This past weekend at the Move 2014 Conference, I spoke to 5000 people about God and about dating. When I read the last statement, I wonder how in the world it could be true. I look at my life, my mistakes, all the crazy parts, and I think, “how God? How would you have anything to say through someone like me? Why use me as a mouthpiece, when I see the other speakers here? They’ve done this thousands of times, and they’re good at it. They laugh, they’re calm. They walk on stage like it’s not a big deal. I’m shaking in my busted boots and I’m ready for this to be over.” I thought of the lineup of pastors, teachers, entertainers. David Nasser (not shown), Amena Brown, Ed Newton, Brett Younker Band, Mandisa, Colton Dixon (yes, from American Idol), and Alvin Reid, just to name a few, and I thought, “What am I doing here?”
My mistakes, my past failures taunted me. Really Ash? You’re going to speak to women about dating? Look at you. Look at how you dated, how you treated God. You have no place. You shouldn’t have written that book. You say you’re redeemed from all that, moved past it. But you’re no good for these people. Good girls can’t learn from the bad girl you were. You’re a fraud.
But then God did something wonderful. He interjected, like He often does, and reminded me that those thoughts aren’t true:
All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity [sins, mistakes] of us all To fall on Him [Jesus].
It was like Jesus was saying this to me in that verse:
My Ashley, yes. You’re right. You weren’t perfect. You made mistakes. But there’s no such thing as good girls and bad girls, my love. When it comes to mistakes and sins, every person has fallen. Every person has sinned in some way or another. Everyone, like a wandering sheep, has chosen their own way, has gone astray from me. But I am the one that brought you back, and that’s what you need to share. I’m a God that brings you back when you go astray. That’s why I had to stand in your place. All wrongdoings must be dealt with, paid for, or I wouldn’t be a just God. And I wrote your story to say this: her wrongdoings will not have to be paid by her. I’ll pay them. Your mistakes can fall on me, and in exchange, I’ll give you a perfect record. According to God, only my righteous deeds will be seen on your record, and all your mistakes will be no more. Don’t you see my love? They are paid for in full. I did that for you, and I did it for all these girls in this room. The truth is, you wandered away from me, and so have they. And I love you enough to bring you back, and I love them enough to do the same. Don’t fret, it is my good pleasure to give you a better record than you could make for your own, and I always bring good futures out of bad pasts. It’s what I do.
So I prayed for courage and the ability to keep my message short and clear, and I prayed against the lies and the pressure flying through my mind: “God, you gave me the story you gave me. I can’t change that. Help me remember you don’t write bad stories, and that you had a purpose for me in mind even when I was making horrible mistakes. You wrote my story on purpose and you’ll use it however you want to. Help my story be relatable to someone in this room, even one among thousands. If it’s all for one girl, let it make a difference to her. Be the one who is seen as great and wonderful in this room today; the One who changed my story and can change theirs.”
And then I sat on a chair in a huge auditorium, waiting my turn to jump under the huge magnifying glass, ahem, excuse me, the “screens.”
And I got up, and I spoke about the one issue all women face: having control. We all want control of something don’t we? We all laugh it off, saying we’re OCD or control freaks or something. But underneath, we all feel the pressure of holding the reins of all the different roles we play, and sometimes those reins feel heavy. And goodness, when something threatens our control over something, we all go to the crazy place. So I spoke to all these girls on why that is. Why do we all want meticulous control over every situation-–over guys, over our job, over our success, over our house, over where we go to dinner, over how this and that gets done, over who we marry, over our money, over our future, over….everything!?
I answered the question on where that issue comes from, biblically speaking. And then I gave them the answer on how we overcome that control-struggle according to God. And then I went to my book table and hoped God would get rid of all the book boxes that have been overtaking my closet space.
And a strange, unexpected, unfamiliar thing happened. People were swarming the table like bees on the first flower of Spring. Girls wanted Instagram pictures with me and almost every person that bought a book asked me to sign it. I must’ve signed 500 books, all in a row. My hand felt like it was going to fall off and my cheeks burned from smiling. Youth pastors were buying bundles of books for their kids and moms were buying them for their daughters and sons. I couldn’t keep my face from its confused look. What in the world is going on? It was a flurry of instructions from people: “Make this one to Abby and the next one to Taylor!”, “Could you write my name on this one?”,”Can I have your autograph on my shirt?”, “Give me your Twitter name!”
When the chaos died down I looked at Cole. He was standing with lunch on a plate. It was 2pm and lunch had gotten cold. I didn’t even have time to eat during the craziness. I looked at him, full of simultaneous exhaustion and adrenaline. “That was… that was crazy.” He smiled and kissed my forehead, “I know. You did great. And now you need to eat!”
Hopefully soon I will have the video of everything and you can watch it yourself if you’d like; however, this post isn’t on the message I gave. The conclusion of this journal entry is on how speaking to thousands affects the human heart. And this, my friends, is what I’ve learned…
When you speak to thousands of people, something happens in your soul. It’s two-fold really. A part of you comes alive, really believes God could use you to communicate a message to those who need it. You can’t believe he used you, measly little you. Another part of your heart forgets God altogether, forgetting the eyes on you that matter most are His. He gets crowded out of your heart because of all the new attention. You start liking the praise of people more than the closeness of God.
With all the “blessings on your ministry!” I heard coming my way that day, my secret prayer was “God, I pray you’ll rip me from this post if this causes me to forget you. Curse this ministry if my heart loves this attention more than you. I can feel the pull. I can feel the addiction of having thousands look up at you, thinking you’re ‘somebody.’ I can see why people who want fame so badly are so miserable. They want more eyes on them, and the more they get, the more they want. There are those who have the attention of millions and aren’t satisfied by it. Give me a heart that wants you more than this fleeting, frenzied attention. And take it away if it will be something that ruins my walk with You. What is it worth if I gain the world’s attention, something I can lose, something I can’t take with me in the grave, but lose sight of You, the Author of satisfaction, the One that gives us life beyond the grave? Rip this right out of my hands, like I would if a child was holding an electrocuted wire, if it does not lead to a deeper love of You.”
And that’s what I learned up on that stage. Depending on how God answers my prayer, I may be on a stage in the future and I may never be again. Through it all, I’m keenly aware of one thing: God is better than attention. Following Him is better than having followers of my own. Having influence over thousands is nothing compared to being influenced by Him alone. He’s sweeter, He’s more rewarding, He knows me all the way through, He tells me what’s true about me, and He loves me back when all those other things can’t. I hope you see He’s better, too.
**Shout out to my incredible husband and photographer, Cole Gorman of Blest Photography for these photos. We took a weekend off from shooting weddings for this event, and it was strange to be on the other side of the lens!