Hi, my name’s Ashleigh and my testimony begins like all the other testimonies. I was blessed to be raised in a Christian household, knew the answers, and all the rest of the stuff. So, for a good part of my childhood, I can honestly say, Jesus was my best friend.

Time passed on and, eventually, I got sick of the whole imaginary-best-friend Jesus fiasco once I made ‘real’ friends. So, I’ve been driven to this church, and am still being driven to this church, for the whole nineteen years of my life. And, for the vast majority of that time, I was never particularly passionate about church, nor did I really love God.

I’d rock up every week, because, well, Dad’s gotta preach. But, that normally wasn’t enough motivation. Church was boring and I thought everyone was old, a little scary and really lame. So, when I needed that extra something to make church look-forward-worthy, every few years I’d choose a new boy to crush on. But please don’t speculate because I didn’t have many options.

During that whole time, I thought I was a Christian – ‘good enough’ to be accepted as God’s child by virtue of being the child of two faithful believers, in a home where I have always witnessed God’s love.

I praise God that when I finally stopped living on autopilot, realised I was alive and gained sentience at the ripe age of twelve, He revealed how incorrect that was. It took me time to realise that the faith of my family wasn’t my own. I started figuring out where God’s place was in my life – because, upon further inspection, He really didn’t have any place at all.

I sat in bed one night, committing my life to Christ, but, looking back, I can see that becoming a Christian didn’t produce instant character development, and that absence of character paved a road of compromise, lack of faith and eventually revealed itself as a life of idolatry. From the time I entered year seven to the ending of year twelve, all my Christian walk included was an occasional prayer of commitment, a half-hearted hope for obedience and a declaration of love for Him that never truly comprehended the power of His love.

‘That absence of character paved a road of compromise, lack of faith and eventually revealed itself as a life of idolatry’

Anyone in my life at the time could probably testify that what I lived for were my school ranks, my looks, and my image – serving up front on a Sunday and giving the right answers in Extreme, while never living those answers out and falling into ways of the world every other day of the week. I was what we call the dreaded ‘Sunday Christian’.

One area I worked particularly hard on was receiving affirmation from the male species. I wanted to feel desirable without the commitment, so I’d flirt back with every high school guy who chatted me up at Strathfield Station and I’d exploit young men for free bubble tea after school. I even tried the whole boyfriend thing, but it was much more fun to drop them and pick a cuter boy to chase after every couple months. As a side note, sorry Mum for lying and breaking the ‘no boys in High School’ rule. And Dad, sorry I broke the ‘no boys for life’ rule – not that I could have revealed any of this until now, because your threats to strike a boy down were kind of concerning.

Eventually, I got bored. I was convinced I’d be happier fixing myself instead – since the men seemed kind of braindead. Alas, I commenced my journey towards the holy trinity of good looks, a thriving social life and academic prowess. And somewhere in the middle, I wanted a nice, godly reputation. I was desperate to be the smart, kind, pretty senior when I led at my school youth group – because I wanted to present myself as Christian, but not too Christian. That balance was important to me. Sadly for my parents, the one thing I never added to that list was to be a respectful daughter, so they never got any benefit from this ‘glow-up-fix-up’ stage – only stress and many new prayer points. I wanted everything, and sometimes, I thought I was getting pretty close – only to be crushed by every small fight with friends, every poor mark and every unflattering photo of my flabby arms. Special thanks to one of my best friends Felicia and my Dad for being the main perpetrators of those soul-crushing posts.

‘I wanted to present myself as Christian, but not too Christian. That balance was important to me’

The whole time, I was falling further and further away from God. On my own, nothing was enough, and it took lots of disappointment to see the perfection I wanted wasn’t just impossible to reach, but nothing like what I needed and incomparable to the joys I’d find at the cross. Instead of clasping the outreached hands of Christ, throughout my senior years, I chose to look away and found myself in a very difficult battle with depression. For three years, even though God never left me, I tricked myself into feeling as though He did. Shamefully, that lie led me to hurt myself in ways I regret, but share in my story because it would eventually lead me back to Christ. And, I’d get there with more fullness and joy than I ever would have without being broken down to my roots.

Today, I have scars on my arms and legs that won’t go away. In my isolated grief, I’d pull hair from my head, and on the harder nights I’d sneak soju from the fridge, desperate to blur out my sad thoughts for just a moment. Again, sorry mum and dad – I admit it was me and not just evaporation, which I passionately claimed. I was terrified to sleep because I was so sick of going into another day, then hallucinate nightmares during the day from the lack of sleep. There were so many random bouts of tears, random bursts of anger, random breakdowns and I had so much hate for God and myself and others. I remember, every Friday throughout those three years, coming home from school and, after getting off the bus, I’d sit down on the road – John Ian Wing Parade. And, in the dark, I’d be hoping, even praying, that a car would drive around that corner a bit too fast and run me out of this world for good. I was so unhappy, so exhausted and so, so desperate for freedom from the world I woke up to every morning.

By God’s grace, nobody ever drove past that corner during the times I’d sat there. Instead, I say with so much thanks that He shouted to me on a particularly hard night. For three years I’d blamed Him, ignored Him, and I was too ashamed of who I was and the way I lived to speak to Him anymore. My only interactions with God during that time had been out of desperation, or dad sending daily bible verses every morning and Mum’s, at the time, extremely frustrating reminders of Jesus’ love for me when I simply didn’t believe in love. Yet, as I was getting ready for bed one night, and it had to have been the Holy Spirit at work, I felt a pulling urge to reach out to this God fellow again, who I was certain would never want to hear from me after all my misdirected hate. I had no clue that, like the Prodigal Son, I would be welcomed home to open arms, with love and acceptance that still amazes me today.

‘For three years I’d blamed Him, ignored Him, and I was too ashamed of who I was and the way I lived to speak to Him anymore’

That night, led by the Spirit, I didn’t complain or blame or beg for Him to give me better marks, or a texture-free face, or good sleep or even for someone, anyone, who could understand me. Instead, I got on my knees and I prayed for comfort and peace. And the Lord delivered, instantly.

That night, all those truths in Scripture I’d heard growing up came back to me and I was so comforted that God’s love for me is unfailing; that He’s always faithful and always good and would always care for me, His daughter – precious and valued by virtue of being His child. Not the child of my faithful, adorable Pastor Dad, or being in a family with my forgiving and God-fearing mother or even my incredibly servant-hearted brother… but solely because I’m God’s child. I was so moved that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, an atoning sacrifice for sin that would sweep everything I’ve ever done away and give me a blank slate. I was so in awe that I was beautiful in the eyes of the Lord, and there was no space to ever compromise myself or anyone else. Because, if God says that I’m beautiful, surely I am. His grace was irresistible and His love was unconditional.

It was the first time I truly believed those truths since I’d committed my life to God all those years ago. That night, God opened my eyes to the reality that I was bound to be disappointed with all the fake gods I’d set up for myself. He made it so clear that they would never, ever fulfil the need I had for Him. For the first time, it seemed so clear that all these truths would form a new reality and reshape the way I lived. It was very shocking to the system.

Not only that, the Spirit softened my heart to seeing that I was living in unrepentant sin, totally and completely depraved – so I repented. Not my usual, ‘Sorry for not prioritising you’ or ‘Not reading my bible regularly’, but a genuine sorry with a deep longing to love God and let go of everything that ever held me back from offering Him my whole self. So, no more chasing after the wind… for Him, who gave me new life, who I love with all my heart and soul, I will keep on keeping His commands by the work of the Spirit. It is my hope that I can stand before Him pure and blameless as I make my way from the battlefield to God’s banquet table. I hope everyone here will help keep me accountable to that promise as I persevere in my faith. Because, really, truly, a life with Christ has been everything I’ve ever needed and wanted and more – so I will live to the glory of God alone.

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