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 a heavenly explanation for all that had just shattered her forever family.
Ashlee 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.
Then, in that quiet closet, she was greeted by the loving whispers of the still, small voice.
“Be still,” she heard. “I have been here. I am still here. Angels have guarded this home and each of you. None of that has changed.”
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.
“It will be hard,” the whispers said. “But you have to keep moving forward. You have to have faith for a brighter day that will come as long as you keep protecting these sweet children and having faith in Me.”
The late Emmett Corrigan and the now remarried Ashlee (Corrigan) Birk and their children.
Earlier that evening, her husband, Emmett Corrigan, had been shot in a Walgreen’s parking lot in Meridian.
“You are not alone,” the comforter continued. “You have been watched over. I am proud of you. I believe in you. Now is the time when you have to decide if your testimony has been in your perfect life and your husband, or if your testimony is in Me.”
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 found Robert Hall guilty of second-degree murder in connection with Corrigan’s death.
“Ashlee, be still. Breathe. You did all that you can. You did your best. I am so proud of you. You were an amazing wife. You are an incredible mother.”
A mother? Yes, the newly initiated widow had five children waiting on her to explain, to recover, to raise and to help heal.
“You are still you,” the whispers persisted. “Do not let this define who you will become. You are still the Ashlee that you have always been and I see so much good in you. Believe in yourself and do not doubt who you are because of the pain that you feel so deeply.”
The Corrigan children.
Why was that man, Robert Hall, so angry? Because he knew what Ashlee didn’t. Hall had learned that his wife, Kandi, had been having an affair with Emmett Corrigan, Ashlee Birk’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.
“Find forgiveness and peace,” Ashlee heard, still on her knees.
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 — murdered.
Not just murdered — 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.
“This is the time to find the beauty that is still all around you,” the still, small voice pressed on. “Make the world a better place for those children I have blessed you with. I will carry you when it gets unbearable, but I need you to stand.”
Ashlee Birk, ever obedient to the laws of God and Earth, did just that.
And she’s been standing ever since.
Recently, I had the honor of interviewing Ashlee 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 remarrying a wonderful man and working hard to blend their families, her painful memories and the difficult observations remained within her own soul and the hearts of only her closest family and friends.
Then, without warning, the still, small voice amended the guidance she received on a cold March night in 2011. During a trip to a temple in Boise, with her heart hungry for angelic counsel, troubled over how much to share about her highly personal journey, she heard divine direction that both surprised and comforted.
“Ashlee, be a voice to some of my children who aren’t listening.”
She replayed the phrase over and over in her mind, but told no one.
Then, the very next day, during a blessing from her husband, Shawn, she heard the phrase again. Not from a silent voice, but aloud from her husband’s own mouth.
On Jan. 6 of 2014 year, 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 Ashlee’s courageous desire to stand and be the voice God wants her to be.
When I asked Ashlee 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.”
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 us 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.
Ashlee 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.”
The idea is worth repeating – “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.
Because Ashlee Birk is right; that’s just where God wants us.
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