Faith, Family, God, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Your Story

Made in California

February 3, 2016

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Ashton’s Story:

I am from California, born and raise, and have been living in Raleigh NC for two years with my hilarious, handsome, and loving husband Hank. I have a mom and dad and two older brothers who I adore with all my heart. Growing up in California has its incredible blessings but also its very difficult cultural standards. It’s so different from North Carolina I find myself almost laughing because I never thought I would experience such a culture shock in my own country, let alone be married to a sweet Georgia gentleman! This isn’t a bad thing at all but definitely makes me see that where I came from has shaped me into the type of Christian and woman I am today. It’s always good to remember where you came from right?

When I was in the 1st grade my family started this tradition of traveling to a different country every summer. This greatly impacted my life at such a young age because it forced me to see with my own eyes how other cultures lived. I saw beautiful things but also poverty in many different forms. Every trip I realized more and more that most of the world lives differently than we do in the states. This sparked a HUGE love for different cultures and almost an addiction to travel and adventure…Which is a crucial part of why I think I have always wanted to become a missionary, and why I have made some crazy decisions in my life that others would think to be risky or unwise…you’ll see :).

As a little girl, I remember feeling morally different from my friends – or simply just wanting different things in life. Being surrounded by such a liberal culture formed my worldview as a believer and forced me to be comfortable with being different. I understood that my beliefs were not popular. It wasn’t normal or cool to believe in God. In fact, it was looked down upon and seen as “ignorant” or “narrow-minded”. I had far more non-Christian friends than I did friends at church. It was never a normal sight to see people reading their Bibles in coffee shops, and out of my public high school class of 600+ students, I could count on one hand how many true Christians I knew. So when conversations were brought up about what we wanted to be when we grew up, instead of saying “a doctor” or something of that sort, I would say “a missionary” or something crazy like live in a hut somewhere with a tribe (which I still honestly would LOVE to do lol)…but nothing prized by this world or relatable to my friends.

The success-seeking, “do it this way” culture I was growing up in wasn’t attractive to me, and little did I know this being different mentality would play over into so many areas of my life. Almost as if I just enjoyed swimming against the current of cultural norms. I see now that I was developing a rebellious, free spirit. All that being said, it’s a complete anomaly that I am saved. Seriously. Truly. Wholly. By God’s grace alone. Growing up in a world that is addicted to wealth and success, to physical appearance and the type of degree you have, and is SO good at storing up those achievements even at the expense of their souls…Yes…it is truly by God’s grace that my heart turned towards Him.

This grace that God gave me to understand His love didn’t come easy, though. It was a tough battle, and a trial that brought me to seek the gospels in a way I never had before. In the eighth grade, I felt that I was a Christian: I attended church with my family on Sundays and read the Bible maybe as often as any 13 year old, but my faith had never been deeply tested and I didn’t have a true intimate relationship with Christ. This changed, though, on the day that my dad told my brothers and I that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom was my most treasured possession on this earth. She was everything to me. She had to fight through chemotherapy for a year, get a full mastectomy (completely removing both breasts), and had a couple more years of surgeries to follow. Watching her go through these battles was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I was angry and deeply afraid. But God used it to draw me to Himself. I went for a walk on a dirt path in the mountains near our house, and prayed and wept before my Father. In my expression of furious anger towards him, crying out of desperation and fear, God showed me that He was simply there. He was clearly asking me, “Am I still worthy to follow if I take your mom away?” He was asking if I trusted Him and truly believed He was a Good Father. Did I believe He loved my mom more than I did? Was I ready to lay my life down for Him because He laid His life down for me? Would I do so, even if He took my mom away? …And through the tears, I said “yes”.

I’m so thankful to tell you that my mom survived, and even defeated kidney cancer just three years ago. Seeing her be so strong and never lose hope has truly changed me. Her battle with cancer has drawn me close to Christ in ways that I can’t even describe. Because of this personal commitment, I was baptized on my first missions trip in the Baltic Sea in Latvia when I was 15.

I lived and worked in an orphanage in India for two summers in high school and this deep love for travel continued to be affirmed. All the while I was on a year round volleyball team that traveled nationally. It was a lot of work but I loved every second of it. I started receiving many scholarship offers and because it was the next level to achieve in my volleyball career, I committed to the University of San Diego at the beginning of my junior year.

When I think back to how quickly and freely I made that decision, I loved how fearless I was but also wish I could have had deeper discussions about my future and where my heart was really at. I had this unending passion to do missions overseas and couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do…and then I also had this incredible opportunity to play D1 volleyball and get my education paid for…why wouldn’t I take that?? I would really only be going there for volleyball…but that’s ok right?? This decision started to seem like something everyone else wanted and desired for me, and although I loved playing and went through with it, I deep down knew it wasn’t what I wanted and that it wouldn’t satisfy my longings for very long. This was my first big life decision that I was questioning: “Is this what God wants me to do, or what my coaches and parents and friends think is right?”

Over and over I saw people obtain it all by the worlds standards, but truly they just.felt.empty. Many people I knew had no self worth even though they had all of these things; they had no joy even though they were told money would buy them happiness; they thought they didn’t need God because their academic achievements told them they could do it all themselves.

These were the things I grew up being afraid of. I desperately wanted to avoid believing those lies. And THAT is what fed my rebellious spirit against the “cultural norms”. I had inadvertently faced death with my mom and it kind of made me internally say “YOLO” even though that didn’t even exist then. God doesn’t say, “Get perfect grades, go to college, get married, find the right job…and THEN follow me.” No. THAT is what I wanted to be careful of and as a teenager tried to navigate the best I knew how. This has always been an internal battle of mine. Maybe some of you totally get what I’m talking about, and maybe some of you are for the first time asking if you have just been doing what everyone else is because it’s easy, but I encourage you to just go to God and ask Him. Ask the hard questions. We can do that together :).

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  • Michelle February 4, 2016 at 1:02 am

    Oh Ashton, thank you so much for this challenge and encouragement. I have a word I want to live by this year – fearless – but I think every day I’m finding that I’m more and more fearful than I ever thought before. I really do want to follow God wholeheartedly, and trust and obey Him, no matter how much it will place me head-on with societal norms. Sometimes I just need that encouragement! Can’t wait to read more from you. (:

    • Ashton February 4, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Hey Michelle:) I love that you are desiring to live fearlessly. Sometimes I think all we need in order to do so is remember the kind of God we follow! If there’s any sense of fear just remember who you’re giving your everything to. He knows what is best for our lives far more than we do. He is a GOOD father that loves us unconditionally and WILL provide us with what we need for whatever He calls us to do. He gives us every reason to trust Him and no reason to not:) Also, this living fearlessly may look different than what we can imagine! It could simply look like contentment in the circumstances we are in, or being more loving towards those around us, or forgiving when it is so hard to…that to me is not the ” cultural norm” and living fearlessly:)
      Thank you for sharing your heart and we’ll be right there with you praying for boldness and obedience!

  • Rachel C. February 4, 2016 at 9:23 am

    I love that line, “Did I believe he loved my mom more than I did?”
    Recently went through a little cancer scare when my mom had a cough that wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t anything but it was intensely terrifying. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to get through that. God bless you and your mom. <3

    • Ashton February 4, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Rachel I’m so thankful to hear everything was okay with your mom. I’m sure hearing the word “cancer” and then waiting for results was so scary for all of you. I hope she is doing better now! It’s crazy how even a situation like that can teach us a lot about how much we really do trust God. It’s comforting to know we can truly get through ANYTHING because He gives us the strength to do so. Thanks for your sweet comment:)

  • Ashton February 4, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Rachel I’m so thankful to hear everything was okay with your mom. I’m sure hearing the word “cancer” and then waiting for results was so scary for all of you. I hope she is doing better now! It’s crazy how even a situation like that can teach us a lot about how much we really do trust God. It’s comforting to know we can truly get through ANYTHING because He gives us the strength to do so. Thanks for your sweet comment:)

  • A Worn Girl February 7, 2016 at 11:17 am

    I too love to travel. :) I am so sorry to hear about your mom but am glad your family was able to fight through it. Thank you, Ashton for being vulnerable about your past…I believe it helps to connect with the reader because we too have our doubts, fears, and joys. Thanks again <3

    • Ashton February 8, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      I’m really looking forward to getting to know our readers, and openly share my life with you all. It’s just the beginning! I’m so thankful we can share our fears, doubts, and joys as sisters in Christ<3