“If I couldn’t trust my human father, how could I trust a seemingly illusive, intangible Heavenly Father I could not see?” said Ashley Stoneking. “Because I was sexually abused when I was younger, my life was marked by fear, anxiety, and lack of trust. I knew the abuse was not my fault, but was so ashamed and alone, I thought I had to fend for myself.
“I was a mean girl in high school and treated other women around me very unkindly. I manipulated other people to get my way and sought validation, affirmation, and control over what had been out of control for so long: sex. I wanted to be the coolest, most put-together person with no imperfections to mask the terror inside my heart – fear that I would never escape the abuse, get healthy, or truly feel loved and safe.
“Fortunately, the Lord connected me with a trauma recovery program in Colorado and believers who were willing to invest time and resources into my life. Over the course of three years, I learned God’s Word and did the hard work it took to allow the Lord to re-assemble the pieces of my life. My father was well known in our community, and his arrest was all over the news. People asked me about it often, but God gave me the tools to survive. I changed the way I related to people, switched schools, and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide me as I moved forward.
“As I got older, I learned that we live in a fallen world where horrible things like abuse happen. And I understood that Christ came to earth to do something about the evil in this world. He died on a cross and paid the penalty for sin so that we can be reconciled with our Heavenly Father through His grace alone. I didn’t need to blame God for my suffering. He came to redeem me, restore me, and help me become the person I am today. The Lord didn’t make the abuse happen, in fact, He grieved it with me. And through Christ, that abuse no longer defined me.
“After graduating from the Art Institute of Colorado, I got a job with a large hotel chain. But I continued to feel a calling to get out of Colorado and move to Dallas where my mother lived. So without a job or any friends here, I moved to Dallas. After some searching, I found The Porch, Watermark’s ministry for young adults in their 20s and 30s, and started attending. I’d never been involved deeply at a church before, and that took some getting used to.
“While I had trusted in Christ, it was a real struggle for me to trust His people. I plugged in to a Watermark community group because I also wanted to understand what authenticity and transparency looked like. We’ve been in community together for four years now and have seen each other through many life changes. When I first joined, I was still having inappropriate relationships, and my friends called me out on it. My first response was defensive and prideful. I’d grown up with premarital sex being cast in a very different, culturally liberal light. I’d never had anyone speak into my life before, and these girls were telling me that I was wrong!
“But then I listened to God’s Word, and my community group was patient with me. It’s much harder to put up walls and tell your friends they don’t have authority over you when they care for and love you so well. My attitude came full circle, and I understood the promiscuity was sin. I could see that the Lord knew what was right, and through His love, my friends were fighting for God’s best in my life. It was hard to admit I was wrong. But these girls have pushed me to be more like Jesus, and I trust them to speak into my life.
“Now I am part of The Porch Curbside Team and talk to girls every week who have questions about dating, boundaries, and trust. Sometimes it’s hard to be real with others, but God has helped me depend on Him for the humility to lead from my imperfection and vulnerability. I am not in control, but I know Who is, and He is wonderful. That awareness has allowed me to encourage others with my story, settle conflict more quickly, and love the people God puts in my path.
“If I were talking to a girl facing the same kind of abuse I have, I’d want her to know that ‘God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble’ (Psalm 46:1). He knew the pain I would go through as a result of my Dad’s choices, and He has helped me see His faithfulness in every hardship. We have the choice to allow fear, shame, and anxiety to rule our days, or we can trust our lives to a faithful Savior who knows what is best for us. I trust the Lord to shine a light in dark places to help me get through. When my eyes are focused on Jesus, I see the beauty and grace in my life much more clearly.”