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June 3, 2022

#FilterFree: How I’ve Been Set Free

By Ashley Bickerstaff

In January of 2019, my Facebook feed was overwhelmingly filled with all of my friends’ #10YearChallenge side-by-side photos. As a social media loving gal, I would normally have jumped for joy at sharing throwback photos, but for some reason, this particular challenge hit me differently. As I scrolled through old photos of myself from 2009 and before, I was overcome with heartache looking at the girl I no longer felt a connection to. She was smiling in all of the photos but I knew her heart felt anything but happiness. She was lonely, lost, and sad. She was looking to the world for validation and purpose, a reason for why she existed. She didn’t know Jesus.

Graves and More Graves

As I selected a filtered version of myself from 2007 to share as the left-side photo of this challenge, the tears rolled. To be honest, I didn’t really like much about the person that I was looking at. It’s like every tear held a memory – stories from the past popped into my head left and right despite my best efforts to dodge them. All of the drunken nights, the times I had cheated, the memories of friends having to apologize for my behavior, the dangerous situations I found myself in, the lies I told to convince others that I was fine even though I wasn’t – it all felt like I was falling into that old grave over and over again with each photo I viewed, as the realization that I had never truly given any of it to God smacked me in the face. I had just layered my pain over and over through the years with new memories and new filtered versions of myself, pretending like the past just didn’t exist. 

Lost and Broken

I was born into a family of believers. My grandparents sat with me many nights as I memorized Scripture and Bible trivia facts. I went to Sunday School and I looked forward every summer to attending church camp. I had big plans for my life that included attending Bible college and becoming a doctor. Despite the best efforts of my family to keep me from making some of the same mistakes they had, somewhere along the way I felt I had messed up way too big to return to church, to my family, and to God. 

In my mind, I thought that because I knew better, God wouldn’t forgive me. So I ran. I hid. And I shamefully tried to pretend that God didn’t actually exist. The world told me I was fun and exciting. The world told me I was enough. The world told me that I didn’t need God to be a good person. But oh, sweet, sweet girl – little did you know that God would leave the 99 to chase you down.

Where Do I Go from Here?

No matter how low the rock bottom became in my life, I never fully let the idea of God’s love escape me. It wasn’t until my biological father died unexpectedly nine days after my 23rd birthday, that I began to cry out to God in desperation. The year of 2012 had started out so promising, but would quickly become the start of a major season of heartache. In the span of  a year, I ended a six-year relationship, quit my dream job, and ended up pregnant and unwed to someone I barely knew. I had been no stranger to heartache, but this had become too much for me to handle. Laying in bed one night while thinking about what kind of parent I wanted to become, I cried out to God and said, “I am yours, I need you. Please guide me, I want to come home.” 

The next couple of years were spent trying to redeem myself instead of letting God do the redeeming. I volunteered to feed the homeless, I got sober from alcohol, and I started attending church when I wasn’t working – but it never filled the void I was craving.

You Came Along [and Put Me Back Together]

In 2016 a friend invited my family to an Easter service at a church around the corner from our new home. It was in that elementary school turned sanctuary every Sunday morning that I witnessed not only the truth of God but also felt His amazing grace. One morning, a couple of years later, I heard the song “Graves into Gardens” and I just spiritually lost it. I felt myself fully surrender to God in a way that I never had, and it was in that moment I accepted that I was LOVED, I was CHOSEN, and I was FORGIVEN. 

Since 2019, I’ve grown so much more in my faith. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ that is built on both grace and truth. Letting go and letting God didn’t happen overnight though. It took many Sunday mornings, my Thursday AM Grace Women’s Group, phone calls with mentors, prayer, prayer, and more prayer, and lots and lots of counseling for me to let go of my past and give it piece by piece to God. 

I still have plenty of work to do – sanctification is an ongoing art for me – but my scars are no longer memories of how I have fallen short, but instead reminders of what God has done in my life.

 

New to Grace? We’d love to meet you! Introduce yourself here, and join us in-person or online for “Unfiltered: Healing the Hidden Self” – a series on the book of I John. 

 

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