Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Story, My Testimony

I am going to start off with how I lived my life before I decided I wanted to follow Christ.

I say, "wanted to follow Christ" instead of "found Christ" because truth is I found Christ many, many years ago and was never interested! 

I grew up in a Christian home my whole life!
Both my parents, for as long as I can remember, have been incredibly faithful to The Lord. 
For the most part, I was uninterested.
Sunday mornings at Church was 60 mins of sleeping and watching the clock. 

God/Jesus/Christ/Religion (whatever you want to call it) just sounded like a bunch of rules to me.
I hate rules!
I looked at my parents as strict, unfair, and over protective.
I wanted to be a wild child and sought every opportunity of freedom.
I'm not sure what's in me that drives such rebellion.

I have always been a pretty outgoing person and always just wanting to have fun.
I snuck around behind my parents backs, I always lied about where I was and who I was with.
I had no shame. I got away with everything. Life was good.

Party after party, I had come across a new group of friends.
I met this guy I was beyond infatuated with.
Being young and dumb "in love" I'd do anything to get this guy to like me.

So at 16, I experienced my first night gone wrong.
This is a picture from that night.
Don't we look cute?

Living it up that night, I desperately wanted to fit in with his friends. 
Long story short, I had drank beyond my limit.
I don't remember much from that night, just what I've been told.
But here's what happen.

I was so intoxicated we believe that I might have had alcohol poisoning.
I bet his friends were thinking I was pretty cool, huh?
While this guy tried to take care of me and make sure I remained conscious, my phone was all of a sudden being blown up by my dad.
My dad had somehow found out I was not where I said I was.
He had tracked me down by the GPS on my phone.
He finally found me & had to witness is baby girl in a pretty heart breaking physical state.
No parent wants to see that.
Apparently, I was so far gone and unresponsive, my dad went around threatening everyone demanding answers as to "who drugged ashlee?"
Then he proceeded to call the cops.

However, dad decided getting me home first was more important.
From that point, my dad drove me home.
We had to stop several times along the side of the road so I could vomit.
I also threw up all over the center console of my dad's brand new Mercedes Benz. Oops.

My dad carried me into the house and when the door opened... this part, for some reason unknown, I remember vividly. 

My "just around 8 months pregnant" mother was hysterical in tears.
I am not sure why I remember this part so clearly.
Looking back at it now, I believe maybe God wanted me to see the pain I had put my mother in.
Well I did... and it hurt. 

The next morning, my parents came down on me pretty hard, as expected and I was announced dead.

Just kidding, I was grounded but at that time I felt like I might as well had been. 
It's funny looking back at moments in your life when you thought for sure your world had come to an end.

My grounding that summer was having to serve at a Church Camp for a week. 
Seriously?! I would have rather pulled weeds all summer or collect garbage on the side of the highway.

The camp was outside Spokane, WA.
It was a long, silent, and incredibly uncomfortable 4 hour drive with my dad.
As soon as we pulled up, I noticed I had absolutely no cell phone reception! 
"Ugh. This is torture." (typical spoiled, self absorbed Ashlee thoughts)
My dad told me to hop out, I sighed, rolled my eyes then watched him drive away. 

Honestly, at camp I was touched. A little. 
I heard some preachers preach. 
Some life changing stories were told.
I pretended to read my bible during quite time.
I "did my time" at church camp.
When it was time to head home, I was more than ready.
Looking back, I think God tried talking to me for the first time during that week but I ignored him.
I did not need him yet.

Came back home. Went straight back to my "friends" and boyfriend.
Playtime was back on. 

Now, remember earlier when I told you I hated rules!
Well, are speed limits rules? Ha!
Apparently they are, so I broke those as well.
Except, this time I was not punished by my parents.
I was punished by the law.

I got 5 speeding tickets in a very short amount of time and my drivers license was revoked.
My parents sold my car to my cousin. (You're welcome, Steph)

I lived way out in the country side of town and was the only one out of all my friends with a license so this left me stuck at home or depending on my parents for a ride ALL THE TIME.

At 17, spending all your time with your parents is cruel & unusual punishment. 
Now, looking back at that period in my life I felt like getting my license revoked was the only way God could keep me out of trouble. 

Having aged and gained wisdom over time, Now when I look back at what I thought were unreasonable punishments I can see them as God actually protecting my well being. 

Which brings me to this beautiful verse.

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." - Hebrew 12:11 (ESV) 

So, I shaped up a little bit during this time due to over exposure of parental "bonding."

At 18, I got my license back, a new car, and I was off to Arizona State University to start college!!!

Awe, would you look at that? Your typical ASU girl!!!
Bleached blonde hair, orange skin, and a ridiculously degrading outfit! 
In that picture of me, I am everything I mock today. I was a follower. 
I let ASU tell me who I was going to be. 

Now there was fun to be had!!! (again) 

I was having a blast with all my new "friends!"
(I keep putting friends in quotations because none of these people were actually real friends to me.)
Everything was great.
However, at this party (pictured above) I came across this girl (pictured below.) 

Luckily, she covered her own face (I think out of shame) so I could share this photo.

I finally gave into "breaking the seal" and slipped away to use the little girl's room.
I found this girl sitting on the bathroom floor by the toilet.
She was what you would call a " hot mess!" 
At first,  it was funny to me, I didn't care who this girl was. She did this to herself!!!

Thought to self: "Wow, really Ashlee?! This was you not too long ago, give the girl a break and help a gal out!"

So I did, I tried helping her. I tried finding her friends or someone she knew.
There was no one, no one knew who she was & no one cared to be honest.
On top of that I found out her friends totally ditched her.
I've come to terms that most parties are just a gathering of selfish people.
She was giving me attitude and told me to leave her alone.
So, I did! 

Thought to self: "Fine. Peace out chick, you ain't my problem!" 

Looking back at that girl, she might as well had been me... She had no real friends and no one cared about her. 

Looking back at that moment today, it breaks my heart. 
I don't know what happened to that girl, hopefully nothing as awful that could have happened in her unconsciousness.
But how sad/scary it must have been for her to wake up that next morning not knowing where she was, what happened the night before, or where her friends were.

By the grace of God, when that happened to me, my dad came to the rescue, swooped me up and return me home safely.
Once again, God protecting me when I thought I was being punished.

Even though I had a moment there in the bathroom, still no lessons were really learned
I still did not need God.

So I kept on, keepin' on! 
It was now GREEK WEEK at ASU!!!

If you look closely in the background there are 3 levels of people, body to body.
The whole apartment complex was that full!
It was a square complex with a pool in the middle.
I remember people were jumping off the railings into the pool.
The place was out of control, I've never seen anything like it.
I was thrilled! 

(That is Karli by the way, she's one of the sweetest, most thoughtful persons I can still call my friend today; I adore her!)

Karli and I had a few alcohol samplings. (That sounds classier, right?)
Once the party started to get a bit out of control (like all ASU parties do) we decided to head out.

Right when I walked outside the building I had a man come up to me and say, "What's in the bottle, Miss?"
With a "do not talk to me, you creep" glare, I responded to him with attitude, "none of your business"
The man said, "Actually it is, I am an undercover cop!"

Can you imagine my dumbfound face?! 
Probably super cute, right?

"Um, come again??" 

Yup, sure enough, he showed me his pretty gold badge, grabbed my arm violently and brought me to the "Drunk Truck."
(ASU has these things called drunk trucks where they just toss all the drunks into one truck because a single police car is never enough to collect people. They're really fun to watch when you're not the one being thrown in.)

So, proud daughter moment for my parents...
I called home after my first month at college to announce I have been awarded with my first "MIC" (minor in consumption.)
Remember, I was only 18 and I had "sampled" some alcohol that night!

My court date finally rolled around.
I showed up, prim & proper with my best "I'm a good girl" outfit on. 

Court took forever! I checked in and had to sit and wait for them to call on me.
A couple hours went by and finally the office lady told me she could not find my report. 
I rolled my eyes thinking how unprofessional, let me back there, I could do your job better.
(typical bratty, self righteous Ashlee thoughts)

Finally she came back and said my charges had been dropped. 
Wait, what?
The officer that reported me for some reason unknown decided to drop my charges.
My friend however received a $600 fine.
But I was set free. Nothing on my record and no money out of my pockets.

At the time, I looked at it with the mindset, "I have great luck, Go me!"
Now, I look back and see it as God trying to reach out to me. (once again... denied!)
Still did not feel like I needed God.

Up until my sophomore year at ASU by God's sweet grace, life had been pretty good to me.

It wasn't until I got my "dream job" at Nordstrom, had my "dream condo" in Tempe, and was in the second year at my "dream college" that I found myself incredibly low and dissatisfied with my life. 

Sounds weird, right?
Hear me out. 

From the outside looking in I was the girl that had it all!

I was always incredibly fashionable due to my employment by Nordstrom, I made a great amount of money for my age working a "high end" job at Scottsdale Fashion Square, I could afford just about anything my heart desired! I had a nice car, a two-story condo, access to my parents second home in Scottsdale and the keys to my dad's sports car, a brand spankin' new Mercedes Benz AMG that I occasionally took for a spin on the 202! When I wasn't working or in class, I was basking in the sun at the private pool in my parents gated community. 

I was only 20 years young, living large. 

Ever heard the saying, "Money can't buy you happiness."
I always joked and responded, "You must be shopping at the wrong places!"

But it's true.
I  had everything but was left depressed, lonely, and miserable!

I am even getting choked up right now having to look back at this period in my life.
I know what you all are probably thinking, "oh poor thing, she had it all, must be rough."

I couldn't party anymore working a full time job at Nordstom while being a full time business student.
And quite honestly I wasn't even interested in the party life anymore. I was burnt out. 

All my "friends" my freshman year of college faded away. 
I was so miserable, I turned mean.
I started to take it out on my sweetheart of a roommate.
I had no friends, no family, and the one person I did have in AZ, my roommate, I had completely pushed away.
By avoiding her I started staying at my parents house in Scottsdale. This house was closer to my work so I started skipping classes as well (mainly because I hated business school) and completely isolated myself. 

Y'all know how much of an extrovert I am? 
Being alone all the time drove me absolutely mad!
My only friend was the clerk at Albertson's who sold me a frozen canadian bacon pizza & chocolate chip cookie dough every night after work. (oh ya, I also became quite the heavy hippo!)

I'd call home every day, I was constantly asking friends, family, and my long distance boyfriend to Skype me.
I went to school and work then always came back to an empty house. 
I told my parents I hated my life. 
My poor parents had given me everything my selfish heart desired!
How could I possibly be this miserable? 

One weekend my mom had come down to visit me.
I remember one night I could hear her out in the living room watching TV.
I was secluding myself, once again.
(the enemy loves to get you all to himself...)
I was taking a bath.
I sat there and held my head under water over and over again.
I was testing how long I could hold my breath.
I counted one mississippi, two mississippi, three...
I was teasing some very dark thoughts I had been struggling with.
I finally came out of the water, gasping for air.
I wrapped a towel around me and I ran to my mom.
Wet, cold, & bare I will never forget what I said to her next...

"I do not want to live."

Tears rolled down my face and my knees fell to the ground.
"I am miserable and I don't have a future."
(I honestly believed God had no plans for me.)
My mom sat there and cried with me.

My parents encouraged me to finish the school year then I could move back home.

So the end of the year came, I dropped out of W.P. Carey Business School and moved back in with my parents.

It was summer, I just turned 21 & living back at home with my parents.
All my plans had failed. 
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with my life. 
I had reached my lowest low but there was this little fight left in me that was determined not to give up.

Over thinking and over analyzing everything, like always, I started doing some serious soul searching. 

My heart changed, I wanted to find meaning in my life, not just the next party...

What did I want in life?

I had my "dream life" and it didn't bring me happiness!
If what I thought would make me happy.... didn't, then what could?

I gave up, threw up the white flag and for the first time in my life ever... I. Went. To. God.
If I couldn't answer my questions then maybe, just maybe, he could. 

"How do you know God's Will for your life? You listen for the Holy Spirit and let God guide you."

I started praying. I didn't really know how to pray; I learned later on there's no right or wrong way.
I basically just started spilling my heart out to God.
I told him what I wanted. I told him what was hurting me.
I told him my regrets and I shared with him my hopes.
I wanted him to give me something I was passionate about.
I wanted meaning; I wanted direction. 

I was still contemplating the meaning of life so after lots of praying, for some reason it was brought to my attention that I needed to do something selfLESS for the first time in my life.

Guess what?
I finally listened.

I looked into opportunities at my church (more my parents church, let's be honest) and I decided I was either going to "go big or go home."
I packed up my bags and flew out to Port Ah Prince, Haiti on a mission trip.

During my two weeks there, something in me that had been asleep my whole life... awakened. 
(you can read about my Haiti experience in my blog post called, Healing Hearts In Haiti)
Long story short, I think I found my purpose in life down in the beautiful mess of that third world country.

I came back from my trip full of life! 
I saw things differently.
First thing I did when I got home was look into my pantry & thanked God for food.
I told my parents I think I found my purpose in life. 
I wanted to help people.

I transfered to EWU (closer to home) changed my major to Communication Studies and my minor to Psychology. 
I decided if I wanted to help people I needed to learn how to understand them.
God answered my prayers, he helped me find something I was passionate about and he brought meaning to my life. 

I started trying to live my life more for Christ and less for me. 

In an incredible sermon I once listened to I learned about "God's Plan over Man's Plan"
See, God created us. He knows our hearts desires before the moment we took our first breath.
God knows the ending from the beginning. 
But so many of us choose "our plan" over "God's plan" and we are left unfulfilled.
My experience in Arizona is a prime example.
I was living my plan and was miserable.
Once I started to follow God's plan for me, I found peace & joy.

I wish there was some way I could prove to people that God is real.
I wish I could give free tours of the inside of my heart and let people experience the peace God has filled within me.
Unfortunately I can't, all I can give you are these honest, heartfelt words. God is real.

If that were possible I believe that people would be more open to fellowship because everyone wants PROOF.
Truth is, the proof can't be handed over to you. You have to find it yourself.
And trust me, when you find it yourself, it is A LOT more meaningful.
Our God is a man of free will, he's actually quite the opposite of being just a bunch of rules.
He gives us the option to seek his blessings or not to. 

Now, listen here!

I am not perfect.
I know sometimes I come across "unChrist-like" to people.
I am not the strongest Christian.
I still dabble or get sucked into things I shouldn't.
I am still a social butterfly.
I like to go out and have fun with my friends. (I have real friends now, btw.)
Sometimes, my thrill seeking leads me to places I shouldn't be.

I don't want you to read my testimony & think I claim to be perfect and have found all the answers.

No. I still battle with Christ.
It's just like any other relationship. sometimes ya disagree with the other person!
I still don't understand some of his doings in my life.
I get mad and question him.
I feel broken and pain.
I walk away from him sometimes.
I am still "trial and error"ing my relationship with him.

But let me share a secret with you.
Overall, I am the happiest I have ever been with Christ by my side.
When I feel pain, I take it to him, I ask him what he wants me to learn from it.
Sometimes his answers come to me quickly and some still don't have answers.
Sometimes they're answers I like and sometimes they are answers I don't like.
But he's there, and he cares.
He forgives me and he loves me.

And I will continue to live my life for Christ because without him...
I am meaningless. 

September 29, 2013
I dedicated my life to Christ.

I am far from the person I use to be. Today, for the most part I want as little as possible. With my roommates I always ask for the smallest room. I am not so obsessed with my outer appearance anymore, I hardly ever dress fashionable like I use to. A good pair of jeans and a soft tee is what you can usually find me in. I stay far away from house parties. I can't even remember the last one I went to. I am not nearly as selfish as I was back then. I have such a passionate heart for others. I put my friends, family, and sometimes even strangers needs above mine, for the most part. I am still working on myself, I always am.

This is my testimony.

xx, ashlee

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