The Sisters sat down with Ashley to hear her share the story of God s love and mercy in her life and her pursuit of purity. The conversation began with the recognition that as women we have a deep desire for authentic love, it is imprinted on our hearts and in our being. As we learn to trust in God’s promises, we begin to experience the love that fills us completely.
Were you raised in the faith?
I was raised in a culturally Catholic home and went to Catholic elementary and high schools but my family wasn’t really practicing the faith. My faith came alive when I went on a retreat toward the end of high school. I began to know God and I heard the Scripture verse, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). This touched me deeply and stayed with me for years.
One of my youth leaders encouraged me to guard my purity. I knew what I was supposed to do, but all of my friends were dating and I didn’t trust God would give me the relationship that would make happy. My parents had a difficult marriage and my father was away from our family for part of my life, so I always had this fear of being abandoned by men. It was a real insecurity. During college, I dated different people and deep down, I didn’t believe I deserved someone who would treat me really well.
When I was in my 20s, I learned the story of my birth and at that point I knew that God’s hand was always on me. My mother became pregnant with me when she was in her early 40s. My parent’s marriage was really rocky at the time. The doctors told her that there was a good chance I was going to have Down syndrome or be handicapped and they recommended that she have an abortion. She gave in to their pressure and fear and scheduled an appointment. When she was walking into the abortion clinic, a woman stopped her, spoke to her, and encouraged her not to have an abortion. Thanks to that woman, that angel, I am here. God’s hand has always been on me.
What were you looking for in life?
I was a good student. I wanted to do well, get a good job, and have a happy life. I see now that I was always searching for love. After I graduated from college, I fell in love with a man, and I really wanted him to be the one. We were attracted to each other and had a great time together. I hoped that we would get married one day. So it seemed logical at the time for us to move in together. We had what looked like the perfect life. We lived in a house by the beach and had plenty of money. For a while it was great, but soon I started to notice some serious faults in him. But I overlooked them and held on to the hope that we would get married. I kept waiting for him to propose to me. We would talk about it from time to time, and he would always say he wasn’t ready yet.
I waited on what was a false hope. After a few years, I started to think – this is not working. I realized that I was empty. I began to pray, “Lord, I really care for this man, but he doesn’t know you. He is so lost and I am lost.” I knew I needed to end the relationship. I cried out to God for help, “I need you. I can’t do this on my own.” I got down on my knees and begged God for strength because it was going to hurt to walk out. I finally surrendered and said, “Let it be.” And I moved out.
Did you feel like you had a new start once you ended the relationship?
I started to pray more often and go to Mass. But I was angry and filled with resentment because I wasted so much time. I had nothing to show for those years. I fell into another bad relationship because I was so lonely. I realized these relationships did not fill me as much as God does. I prayed, “God help me! I don’t want to continue this pattern.”
I knew I had to surrender. I felt like I had to just stop and listen to God. Once I opened myself to Him even a little, I began to see how much He loves me. I realized I was broken and that I had a deep need for love. I had nothing left, I had to trust that God was going to be there for me. He gave me the strength to say, “I am getting off this ride, the roller coaster of trying to do things my way, because it is making me sick.”
I felt like I had the weight of the world against me, the weight of sin, but God was with me even when I went astray. I had this mentality, this attitude of wanting to do things my way, even when I knew it was wrong. I was looking to secure happiness for myself. This attitude still sneaks up on me, but I am learning to be obedient to God’s plan.
Obedience is not a popular word. How do you see it as something important in your life?
I see how much time I wasted just doing things my way. I think if I had only trusted in God, that He had a plan for my life. Instead I was grasping for happiness, for love, and it left me so empty. I wanted to limit God to going to Mass on Sunday. I didn’t want to let Him into all aspects of my life. Now, I want to have a real mature relationship with God and an open heart to hear His voice.
As I was growing in my faith, I found a young adult group of faithful Catholics who were striving to live purity. We studied Pope John Paul II’s teachings on the Theology of the Body and I learned about God’s beautiful plan for marriage rooted in His love. The world is full of lies on this topic. I was blinded. I see now that for a marriage or any relationship to work, God has to be at the center. I went on a retreat and made a commitment to live a life of purity and to wait for God to provide a spouse. I surrendered everything to the love of Christ. He cannot be outdone in generosity. He gives Himself completely, and supplies abundantly.
How has your faith grown?
I see things so differently now. My faith is not about following a set of rules – it is about being in a relationship with God who loves me. It is realizing my dignity as a beloved daughter of God. I wake up each day knowing that God has a purpose for my life and a plan filled with His eternal love. I know now that I am beautiful in His eyes and that He wants the best for me.
All my life I have been searching. For what? For whom? For this love. I finally realized at the end of my search that His love was always there. I felt as though God said to me, “Stop searching, the love, the mercy you desire it is here. Just receive. It’s free!” He is teaching me to relax and receive: “You don’t have to work so hard to secure this love, because I know the plans I have for you.” There is nothing like a relationship with God. If someone leads me away from God, it is not real love.
How do you stay faithful to what you now know to be God’s plan?
On my knees, begging God to help me be faithful. It’s not always easy, I still have temptations. I need God because, “The devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1Pt 5:8). I need a lot of support to stay strong. I feel like God is carrying me along and cheering me on saying, “You can do it, just stay with me!”
It’s a journey to the cross at times and I entrust myself to Our Blessed Mother to lead me to Jesus. I count on her to intercede for me because I don’t want to lose everything I worked so hard for or betray the Love that fills me completely. There is a wound in my heart that God is healing. This love I was longing for can only be found in Christ. He always brings his light and love right into our circumstances.
“He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Ps 40:2-3) I searched the world for love and I was left empty but God never left me. Now, I find that I am filled with His love, a love that doesn’t compare to anything that this world has to offer. I trust in God, that He will provide for me.
Originally published in our Spring 2013 issue of Imprint.