By: Jason Wright, Deseret News
In the early hours of March 12, 2011, Ashlee Birk of Meridian, Idaho, walked into her closet and pled with God for what she calls a "do over." She needed an explanation for all that had just shattered her forever family.
Birk fell to her knees and pled for peace, her face soaked in the rare kind of tears few of us ever have to experience. Despite the ice-cold shock of the night, the cries of her baby and the dueling, fierce floods of anger and grief, she felt a peace wash over her.
“Be still,” she almost heard the words in that quiet closet and felt heaven was near. She did not doubt then or now that angels had been guarding her home and her family.
Why would she need such peace? Because moments earlier, Ashlee Birk learned from detectives in her living room that she'd just become a 28-year-old widow.
She understood it would be hard, but felt spiritual confidence she would have the strength to keep moving forward. Somehow, she would find faith for a promised brighter day, as long as she kept protecting her sweet children and having faith in God.
Certainly, her faith would be tested in ways she never imagined. Earlier that evening, her husband, Emmett Corrigan, had been shot in a Walgreen's parking lot in Meridian.
The detectives' words had stung. Her husband had been shot and killed? By whom? Not by some strung-out stranger, not in some robbery nor random act of drive-by violence, but by an angry man. A jury eventually found Robert Hall guilty of second-degree murder in connection with Corrigan's death.
“Ashlee, be still. Breathe," she told herself, and she felt the overwhelming assurance she'd done all that she could. She'd done her best and heaven was proud of her. Despite what she'd been led to believe, she'd been a good wife and mother.
A mother? Yes, the newly initiated widow had five children, the youngest of which was 6 weeks old, waiting on her to explain, to recover, to raise and to help heal.
“You are still you,” she reminded herself, and this tragedy could not define who she would become. She was still the Ashlee she'd always been, and her only hope was to believe in herself. She could never doubt who she was simply because of the deep pain and anger.
What made Hall so angry to commit a murder? He had found out his wife, Kandi Hall, had been having an affair with Ashlee's husband. The two men's rage-fueled confrontation that night in a suburban drugstore parking lot ended not with confessions and apologies, but with gunshots and screams.
Still on her knees in a dark closet, Ashlee knew how hard it would be, but she knew she needed to find forgiveness and peace.
Peace? Moments earlier she'd heard from strangers in a burst, barely a breath between each of the revelations, that her husband was dead.
Not just dead - killed.
Not just killed - shot by a lover's spouse.
Not just a lover, but a woman Ashlee knew, a woman who'd been an employee of her husband's law firm.
Despite the devastating news, Ashlee felt she needed to stand tall. And she's been standing ever since.
Recently, I had the honor of interviewing her at length. I was struck not just by the things she's learned through this horrific ordeal, but by how willing she is to share the lessons with the world.
“Where does that willingness come from?” I wondered.
After years of struggle, after finding new love with a wonderful man and working hard to blend their families, she rarely spoke of the painful memories with others but her closest family and friends.
It was some time later when she became troubled over how much to share about her highly personal journey, she says she heard divine direction that both surprised and comforted her. She felt it was time to start sharing her story more.
During a prayer offered by her new husband, Shawn, she felt the prompting again. Not from a silent voice, but aloud from her husband's own mouth.
“Amen,” she said, and a blog was born
. She calls it, "The Moments We Stand."
On Jan. 6, 2014, Ashlee, a very talented wordsmith, began sharing her story - both the heartache and the joys - and the world has come to listen. In just two months, more than a million people have been touched by her courageous desire to stand and be the voice she feels God wants her to be.
When I asked her what she's learned from the pain of betrayal and loss, her response made me want to stand, too. “I've discovered that just like the Savior's pain brings hope, my own pain can bring hope, too,” she told me.
After taking time to update me on the legal side of her story - Robert Hall was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years
- Ashlee was quick to go on record with her views on forgiveness. “Listen,” she said, “I've discovered that forgiveness is not a checkbox. I'd been working for three years with checkboxes. But true forgiveness isn't a step, it's a process.”
We spoke in detail about how the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches the need to forgive and how some other high-profile Christians have discussed their decision to quickly move on - almost instantly - from being wronged. “For me, it's just not been like that. It's not a perfect process.”
She shared with me her anger, denial and a deep desire for an apology from the three people who hurt her beyond description. “But those apologies will never come,” she said.
Her honesty is refreshing.
On her road to forgiveness, she told me she's written many letters to Kandi Hall, letters she's never sent, and sought diligently to find empathy for her husband's killer. “He must have been hurting, too,” she offered. “Everyone of us can have our lives shattered. But with the Lord near us, we'll be all right. Without him we'll break, but with him we'll break through.”
With those perspectives, she might be further down the road than she realizes.
“If you had to sum up your experiences,” I asked, “If you could wrap it all into one message for people who have come to sympathize with your trials, what would it be?”
“No one can avoid the dark days,” she said, confidently. “Just when you think you've been hit with all the hard things, when you think you're finally done, you're not. Until we're with him again, living in his presence, life will test and refine us again and again.”
And when life does hit us, we decided, we’d better be standing.
Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.