I can't believe in all my time of blogging that I have never before shared the full story of how I fell in love with Jesus! A few people have asked me lately so I figured it's the perfect time to share. I filmed an eight minute video you can watch below, and if you want the full, in-depth story you'll find that under the video.
I grew up in a typical middle-class American family. As a child, I thought my life was safe and privileged. And it was compared to most families. My mother and father loved me well and provided every material item we desired. We went on frequent vacations together and my parents were present at every event I participated in through school and sporting events. They regularly went out of their way to show my brother and I affection and support. But now that I am older, I realize there was a lot of pain in my home, as is true for many families. My parents had a challenging marriage, in large part due to repercussions from my father’s chronic pain, but they worked hard to keep the family together. My father’s addiction to pain medication (due to seven back surgeries) created massive amounts of strife within our home. To me, opioid addiction is similar to a typhoon, without bias its force covers and destroys everything it touches.
Before the tidal wave took full control, my parents tried their best to teach me to love God. Our family attended church and I had a children’s Bible, but that was about the extent of Jesus in our home. There was no real relationship with Jesus. My parents each came to trust Jesus as their Savior, but not while I lived in their home. Therefore, the world was wide-open for exploration during my youth.
In high school, influences from my close relationships and poor answers to my questions on faith lead me away from the church. I left behind my weak knowledge of the Scriptures and engaged in anything the world said was fun. Despite my wreckful decision making, I thought I was a “good person” because I had a lot of friends, participated in worthy organizations, held leadership positions, and earned top grades. I was living the life that our American culture says is popular and cool, so I was a “success” in the world’s view. This viewpoint continued through college as I lived in what I thought was complete freedom.
However, despite all my supposed freedom, I felt anything but free. My soul felt trapped. I was in this perpetual cycle of romantic relationships where I was often disrespected, cheated on, abused verbally, and even physically. I kept losing my best friends to poor decisions and I just couldn’t avoid hurting people. I finally came to a place where I felt this lifestyle wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to escape it. This was all I knew. On the outside, I appeared to have it all together, but on the inside, I was angry, lost, and drowning in the culture’s influences. I was ready for something to change.
At this time, I was a senior in college and my now-husband stepped back into my life. For unexplainable reasons, I rejected our love after an intense (and innocent) summer romance when we were 18. Fast forward four years and he was back, willing to give me another chance, one I was desperate to accept this time. Even though our dating was a bit tumultuous as we dealt with my past decisions and lived on different morals (since I still rejected faith in Christ), I knew this man was the man I was meant to marry. Something would not allow me to let him go this time.
To bring change to my lifestyle, my heart, and my mind, I returned to the Catholic church and picked up where I left off at 14 years old. I underwent the sacrament of confirmation thinking it would magically make me believe in God. No such luck. For me, the Catholic church experience was all about good works, routine, and fulfilling the sacraments. I never felt Christ’s presence or knew that true faith was about a relationship with him. At the celebration of my confirmation, my cousin gave me a book that completely transformed my life--3:16: The Numbers of Hope, by Max Lucado. Before I began reading the book, I learned that if I wanted a relationship with Jesus, I needed to pray for God to reveal himself to me, to seek him. And that’s what I did. I went to a non-denominational church, I prayed, I read, I listened to Christian music and broadcasts, and I asked questions.
And just as God promises in the Bible, he revealed himself when I sought Him. While reading Lucado’s book, I felt what had been missing in my life. The book is based around the verse John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In one part of the book, the author details the merciless torture that Jesus endured and asks why he didn’t stop it; after all, he’s the same one who summoned the dead and stilled the sea. Yet, Jesus withstood because of me, Ashley Ashcraft. He saw the list of my mistakes, and he knew the price I was destined to pay without him—death. And so he chose the nails. He endured, for me, on the chance that I would choose to accept the gifts for which he died, forgiveness and eternal life. During that realization, a seemingly endless list of MY sins clawed themselves to the surface. Jesus saw all of these sins on his cross, MY sins. Even though I chose those actions, he suffered to save ME. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that I was worthy despite my past failures. Right there, I professed my faith in Jesus, asked for forgiveness of my sins and prayed for guidance in honoring and obeying God for the rest of my days. As God enveloped me in his unconditional love, I knew that this was the something (or, more accurately, someone) I’d been missing all along.
I have been a believer for twelve years now and my life has changed dramatically. I have dear friendships, I offer forgiveness, I do not judge others, I strive to love everyone, I work to serve the Lord, I apologize, I seek God’s counsel, I choose to fulfill the purpose he destined for me, I trust his plan for my life when things aren’t going as I would like, and I have peace knowing God is in control (working all things for my good). Exactly as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, I was made new when I chose Jesus: "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"
An example of my being a new creation occurred several years ago when I was living at home with my parents and two-month-old daughter while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. What I didn’t know was the tumult I was entering into by making that decision. However, God was in control and I see his fingerprints on this time in my life. At the heart of my dad is a deeply compassionate, humorous and charismatic man who lived to love and protect his family; however, life's turns distanced him from his true self. My dad’s addiction was worse than ever, to the point where he spent two weeks in the neurological unit of the hospital after an overdose. I witnessed scenes that a child should never have to endure. Shortly after, he moved out of the house due to safety concerns and my parents divorced. After that, he completely spiraled out of control in every way possible. I was scared of my father and feared for my daughter’s safety. At that point, I refused contact with him (as did everyone else in his life) and I did not speak with him for several months. I prayed desperately for his restoration, but it never came.
During that time we were stationed in Texas, and I approached a prayer partner after church to pray for my dad. What a surprise I was in for that day. This man was also raised by a drug-addicted father who let him down most of his life. Instead of praying for my father’s healing, he prayed for me to forgive my father, to show him God’s mercy and unconditional love. What a revelation!
With every fiber of my worldly being rejecting this idea, I followed the Spirit of Christ and dialed my father’s number, for the first time in months. I expressed my forgiveness (for which he had no idea what he had done wrong) and vowed to love him through this time. My husband and I did not enable his addictions and poor choices but showed him the love of Christ through our commitment to a relationship with him. I am so thankful that God spoke to me through a prayer partner that day because shortly after, my father passed away due to an overdose on drugs. The unforgiveness I once held for him was all-consuming. I thought about how he had continually wronged me and my family. Once I forgave him, I was completely released from an emotional jail cell. Now, my mission was to love my father to Jesus and to show him how much God loved him. Why we choose unforgiveness when we can choose love is bewildering once we experience the freedom that comes from the switch. How much more fulfilling it is to love than to condemn.
We all have our weaknesses and our sins. Some appear worse than others, but in God’s book, sin is sin. My tendencies toward sin, although not drugs, are just as bad as my father’s. I needed Christ’s love to save me from myself. I needed to ask for God's forgiveness, to accept his salvation, and let him lead me in my life choices, to choose to put his commands above my fleshly desires. I had to reach the end of myself before I no longer wanted to be in charge of me. I needed Jesus to change me. His glory that I now experience is so overwhelming in contrast to the life I lead before I knew Christ. Now, I literally feel his Spirit and my soul is flooded with hope and trust in the one who transformed me. I honestly don’t know how I would cope with the winding ways of life without him. Thank you, God, for being my perfect Heavenly father and loving me with such divine passion and grace.
What's your testimony? I would love to know! Share it in the comments.