"Ashley-Lauren's testimony of overcoming sexual abuse is a testimony for all women to know there's a strong woman hidden on the inside of them who knows it's time to be free."
-Jenene Stafford Megamorphosis Magazine
I recently had the pleasure of writing my first editorial for MegaMorphosis Magazine created, led, and edited by Jenene Stafford. I journeyed through a huge chunk of my past and journey up until this point, spiritually and practically. And for the first time I was boldly open about the things God showed me in the pits of where I was, which included showing himself to me in a comforting form of a white wolf.
Many may understand, but many may not, but this is my story and this is my journey.
This is my truth.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he lays me down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside still waters, he restoreth my soul.” This passage of scripture has gotten me through the darkest of times throughout my life, and became a battle cry against the enemy when I was literally fighting every day to hang on to some sense of life. I was seven years old when I attempted to help my first wounded animal. Being the nature lover that I am, at six years old on a breezy spring day, I discovered a robin with a broken leg, tangled in a pop divider. I urgently tried to help the helpless bird break free. I will never forget that moment when my father and I did just that, and will never forget the moment God helped me to do that very same thing on my own.
We all end up broken at one time or another, and unfortunately I ended up broken at a very young age at the hands of my abuser. Sadly, not just one but a few throughout my life. Growing up no one ever suspected a thing because I hid it so well, and covered it with an infectious smile and personality that people always wanted to be around. It was a secret of indescribable pain that I was going to take with me to the grave, because I didn't want to admit that someone I knew, trusted, and loved had sexually taken advantage of my innocence. It's not an easy thing to come to terms with on your own, and the older you get, the bigger the wound grows without you seeking the help you need. And looking back on my life I notice the more I avoided facing those demons, the harder and blocked my life became, until God decided to dismantle me.
It was my senior year of high school, before graduation when the secret of my sexual assault was finally released into the light. I remember that day too well, as it was the first time my body had ever experienced true sideswiped shock. I don’t think my parents and I realized it at the time, but remembering that moment now, I realize that was my first episode of PTSD, and I would encounter this breakdown again years later. It was a beautiful spring day in April of 2007, and my mom was combing my hair, preparing me to get it styled for our senior year fashion show. I know till this day even more so, the moment that happened next was completely a God thing. Though I don’t understand why these things happen, I know he doesn’t allow us to stay in darkness forever; especially when we’re transitioning from one season to the next.
My mother casually and cautiously brought up that someone in our family had accused another family member of multiple counts of sexual abuse. At first, I tried to play it off, because it was something I hid for so long that I had grown accustomed to the numb feeling and façade I hid behind all of those years. But then my mom stopped combing my hair, looked at me and with a shaken tone, asked “Ashley, has this happened to you?” As I type this, it brings tears to my eyes, to think how hard it must have been for my mother to even ask this of her daughter. And I know the answer genuinely came as the most darkened blow.
My body started shaking uncontrollably, when I finally let out the truth I had held in for over eleven years of my life. Nothing can prepare you to have to tell your family, especially at that age that you had been sexually assaulted and abused from a child. Nothing. I went into a daze where my mind went somewhere else, the place I always went when the abuse was happening or when any sort of conflict ever happened in my life. But, then my mom pulled me back to reality, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to hide from this anymore. She started crying and hugging me as she called my dad who was out on a walk to come home immediately. I remember the one thing she kept yelling at my dad when he arrived was “we thought we were protecting her, we didn’t protect her.”
That day, my journey truly started. And it oftentimes, brought me back to the story of Moses, who started off as an heir to the throne and yet his identity was dismantled and later discovered the day he killed a man. I found myself on a very similar road after my tragedy had been brought to light like Moses. I greatly struggled before encountering the Lord in my own version of the burning bush and was called to step out of brokenness and step into purpose to help others rise out of their own personal captivity.
Though I knew God from a very young age, as I was born a seer, which is another layer to the story for a different time; I honestly didn’t truly know how to let him heal this trauma. I covered it with distractions up until 2013. My distractions appeared to be good until they weren’t anymore. Career building, music, acting, and I even had a major benefit show to benefit the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, which is the organization that processed my case. I was so good at deflecting, masking, and pretending I truly thought nothing could break me until it did, and it happened to be a relationship which I treated more importantly than God himself. The trust was broken on his behalf and led me to a state of darkness that I honestly can’t fully explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced manic depression.
The wall was completely broken, and God allowed it to happen, because he loved me enough to not allow me to stay blinded. Isn’t it funny how he does that; and in the moment we can’t stand him until we’re healed years later and fully understand why it happened? It’s a true powerful testament to his love, and that we too are pillars like Moses, Ruth, Esther, and Job, going through our own books of life that may end up in an article of a magazine one day!
After that relationship ended, let’s just say that year I understood why Britney Spears shaved her head. I was dealing with a painful new condition known as Crohn's, diagnosed with PTSD after a very public outburst, became a functional alcoholic with barely a job, lost an unborn child, and was informed my childhood abuser was being released from prison. Honestly, every single day I had the strength to even move and not cry, I wanted to jump in front of a bus.
My mind, and spirit had been completely shattered along with my false sense of identity, all because I chose to try to do it on my own and not release this trauma to the Lord. It was as if, deep down I wasn’t facing the truth that maybe I didn’t actually trust him because of what happened to me, and he didn’t deserve to take this pain because it was mine and something I thought I had control over. “If you weren’t there in my pain, I thought, why should I trust you’ll heal it?” Boy, I couldn’t have been more ignorant.
He rocked my world, just like Moses, and the enemy definitely tried to do the same. Remember earlier, I said I was born a Seer? Well that is a version of a prophetic being that can see things within the spiritual realm, who sees hidden truths and is bearer of new truth.
It’s hard for people to get things past me, and in the present day, I use that to help them. God has specifically given me the gift to see other people’s trauma and to walk with them as they face it and begin to heal through it. It is absolutely phenomenal to live unashamed of this gift now, when for years I almost let it drive me insane; which like I said earlier is a whole other story for a different time, but flow with me here for a second.
In that season my gift began to grow at a rapid pace, which I still find interesting, yet it makes so much sense now at thirty one years of age when I’m not thriving even during a pandemic of many sorts. Most of the pillars in the Bible started to come into their purpose around their thirties, even Jesus himself whose purpose was to die on the cross for our sins. Yet, the world tells us we must be successful around a certain age, they say nothing about walking in purpose and coming of age and what that process actually looks like. But praise God we have a mighty word that literally lays the truth out for us and transcends time and worldly ideologies. It literally speaks the truth of life, love, pain, and the grace needed to be sustained through the very troubled days we find ourselves in, and that personally blows my mind.
That year of darkness became the year I started to truly step into my light of purpose. I started being approached in my dreams by the Lord and the enemy, and they grew so intense that I could barely wake up. I also started being approached by friends and family in my dreams and they would sit on my bed and tell me their feelings, which in reality ended up being accurate. Then dreams of destruction, events, and more came every single night. What was wrong with me? I thought. How was it even possible to be seeing these things at an in-depth level?
Soon, it went from dreams to reality, and I started to see and feel the truth of people around me, to the point it drove me to drink at the time, because I thought I was at the point I’d have to seek a mental ward. I started noticing these feelings in grade school, which led to me being highly emotional, yet obviously didn’t know how to articulate these feelings at that time. No one in my life at that point had ever talked to me about the prophetic and how these gifts were even possible in today’s world, and churches can be touch and go with this topic.
Winding back, the enemy approached me in my dream first, and came to me in the version of my late dog Serenity. She jumped on my bed and I began to pet her, and she quickly changed into this deranged black wolf. Immediately my body froze and I could not wake up. I was screaming as the enemy stood over me and thought at that moment I was going to die in my sleep. The only thing that could move was my mouth, and the only thing that came to my mind was “Jesus” and I started yelling that name over and over again, and the more I did the more it backed away from me. Yep, I may sound insane, but you’ll see where I’m going with this.
I finally woke up and lunged up out of my bed at exactly 3:33AM which is stamped in my journal and I opened my Bible for the first time in about a year and it landed on Isaiah 61, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.” Chills. Because this is my life banner now, that has been randomly prophesied over my life multiple times since that year by strangers. As I type this, I got chills and a revelation that even though the enemy approached me, God didn’t leave me. In fact, he was there the entire time of the attack and used that moment to test me like Jesus was tested in the wilderness. Why? To strengthen, to wake me up, to make me aware of the truth of why I am on this earth, and I can truly say that has unfolded in the most beautiful way.
Though that moment shook me, there would be one more test in order for God to truly set me on the path that I’m on now, and that would be the night I decided would be my last. You’re probably thinking, after all of that, you still needed another wake up call!?” Yes. Yes I did, because though this amazing moment which I couldn’t explain or really trust anyone but my dad to talk about it happened, the rain kept pouring and I kept letting it. I still wasn’t truly seeking the help I needed to heal from what had been following me around throughout my life. After the moment with the enemy, I saw God before I attempted to test the waters of suicide on my way back to my apartment. I was numb and it was in the middle of the day of downtown Chicago, and I was surrounded by people on their lunch breaks hustling to grab something before heading back to their busy schedules.
I stood in that moment on the corner waiting for the light to change and began to silently cry amongst all of these people. I felt in that time, “I am not seen, people do not see me. They do not see, so why is it worth it?” And if I could go back to that 20 something year old, I would say “babygirl, God sees you and that is the only thing that truly matters, no matter what happens” but I’m saying that to you reading this now. God sees you and that is the only thing that truly matters, and you are seen and loved by the people in your world who you choose to trust, and don’t let the enemy tell you any different. I saw God. He had come to me in my dreams in and out in a version of a white wolf leading me through the snow after the enemy encounter, yet I didn’t realize it was him.
But as I stood on the corner amidst the sea of people, I saw him standing there across the street near the pot belly underneath my building clear as day, and he appeared right before the light changed as I closed my eyes, took a breath, and leaned my foot to step out as a bus was going astronomically fast to go past the light. Mind you this bus was touching the curb, and as I stepped out a lady from behind me pulled on my coat and shouted at me “careful!” I didn’t even say anything to her, I just looked and kept walking. It’s odd, because I couldn’t have felt like more of an empty vessel than I did then. I reached a point where I felt nothing, even staring at this wolf that wasn’t really there to other people as if it were normal, I felt nothing as I closed my eyes to test if I would get hit by this bus and my life would be over. I felt nothing when that kind and conscious stranger saved my life.
I just went back to my apartment with the massive bottle of wine I bought and drank and I cried out to God in anger, hitting the floor, seeing flashbacks of pain, saying how much I couldn’t stand him. I always tell people it felt as if the enemy himself had chained himself onto my back and slowly sucked all of the actual life out of me. Because, my sense of humor was gone, my smile was gone, everything was gone. I didn’t want to go on living my life like that because it was not a way for a person to live.
So I wrote my suicide note, set out a bottle of pain meds I was prescribed, and the wine alongside it, and wept in my kitchen near my phone with the intent to call my dad. Instead, I found myself looking at a family photo of us on my fridge from about seven years old at Wisconsin Dells, which for a moment took me back to a better time. I took the photo off the fridge, and laid it next to the note, and opened the bottle of pills. The next moment that came was one I will always remember for the rest of life.
A co-worker, who is now one of my greatest friends Lucy, saw my light go out from the day she met me to the woman I had become at that moment. She constantly called and texted me to check in and to let me know I was loved by her and God. Yet, it’s insane how when your mind is so focused on the pain you’re in it distracts you from the truth that you indeed are truly seen. My phone rang, but I did not answer, yet I heard her voice. You read that right. I was not that intoxicated nor crazy, trust me. I know it was another supernatural moment of God getting my attention. I suddenly heard her talking loudly on the line, and I picked up the phone and began to break down. “I can’t do this anymore, Lucy. I cannot live this life. It’s not living at all and I have tried my best, but I wrote a note, and I am done. Can you tell my parents if they ever come in to work that I’m sorry?”
She was panicked in desperation, yet kept a cool composure, and said her and her fiancé Adrian were on their way, and to hold on for at least one hour. Her voice soothed my soul enough to do as she asked of me, and I waited for their arrival. When they showed up, they sat with me as I began to rock back and forth on the floor, and God and the enemy appeared. This is very important, because I want people to truly understand God is not religious or zealous, he is a mighty infinite and spiritual being that truly goes beyond complete understanding in the natural mind. And I am only a true follower and lover of who he is because of this night; not because I grew up in church, not because I can recite scripture, but because I had encounters that I still truly will never be able to properly articulate.
They were there and they began to circle me, and as my good friend said recently, God allowed me to experience the war, and that war was over my soul. As they circled me I began to cry harder and harder as Lucy attempted to comfort me. “I’m going crazy. This is where it ends. Do you see what I’m seeing? I kept shouting..” Until the white wolf made this sound that pierced my soul. It was as if it were a loud whistle which followed with a voice that said ENOUGH. I type this in tears reliving that moment. Enough. Enough. Enough. That word saved my life. That moment saved my life. God. Saved. My. Life. And I woke up in that very moment as if the shackles of a decade had broken off my back.
Lucy and Adrian can both attest to this, as it were if I became a different version of myself in that moment. I stopped yelling and crying, looked up, and went to sit on my couch. I’m laughing because I remember them both looking like “ok… what in the heck is happening right now?” And they both came and sat on the couch with me. To break the ice Adrian looked in my disheveled kitchen and smiled saying “well, you been drinking much?” And we all burst into laughter which made me instantly realize something shifted, because that was the first time in over a year I had laughed. And boy, don’t you take that for granted like I did, because once something as simple as laughter is gone, you miss it beyond belief.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he lays me down in green pastures, leads me beside still waters, he restoreth my soul.” Seven years later, I am thirty-one years young, and I am in the best possible place I could be in my life personally and professionally. And the way he has restored and healed my wounds for me to lead others to do the same has been nothing short of a miracle. That is not to say the road has been peaches and cream and ever will be since these moments, but now I have a relationship with the one and true God that no one can ever tell me isn’t real, because they were not there. My family wasn’t even there. There were three living beings in that moment who will always know the truth of what happened, in which I’m declaring now to all of you, which is myself, Lucy and Adrian.
I find myself over a decade later being presented with glorious opportunities to travel and preach God’s word and truth to congregations conferences, bars, streets, and everywhere else you can name. To lead those in a time of genuine worship in the sanctuary, and prestigious music venues which reach souls near and far from him. And so blessed to now sit on the Board of Advisors for the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center going from being a victim that stepped through their doors to now being a healed warrior leading a movement, all the while working to receive my mental health counseling certification to further equip the ministry I have been called to lead for trauma survivors.
Does the course of my life right sound familiar? Isaiah 61; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor and has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” My heart is for the broken, and through the gift God has blessed me with I see that within people. And if they are open to it and to him, help them process it and set them up with what they need spiritually and practically to heal and continue the cycle.
God is intentional and is a God of order and process, and it’s only when we truly take heed to what he is doing that we end up truly carrying the soul banner for our lives into the world. Trust me, this was not my plan at all in life to be doing what I’m doing. I wanted to be a well-known actress inspiring people through television and film and creating projects that mean something. I thought I had it all together until he said it was time to dismantle all that I had known to be true. I was confident in myself but I wasn’t actually confident in Him, which led me to my journey of self discovery in which I still am in many ways.
And though he has blessed me abundantly with several desires of the heart, he has led me to my purpose which is greater than a career, relationship, or anything else I may desire. He led me to a place of life after overcoming great brokenness, and like that bird helped me to fly and show others that it’s possible to do the same. If you’re reading this right now, remember you were born with great purpose, and it’s your duty to pierce the veil to truly discover it. Sometimes drastic things will happen to get our attention, sometimes they are subtle turns, but trust that it’s always God pointing you in the right direction. And sometimes pointing us in the right direction looks a lot like dismantling everything known to be true, to actually discover the real truth, that there is more and He is the way, the truth, and the light.