From Nihilism & Psychedelics to Faith – Ashley Lande’s Story

Aug 6, 2021

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
From Nihilism & Psychedelics to Faith - Ashley Lande's Story
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Former skeptic Ashley declared herself an atheist as a young woman. Dissatisfied with atheistic nihilism, she turned to psychedelics and mysticism in her search for something more. Her longing eventually led her to reconsider God.

Ashley Lande‘s blog: www.ashleylande.com


Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Ashley. It’s so great to have you!

Thank you. I’m so very glad to be here.

As we’re getting started, before you tell your story, I would love to know, and I would love the listeners to know, a bit about there. It seems like you have a lot going on in your life that you love and the things that you love to do, and I’d love to hear about that now.

Okay, sure. I’m an artist and a writer. I live with my husband and two children, a boy and a girl, in a little town near the Flint Hills of Kansas, and I home-school my two children, and my husband works on a wind farm. And we have chickens. That’s something I really enjoy. And I have a website displaying my art and a blog on it as well at www.ashleylande.com. Yeah. And that’s what I do.

It sounds like a really intriguing, almost idyllic, place to live these days, outside of the city in the rural country. Wow. Living somewhat of a simple existence. It sounds very wonderful in a way. That you have that space. And chickens! That’s very interesting. So I presume that you collect eggs, and you probably grow a lot of vegetables and do all that kind of thing with regard to sustainability and living. That’s terrific!

We do love the chickens. I have yet to master gardening, but one day. Someday.

Okay. Yeah, yeah. Me, too. I tried my hand a little bit at gardening, but just a few flowers here and there.

Yeah.

[1:55 But I understand, from your story, that it’s a little bit different than many of the stories that we’ve heard so far, that many start with… Okay. Ashley, I’m going to start that over again. Mark, X that out. Okay.

Okay.

All right. Okay.

So, Ashley, as we’re getting to know you and your story, let’s start back at the beginning. Tell me about where you grew up. Did you grow up in Kansas? Is that where your home is? And what was that like? Your family, your friends, your community. Was God anywhere in the picture?

Yes. So I actually grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, on the Missouri side. Us Missourians are very emphatic about that. The bulk of Kansas City is actually on the Missouri side, and I grew up in a suburb called Blue Springs that was about 20 miles from the city. I grew up kind of in a unique situation. We were in a suburb, and we were in the city limits, but my dad had… He was from southern California, and he met my mom, who lived in the Midwest, and decided to move back here with her because he could own land, whereas in southern California, near the coast, that’s an impossibility unless you’re a millionaire. So he bought the land and was actually grandfathered into the animal ordinance, so we had all kinds of animals. We had horses, and we had a cow at one point. We had a llama. Chickens and ducks and kind of tucked back in the woods, even though we were in a suburb, so my childhood was wonderful in many ways. I had a sister. She was about 2-1/2 years older than me. She passed away in 2017, but I grew up with her.

And faith was—it was kind of a peripheral part of our lives in that season. We went to church—usually two or three times a month we’d go to church on Sundays, and I remember going to vacation Bible school and Sunday school, and my dad was very busy with his business. He was a commercial interior designer, and he built his own business, had a business in Kansas City, so he commuted every day. He was very busy with that, very consumed with that, and he was also very strong in his political identity, and so the church we went to was a Methodist Church, which was the tradition that my mother had grown up in, but for my dad, the Methodist Church was too quote-unquote liberal, and so he kind of phased in and out of going to church.

Bible reading was not necessarily a big part of our lives. Faith just seemed like something that we participated in on Sundays. And I don’t say that to criticize my parents. They were doing the best they could. They both grew up in highly dysfunctional families. I do remember having conversations with my dad about infinity and the nature of God in a very abstract way, and I just remember trying to contemplate infinity, and it was so mystifying to me that I just could not wrap my head around the idea of infinity. But I remember Jesus was just kind of represented in my mind as kind of a gentle, passive figure, and I know I must’ve heard the gospel at some point. I remember singing Jesus Loves You in Sunday school, but somehow it never really sunk in.

And around the time I was, just getting into trouble at school and with the police here and there, and so that was a, and church attendance kind of dropped off at that point. My sister had started refusing to go, and my dad didn’t go very much, so I thought, like, “Well, why should I go? Why should I have to go?” Because it. It didn’t seem substantive. And around that time, I was probably, I don’t know, 14, I remember very reluctantly going to church camp with one of my best friends, and I just realized at that church camp, “I don’t believe any of this.” And I knew—sorry, I’m kind of just jumping into the story.

No, that’s great!

Yeah. And so that was my family background. So there was some foundation, but it just didn’t—I don’t know. Yeah.

So it was a really—as a child, at least, there wasn’t a sense in which you took hold of that in a personal way. It wasn’t like you had belief or felt belief, it was just some ritual that you did, some activity on Sunday, but it’s something you never really truly believed.

Right, right. Exactly.

So you wouldn’t have considered yourself really a Christian at any point in your life really prior, at least in your preteen days before you stopped going.

No, no, I wouldn’t have. I think I took the existence of God as kind of a given, and I remember I had a half brother. I have a half brother who’s quite a bit older than me. He is 15 years older than me, and so I didn’t grow up with him really, but we would see him fairly often, at least once or twice a year, and I remember when I was probably 9 or 10 and we were riding with him… We were visiting him in California, and my sister and I were riding with him in his car, and this song came on the radio called, “Dear God” by a British pop band called XTC, and the lyrics were all about, “Dear God, I can’t believe in you. I won’t believe in you,” and it was just describing this man’s… all his grievances against God and how he would not believe in him. And I just remember being scandalized, thinking, “I didn’t know people were allowed to not believe in God,” so it’s interesting. On one hand, I wouldn’t say I had any kind of personal encounter with Jesus Christ. I’m always a little envious of people who say that they had moments in their childhood where they felt God’s presence really strongly because I don’t remember ever having that. Yet, at the same time, I feel like there was. So yeah.

Yeah, so that moment in the car, when you were 9 or 10, that actually opened the door to the possibility that perhaps that isn’t an assumption for everyone and that it gave you the freedom, I suppose, when you are at that church camp, to say, “No, I really don’t believe any of this.”

Yes. And that possibility felt dangerous, certainly, but it also was exotic and a little enticing, and yeah, and then at that church camp, I just realized—and I remember I was bold enough at that point, I guess, to announce my atheism. We were having this little gathering around a campfire and sitting on those benches that are made of half of a log, and I said I just didn’t believe, and there was just dead silence. And one of the counselors took me aside afterward and encouraged me to read the work of C.S. Lewis, and he said I should start with the Chronicles of Narnia, and I kind of just said, “Oh, okay. Yeah. I’ll look into that.” I didn’t at the time, but I remember being really confused because I remember watching a cartoon version, an animated version of the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a child, but I literally had no idea, until I was an adult, actually, that Aslan was supposed to represent Jesus. It just went completely over my head. And so that really made me stop and think, “Oh!” And even at that point, I don’t think I realized until I was an adult, so yeah, I did have some influences like that, but I don’t know. They just never took hold.

It just intuitively seemed not worthy of belief. That is, it’s not as if you went on this intellectual journey and said, “Oh, Christianity isn’t worth believing.” It was just like it just didn’t feel like something that was worth believing in. Was it, do you think, more intellectual at that time? I mean, I know you were a preteen or you were an early teenager, 13 and 14, but at that time, was it just, “Man, it just seems like…” What did you think Christianity was if it wasn’t true?

You know, I look back now, and I can see that I was just out-of-hand dismissive of it and also around that time, I started—I’ve always loved to read, and around that time, I started reading some very adult things that were very… like existentialist, nihilistic, just about the absurdity of life. I read The Plague and The Stranger by Albert Camus, and one of my favorite books around that time was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which is kind of all about the absurdity of war and, by extension, the absurdity of life and the futility of life, and I started reading the Beat Poets, like Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso was someone I was really into, so I was introducing myself, I guess, to these really cerebral writers, and I was attracted to that, that intellectualism. I was very attracted to that, and I had never been introduced to any kind of intellectually robust Christianity. I didn’t take that guy’s recommendation to read any C.S. Lewis, and I just didn’t even know it existed. So I think I just dismissed Christianity out of hand as something that was shallow. It was delusional. It was for… just all the stereotypical… you know, it was for weak people, weak-minded people. It was for stupid people. Yeah, yeah, so I think there was that seduction, I guess, by those existentialist, kind of nihilistic writers going on at the same time.

Well, that’s curious. Especially, again, for someone in your teens to be delving into substantive writers like that. I wonder, when you were reading this existential material, or these novels or writings, did you believe that nihilistic worldview? And if so, also, did you embrace that kind of outlook on life? Did it affect your life in any way?

Yeah. And I think I thought I did. Looking back, I can see I had such a shallowness of experience, being, you know, 14, 15, 16 years old.

Ashley? Mark, obviously, there’s a pause here. It looks like she’s offline. Okay, there you are!]

Okay. I’m sorry. I moved myself into the other room, closer to the WIFI router.

Okay, good, good.

So hopefully, this will go better. I’m sorry about that.]

No! No problem. I don’t know if you heard my question. I was asking whether or not reading this existential material caused you to believe in nihilism and existentialism. Did it affect your life in any way?

Yes. I think at the time I would’ve said that. I just thought, to me, they seemed, which now it just seems so bizarre to me. But yeah. I mean, and I think that certainly had an effect, that I was reading all those things and embracing all that kind of thinking, but I think, as far as thinking through the logical consequences of there being no meaning to life, I think I didn’t think that far.

So I presume that you, with this kind of outlook, I would imagine that you created whatever life that you wanted to create? Because life was nothing but this reductionistic understanding of making your own reality? I presume that probably gave you a lot of freedom, but I wondered how long did you embrace this kind of philosophy or go along this pathway?

Yeah. I think… Gosh, for quite some time. And looking back, I can see there was a lot of emotional pain over the… Those years were very chaotic in my family because of everything that my sister was going through, and so I think that probably also some of it was a little bit reactionary to what was happening with her, and also, I had always felt like a rule follower up to that point. I always got good grades. I never did anything dangerous or risky, and so I guess, and of course I was, at that time, too, listening to the… I would have been that it can be casually enjoyed, and I think I went along with that and drinking, too, in college. In college, I really kind of crashed and burned as far as the drinking went. I recovered a little, though, and I was able to finish college, but I would say into, I very much embraced, I guess, a kind of even if I didn’t necessarily follow it all the way to its logical consequences or its logical outcome.

During any of this time, did the issue of God ever come up? Did you ever reconsider that at all as even a possibility? Did you run into any Christians? Were there any influences like that in your world through any of this?

Yeah. I remember, in college, I really. I was drinking a lot, and I had actually known a young man who… There was a summer in college, I think it was between my sophomore and junior year, and I had known a young man who was in an illicit relationship and had gotten murdered, actually, by the man that he was involved with. And it was just such a dark, dark time, and I was having and I remember I started going to an actually, and I only lasted for, gosh, probably less than a week, but sitting there and listening to people, these people who… most of them were a generation older than me and had completely hit rock bottom in their lives, and just listening to them talk about, and of course, AA is not necessarily a Christian organization, but there are, and so that, for sure, even though I kind of wussed out after a little while.

And I remember, too, around that time, going to a church. There was one Sunday morning. I’m sure I was hung over, and I just was so miserable and so I remember I went to a Methodist Church service, and I went inside and I sat down, and shortly after, the pastor just kind of greeted everyone, then, he invited everyone to greet one another, and I remember there was. I was just filled with shame. I think because I just and I actually… as soon as the greeting time was over, I fled. I just ran out.

And so there were moments where I look back and think, “Wow! If I had just surrendered to what I think God was trying to do at that point, that would’ve made my life so much easier,” but I did not at that time.

So you continued on. I guess you said you were in young adulthood at this point, and you were still, I presume, moving along in this way of living and thinking and perhaps difficulties in life and a little bit of despair. I presume at that point you would have considered—you mentioned that your worldview at that time really gave you no help, no savior, no recourse. So that was a situation or a circumstance or moment in your life where you actually were forced, in a way, to look at the implications of your own nihilistic worldview, that there was nothing there for you. It didn’t offer, perhaps, what you needed or what you were looking for. So even though you weren’t, I guess earlier, looking at the logical implications, in some ways, existentially, your existentialism kind of came to roost and to show its true self and your point of need.

Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

So yeah. Which they inevitably do, don’t they?

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. That our ways of thinking have a way of finding us in our lives. So tell me then what happened next in your journey?

So I, and I lived with my parents for a few months, and then I got a job and was out on my own. And I remember I felt—and I can’t remember if there was something that triggered this. I don’t remember having an encounter with a Christian. Maybe it was just my own discussions with my dad. And I would, and so at one point—I think I was 23—I decided, “Gosh, I really need to be able to rationally argue this. If this is what I believe, I need to be able to prove it,” and it’s interesting. For me, it was never even a matter of, “Oh, maybe I should investigate the other side.” I just dismissed that out of hand. I was like, “No, I need to read atheist authors and be able to prove my worldview.”

And so I remember I read Richard Dawkins. I think The Blind Watchmaker was the one I read. And a lot of the science just went over my head, but I trusted it. I trusted he knew what he was talking about. And I believed all his conclusions. And then someone loaned me, I think, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and that—he was a little smug, and that kind of got under my skin, but I guess I agreed with everything he was saying. And then I also really liked Christopher Hitchens. He was, of course, one of the big New Atheists at the time, and I really liked him, just thought he was so clever and so smart, and so he had a book coming out around that time called God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and so I remember getting that book and thinking, like, “This is going to be the key. This book is going to really codify this belief system for me, and I’m going to be able to indisputably shut down anyone that I encounter.” And I remember lying on my bed in my apartment reading it, and I read about half of it, and I just had this cold, hollow, empty feeling, and I distinctly remember throwing the book down on the floor, and eventually it got kicked under my bed, but I just felt like, Because there was this very hard certainty in his writing and in the New Atheist writing, and it just felt like…

And that was really a cracking point for me, thinking, “I don’t know if I can abide in this worldview.” But I still… At that point, but around that time, too, I guess I was just, and I had taken psychedelic mushrooms before in college, and it was just a fun time. It was just kind of a party. And I had a friend later on, at this time that I was reading Christopher Hitchens, I had a friend who had some, and he asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, “Sure. Why not?” And I had a really—and I just want to be very clear before I go into talking about this that I do not condone drug use whatsoever, which will become clear as I keep talking. But I had And it’s been difficult for me to reconcile. And then after that, so it’s been kind of difficult. I’ve asked God to help me reconcile these experiences, because you can, And so this experience I had, I certainly think, in time, God has used it for good, because He uses all things for good in those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, of course. But it really shattered my materialist atheist worldview. I just thought, “I can’t believe that anymore.”

But I still—and I feel like I became spiritually open to anything except Jesus. Yeah. I was open to anything! And I had friends who were just complete stoners and would talk about dolphins being from outer space, and I was open to anything except Jesus. I was still so closed off to Jesus, which I look back and think, “That’s just extraordinary how Satan can blind you.” But yeah. And I, so sometime after this. And I was very into psychedelic drugs. He was very into psychedelic drugs. And we fell in love very, very fast, very hard, and we got. So it was very fast, very intense. And around that time, with him, I would have some psychedelic experiences that seemed very transcendent and seemed very spiritual and then I had some that were utterly, utterly terrifying and actually traumatizing, but I just hung on because I felt, for me, this was the only way that I had ever experienced something transcendent or even something demonic, something that was outside of my realm of experience to that point. So I was very immersed in that whole world for years.

And like I said, I was open to anything spiritually. I was very, very into yoga as well. I practiced yoga almost every day. Was very devoted to yogic philosophy, which, in America, yogic philosophy, it’s just kind of a mishmash of… oh, gosh. It’s just kind of a grab bag of Eastern religions, but I was very devoted to yoga as a spiritual practice. I would say, at that point, it was my religion, along with psychedelics. So yeah.

So it sounds like that was an amazing period of your life, extraordinary, and what I mean by that is that what I appreciate about that part of your story is that it seems to me that sometimes, when those who are atheists encounter something supernatural or beyond the natural, they don’t necessarily really appreciate the reality of that supernatural reality. I know that sounds redundant, but it’s something that there, but it doesn’t cohere with a naturalistic, materialistic worldview that says matter and physicality is all there is. But you, at least, you were willing to—like you say, you were open to more. Especially after that shattering experience. That you did realize that there was something beyond just this physicality. Beyond what the existentialists and the atheists were saying, that this world is all there is, so in a way, I applaud you for that, but it sounded like you embraced it fully. I mean, like, really fully!

Yeah.

For several years. Because it was obviously giving you something beyond what you had had before.

Yes.

Like you say, it’s almost as if that dangerous kind of life that you had chosen in your teens, then it almost accelerated in another place of your life. It was exhilarating. It was exciting. It was dangerous also.

Yeah.

In your young adulthood. But you were looking… It sounds like you were looking for something.

Yes. Yeah. I definitely was. I absolutely was. And I think… I look back, and the philosophies I embraced were very much self-salvation philosophies. They were enlightenment, practices that supposedly would lead to enlightenment. I remember, just in the New Age circles in which I ran, there were so many platitudes that would just be thrown out, like people would always be saying “love and light, love and light,” and I remember there was the idea that we are god collectively, like, “We are god, and I am god.” That was a big thing that I entertained for a while, and I remember one night just thinking about that and thinking, like, “Oh, my gosh! If we are god, that means we’re all alone!” And it really struck me, and it was a really terrifying thought. Like, “We are all alone. If there is nothing supernatural, if we collectively are god, and there’s no transcendent being, that’s terrifying.” And so there were definitely times where, if I actually carefully thought about what I was embracing, I feel like there were holes. There were cracks that would emerge and things that didn’t add up and things that didn’t make sense.

And I remember I got to a point where I could not have a good trip anymore on psychedelics. Immediately and I decided that,  and I thought, “Oh, if I can just put the right energy into them. I can speak the right words over them, and I can cultivate them lovingly. I will have a good trip. The problem is the source,” you know the source where I’m getting these things. And so I remember I grew them, and I would check on them religiously, and I would—whatever kind of—I don’t know—like Sanskrit patois I would know at that point from my yoga classes I would speak over them. And so one night, my husband and I, we blended them with orange juice, and we drank it, and I remember… I had a horrible time. And just feeling like I was and my husband, he’s a very steady person, and he said, “Of course, everything has meaning.” But I just felt like…

And we had our. That was a difficult experience. I think I just wasn’t prepared for it. Learning how selfish I was with a newborn, and I had some pretty significant postpartum, and so that was difficult working through, but then we got to a place where our son was, when he was an older infant, things just felt really wonderful, really steady as a family and our family life, and around that time… Let’s see. I’m trying to remember what happened first. I think when my son was 15 months old—we were not planning on having—at least my plan was not to have another child because I said, “I am not doing that again.” And of course I loved my son intensely, but I said, “I just can’t ever do that again.” And surprise! I got pregnant. And I just was so upset. My husband started smoking again. He hadn’t smoked in a year, I think. And he’s since quit again. Thankfully. Thank God. But it was very stressful. And we were very hand to mouth. This was when we were still living in Kansas City. We were very hand to mouth, and I remember I was just so upset. And I think at one point my husband even said, like, “Well, we can’t get an abortion.” And I said, “Oh, no, no, no, no,” so even though, with my belief system then, I still was like, “No, no, no, no. I could never do that.” But I just felt despair.

And around that same time, just a few weeks after I had learned I was pregnant, one of my childhood friends who was a devout Christian—I should have mentioned her before. Periodically over the years, well since my son was born, I had lived about 30 minutes away from me, but periodically, I would go, and I think Steven and I, my husband and I, and Izzy went over there for dinner one evening, and it was interesting. She would always… I would blather about whatever New Age thing I was currently into, and she would always…And looking back, I can see and anyway, after I discovered I was pregnant for the second time, with our daughter, Carrie, and at first they couldn’t figure out what it was. She was just really lethargic and had bleeding in her mouth, and it turned out it was leukemia. And so one of her friends sent out an email, had organized a meal train for Carrie and her family, and so you could sign up to bring a meal, and I signed up for a date that was, I think, a few weeks out, and then I remembered… a couple of days before I was scheduled to take her a meal, I got an email from the same woman, a friend of hers, saying, “Joella’s service will be on such and such a day at this church,” and I thought, “Service? What is she talking about?”

And She had lived for three weeks after she had been hospitalized, and oh! It was just so… It was so heartbreaking and so devastating, and I remember… I look back and see this as really a turning point for me, because Here I am pregnant with a baby I don’t want and then my friend, who’s very devoted to this Jesus guy, is losing her child, and she’s such a good person. And so we went to Joella’s funeral, and it was just heartbreaking. It was so heartbreaking. And I was sobbing, and my friend came up to me, and she and her husband just had a peace about them that just did not make any sense. It was so baffling to me. I kept thinking, like, “If my son died, I would jump off a cliff. How can they have this?” And of course they were grieving and mourning, but they just had this peace that was just befuddling to me. And I remember that really started me wondering.

And a few months after that, she and I had emailed back and forth here and there, and she told me that a hymn that had really been sustaining her and her husband was and she shared with me the story of the man who wrote that, who, of course, lost his entire family at sea, with the exception of his wife, I believe. And I put that song on a playlist on Spotify, and one day, it was springtime, and my children and I were out on our front porch, and I put that playlist on, and “It is Well with My Soul” came on.

And it’s interesting because, up to that point, you know, the music was just background music. I wasn’t actually listening to it, but when that song came on, I feel like the Holy Spirit just grabbed me and made me listen. And tears just started pouring down my face, and I realized… Sorry, I still get emotional about it. I understood what Jesus did for me, and I understood… I feel like I had really just come to my breaking point of feeling like none of these self-salvation things work. I cannot make myself any better of a person by going to yoga three times a week. I cannot make myself any better of a person by meditating. I can’t make myself any better… I had an icon of the goddess Kali, and, like, I can’t make myself any better of a person through any of this. And I had just really come to a breaking point. The verse that I always think of is Paul, in I think it’s Romans 8, he said, “Oh, wretched man that I am.

Yes.

Yeah. And I just… And that night, when my husband got home from work, I said, “We need to throw away all of this.” We had a little Ganesh icon, which is a Hindu elephant god. We had a little Buddha icon. And we had all kinds of New Age books and drug books and certainly the icon of the goddess Kali, I was like, “This all needs to go,” and he, at that time, had actually been really interested in Orthodox Christianity and the early church, and I was very, very resistant to it. I was like, “I don’t want anything to do with Jesus. I don’t care. I don’t want anything to do with that,” and so when he got home and I said that, he said, “Yes, you’re right. This all needs to go.” And so we just filled up a trash bag, and we talked about it, and I think neither of us fully understood everything. We still had a lot of questions.

Well I should say another thing that was happening at that time—it was just an intersection of so many things that God orchestrated. Which was just down the street from us, just a few blocks down, and I had said, “No, I’m not interested. I’m not going to a church,” and so he would go by himself, and he would take our son, and so I went a few times. I agreed finally to go with him, I think, when I was eight months’ pregnant with our daughter, and I remember, but I just remember sobbing, and we sat near the back in a pew, and I just remember sobbing during the worship segment, just sobbing, and so all these things together, I just began to think, “Okay, maybe there’s a lot more to this Jesus person than I ever dreamed or imagined.”

Yeah. So you actually did start going to church, and you became open to who this person of Jesus was.

Yes.

And what did you find out?

So I feel so blessed. It was a really wonderful church community, and they were really nonreactionary when it came to some of the things that I would say or some of the questions that I would ask people. They were just a very gentle, loving, Christlike community. And I think it was—initially for me it was definitely an emotional surrender to my need for a Savior, to the person of Jesus Christ. I just felt so emotionally drawn to Him. And then I feel like the intellectual confirmation kind of came afterwards and came slowly. I started reading the Bible, first of all, which was difficult at first. I just felt like there was a lot I didn’t understand. Despite my having something of a childhood foundation in Christianity, I just had no knowledge at all. I didn’t know who Paul was. I felt like I was starting over completely because I felt like the scales had fallen from my eyes, whereas I felt like before I was just blinded. Nothing got in. Nothing penetrated my heart or my soul. And this time it was just fascinating to read what was actually in the Bible. This book that I had just dismissed out of hand as anti-intellectual and regressive my whole life, to read what was actually in there and to read the words of Jesus and just feel so pierced by them. And just so fascinated by Him. He’s so fascinating. Endlessly fascinating. So yeah.

Just for those who are listening. To understand what you mean by emotional surrender to Jesus, you spoke of the self-salvation philosophies, but somehow when you say you surrender to Jesus, I presume you mean that in a sense of salvation or saving.

Yes.

What would that look like for someone who really doesn’t understand what you mean by that?

Okay, yeah. Let me think about that. I think I realized how miserable and wretched I was. I realized that I was desperate and I needed forgiveness and I wasn’t a wonderful person and I wasn’t full of love and light, like all the New Age platitudes said. I wasn’t completely whole already. That was a big thing, too, in New Age, that you’re already whole and you’re already complete, and you just need to realize it. You just need to be enlightened, and so I think I surrendered to my own sinfulness and my own wretchedness, and in that, discovered how desperately I needed and wanted a savior. And also I think, like I said, that point on the porch of understanding what Jesus did for me and understanding why it had to be that way and why it was necessary and just being so overwhelmed with… Gratitude seems like an inadequate word for what Jesus did for us. But it’s the only word I can think of at the moment. But just being overwhelmed with gratitude and love, and like I said, just being pierced by the idea of Him being pierced for me. It was just so… The magnitude of it was so overwhelming, so overwhelming.

So all of the, I guess, again, just in very simple terms, then that all of the inadequacy and the lack you felt in yourself, He, Jesus took on for you?

Yes.

You know, you said He was pierced for you. I presume you mean a reference to the cross on which He died so that all of those inadequacies and the lack of wholeness and the dirtiness you felt and all of that, He took all of that on Himself, and then He gives you His forgiveness and His righteousness in exchange, is that-

Yeah, absolutely.

Is that what you mean by that?

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Yes.

Yeah. So it was something, coming to the end of yourself and saying, “I can’t, but You can.”

Yeah.

“I cannot do this for myself, but what You’ve done for me is what makes me whole,” I guess and clean and forgiven and given life in exchange.

Yes, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

Go ahead.

Yeah. Even understanding the fullness. I feel like I had an emotional understanding at that point of what He did for me, but understanding the fullness of salvation and exactly what He did for me and that He made me completely clean and that He gave me eternal life and that… yeah, and that He clothes me with his righteousness and my life is hid with Christ in God. That’s a verse I love, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately. I’m completely safe in Him forever because of what He did.

And just the reality of… I think, at the beginning, my husband and I both kind of tried to… My husband was ahead of me at that time, you know? As far as his interest in Christianity, but we both kind of tried to come at it impersonally, like this is yet another belief system that we are going to sample and try out and see what works for us and see what doesn’t. And I think there was also a profound moment for me of realizing this isn’t just another in my grab bag of philosophies and religions and belief systems. This is the ground of reality. And this makes a claim on me. Christianity is not subject to me. I am subject to Jesus, and what Jesus did demands a response. I have to decide. And that was really a profound moment and humbling moment for me as well.

Yes. To make the statement that this is the ground of all reality, that Jesus is the ground, that’s a pretty profound philosophical statement about what is true about what we know and what we experience in the world, as well as in ourselves. And that is also quite an intellectual statement. So I’m presuming from what you’re saying there that you read the Bible, you understood more as the scales fell off, and you understood the grandness of the narrative and that it really is something so much bigger than you and that you are not God, right?

Yeah.

There is a God, and it’s not you.

Right.

But that there’s a grand narrative to reality. I wonder did you ground this understanding that Jesus Christ and God are the ground of all reality, did you get that only through reading the Bible? Or just as you read those intellectual atheists and other books, did you read any apologetics or anything that helped you form this understanding of the grandness of this worldview?

Yeah, for sure, and I think I probably heard that in a sermon at some point. And I really would tie it to the beginning of the Gospel of John, like, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. The Word was God. Through Him, all things were made,” and I think there’s also a verse in Colossians that’s one of my favorites, and I’m probably going to be paraphrasing here. I should just memorize it. But I’ll say the clause in the middle of the sentence. He’s talking about Jesus, of course, and he says, “in whom all the treasures and mysteries of knowledge are hidden,” and I remember that really striking me, like, “Wow! Jesus is it!” And things that were really… I’m trying to think of what was really seminal for me. Certainly just reading the Bible was a big deal to me. Also Timothy Keller is someone that I really love, and he does some apologetics, and so I think reading him and realizing, “Oh, I always thought my atheist mindset was just kind of the default mindset,” and realizing, “Oh, I’ve actually been formed in such a way that this is how I think.”

Oh, and another author that I really love and one of his books was huge for me, Lesslie Newbigin. He was a missiologist and a theologian, and he was a missionary in India for many years, so he was very acquainted with Eastern ways of thinking, with Eastern religions, Eastern mysticism, so it was really invigorating for me to read his work, and one of his books, called Proper Confidence, was really huge for me. He just talks a lot about how every worldview is based in faith. Like the scientific worldview is based in faith because it’s based upon this foundation that the world is knowable. It’s based upon centuries of scientific exploration and assuming that we’re looking at the right places and we’re asking the right questions, so that is very much an article of faith. And so that really helped me to understand these ways of thinking that I had thought were just rational ways of thinking were also, in fact, articles of faith. So that was really big for me.

Right. So it sounds as if, Ashley, that you have—even by the language that you’re using and the things that you’re saying, that you have encountered a tremendous life change associated with your conversion to Jesus. Can you tell us about how your life has changed? I mean, you’ve been through a lot in your life, and you went through a lot of, not only difficult circumstances but a lot of despair and lack of meaning and that was your biggest fear, right? That nothing had meaning. So how would you say that your life has changed, especially with regard to those big questions of meaning and purpose and truth and knowledge and those things?

Oh, I mean profoundly. Night and day. I can look back and see that didn’t have hope before. Like I said when I was younger and I would have a crisis, there was no recourse. There was no help. And I have hope now. And I know that Jesus never leaves me. He never forsakes me. He promised. And I went through a really difficult period of loss several years ago. My sister and my dad both died within eight months of each other, and I look back and think—and my sister’s death was very sudden and unexpected. And I just clung to Jesus. And I remember thinking… I remember talking with my mom afterward, when the smoke had cleared a little, because of course my mom was going through all this profound loss as well, and we have talked a lot about it since, but I said, “Can you imagine if this had happened before I was a believer,” and she said, “Oh, I have thanked God in prayer that you were a believer,” because I don’t know what I would’ve done. I don’t know how I would have grappled with death. Like I said, that’s why, when I was young, I don’t think I actually thought things through to their logical conclusion, because if asked, I would have said, “Oh, death is the end. There’s nothing beyond that. I don’t care.” I would have had a very laissez-faire attitude about it, but I can’t imagine losing someone I love and genuinely holding to that belief.

So my faith in Jesus gave me so much hope during that time, and I felt His presence so closely, and actually have some really beautiful testimonies from that time, but that’s another story. But yeah, I have hope. And I can see now, too, that God has enabled me to truly love people. Not perfectly, obviously, but

That’s really beautiful. That’s really, really beautiful. As we’re coming to a close here and just thinking about all of those who are listening, who may have pushed away God just like you, thinking it was just not intellectually tenable, for whatever reason, emotionally or intellectually, what would you say to someone who may have found that moment of openness like you did, like perhaps there’s more. What would you say to someone like that, who might be actually looking or open?

Yeah. I would say listen to that. It’s really scary to step into that. I think I had so much resistance. And I was scared. I mean, I think sometimes we need to have a fearful experience of God. Like Hebrews said, it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It’s also a very wonderful thing. But there was and I would say also examine your assumptions because I think a lot of what people think are default modes of thinking or are just rational modes of thinking have, in fact, been shaped by their education, by their life circumstances. So yeah. But I would say… it would be hard for me just to not say, like, “Please. Jesus is so wonderful! Believe me,” and grab someone by the lapels. I don’t do that in real life, but sometimes I feel like it. But yeah, yeah. I think that’s what I would say.

Yeah. Jesus is so wonderful! Give Him a chance, right?

Yes.

Give Him a chance. Just really consider it.

Yes.

Especially, like you said… I’ve spoken with a lot of people who actually, as you did, started reading the Bible for the first time and were just overwhelmed with the person of Jesus that they actually found in scripture. It wasn’t a caricaturing of who they thought He was. It was actually the profound love and authority and compassion and the strength and just so many things that are hard to put words on.

Yeah.

But actually looking into it and reading it for yourself and reading about the person of Jesus and actually seeing Him for Who He reveals Himself to be is worth it. Yeah. So now, on the other side of things, as a Christian, you’re obviously passionate about your faith. You obviously want other people to believe. Sometimes, we as Christians… I’m impressed with your friend, Carrie, and how she painted an embodied picture of Christianity that was so enticing and filled with peace, even at her daughter’s passing. Being selfless at that moment where she should have been the one receiving. I mean, those are really amazing ways of seeing an embodied Christianity, which oftentimes people don’t see or experience. But I appreciate your bringing her into your story. I wonder if her influence on you has anything to do with what you would tell Christians in terms of how we can best demonstrate Christ and engage with those who really don’t know how wonderful Jesus is.

Yes, yeah, I absolutely think so, and like I said, she has just such about her, anyway, but I think… just how she would. She would not be reactionary, but she would So yeah, that made a huge impression on me obviously. She was really instrumental in me becoming a Christian. So yeah.

Yeah. What a beautiful example. We can all learn from Carrie. So thank you, Carrie.

Yes.

Thank you so much, Ashley, for telling your story today. It has so many twists and turns and in unexpected ways. I appreciate your transparency and your boldness, your vulnerability in the way that you actually portrayed your life in an extremely vulnerable way.

Yeah. I so deeply appreciate being given the chance to speak about it and to speak about Jesus and how He’s changed my life. I really appreciate it.

Wonderful! I do hope that many people listening to this will come to find out more, not only about Jesus but about you, and go to your website and see the beautiful art and artist that you are and your wonderful writings and blogs and just learn more about your chickens.

Thank you. Yes.

Thank you again, Ashley.

Thank you so very much.

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