for a second and I felt of the deep pain he had heaped upon his own shoulders. I sobbed for his family, and the never ending torment they must all have faced at one time or another because of the decisions of the three in our story. This story had more victims than just me—and they were all in pain. Some were victims of the choices out of their control, but Rob . . . he was a victim of his own demise. 

I learned a lot that day—not so much about life or my faith—but about pain. Some pains we have to face head on. Some come because of a choice that we made—and others are placed upon us by the sins of someone else. 

Rob would never tell me the stories I longed to hear . . . but being face to face with him gave me strength to start to let it all go. I could see his cracking soul . . . and I knew I wasn’t the only one broken from this story. He would have to pay for his own sins . . . but I was no longer going to. 

Forgiveness . . . I think I felt a glimpse of what that could mean in my life. I wasn’t going to get the scream session I had longed for . . . I probably wasn’t ever going to hear him say he was sorry—and maybe he really didn’t care about how it felt for me. He killed Emmett, he was going to go to jail . . . but that wasn’t going to be what healed my heart. Peace wasn’t going to come by the years Rob spent in jail . . . Just like Rob was that day . . . my heart was in chains . . . but someday, I knew I was going to be able to set it free. 

That moment, when you think you are face to face with your enemy . . . you feel alone. You want to run away, for fear you will be hurt again. You want to scream and cry, in hopes of letting that person know all the pain you have carried . . . because of them. You want them to hurt—exactly how you have hurt. In that moment when you realize you have let the pain define who you have become—that this enemy holds all power over you . . . they have come to own you. That moment is hate.  

I was comfortable with hate. I knew it well. It was powerful and up to this point, it—more often than not—won!

It wasn’t until I stared into the face of my life’s worst enemy that I realized he was just a man.

It wasn’t him that held the power over me . . . it was my own hate. 

The moment you are face to face with the past that has broken you—may be the same moment you come face to face with the knowledge of how to set it free. That moment when you realize you are the prisoner—not the man in chains—that is the time when you want to plea to your Father for true forgiveness.

For the first time, I felt true hope—and not the kind of hope that could only come after the ending of a trial—I felt reassured that everything would one day be made right. I knew in that moment that no matter how the trial would end—I was going to be standing. 

There are not going to be many moments in our lives when we have the opportunity to stare at our pain face to face . . . but our struggles are real. Even the ones you cannot see are sometimes unbearable. Many struggle with depression; some are plagued with disease. Some people have been abused, neglected or forgotten.

We are all facing some sort of trial. Not everyone will get to sit in a courtroom through a murder trial to try to put together the broken pieces of the past, but we all—at one time or another—will have to face them head on. If you have spent the last nineteen months—or the last nineteen years, trying to run from the past . . . STOP. 

Running from the past doesn’t change anything today—it only dilutes the happiness of tomorrow. 

Now is our time to set it free. The past was long ago—even if it was just yesterday . . . it doesn’t have to follow you around any more. You can start fresh today—and you have a Savior who can show you the way. Your pain may have held the power over you in your life for all this time—but you don’t need it to survive. It is hard to let it go . . . when it has been your lifeline—but once you set it free . . . you will see that it was suffocating you all along. Set yourself free. Pray for the peace you are walking around seeking. 

Maybe you aren’t standing outside of a courtroom waiting for a reason to turn the handle—but it is waiting for you to. Turn the handle. Step inside. If you walk away and pretend it is not there—it still isn’t going to go away. Maybe you are not brave enough to do this, but are you brave enough to walk away and never know? It is your time. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to smile every day. 

Not every day will be breathtaking . . . but there will be beauty in each one. 

Most days we take a few steps forward . . . or fall a few back—on the day that I was face to face with the man who murdered my husband—I didn’t fall back—I flew forward. I didn’t read about forgiveness in a textbook or my scriptures—I felt it in my heart. I was face to face with the love that Christ had blessed me with. I knew that because of Rob I had much that was taken from me—but I also knew . . . that because of Him I could be made whole again. My happiness had nothing to do with where, what or how Robert Hall would spend the rest of his life. My happiness had everything to do with me. I was face to face with the past—but I was finally able to see what the future could bring.

Life is going to knock us down. It is a proven fact (at least for me) that the more we try to do good—the harder Satan will get us to doubt—and to fall. The next month of the murder trial would be just that for me. I would get knocked down, and then I would get right back up—over and over and over again . . . coming face to face with reality, coming face to face with more heart ache . . . but even greater—coming face to face with the knowledge that I was not alone.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. How can you use prayer to help you forgive?
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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