A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking a trip to LA to hangout with my sister and my friend Ashton Strutz. I love these two girls with my whole heart, sometimes it hurts how much I love them! I've seen them go through so many phases of life, and i couldn't be more proud and inspired by who they are both becoming. I lived with Ashton and her family a few years ago, as well as traveled to Africa with her for a missions trip. Both experiences only grew our friendship deeper, and I have come to know Ashton as one of my bestest friends. So when I visited her in LA I knew I had to take some cute photos of her in her element and interview her a little bit about who she is so I could show her off!
ANNA : So Ash, It's your birthday. The big Two-O! This week we spent some time celebrating your birthday. How do you feel about being 20?!
ASHTON : Eh. I don't know. It's weird because I feel like a lot of my friends freaked out when they turned 20. I know, it's a big deal. It feels like you're no longer a teenager. But because I've seen so many people go through that, I wasn't as freaked out. I think I was more prepared. But then again, I also don't feel like a 20 year old.
ANNA : Really? How old do you feel?
ASHTON : Haha I have no idea... just younger I guess. 20 sounds big once I say it. But in my head I think I just feel a bit younger. Honestly, I think I just look younger. You know how when you're a kid, and you think of being 16 or 20 and you think to yourself, oh those people are so old! And you paint a picture of what it would look like... now here I am and it's really not like that. So it's not that my personality feels young, it's just weird to think about how I used to think of 20 year olds, and it doesn't feel like that.
ANNA : Yeah! That's how I feel walking around here (Biola University). When you guys sneak me into the cafeteria, no one second guesses it or looks me over because I literally look like a freshman in college haha!
ASHTON : Oh my gosh haha so true. But then again, what does a normal 20 year old really look like anyways?
ANNA : Yeah, good point. Looking back, what things are you proud of in the last year of being 19?
ASHTON : Well, I'm proud of myself for switching my major. And I'm proud of myself for being happy my new classes. I think that I usually like anything I'm learning and find ways to get into it, but there's something about now having psyche and sociology that is so intriguing to me. I feel like I can use those in my life right now, rather than thinking about using what I learn in classes far in the future. And I'm also proud of myself for branching out and doing things that I wouldn't have done before. Like go places with people. I'm also proud of myself for applying for Australia.
ANNA : Of course! How come?
ASHTON : Because it's doing something that is so out of my comfort zone. Going to college was a big deal, but I had some sort of cushion in doing so. Going to Australia, I don't know anyone, I have no idea what it's going to be like. It's really fun to think about, but it's also scary. I just feel like anything that makes me comfortable where I am is being stripped away in doing something like that.
ANNA : Oh for sure, it is. Tell me more about why you're proud of the relationship-side of the last year of your life?
ASHTON : I think that making lasting friendships is one of the most vulnerable things people can do. Mostly because you're waiting long enough for people to know the true side of you, and they've seen you in a lot of different forms. So in that, you're remaining vulnerable. and then they also recognize when something isn't right with you, and you can't fool them about it anymore. So I think maintaining those friendships has caused me to stretch and grow and change in ways that I otherwise wouldn't have because I have to really keep being vulnerable. And I have to keep hearing what I'm doing wrong, and then I also have to express to people what I need from them and how they've hurt me, which is probably even worse! Only because it's easier to shut down. But good relationships force you to open up and to keep sharing.
ANNA : Who are you becoming then?
ASHTON : That's a big question! Hmm.. Okay, maybe I'm getting a little cheesy. But there's this C. S. Lewis quote, I can't quote it verbatim but it talks about how we sense that the Lord is building a house. And the house is us. So we're all excited and say 'yay he's building us a house!'. And then he starts tearing down walls. It hurts! And we ask, why are you doing that God, it doesn't make any sense! Then in the end, after all the pain and confusion of the process, we realize that the Lord had in mind a castle instead of a shabby little house that we had imagined. I think that this is what the Lord is doing in my life. I can't really see what He's doing, so in a way that gives me more faith that helps me believe it's much different and better than I could imagine for myself. I don't have as great of an imagination as Him, and it's His plan which makes me really happy because I don't have to control any of that.
ANNA : Yes! That is so cool. What do you hope for this next year?
ASHTON : I really hope that my eyes will be opened. That I will be able to see different perspectives that I could never imagine. I want to be amazed and I want to be in wonder of the world and the things going on around me. I think I want this next year to be full of awe. I want to see the Lord's imagination more. I think that the world is a much more exciting place than I give it credit for, and I want my eyes to be opened to that. I want moments where I can stand and say, this was really created just to be enjoyed, just for the fun of it.
ANNA : That seems very present-minded. I don't think you've directly said this yet, so where are you going?
ASHTON : I'm going to Australia! At first, I was debating between there and London. Well, technically I always originally wanted to go to Australia. But then fear kicked in, because all of my friends were going to London to study abroad and it seemed like the logical choice. I thought, maybe I'll just do that. I'll be able to be with people I know, see more countries, it was very logical thinking. Then I thought about it more, and realized Australia has always been my dream. I think I was settling for something that was more comfortable and safe. So I'm choosing the more risky, but bigger dream to go to Australia.
ANNA : But you're also going to London too, right?
ASHTON : Yeah, hopefully! My friend invited me to stay with her for a little at the end of my trip, and I'm hoping to make that a pit stop.
ANNA : So awesome!!
ASHTON : Okay, this is a side note, but I learned about this thing in my Bible class, and I feel like it's happening! So C. S. Lewis, he's the friggin man by the way, talks about a concept. It goes like this: there's a first thing and a second thing. The first is our number one priority, which should always be God if you're a christian. The other is your second priority, which could sometimes look like getting married or having children. But C. S. Lewis talks about how if you mix up your priorities and you make your second priority your first one, then God isn't your number one. This will mean that your second priority will no longer be God-ordained. So it won't happen the way He would plan it for you. I've been thinking about this, especially along the lines of going to Australia. As soon as I decided to make my biggest dream (which was going there) my reality, I watched as God put everything in order. He has allowed me even more opportunities than just doing my number one priority, like being able to visit Europe as well.
ANNA : That's incredible. I feel like what I'm hearing you say is that if you do the thing your heart really desires the most instead of what is safe, God will always make a way. He'll also sometimes add extra blessing.
ASHTON : Exactly! It's so crazy.
ANNA : It's so eye opening to me just by hearing your process how good God is and how good He's being to you. I just sense His goodness over this next phase of your life.
ANNA : So, you're a traveler. What is it about traveling that you love so much?
ASHTON : I love being able to experience things that I've never seen and see things through different perspectives. That's one of my goals for this next year. I also think traveling teaches me to live in the moment, because the present is just so wonderful and so different than anything I've ever experienced. It also allows me to marvel at the world and the things in it, as well as appreciate what I already have. I end up seeing the beauty of the place that I come from, as well as the beauty of the place I'm visiting.
ANNA : Wow, that sounds so romantic! How have you been personally marked by a place you've been?
ASHTON : Well, when I went to Swaziland, I saw so much joy in the people there. They had such a simplistic way of living, and not on purpose. This lead to them not seeking after the aimless things that we as Americans sometimes seek after. They just seemed satisfied with whatever they had. That idea has stuck with me ever since, the idea of trying to be satisfied with what I have. I also love the place! The landscape was so beautiful. I remember that one time we were walking to that older woman's hut with the little girl named Ante... it was so incredible and such a good memory for me.
ANNA : Ahh, Ante! She was so sweet and adorable. I miss that trip.
ASHTON : Me too...
ANNA : How would you describe yourself as a friend?
ASHTON : I like to listen, so I would say I'm a listener. Umm...
ANNA : Don't be modest!
ASHTON : Haha. This is a hard question though! I do like to encourage others. And I like to make connections with things that relate to the both of us. I love when I can relate to someone, because it shows me that we're not alone and it allows me to really appreciate and understand the other person that I'm with. I love to see new things in friendships all the time. I've been friends with Laura and you for a really long time, and I still feel like I'm learning new things about you two all the time. I love that! because there are endless levels to a person, you can never fully know a person, and that's so exiting to me. There are always new things to discover about someone.
ANNA : So who is your best friend and how did you two become friends?
ASHTON : Laura's my best friend! We met when she came to CSCS in the 7th grade. CSCS is a small school, so everyone knew that there was a new girl. We had a class together and sometimes we'd say say hi to each other, or make small talk. But the one time we really bonded was when we were both in the bathroom, and we were washing our hands. Laura went over and grabbed a paper towel and was drying off her hands, and somehow the paper towel got pretty wet. She went to throw it in the trash, but it fell on the floor and made this weird plopping sound. We both looked at each other when it happened, and just busted out laughing, and it was our first moment of friendship together.
ANNA : Haha of course that's how it started, laughing at something insanely stupid ha! What is so great about your friendship, and why has it lasted so long?
ASHTON : Oh man, everything. The one thing that really keeps us going though is communication. We have to talk about everything.
ANNA : You guys could teach a marriage seminar!
ASHTON : Haha! It seriously does sound like that! We just really do have to stay in touch and keep communicating though everything. Also, we both like to listen and have similar humor and we both really appreciate similar things in other people. We also have similar values and like to do the same kinds of things, and we share a common dream.
ANNA : Oh yeah? Speaking of sharing a common theme... tell me about Bella.
ASHTON : Oh my gosh, that is such a big dream!
ANNA : I know it's not a short story, so just do your best.
ASHTON : Yeah. So it started when I read through the book Redeeming Love. It was in 8th grade I think. That was at the beginning of Laura and I's friendship. The book is basically about a prostitute, and I started looking into more stories that pertained to sex-trafficking. I was shocked when I read them, because I didn't even know those kinds of situations existed in the world. I started reading up on the topic more, and I found a story about this girl and her cousin who were kidnapped and then sold into human-trafficking. While in a brothel, they met another girl who was around 8 years old, whom we now call Bella. The two cousins were eventually rescued when their Brothel was raided. However, a few girls weren't able to be rescued because some of the men got away with them, and this little 8 year old girl was one of the girls that got taken. This story just broke my heart. So I decided to start praying for that little girl, and I told Laura about it. I remember we were at Coram Deo, a youth group retreat, and we started praying about it then. As we were praying for her, I started to call her Bella and I didn't know why. It was just the name I gave her so I could call her something as I prayed for her I guess. Laura and I looked up what the name Bella meant, which stems from Isabella, and we found out it means "God's Promise". After that, I just felt so strongly that God was promising that He would redeem her and pull her out. That moment really ignited a fire within Laura and I and we still continue to pray for her and for all victims. This story has led me to really know what I want to do with my life, because of the experiences I have had reading many stories and praying through them.
ANNA : Why do you continue to pray for Bella or others?
ASHTON : Because I don't know where she is or where her life is at. Even if she has been rescued already, she is still a human who needs prayer. She's really been through a lot. I want to pray for her continuously because I know through prayer brings comfort. I think it's the most powerful thing anyone can do for someone. Prayer is giving the situation to God, and that's what I want to do with my life.
ANNA : Do you think you'll ever meet her?
ASHTON : I do. I know it sounds crazy, but I really do. I believe that the Lord has that in store, and that the Lord will take her out of trafficking someday. And I believe that Laura and I will be a part of that process.
ANNA : Wow. Ash, I can't wait to see this story unfold. You are so brave.
ANNA : If you could picture the unfolding of your life, what does it look like 5 years from now?
ASHTON : Well, Laura and I want to open our own "Mission" for human trafficking victims. I don't know if thats going to happen in 5 years, but hopefully I'd be working towards that goal. Hopefully I'll be in a different country, most likely Europe, working towards our House for girls.
ANNA : I hope you are there too! So Ash, what do you believe God says about you?
ASHTON : I believe He says so much about me. But I think one of the craziest things is that verse that talks about having my name written on His hands. It is just so beautiful and it shows what's important to Him. Also, one of my favorite passages is Isaiah 61. Even though it's talking about Jesus, I feel like the Lord has proclaimed a lot of that passage over my life. The setting of captives free, releasing people from chains. I think the Lord has done so much of that for me and given me so much freedom, that I want now to give that gift to people through my life.