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A Reason To Stand- Fighting For ME

So, part 1 of my emotionally charged weekend actually happened on Friday.  I attended A Reason To Stand Conference here in town.  It was a gathering of trauma survivors; trauma of all sorts from murder to addictions.

Two weeks ago, I saw on Facebook that Ashlee Birk was bringing her seminar to town.  In a very hasty moment, I bought a ticket.  I don't know why I did that.  It was completely out of character for me, knowing I would sit in a large gathering of people to listen to sad, but empowering stories...alone.

Ashlee Birk made National Headlines when her story appeared on shows like Fox News and Dateline.  You can read about her story HERE.  Her high powered attorney husband in Meridian, Idaho had an affair with his Paralegal and in a sudden turn of events, was shot in a Walgreen's parking lot by his Mistress' husband.  When the police knocked on Ashlee's door, it was the first she knew that her husband was being unfaithful.  She had a new baby and 4 other children.  That all happened just two years ago.  Now, she travels around speaking about how to handle trauma, rise above it and move forward with Faith in God.  Ashlee was an amazing speaker and I loved her grit, humor and honesty.

She brought with her 4 other trauma survivors to share their stories too.

Cindy Beck- the owner of a local store Lulu Bella Boutique.  She spoke of being adopted, date raped that resulted in a pregnancy and then losing two husbands, one to a drowning and the next to brain cancer.

Bre Lasley- she, along with Elizabeth Smart (who was abducted from her family home as a young girl to become a sex slave) started an organization called Fight Like Girls.  You need to read her story HERE .  She was attacked by a man who came through her bedroom window with the intent to kill her and rape her.  Her story is still so extremely fresh, just over a year and talk about bravery!  I was so moved by her and the fact that she finds the courage to keep going.

Ashley Sullenger- another local woman who's 2 year old daughter drowned in a canal while being taken care of by family.  I loved her honesty about that incident but I loved that she shared how she moves through the grief that still comes after 7 years.

Emily Meyers- she writes at the blog The Freckled Fox.  She was a few months pregnant when her husband of just 7 years was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Melanoma.  He suffered for 15 months before passing away.  Shortly after, through no act of her own, was re-acquainted with an old high school sweetheart.  They married.  Her story was about the trauma of losing a husband, the difficulties in caring for him and their 5 children all under the age of 5 and marrying so soon after he passed and how she has dealt with the harsh judgments of others.

It was hard walking in all alone.  Everyone there was in groups, surrounded by friends, as women mostly do.  Surprisingly, I only saw two people I knew.  One was a client from out of town and the other was a nurse from the hospital.  The conference was from 4-9:30pm, so a long time.

Two ladies came in and sat down beside me.  She immediately turned to me and held out her hand to introduce herself.  She asked my name and if I had children.  I told her three and then she asked what my husband did for a living in a small town?  (She was from out of town)  I said, "Well, I don't have a husband, I'm a single mom."  Her eyes lit up and she said, " are you involved with anyone?  Dating? Beca..."  I was quick to cut her right off!!
"I'm not involved, not dating and not interested in dating."  I tried not to snap at her.
"Ahh...well, good to know."  I tried to smooth over that awkward moment by turning the conversation back to her life.  She was a really nice lady.

At one point in the conference, Ashlee had us pair up and stare into each other's eyes for 1 minute, just 'witnessing' them.  No words, just looking at each other.  Of course we all felt stupid but when the snickering ended... people got serious...and it was hard!  I couldn't do it!  I couldn't let myself be 'seen'.  I kept looking away to break the gaze but the woman beside me who I was sharing this moment with, let a tear escape her eye and she put her arm around me and with her eyes only...saw the pain I keep hidden away.  

The biggest thing I learned was that it's hard to be honest about our suffering, our weakness, our shortcomings, our grief and the way it can hold on to us, even for years.  Each of these women had moments of some serious crying and I was amazed at their vulnerability. At the end, Ashlee brought in three more women for a Q and A.  They represented the trauma of being married to a sex addict, a mother of a son entrenched in drug addiction, a young wife and mother whose husband died recently of a drug overdose.  It was an amazing evening that really left me speechless.  Never underestimate the trials that can come!

Most of the speakers talked about how you need space to work through grief.  You never get over it...just work through it.  They all spoke of how the Adversary will take advantage of your fatigue and grief and make you feel all sorts of horrible things. I could relate to everything and everyone on so many levels.    The thing that surprised me most is that none of these ladies felt like they are on the other side of suffering...they are all in the midst of it and they live through the angry, sad, scared days the best they can and breathe through the easier days.

Ashlee started the conference telling about her little girl.  Last year, Ashlee bought a Halloween costume for her daughter, it was a Rainbow Dash costume.  She got home and handed it to her daughter and said, "Here, you get to be Rainbow Dash for Halloween."  The little girl didn't want to be that, she wanted to be something else, something else she had been planning on.  When Halloween came and they went out to get free candy, a lady at one house said to the girl, "Oh look, you're Rainbow Dash!"  The little girl responded..."I didn't want to be this, SHE made me."  and she pointed to her mom.  Before long, the little girl didn't even want to be there anymore.  She didn't even want the free candy because she was so upset that her costume wasn't what she wanted.

Ashlee said that sometimes, God sends us something we didn't plan on and we don't appreciate.  How do we handle that?  Make the best of it and take the free candy, or  get angry and stomp home until we get what we want?

I loved that analogy.   It was a good night, a strong night.  It pushed so many buttons, triggered so many things and left me a wreck but I was so glad I went.  When the Q&A started, I couldn't manage all the emotions colliding in my head and heart so I sat there just crying my eyes out.  I could feel people staring at me but whatever...I think one girl sitting nearby felt pretty awkward with my crying alone, because when they ended the conference for dessert and the meet and greet, she stopped in front of me and said, "I think you're really rocking those overalls!"  She made me smile.



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