By Sandy Jones
Publisher’s note: When Mark Arenas from the Boise Harvest Team introduced me to Ashley Sears, I knew her story had to be remarkable – I had no clue just how much so. Ashley’s story is one of two. In this issue, both Ashley and her husband Asher share their own stories about how the hopelessness of pornography addiction nearly ruined their marriage…until they found hope and help.
“I was reading something several years ago by @jenniesallen. She says, “What if the very darkest moments of your life, God intended for good… for saving lives?!” Think about that. What if the hardest seasons, the lowest times in your life, God wants to use to bring light and healing to someone else? Would it be worth it?” – Ashley Sears’ post on the Stories:Unveiled Facebook page
Ashley Sears doesn’t look like anybody’s victim. Smart, strong, courageous – a true leader – that’s what people see when they meet her.
Growing up in an active church family, Ashley’s parents divorced when she was 14. Ashley asked if she could live full time with her mom; the courts in Southern California consented.
Two years later, before there was online dating, her mom met a Christian gentleman in an AOL chatroom; they married months later. The family moved to Northern California. Ashley, now 17, learned that she had been conceived through artificial insemination, and her “dad” was not her biological father. Although relieved from the guilt of not having connected to him, she was left feeling a little betrayed.
Ashley: “It was a good thing and actually propelled me into a deeper relationship with Mom’s new husband,” who adopted her at 21.
Ashley’s family moved to a small town south of Reno, Nevada. Her parents found a wonderful church; sadly, Ashley never felt like she fit in with the high school group at the church. Never angry at God, and not intentionally leaving ‘the church,’ once Ashley was off to college and dorm living, she started working weekends, “partying and making new friends.”
Eventually, Ashley and her best friend moved into a house, where she was raped by a “good friend,” and soon found herself the target of a serial stalker, who ultimately went to prison for two counts of stalking.
“I had just come off of being assaulted by a friend and was literally in the middle of the trial with the stalker when I met Asher (her husband). I’m not sure why he didn’t turn and walk away. But he came with me to the Victim Impact Statement and walked through all of that with me.”
Asher Sears was divorced with a 5-year-old son. Ashley knew from the beginning that Asher was not a Christian. He was good with the fact that her family was, telling her, “As long as they don’t try and convert me, or Bible thump me...”
“We fell hard, and we fell fast,” Ashley said. “After two months of dating I moved in, and 8 months later I got pregnant. We found out on a Friday, told my parents on Monday, and the following Friday we were married in a Reno chapel with our families present.”
Soon they fell into a Sunday routine. They would meet Ashley’s parents at their home after her parents got out of church – the ladies in the kitchen catching up and making lunch, while the guys went out to the hot tub.
Both a recovering addict and alcoholic, Ashley’s dad has “a lot of real fun stories.” He was able to keep his stories genuine, while sharing how God had brought him through those times. He’s nonjudgmental and easy for Asher to talk to about his own past and struggles.
It was after one of these Sunday dinners that Asher asked Ashley what she thought about checking out her parents’ church. He’d been told they had great music there. As a music major, this was probably the best way to get Asher’s attention.
The three Sears visited the following Sunday and the next, and on the third Sunday Asher accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and was baptized. The couple decided then they would raise their family in ‘the church.’
When their daughter was 2, a fashion show of sorts came on TV. Ashley, self-conscious of her post-baby body and not wanting their daughter to watch it, asked if they could change the channel. She was surprised when Asher said, “No.” This lead to an argument, which lead to an even bigger discussion. It was then that Ashley learned Asher had a pornography addiction.
This was the beginning of what would be a 10-year struggle. Ashley explains, “I don’t care what your faith is, that’s not ever anything you want to deal with in your marriage. We were very up and down. I would find out; I would get mad; he would say he would do better, and he would or wouldn’t for a certain amount of time, and then it would just be back.
“To say that I didn’t want to stay a lot of the time would be pretty honest. I didn’t know if I could do this. I didn’t want to raise our children this way, and at this point, we had two more children, both boys.”
Several years into their marriage the Sears moved to Idaho, something they both agree was a real blessing. However, their marriage was still on the rocks. They’d been to counseling. Asher had been to recovery groups. Nothing seemed to work for long. They were “white knuckling it” until they found a “phenomenal” counselor, and Ashley learned things about Asher’s addiction, making it possible to move forward. She thought they were in a really good place.
Two years passed; Ashley was now the women’s director at Bridgepoint Church when the staff was asked to preview some videos and curriculum brought by a newer parishioner. Ashley took some home and was greatly impressed with the quality of both. The program? Pure Desire, specifically for men who struggle with porn and sex addiction.
Ashley thought, “Not very many people know the struggle of our marriage, but I know, and I thought this has to be in the church. Absolutely I voted yes!”
Excited, Ashley wondered where a program like that had been when they needed it; she told Asher about it. He was now serving in the church, and with Ashley’s encouragement went to show his support.
Ashley shares, “Very early on I think he saw a shift in what Pure Desire could offer, better than anything else, and he felt like I needed to know about things that he had been keeping from me. One night he proceeded to disclose other things that I didn’t know from over the last couple of years. I felt like the other shoe had dropped. I thought we were in a good place! He had really continued to struggle with the things I thought we were past. I was mad and didn’t really know what to do.
“But through this whole thing I never felt released from my marriage, but I knew that I didn’t want it to be like this forever.
“Asher continued going to the group and to plug along. I started to see change. I think every other time he did anything was because it was a threat that I was done, and this is the first time he ever did something because he just wanted to be better. I started seeing behavior change; I started seeing real-life tangible action and things different. It was great, except for I was still real mad.”
Ashley made a new friend who was going through similar issues. She shared with Ashley some material she’d found for wives. Ashley learned there was freedom in trusting God and letting God deal with her husband. She explains, “Basically, I can’t hold these things over my husband’s head if I’m really going to choose to forgive. I can’t continue to bring them up and hurt him with his own mistakes. Through this I was able to find healing and forgiveness.”
After completing the program, Asher started leading Pure Desire classes at Bridgepoint Church, one of several churches in the Treasure Valley to host the program.
Over time, Ashley visited with more ladies she “knew,” only to discover that this addiction was not as unique as she thought. She approached Asher and suggested that perhaps they should step out and share their story. “It’s a really lonely, shameful, guilty, isolating issue, especially in the church,” she said.
Not knowing what kind of fall-out there might be, Asher agreed. Ashley shared little by little, using her platform as the women’s director, eventually feeling strong enough to give an invitation for any woman in the same situation to speak with her privately. Eventually she started leading her own groups.
“… it just really magnified the fact that we, as Christians, can wear masks super well and we can show up to church on Sunday and look great…”
Ashley learned “we’ve all got stuff” we’re dealing with; as she prayed over what God would have her do with this newfound knowledge, she came up with the platform for The Stories Unveiled Conference, a one-day ladies conference with local speakers who step out in faith to share their own stories.
StoriesUnveiledConference.com describes it best: Exploring our stories… through forgiveness, trust, healing, redemption and surrender. The Stories Unveiled Conference was designed to break down the walls around our stories and create a place for women to share their lives and how God has redeemed them.
The first Stories Unveiled Conference was held in 2018 at Bridgepoint, where Ashley invited 5 of her friends to share their stories. It all but sold out.
In 2019 the conference attendance doubled, and the event was moved to BSU.
Now 2020 and COVID-19. Even in the face of this adversity Ashley remains steadfast in her calling to share hope and healing with ladies from all over, so The Stories Unveiled Conference will be a FREE live virtual event, available on YouTube and Facebook. Ladies are encouraged to register and host their own watch party in their home or church on September 19 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. for a special afternoon of live music, shared stories, hope and healing. This year’s panel discussion will be on overcoming grief.
Stories Unveiled believes that you can find purpose in your story and freedom from your past.
Go to StoriesUnveiledConference.com for more information, to register your watch party or contact Ashley Sears.