Proceed to the Route

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This summer while driving to a speaking engagement in Morgan, Utah, we ran into some road construction. The detour caused us to have to ride on the other side of a widely divided highway. My phone began to panic—Siri kept yelling, “Proceed to the route! Proceed to the route!!!” as loud as I have ever heard her speak. She knew something was wrong— the route I had asked her to guide me to, was not the one I seemed to be following. To my phone, I was traveling on the wrong side of a one-way highway. 

It almost scared me how persistent my GPS was that I was headed down the wrong course. It caused me to reflect upon my actions and ponder all the turns I had taken. At one point I even stopped and asked a stranger outside of a gas station if I was on the right course. It turned out I was still very far away from my destination, but had been on the right path to get there. 

I don’t know how many times in my life I have felt like I have taken a wrong turn. There have been many occasions when I have had to slow down and reflect upon the course I have taken to lead me to where I was. I have questioned some of my turns, as they have brought me to some pretty rocky roads. 

But other times, no matter who has told me I was on a wrong path—I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. Life is strange, each one of ours is so very unique.

With this time of year, as one year turns into the next, I have paused to reflect on where I have been . . . but even more on where I am headed—and where I want to end up. 

Exactly a year ago tomorrow I was having one of the biggest internal battles of my life. I had spent Friday night in the temple and had received the strongest prompting to start blogging about my journey. I wrestled with that feeling all weekend long. I didn’t say a word to anyone about it. I was cross and snappy; I was scared and felt so alone. I was in a depression just thinking about opening up and sharing the deepest pains of my heart, and could not talk the rational side of my brain into believing this would be a good path for me. 

By Monday night Shawn called me out, “Ash . . . is everything ok? You have been like somewhere else all weekend long, and I . . . just . . . how can I help you with whatever you are dealing with? Ever since we were in the temple and you were crying so hard, I  . . . you seem like something is wrong.” 

I didn’t want to say a word about the powerful feeling I had received. I didn’t want to put him through anymore of me “dealing with the past”. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to scare him off, or have this be another thing that made him feel like we could never just be a family. And even more, for the first time in our marriage, he had been the one to ask me to go to the temple for him. I thought I was going that day to help him with a struggle he was having, not to get inspiration on anything I was supposed to do. I felt very selfish. I didn’t dare tell him about the decision I was wrestling with.  I dodged around the truth. 

By the end of our (fake on my end) conversation he offered to give me a blessing. The blessing was powerful. The words he spoke pierced my soul. One of the very phrases that had come to my mind in the temple, was spoken by my husband into the air, “I need you to be a voice to others of my children who aren’t listening. They are hurting too.” 

When the blessing was over Shawn flipped me around and hugged me. He looked into my eyes and grabbed my shoulders and said, “Ash . . . do you know what all of that meant? Please tell me you know what you are supposed to do? I have never in my life heard or given a blessing like that.” I reluctantly answered as I sobbed out loud, “Yes . . . but I don’t want to do it . . . and I don’t know how I am going to. I know exactly what I am supposed to do, but I can’t . . . I can’t. It is going to hurt more than anything I have ever done. It isn’t fair. I have been through enough humiliation . . . why me? Why?” 

He grabbed my hand and said the exact words I needed to hear, “Ash . . . Whatever it is . . . if I were you, I would stop fighting . . . and just have faith—and do it! I will support you . . . heck we have been through so much. You know I am not going anywhere. Whatever is going on—I know more than I have ever known anything . . . you have to do it.” 

The next day this blog was born. 

When I went to push publish on the first post I paused for a few minutes. I remember praying so hard with bullheaded tears falling down my cheeks, “Heavenly Father . . . I don’t know why I am supposed to do this, I don’t understand how this is going to help anyone but me and the kids . . . but I have faith that the one person who needs this will find it. I pray that it can make a difference for them. I don’t really want to do this, I am scared to share so much humiliation and heartache . . . but I do this for THEE. I dedicate this blog to my children who will one day need to hear the stories it will hold . . . but only because Thou has asked me to. I have been carried by angels, I have seen Thy hand in my life every single day . . . I have faith that You are putting me on the right course. Please let anyone in pain, who reads these stories, find hope . . . in Thee.”  Chills covered my body. I felt so much love surround me. I knew what I had to do. I clicked publish. 

If you would have told me, even weeks before that very minute, this journey would have been mine—I would have shrugged my shoulders and laughed. There has been little about this journaling mission that has been fun for me—but it has brought me so much joy. I have so powerfully felt, for the first time since Emmett died, that I am on the right course. 

Yes there have been others who have tried to tell me I am doing this for a purpose different than I am—there have been many with cruel opinions about who they think I am . . . and that is ok. If there is one thing I have learned it is this: when God believes in you—or asks you to be more than you are on your own—you grab His hand and follow. You don’t wait around to see who thinks it is a good idea, or ask for the support of anyone but Him. You merely have faith that the right GPS is the one telling you to get back on the right path. 

Sometimes God is whispering, “Proceed to the route.” (Sometimes He has to shout it quite loud . . . especially for me!). And sometimes He is merely sticking you on a trail He needs you to be. 

Faith—as scary as it is—is what brings us to find our missions. 

This blog has not just been an amazing outlet of the pain and anger from my heart—as I thought it would be when I started last January. It has saved me from myself. It has helped me remember all the truths I have known all along. It has given me an opportunity to remember the good times I had before the murder, and to look forward to the ones that lay ahead. It has been a time for me to reflect upon my relationship with God and the foundation He has been in every single day of my life. 

It is strange to look back on certain days, that I once felt were as black as night, and remember all the tender mercies that have been a light to help me find my way through them. In the moment, tender mercies seem to be mere coincidences. Sometimes for me, it isn’t until I look back upon them that I truly see Heavenly Father’s hand. 

So this New Year doesn’t just mark the change of one year to the next. It marks, for me, a milestone of the blessing this opportunity has been for me. Thank you, anyone who has cheered me along. (Though the first time I got a comment from a stranger I almost shut the whole thing down)—the kind words and tender stories have been a huge support to help me remember why this was the path I was supposed to take. 

For all those years I felt so alone—I cannot feel so now. There is a whole world of quiet pain—each one unique. Maybe your answer will not be to share publicly how it has felt for you—but please know you are not alone. Heavenly Father is always on your side. Our older brother Jesus Christ has shared with Him every pain you feel, and every fight you have battled. 

So as you reflect upon your story of the years gone by—look for the times when He was there for you. As you look to the future, pray that the course you are walking is for Him. Maybe others will tell you to “proceed to the route”, but the only trail worth traveling is the one being paved by God. 

I hope 2015 is the best this world has seen. I pray there will be more love and we will be able to better serve one another. I hope we will think a little more before we speak, and we may love before we hate. I wish for peace, healing, and hope for all. 

But even more than all of this—I pray for each of us to feel of God’s love. When things are going your way, and even when you are flat on your face . . . pray to be able to see yourself how He sees you—and you will feel joy. 

If you have lost your way, now is your time to “proceed to the route”. This life isn’t over until it is over. If you are standing at a crossroads, and have forgotten what trail you were trying to follow—seek the right guidance to help you proceed back to the route where you will be able to protect, and be protected. 

Not all crossroads are a battle of right and wrong, but each path we follow will lead us to the next. Protect the dreams you are already living, but don’t doubt yourself when you are asked to proceed to the next trail. Each of us will have a unique route to conquer, but only you can know which trails were meant to be followed. 

I feel as insignificant as I did a year ago as I pour my heart out with memories of the past, but many things have changed: I am starting to remember who I always have been, I am embracing my story, I am seeking truth, and I am finding hope every day. I still battle the temptation to doubt that I am enough. I still fight the dark fears that try to creep in and destroy everything I know to be true. Life is still hard, and I struggle in some form or another every day. But one thing is for sure— for every time I fall—I am still finding reasons to stand.

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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