Wright Words: Idaho woman learns to ‘stand’ again after betrayal, adultery and murder
In words she's read a thousand times, Ashlee Birk told herself it was time to find the beauty all around her. She needed to make the world a better place for her children, the greatest blessing in her life. Because of her great faith and a life well-lived, she knew that the Lord would carry her when the days and months ahead became unbearable. But she also knew that in order to survive and do his work, she'd need 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 Birk at length. I was struck not just by the things she’s learned through this horrific ordeal but also 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 to 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 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 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 her.
“Ashlee, be a voice to some of my children who aren’t listening.”
She replayed the phrase over and over in her mind. Then, the very next day, during a priesthood 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, Birk, 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 God wants her to be.
When I asked Birk 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 — Birk 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.
Birk's 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. “Every one 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.
Because that’s right where God wants us.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, applevalleybarndance.com or jasonfwright.com
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