Chapter completed Thursday 7 December 2017
Eight years ago, I met Ashton (who is now my husband). It was late morning on Wednesday 14 October 2009. I sat on my balcony railing. My back leaned against the separation wall for support. My right leg hung over the side interior, and my left leg was bent up on the ledge with my arms wrapped around it. Caroline stood near me. She leaned over the railing with her elbows propped on the ledge, a cigarette in her right hand. Every once and awhile she would flick the ashes into a plastic cup with water and cigarette stubs in it.
Not far below, we saw two men who looked to be in their 20’s approach. The one on the right, named Dorian, apparently knew Caroline. The one on the left, Ashton – whom I had recognized from before when I was people-watching from my bedroom window and he was walking his dog – was tall with light brunette hair spiked in the front. He wore a dark blue and white striped Aeropostale hooded jacket and had his dog – an adorable pekingese-pomeranian named Patron – with him on a leash. Dorian asked Caroline for a cigarette. We introduced ourselves to one another and a fairly brief, random chat ensued that closed with an invitation for a game of charades later at my place.
Shortly after they left, Caroline received a call from Purdue to come into work later that afternoon. Soon after Caroline took her leave for her impromptu shift, Ashton was the first to arrive. I remember I was awkward and prone to embarrassing myself because I was so nervous basically the entire time he was there.
We played one, short round of charades in my living room. I awkwardly attempted a moose impression, and he attempted a Scar Face impression. Neither one of us was able to guess each other’s impressions. After that one round, we chatted randomly on the couch and eventually ended up in my bedroom. I was giving him an apartment tour.
We chatted more on Caroline’s mattress. I’m not sure how or why it was brought up but Ashton asked me if I wanted a massage. Being the overly compliant and trusting individual that I was, I ended up lying belly-down on Caroline’s bed in only my boy-shorts, after he suggested that massages were done naked; he turned around while I undressed. Ashton straddled me and massaged my back with Johnson’s lavender baby lotion from under my bathroom sink.
I was so nervous about the touching and ashamed that I had let it get that far that my whole body quivered as he finished the massage. I quickly put on my clothes, and when he asked me why I was having that reaction, I reluctantly wrote down the explanation of why I thought that I was feeling this way – my secret that I was sexually abused when I was younger. I can’t remember much of our remaining time together that evening, but my other qualities (“positive aura,” “bubbly personality”) apparently outshined my social awkwardness and did not deter him in the least from seeing me again.
I immediately fell in love with Ashton; I almost immediately knew that he was my future husband. He was my first love, the first man after Coby to give me the attention I craved. (But unlike Coby, he was actually single!) We saw each other not quite everyday, and an exhilarating whirlwind romance ensued after just over a week of flirtatious friendship.
That Friday the 16th, he took me to see Where the Wild Things Are in theaters. On Monday 26 October, I wrote Ashton a first official letter about how I was feeling about the relationship – that I wanted to slow down physically – while I was waiting for him at Macon State University, where he was a student of Information Technology.
By this point, just about two weeks into our entire relationship, we had already shared passionate kisses on my balcony and he had already seen me naked in the shower. (It was my habit to keep doors open as much as privacy-possible because I didn’t particularly like the feeling of closed doors, and he took the opportunity to peek. I was a naive 18-year-old and had no clue that he would be so bold. I can’t quite remember my full reaction, but I was shy and tried to cover myself with the curtain.) After he read my letter, I felt like he understood my perspective, came to an agreement with me, and we moved on.
Later that night (October 26th), a group of five of us went to a location for a bonfire. We had to drive off-road over a curb, into a clearing of a wooded area. Ashton and his two friends, Robert and Luke, had previously found the site and already had a bonfire there. We brought hot dogs, beer, and bonfire paraphernalia. I, being a vegetarian since age 14, didn’t eat any of the hot dogs, but I did drink beer. (Yes, I know I was underage – I think the only legal drinker that night was Ashton, who was 26 at the time.) We took so many silly pictures.
October gave way to November and I was invited to the annual Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) conference by Amberlynn. It was in Atlanta that year from November 5th through the 8th. The theme was Our God Reigns: Arise, for the Lord Extends His Scepter. Although I had to argue with Ashton to go – he was very controlling and manipulative, especially in the beginning of our relationship, and it didn’t help that I was excessively submissive – I was able to convince him.
By this point, in addition to passionate kissing, I had already spent the night at his apartment in his bed with him, without pants, with his hand leading mine to touch his crotch. I did withdraw my hand. Though we had not had sexual relations yet, I felt ashamed and embarrassed, as well as confused, about what I was allowing to happen. Before I met Ashton, I desired to walk down the wedding aisle innocent. But, I feared rejection if I didn’t submit, and I was too intoxicated by the attention I was receiving from him to risk that. I was hoping the PWOC conference would be the encouragement and motivation that I needed to lead me into doing what I already knew was right.
At the PWOC conference, there was a woman with the spiritual gift of “discernment.” She was able to expose one of our group member’s past sexual abuse, and the missing piece that stood in the way of her healing, during one of the worship/general sessions. Our group had to move to the bathroom because of the sobbing.
On the outside, I was as supportive of the group member as the rest. Inside, I was selfish and somewhat jealous, and I had to repeatedly remind myself: “It’s not about you, Amber. Be supportive.” I wanted a breakthrough to change the course of the path that I was on, but what I did not realize at the time was that it it wasn’t a breakthrough that I needed. What I needed was something much simpler, because it wasn’t too late yet. But, clever Satan kept whispering to me, “It’s too late; you’ve already fallen too far.” He was relentless, and I believed those lies he whispered to me.
In the bathroom, I had wandered away from the group – they were toward the back in the stall/toilet area – to the sink area. If I remember correctly, I think I had started crying and wanted to freshen up. The woman with the spiritual gift of discernment had come over to me. I can’t remember exactly what happened next, but what I do remember is that It seemed as though she read my thoughts. She said: “And you thought it wasn’t about you!” The next thing I remember is standing in her comforting embrace, crying. She could tell I was burdened with some sin. She guessed, “Is it pornography?”
That should’ve convinced me that it wasn’t too late because by this point in my life, I had only looked at pornography once, maybe twice. The first time was when I was 14 or 15. I was curious after I had seen the browsing history (which was clearly displayed for some reason) at home. The second time was around this time – it was either shortly before or after the conference. I think it was after the conference, though, after I moved in with Ashton.
I replied, “Close enough.” Her guess was in the sexual impurity category, and to be honest, I was confused by the whole relationship situation with Ashton. She prayed for me. Our group was still consoling the other group member during those moments, but afterward we went back to the session. It was over by then and it was time to move on to the next activity.
There were two other women who prayed for me during that conference, because I asked them to. One was a leader in one of the five Breakout Sessions that everyone was able to choose on the first day. That particular class was The Mysterious and Holy Gift of Sex, which I chose because I thought it would be a helpful reminder of why I was waiting to have sex until after marriage. I was embarrassed about being in the class, especially after we had to introduce ourselves with our name and how many years we’ve been married. I was the only unwed one in the session. I felt that everyone could see right through me – all of the impure details of my relationship with Ashton. Of course, that wasn’t the case. After class, I approached the leader and she prayed for me.
Still unsatisfied, I asked one other woman for prayer. She was a part of my group. I approached her in our hotel room in between sessions and asked her to pray for me about my relationship. She did. I suppose I thought prayer was the answer I was looking for in the midst of my confusion, that it would some how vaccinate me from sexual impurity and I would be able to pursue the type of relationship that I desired with Ashton – one with a pure, slow burn – instead of this fast-paced, confusing, lustful one.
The PWOC conference was a fun and encouraging time overall. Spiritually, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was seeking then, but I now know that it was absolution from sexual impurity and a new start. This conference was not the catalyst for the insight I was searching for, but that was my fault – not even a month in the relationship with Ashton and I was too blinded by my own selfish desire, and I was still too enchanted to relinquish the relationship itself. (Looking back, I realize that God was trying to tell me that it wasn’t too late and remind me who He was, because I was beginning to slowly and subtly replace Him with my boyfriend.) But that did not prevent God from planting a seed of encouragement in my heart at the conference.
On Saturday, November 14th, not even a week after my return from the PWOC conference, I lost my virginity to Ashton. Caroline had gone back to prison for a parole violation either right before I left for the conference or while I was away. Ashton and I were alone at my apartment. I can’t remember how it started but I remember laying in my bed with Ashton over top of me. We both still had our shirts on.
I wanted him, but it hurt badly when he tried to enter me. After a few moments of that, we tried anal, which hurt even worse. I remember practically crawling up the wall to get away and saying, “It feels like I have the flu!” Then we tried vaginal again, and that’s when we noticed my hymen had broken. The blood got all over the bottom of his green and white striped shirt. We stopped immediately after that to take care of Ashton’s shirt with stain remover. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, sobbing afterward from utter disappointment in myself.
Initially, Ashton’s desires were ones that I could somewhat identify with but was in absolutely no hurry to arouse. I was unsure how to respond to his bold moves, so I mostly ignored it. I wanted him to stop forcing these desires on me like I had previously asked him to, yet this attention had evoked lustful desires of my own that were lying dormant. I adored being wanted by him; I adored the attention. I thought I had the situation under control – kisses and cuddles and just “innocent” touching. Obviously not.
A day or two or three later, we tried intercourse again, at his place. I remember laying on top of him in his bed, trying to get used to the feeling of his penis inside of me. It took a few tries to get used to before I started enjoying sex, though I enjoyed more the attention I was receiving as opposed to the actual act itself. And the Holy Spirit’s conviction through embarrassment and shame began to recede the more we engaged in sexual relations, though the guilt never completely disappeared.
Shortly thereafter, I moved in with Ashton. (In hindsight, I realize this was a stupid idea – not only because of the unhealthy relationship itself, but basically, I was paying for Caroline’s utilities at my apartment AND part of Ashton’s rent, which I couldn’t afford on a part-time Wendy’s salary and dwindling savings. What was I thinking?!)
Ashton’s controlling behavior seemed to worsen after the move. He wouldn’t let me go anywhere or do anything without him, but he would leave me stranded in the apartment and be gone for hours to spend time with friends, play video games, gamble, and play billiards at a strip club. (I didn’t have a vehicle or driver’s license back then.) He manipulated me into taking out my nose piercing, which I had two years prior to him and adored, just because he hated it. I had just spent $30 and gotten it re-pierced a little over a week before I met him (on October 3rd) because it had fallen out and I couldn’t get it back in by myself. I still somewhat resent him to this day for taking that (and it seems like everything else) away from me. But, I let him.
By mid-December, I was trying to influence him to see a pre-marriage counselor. (Yes, before he even proposed, not properly anyway. He had “proposed” with a strawberry banana Ring Pop just for fun.) We were talking about seeing one, but neither one of us had done anything to start the process. I told him that it became “one of those things as a priority in my mind and would not stop plaguing me until either a) we start the counseling or b) we make a definite decision to pend it. Whatever we choose, I will be fine with. A decision just needs to made before my mind will allow me to check it off my mental priority list and finally relax about this.”
His response was not what I was hoping for, but I completely accepted it, of course. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t want the counseling but I also liked his plans for us:
This is why the deadline is null and void: It would be nice if you let me properly propose to you first. I need a ring. I will not settle for a Ring Pop. It was cute and funny, but you can’t take it seriously. I want to date you longer. We need to go out and do things as a couple – take silly pictures and go to places together like a park, the zoo, an aquarium. We need to go to an amusement park and spend the whole day having a blast eating all the different foods and riding all the rides. I need to take you to a fair and win you a huge stuffed animal.
We’ve only been dating for a couple of months now and it already seems like forever. I connect with you in a way I’ve never connected with anyone else. I get you and you get me. We can’t rush this. If we’re going to be in each others’ lives until we die, then what’s the hurry now? I want this to be perfect; I’m only getting married once.
A couple of weeks later, within the first week of January of the new year (2010), right before my 19th birthday on the 8th, I wrote Ashton another letter. Not only was it a way to express my feelings about our relationship, but that letter was also a reminder to me, that if I wanted to continue this relationship, we had to slow down (though I mostly blamed myself for our fast-paced relationship).
The letter began: “Do you remember that day in October at the very beginning of our relationship when I wrote you that note, telling you things were moving too fast? We never slowed down. We went even faster…” I continued, “I’m tired of making easy, heart-defined choices out of fear that you’ll get upset with me and won’t want to be with me anymore due to lack of instant gratification in our relationship…”
In closing, I told him, “I want to preserve our love. For the sake of us, [Ashton] and Amber, we must slow down. I don’t want to continue at this speed, crash into the impending wall, and burn our love story into ashes. I want to slow down and make a U-turn. I want the pure, slow burn for our relationship. I want the dream proposal and the God-centered, blissful marriage. I want my future children to have two parents who are loving, fully committed, and faithful to each other. It’s time to take our feet off the gas pedal and put it on the brake.”
He seemed to understand, but in time it would become apparent that we both seemed to have two very different ideas what a slow relationship meant. His misbehavior never changed.
My Nineteenth Year Begins
Ashton wouldn’t even let me spend time with Clay and Amara without him or without a protest; he isolated me from them. Mid-January, Amara wanted to take me to Valdosta with her to help with Marina when Clay had to be in South Carolina for a trial. As soon as I read the e-mail from her, I mentioned to Ashton, who was in bed half-asleep, that she needed my help. He seemed fine with it. After he completely woke up, however, he asked me about it, became angry after he realized I was going after he for some reason thought I wasn’t. He even went as far as to blame me and Amara for setting the whole thing up and telling me that our relationship wasn’t going to work out! After a lot of reassuring him, he finally came to the conclusion that Amara and I were trustworthy and that I should ask Amara if I could babysit Marina at our place instead.
Of course that wasn’t an option for Amara. After explaining to Ashton that Amara felt terrible about leaving Marina with anyone overnight, I was able to convince Ashton to let me go with Amara to Valdosta. On the way there, I talked at length about Ashton’s behavior, and Amara told me that the relationship had to change for it to last. Also on the way there, Amara invited me to Charleston, and we planned to see what Ashton would say about it. We talked about that being an ultimatum for him, but I agreed to that to make Amara happy. Even though he mistreated me, I was still ignorantly hopeful about our relationship, because I was so obsessed with my own impurity that I was blind to his faults.
Later in January, Amara asked me about Charleston. I had talked to Ashton about it – of course, it was pre-Valdosta all over again. Eventually, Ashton and I figured we could go together and meet my family there, except that never happened. I think Ashton just told us all what we wanted to hear. Amara and I talked more about how he was being controlling and manipulative, but I wasn’t telling him what was bothering me, which in my mind made it at least partially my fault. I wasn’t sure how to tell him how his actions were affecting me – I’ve never been good at articulating my feelings in speech form, especially not ones shrouded by confusion. I still didn’t see how his controlling behavior was affecting me – I was so in love and more concerned with keeping lust restrained.
By February, four months into the relationship, I wrote in my journal that I felt so out of control, hurdling down an unfamiliar and dark path, but with a dim light at the end. I was desperately clinging to an irrational and unstable hope. I was so confused. On one hand, I felt like I could make the relationship succeed by the grace and mercy of Almighty God. On the other hand, my knowledge on the issue was that I shouldn’t expect such success when the relationship was not only ungodly, but unhealthy as well. Those two points conflicted within me and I was trying to resolve them to where I was back in God’s will. Of course, that was madness.
In my attempt to return to God’s plan for marriage, I made an agreement of sorts between Ashton and I and the Lord. It was inspired by a chapter from And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity by Dannah Gresh, which was a book given to me by my Missionettes teacher when I was 16. I was reading this book throughout my relationship so far with Ashton as a guide. The agreement I created was titled The Three Strikes Agreement. It basically stated that we agreed to sustain from any form of sexual relation until after we marry. If we broke the agreement, I would have to leave until we felt God’s release for us to be reunited.
(Of course, that was insanity. Like Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife when tempted, so should I have fled from Ashton. Unlike Joseph, my red flag sensor was apparently off, maybe even broken. My guard was down from the beginning.)
Compromise & Consequence
Our relationship thus far was built upon compromise of my morals and beliefs. I had compromised my dignity for someone I barely knew. When I chose Ashton, I chose to turn my back on God, subtly replace Him even. Black and white had turned to grey. I, being the overly compliant person that I was, yielded to Ashton’s every whim and woe – to my detriment – but I was too in love and too naive to realize at this point how unhealthy his controlling and manipulative behavior was (it hadn’t yet phased me for some reason), and it definitely didn’t help that I was codependent (though unknowingly at the time). It would be too late by the time I did actually realize this, despite my family’s warnings. (Although I knew as a statement of fact in my mind that it was unhealthy, I didn’t realize what or how unhealthy it was. Because I was ignorant to the situation, I ignored my family’s warnings to pursue easy, heart defined choice for instant gratification. That, at least, I understood.)
Ashton proposed to me on Valentine’s Day 2010, which was on a Sunday that year. He took me to Zen, which is a Japanese steak/sushi restaurant in Warner Robins. Afterward, he led me in front of the boat sculpture outside of the restaurant, where he was initially going to propose, but he almost immediately changed his mind and led me to his vehicle instead, which was a lot more private. I don’t remember if he proposed on one knee or not, or if he just stood there with the ring. I was surprised when he asked me to marry him, even though I had told him that he had better propose to me on Valentine’s Day or else. I said yes, of course. I had no reservations that this was the man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, despite any negative feelings I had experienced from his behavior – they were so insignificant compared to the exhilaration of the past four months, I was able to consistently release (more like bury it under shifting sands) all of it.
The next day (Monday 15 February 2010), I wrote in my journal: “I’m bracing myself for severe consequences, though I’ve already silently suffered some with the guilt of knowing what I do is sin and separates me from my God.” The consequences were severe. Not only did I find out I was pregnant 10 days later, on Thursday 25 February 2010, but they went way beyond that in depth and time. The choices I made eight years ago have left me utterly troubled into today.
Before we married, I separated from Ashton three times in order to “run away” from my sin and the confusion that it and my unhealthy relationship brought. After we had violated our Three Strikes Agreement, I stayed with Clay and Amara for a week. Then I stayed with Ashton’s parents for two weeks, where I wrote myself a poetic letter to try to better understand the confusing situation I had put myself in:
As you read my raw heart translated into words written upon these pages, you will see that I am not who I once was. If you knew me before, you would no longer recognize me. If I were to tell you my story, you would think to yourself, “How could I ever lose sight? Never would I fall so far.” So, what happened? What happened to the bond you had with your Lord, oh, Prodigal?
There were two paths set before you – one was straight and narrow, the other was wide. You chose the wide path, the path of folly and destruction. How did you choose? You allowed idols to distract you from your God and the path of life. Pride, selfishness, and lust dictated the path you chose. That sin was your downfall.
On the path of darkness, it became so easy for you to fall into sin. Sin separates and binds. Sin destroys. Yielding is not worth the anguish when you turn your back on your holy and loving God. Continuing in sin will cause Him to give you into that sin… and the consequences that go along with it.
But there is hope for you, Prodigal! Relinquish your sinful self into the hands of God. Fail to let go of your child-like innocence, even amidst the storms that have a potential to bind you. Cling to your God-given dreams. Cling to your God; hold tightly to Him always. When temptation arises, hold fast in the faith. Remain consistent. Do not falter, for when you do, you shall never be the same.
During the third and final separation before our marriage, I stayed with my biological mother in Virginia for two months. On the day before (Friday 11 June 2010) my return to Georgia, I wrote an evaluation of sorts, but I was only fooling myself:
I’ve made my decision. I came to Virginia out of obedience to God. I heard His still, small voice telling me to go, so I went without knowing exactly why or for how long. I braced myself for a permanent stay. When I arrived, I made preparations to settle.
I also turned my attention back on my relationship with and commitment to Christ. I became intentional about praying on a consistent basis. It was during these moments that I sought the Lord for answers. He revealed to me the reasons why He led me back to Virginia: a) He was testing my faith and obedience for my growth and His glory (Genesis 22:1-14); b) He knew my limitations, that I could not re-root myself in Him and grow spiritually while I was with [Ashton], who was a distraction from my First Love; and c) He knew I missed my family and friends to the point of deep and painful sorrow.
He looked beyond my fault and saw my confusion and frustration and hurt. He saw my guilt from continuous disobedience, and anger and longing. He saw my brokenness and need. He gave me six days advance notice. He told me to go; I obeyed. It was a difficult decision to leave [Ashton] behind, especially when I noticed some positive changes in him that gave me hope.
I have come to the conclusion that is within the will of God that I return to Georgia tomorrow. How do I know that I’m not about to make the worst decision of my life? Because, I have the peace of God which transcends all understanding. Almost everyone around me seems bound and determined to convince me to stay in Virginia, causing me to contradict myself and confusion. Despite the opinions of others, I have an unnatural calm about the decision I’ve made.
Although, I was somewhat thrown off when I talked to [Faith] yesterday. After seeking the Lord, He revealed to me that it was because of my fears of disappointing others and that they’d think negatively of me that made me second-guess my decision. But, God restored my confidence.
I know certain people are going to continue to think that I’m making the wrong decision, but I’ve been thinking about and praying about this. God has honored me by releasing me to return to Georgia for my obedience. He’s giving [Ashton] and I a second chance, and I am thankful.
I know our relationship was unhealthy for a while, but the Lord finally began to answer my prayers and and cause a change of heart in him. God gave me a glimmer of hope for a healthy, godly relationship, then told me to leave. God honored Abraham for his obedience; God’s honoring me for mine. I go in peace with God’s blessing, looking forward to the plans He has in store for [Ashton] and I.
WHAT WAS I THINKING when I wrote that?!!! Ignorance is bliss. Being madly in love-lust is blinding.
Happily Ever After?
On Wednesday 16 June 2010, Ashton and I were wed at the Courthouse. I don’t remember much – just that I wore my American Eagle Outfitters “pomegranate” sleeveless dress that I already owned, and I was about four months pregnant. I also remember that we were instructed to hold each other’s left hands while we repeated our vows, which was so funny – my left hand in his left hand, standing side by side – such an awkward position. We giggled about it.
Not only was I too in love and too naive to realize the unhealthy behaviors in our relationship, but I didn’t think I deserved better than him because I violated my conscience and engaged in premarital sex with him. I wish I would’ve realized that mistakes are never final, unless you fail to get back up; that you can be forgiven. It would’ve saved us both a lot of grief, if only I didn’t forget that I didn’t have to punish myself to earn God’s love.