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099: Own Your Story and Tell It Like It Is – Ashley Abercrombie

Ashley Abercrombie is an author, speaker, old fashioned truth-teller, and so much more. Her story is powerful, her mission is specific, and her voice has been heard all over the world. Ashley fought to overcome addiction, rape, abortion, perfectionism and dysfunctional relationships to become an honest, whole and free woman (most days). She wore a mask more than half her life and considers herself too old, and too annoyed to ever put that thing on again. She is the co-host of the chart-topping podcast Why Tho, author of Rise of the Truth Teller, and a contributing writer for various digital outlets.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • What it means to own your story.
  • How Ashley overcame deep challenges in her life.
  • What it looks like to tell it like it is.
  • Important social issues that Ashley is deeply passionate about.

Connect with Ashley:

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Interview Transcript

Ashley, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today. I really appreciate it.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited for this conversation.

Yeah, so one of the things that you are passionate talking about, especially in your book, is owning your story. I wanted to start off by first asking you, what happens when we don’t own our story?

What a great question. I think if you don’t own your story, I think that so many things happen. There’s a lot of repercussions to that. Which are, we don’t live honestly. We don’t walk in integrity. I think it can be difficult to reconcile hard things from our past. Whether it’s trauma that we’ve gone through, or difficult experiences, or even things like disappointment. It can begin to feel very, very hard to reconcile those things when we’re not honest about our life, and honest about our past, and honest about our past and our patterns. But owning our story enables you to get honest. I think honesty is the key to living a life that you love.

I guess I probably first should have asked you, what does it mean to own your story? Because I don’t want to assume that people know what that means. Obviously I want them to buy your book, so they can get the whole gist of what it means to own it. But in a short version, what would you say that actually means to own your story?

I think owning your story is really beginning to understand the context of your life. Where do you come from? What has shaped you? Why do you think the way that you think? Why do you build the relationships that you have in your life? Why are you pursuing the things that you’re pursuing. Owning your story is really beginning to understand, this is who I am, this is what I’ve gone through, this is what I’ve overcome, this is what I’m gifted to do. These are my talents. These are my relationships. These are my people. When you really begin to own that, you can thrive in your life in a really remarkable way. That I think is enabling us to actually walk out our purpose and live the life we were created to live.

Yeah. So when I think about owning your story, that should be for everyone. But yet if I grew up with a white picket fence, and my two parents are still together, and everything’s good, and I’ve never had trauma in my life, and I haven’t had any challenges. Owning my story, yeah. Everyone should own their story, right?

Yeah, it’s an interesting way to think about your life. If you’re like, “I’ve never really gone through anything.” I think we might want to revisit that thought.

I always just say, “Well, just wait.”

Totally. There’s a sneaky little things that humans are good at, and it’s called denial. I think all of us know what it means to be hurt, whether it’s through a relationship, or it’s through a coach, or a teacher, or somebody who said something maybe we didn’t want them to say. No one is untouched by pain. I think it’s a powerful and okay thing to acknowledge that.

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And some people haven’t. At an early age, maybe there is less. Obviously, we all have gone through challenges, but maybe there’s less pain for whatever reason.

Sure.

I doubt that any human being is going to escape this planet without experiencing some sort of tremendous challenge or pain.

Totally, and I think even if you don’t create it. Maybe you have come from a beautiful family upbringing, where you didn’t have to go through a lot of trauma, and there were no addictions in your family, or no real volatile situations. Overall maybe your life is really great. At the same time, none of us are untouched. You could have a friend who had a doctor’s diagnosis. You could have a child who’s going through something difficult. A parent who’s walking through a season of hardship. I think none of us are untouched. Whether it’s primary or secondary, we all feel the brunt of difficulty in our life.

You could have a hurricane knock down your house any moment.

Correct, you could. That’s very true and I hope that doesn’t happen to you. But yes, that’s true.

Probably not your house, you live in New York. That would be a really bad hurricane if it knocked down your house.

It really would be. I think we’d be in big trouble if that starts happen on the Earth in Manhattan.

So for you personally, what did it look like as you began to grow and develop as a human being? What did it look like for you personally to own your story?

I was raised in this beautiful hometown of Eden, North Carolina, which is the Southeast of the United States if you don’t live here. It was great. I had wonderful friends, I went to a great school. I had a wonderful upbringing in a lot of ways. I somehow managed from the beginning of my life, to divorce myself from hard stuff. I just thought you had to put on a mask and get through it. I like to say I had a PhD in pretending. I just knew how to put the mask on and wear it like, “Everything’s great and everything’s cool.”

There’s only so long that you can bottle that stuff up before it starts to come out. I can remember graduating high school at eighteen years old and thinking, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t want to pretend. I don’t want to perform.” So for me that looked like running the exact opposite way of what I was doing. I began to drink and use drugs, developed an eating disorder called bulimia. Through that process, that was the way that I could get my pain out without actually having to honestly own it.

Because I think when we don’t honestly own our life and we’re not walking in integrity, then it finds a way to leak out. So for me, it looked like addiction. For me it looked like having relationships with others that were no reciprocal. So even though I had some very loving people that were in my life and in my family, I had a very difficult time using reciprocity. So I would be the person people could come to, to unload their pain, or to ask for advice, or to come to for care. But I didn’t how to honestly say, “I’m also struggling and I don’t know how to get through this hard thing.” “This looks like a mountain in front of me that I cannot hurdle.” I just couldn’t do that yet and that increased addiction in my life.

I was a sophomore in college when I was sexually assaulted and raped by a guy on campus that I knew. I didn’t know him well but I did know him. So I just went through some very difficult times in that season of my life. Those couple years that I spent in college were very, very hard. The good thing that came out of it is, is I just couldn’t hold it together anymore. I had just become expert at being the glue of the universe until I realized I wasn’t. Until I realized there was actually no expectation on me to be the glue of the universe.

When it started unravelling, actually it was the beginning of freedom for me. Where I realized, I’ve got to get host about this stuff. There’s some things that I’m hurt about. There’s some things that I’m wounded about. There’s some things that I need recovery in. As I began to do that, and I found relationships where I felt safe to be honest, and I found people who were also honest with me. I realized, “Wow, we’re all broken people. We’re all walking through something, or out of something, or into something.”

Because of that, I was able to begin honestly opening up about my life and not feeling shameful about it. I think sometimes that’s why we don’t. We feel ashamed, or we feel like somebody’s going to reject us, or people aren’t going to think the same way about us, and we are just in the image management business. For me, I really wanted to be a person of integrity. I didn’t want to manage my image anymore. I didn’t want to manage what people thought about me anymore. I wanted to live in such a way that I could be free. So for me, that became highest point of order.

Yeah, yeah. Oftentimes it seems if we are involved in image management, we may be surrounding ourselves with others that are involved in that same value.

Yeah.

How did you find people that you could be honest with and you could begin to explore and own your story with? How did you find those people?

Yes. I will say I did have some people in my life who were image managers, but I can also remember being a young adult and realizing, “Wow, my friends really do actually open up to me. I’m the common denominator here. I’m the one who always doesn’t.” It actually made me a really bad friend, because they always thought I was perfect and had no issues and no problems. They were honest about their lives but I was incapable. So I think it just put a handicap on our relationship that was unnecessary.

I think when we’re in image management, we also don’t recognize safe people as well. Because we’re not safe and we don’t think anybody else is safe. For me, I remember moving across the country actually, to Los Angeles, when I was twenty-one years old. I was really hoping to leave it all behind me. Until I got there and realized everywhere you go, there you are. Unfortunately you can’t escape yourself, which was very sad news for me. I began to make some really good friends. People that I thought, they were able to suspend judgement. And even though I partied like crazy, I drank all the time, I was always out doing something, they were always available to me. They would invite me out for coffee. They’d take me to dinners with them. Just include me in their life. Because of that, I started to realize, “Wow, I really don’t have my stuff together, but they don’t have this expectation that I should.”

Through that, I began to have honest relationships and honest friendships. Open up about some of the needs that were in my life. Through a long process of healing, a long process of recovery, that really did change the trajectory of my life. It allowed me to open up in a new and fresh way. One specific memory that comes to mind is a dear friend of mine. I was not being honest with her. She called and just said, “Hey, how are you doing?” I think she just had an inkling in her heart that something was really wrong with me. On that phone call, I just did what I always did. Which was, “I’m fine. I’m doing great.” Then I began to assault her with nine thousand questions about her, so that the focus would not be on me.

When we hung up that phone call, I remember ten minutes later getting a knock at my door. She was standing there. She just pushed past all my bull crap. Just pushed past the walls that I had in a really healthy way. I fell down on the floor. I remember just sobbing. She sat down next to me. She didn’t try to fix me and she didn’t try to change me. She didn’t offer her best advice tips or seven books I should read so I could heal. But she just sat with me. Through that process, I began to really open up to her about the last couple years of my life. I just shared everything.

I talked about my struggles with addiction. I talked about the rape. I talked about so many things. Through that realized, “Wow, she didn’t run. She’s not rejecting me. She’s sitting here with me.” The powerful presence that she had to just be with me in my suffering is what actually allowed me to open up and create safe space for myself and safe space for others who also needed to unburden themselves.

Yeah, I’ve got a couple friends like that too. I’ll start asking them a bunch of questions and they’re like, “No, no, no. I asked about you.”

Yes. Yes.

“Yeah, but you’re more interesting right now.”

They keep you honest. I love those honest friends.

That process of letting it out, obviously that’s not a one-time conversation that you had with her and then “Boom!” your life is feeling good. You talk about in chapter three of your book, about the truth process. It’s an ongoing journey. How did you find ongoing support and encouragement for your process?

I think the hardest thing to do is just to keep showing up in your own life. I read a lot about truth telling in process, because I think the hardest thing about truth telling is to tell it every day. We never escape it. I don’t just say, “Hey, these are the things that happened to me between the ages of eighteen to twenty-one,” and that’s all I ever talk about. Truth telling is a process and recovery is a process. We have to commit to showing up every day and being honest about our life every day. I’m never not tempted to manage my image. I will always probably until the day I die deal with pride. Always. It’s just a central issue in my life and I actually think in the lives of most people. It’s hard to recognize because it’s sneaky and subtle. We can be doing really awesome things on the Earth and not realize that we’re struggling with pride.

So for me it’s waking up every day and showing up for my own life and making sure I’m being honest in my relationships. When I’m not, allowing people to say so or allowing myself to recognize that, to not be in denial about that and just say, “Hey, I need to really get honest in this relationship.” Or, “There’s some things I’m withholding.” Or, “There’s some stress I’m dealing with and it’s coming out in this way or that way.” I think self-awareness is really key to this, but showing up in my life every day with commitment to be honest is what I do so that I can continue to be in process with healing and with truth telling.

When you use the word pride, and you say that’s a challenge for you, what does that mean for you?

I think the very central issue of image management, which is a real struggle on the Earth, especially given the rise of the digital age. Are you kidding me? Instagram.

What? Come on.

Yeah, you’re just like, “Come on. You did not wake up like this.” There is a team around you doing these things and it’s setting the tone for the rest of the planet.” I think that at the root of image management is pride. What we’re really saying is, “I can’t be fully myself. If I am fully myself, this is what it’s going to mean for me in my relationships.” You know what that is? That’s pride.

That’s pride when we tell ourselves that we need to manage our image and not let people in. That’s pride. Because we are keeping distance from others, when what we need to do is draw close and what we need to do is be in deep relationship with people. Pride hinders that. When you’re worried about your image, you’re not worried about your integrity. When you’re worried about what people will think about you, you’re not worried about connecting with people. So connection and integrity is okay, and the best and higher thing. So pride we need to continue to root out of ourselves.

How do you determine a friend who’s able to go there with you, versus people that perhaps were more like you in the teenage years of not able to reciprocate?

Sure.

You know what I mean? Maybe they make fun, or gloss over, or don’t understand what you’re going through. How do you figure that out? How do you navigate that?

Yeah, it’s a great question. Because we’re really talking about Safe People, which is a wonderful book that I would highly recommend by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. That book was a gamechanger for me. I really loved it. It taught me how I was unsafe and then taught me how to recognize safety in others. But to bottom-line it, I think we recognize safe people, they are able to suspend judgement. They are able to be with you without trying to fix you, change you, or advise you. They are able to see your potential and call that forward. So instead of putting you down or making you feel less than, they’re constantly encouraging you and speaking hard truths because that’s still encouragement. They’re able to do it in such a way that it doesn’t shame you.

They see your potential and they want you to become your best self. They have that in mind. They have a heart to see you do that. Those are safe people. I think we recognize them in our day-to-day life. We can also recognize people who are on a journey. Even when I started healing, it wasn’t like I was just awesome at reciprocity. But there were some people in my life like my friend that I mentioned earlier, who was able to journey with me through that period of time in my life. I still kind of was a stonewaller, but at the same time, she knew I was on a journey and she knew I was going to get there.

She stuck by me and called me out, and drew the best out of me. She allowed me to do the same with her. I think that’s really important. To see those people in our life. Sometimes they’re the folks who just keep turning up. Maybe you’re dropping your kids off at drop-off and you recognize the mom who always talks to you. She seems really genuine and down to earth, she might be a person to have a coffee with and just see where it goes.

“God, I wish this lady would quit talking to me. Why does she always ask me how my day is? Just get away from me.”

Yeah, I’m sure some people do do that. A lot of New Yorkers do that, so we can relate to you for sure if that’s how you are. But you have to deal with yourself too then. If you’re always in a hurry, how can you ever build real relationships? It’s important to slow down, and recognize, and be aware in your own life.

I also think that if somebody’s not in a safe place in their life, they are being triggered by whatever I’m saying. So in some way, either if I’m talking about my challenges, they’re having anxiety in the moment about not knowing what it say. Or they don’t want to talk about their own challenges. Somehow they’re being triggered by whatever it is that I’m saying. It’s not about me, it’s about whatever they’re going through in their own life.

Yeah, that’s so true. You have to determine in that moment, “Am I going to be the type of person who responds and connects with them through this? Or is this an unsafe moment for me and do I need to make a change?” That’s part of drawing people out, “I love you and I don’t want you to stay here. How can I keep drawing you out?” Or it’s like this is actually an unsafe situation for me and maybe not the best time to build a deeper relationship. So you get to determine that.

Very, very true. So I love in section two of your book, you say that you’re learning to tell it like it is. Of course that’s the whole title of the book, being a truth teller. When you say tell it like it is,” I know that faith is a part of your background. I thought Christians were supposed to be nice and it sounds like you’re being mean to me, telling me like it is. What do you mean, tell it like it is? What does that mean to you?

Yeah, so telling it like it is. The whole nice girls myth, it’s not just Christian women who deal with this. There’s very real gender component in our world today that tells women that anger has no place, and that we can’t be upset or we can’t be loud. Think about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace. We have the resting B face jokes and, “Oh, maybe she’s on her period.” When women are aggressive or very outspoken, it’s received differently than when men are. It’s important to recognize those kind of cultural dynamics that influence all women.

What I mean by telling it like it is, is I mean to tell it kindly and candidly. So what that means is, telling it like it is rudely is unacceptable. You’re just not being a good human. Don’t do that. You have to tell the truth candidly and kindly, because that’s the way that people can receive it. That’s the way that I can receive it. I can take a hard truth when it’s cloaked in kindness. I can take a hard truth when there’s love behind it. We can handle hard truths when people speak them with mutual respect and honor. That’s an important part of this.

So telling it like it is, is not being rude or unkind. I grew up in the South, like I said earlier. Truth telling has a very high value for us. But at the same time, most of the time what we mean when we’re talking about truth telling, is telling the truth about others. So we have had to grow in telling the truth about ourselves and telling it like it is kindly and candidly. Not to hurt and wound others, or just to say it because it should be said. But to say something that’s effective and something that’s transformative, because it’s just true and resonates deeply with people. That’s important.

So in this section, you go through a number of things that are important to you, I would say. The chapters are “The Truth About Ordinary”, “Truth about Margins”, “Truth About Christians”, “Truth About Aggression”. As I was reading this it’s like, “Wow, these are things that are really important to Ashley.” You could have written about a lot of things that were the truth, the truth for you in different ways.

Sure.

Why did you choose these four areas? Why were they important to you?

Yes, I think that they’re important because there’s so many things in our digital world today. And now that this hasn’t existed, right? I’m bringing up digital medial because it is the world we live in and it’s not going away. It’s here to stay. I wanted people to understand that they’re not ordinary. And that actually it’s okay for ordinary life to be the sacred stuff of life. So I think sometimes we’re always looking for the next best thing. We’re always looking to be like, “Oh, I’m going to accomplish this. I’m going to do that. I’m going to be extraordinary. I’m going to be awesome. I’m going to change the world.”

Sure, is some of that okay? Yes, but then also it’s like, hey, if you’re picking up your kids at drop-off and you’re a student in college and nobody really knows your name. Or you are becoming an empty nester or maybe you’re thinking about what retirement looks like. There is so much goodness in your ordinary. There is so much opportunity in ordinary life to make a difference for others.

I love this quote in that section. It says, “We are neither helpless nor hopeless. We are the healers, the truth tellers, the helpers, and the bridge builders.” So I think it’s important to recognize that even in your day-to-day life with your neighbors, with your family, with the people that love you the most, with the faith community if you have it, or your CrossFit community if you have that. I don’t know what your communities are, but you are have an opportunity to show up and make a difference, and matter to people.

Can I jump in for just a second?

Of course. Yes.

Because one of the things that you write there, this as I’ve mentioned in the intro, this is a faith oriented book. But I think it’s super accessible for people that don’t necessarily have a Christian faith. The principals that you talk about are so powerful. You’re really just interweaving them through the context of your own faith.

In this chapter on the power of the ordinary, the truth of the ordinary, you talk about Jesus and there’s this moment where he’s having a meal with his followers and so forth. But you write later on, “Don’t discount the small things just because the world around you acts like they don’t matter. They do, and your strength is in them.”

Wow, that is really interesting. That is profound. You just mentioned a number of things, but I don’t want us to gloss over that. Because it feels like, especially for a lot of the moms who listen to our podcast, there’s a lot of ordinary things. There’s the making of the lunches or the laundry on top of the job, on top of the trying to figure out homework, on top of the college applications. All of these things, it can feel so mundane.

Yes.

Why do they matter? And how is my strength found in those things?

Again, first of all, I relate to you mother out there listening to this. I just finished making lunches and doing all of that for my kid. I’m so with you. I get this. I have a fulltime job. It is so hard. Sometimes you can feel like, “What is the point of any of this? Is it making a difference at all?” So I think maybe I’m preaching to myself a little in this book too. But when I look at the life of someone like Jesus who gets a whole lot of different images projected on him in the world we live in today, and especially here in America in our political climate. This image of who God is, I think it’s quite distorted.

Jesus was so ordinary in his practices. He was always eating with people. He was always sitting with disciples. He was always listening. He was always extending his hand to touch people, to be with them. He never even really went too far outside his own hometown. So if you were to really examine the life of Jesus, he did not have this global empire perspective of just like, “Here’s how we’re going to dominate.” I think sometimes we are fed this message that that’s who we’re supposed to be in this world.

Most of his Instagram photos would have been pretty boring, I think.

I think so. It would have been a lot of food pics because he was always eating. Seriously, he would have been a foodie blogger, I think. But yeah, it’s important to look at that and go, “Yeah, these things that I’m doing, as mundane as they seem, matter.” They are building the life of the Kingdom. Not only that, they are building integrity in me that I show up in my life. That I’m present to the people around me. That every day is a new day, an opportunity for me to love and to connect with others. To extend myself through grace and generosity. To be a person who releases when I’m tempted to be a person who withholds. And be a person who stays joyful even though I feel tempted to be bitter in the world I’m living in.

I think those simple practices, those daily rhythms, the habitual things that we do that are mundane, are actually the very things that remind us to connect. The very things that remind us to stay grounded. The very things that we turn up for day after day. Are the things that really are building our life. Not the extraordinary moments, because there’s so few of them to be honest. There’s so few mountaintop moments in life. I think if we recognize that, then we’re not living mountain top to mountain top, but moment to moment in integrity and character.

Wow. Yeah, so many ordinary moments. As a type-A kind of driven person, those ordinary moments can seem so — I don’t want to say wasteful, but I need to be doing something meaningful right now. I need to be taking ground. I need to be doing something that’s going to make a difference or help me take ground in whatever project, or goal, or thing that I’m oriented in. And yet, in those ordinary moments is often found the bedrock of relationship.

Yes. Which is, I think, the fundamental best thing in life. When you’re constantly achieving, and striving, and onto the next, you miss the stuff that really grounds you. That is the place where you build the character that keeps you doing the work that you’re called to do. If you skip over that part, there will come a time in all of the achievement, that it breaks. Because we were built for relationship, we were not built for achievement. And through relationship, we achieve.

Yes, I am a high achiever. I’m a high capacity person. I am one hundred percent type-A. But I’ve just stopped being impressed with myself and stopped being impressed with people who do things. And just gone, “You know, who’s really living their life honestly? Who has character and integrity? These are the types of people I want to build my life with.” Out of that has come so much achievement. It’s a better way of living and relating.

Yeah, for our listeners, they’ll know this story. But for the context of our situation, when I was a pastor, I was a total workaholic. I was working sixty, seventy, eighty hours a week. It wasn’t because I thought I was amazing, it’s because I didn’t think I was amazing. I needed to improve myself. I wasn’t able to be present with my kids when they were young. My wife and I were feeling disconnected and more like roommates.

I ended up hitting rock bottom twelve years ago. I ended up finding out too, through a brain scan, that my anxiety levels were really high, the way that my brain was wired. I was able to get on some low-level anti-anxiety medication that would slow down my brain and allow me to be present. Because in those mundane moments, my brain was going a hundred miles an hour thinking about all the things that I needed to do on my to-do list

Right.

Could I have tried to mellow that out without medication? Perhaps.

Yeah.

But it has transformed my life over the last twelve years.

Right.

When I’m having this conversation with you, I’m thinking of nothing other than just being present with you.

Yeah, totally.

That feels so good. Now I can be present with my kids. I have been for the last decade. It is the difference between having real foundational, beautiful, connected relationships in the midst of that mundane. I don’t know if it’s harder than, less than, or more than, or whatever. It’s probably how we’re wired. Because younger kids are more challenging for me to be more present with.

Yeah, sure.

Whereas somebody who can have a conversation, or watch something, or interact with something.  That’s true. That’s just everybody’s different.

Yeah, that’s right.

So one of the chapters, boy you just really unleashed, is the “Truth About Aggression”. One of the statements that you write about, you say the world is not safe or kind to women. Help me understand that statement. Why was that important for you to tell the truth about?

Well, obviously as someone who’s gone through a sexual assault and so many other things. I write a ton in this chapter about aggression, because it’s important for people to understand the cultural soil that women are planted in. I think that so often we gloss over that. We don’t recognize how serious it is, that a woman most of the time can’t walk down the street without someone cat calling her. Women get comments all day long about their bodies. If they’re pregnant, someone makes a comment, puts their hands on a person’s body without even thinking about it.

What is up with that? Who touches another person? A lot of women do that though.

It’s both. From experience.

Really? You have had a man touch your stomach?

Oh, for sure.

While you were pregnant?

One hundred percent. Yes, I have. Yes, I have.

Good lord.

I think it’s those things that people don’t recognize, or the comments that happen in work meetings about women. Or somebody makes a sexual innuendo about a women. Or somebody makes a racist joke about a women, not thinking about the one woman of color who’s in the room. I think this is real life for people. I’ve experienced so much. I write about the very traumatic labor story that I have here in the hospital that I birthed my second son in Manhattan. And what happened there with a man who just kept coming into our hospital room

I just think that it’s important for us to understand that this is the world we live in. That women are facing micro aggressions, and if you don’t know what that is, it’s just one of those little sideways things that happen. Again, a comment at work. Somebody cat calling you down the street. It’s not full on aggression, but it’s enough that it makes you bothered. Maybe you feel heavy under that or exhausted under that, and don’t fully understand why you feel so fatigued.

Or perhaps it’s a woman who might be listening now and her partner is very uncommitted to helping with the child raising. So because of that, not only do you have a job, but you also have all the responsibilities, you take care of the household, you do all the lunches, you do all the school runs. And you have no help, but the expectation for you is to perform at your job in the same way that your husband is able to.

Those types of things create a level of aggression on the inside of us. We put it down because we’re taught that women should be nice girls. They shouldn’t be mean and they shouldn’t be mad. They shouldn’t speak up for themselves. They shouldn’t say what they need, because God forbid they do that. I really wanted to speak to the truth about that and what happens. I also took the opportunity in this chapter to talk about faith leaders who are constantly putting burdens on people.

I see that happening publicly in our media where there’s burdens on people all the time. They’re not interested in relieving people’s burdens or releasing them from shame, but they’re interested in heaping more work on top of people and helping more things to do on top of people. I just do not believe that that’s the God that I serve. I think that He is looking to release burdens and He’s looking to free people up to be holy themselves. He’s looking for folks to be released from aggression and for women to find healthy ways to move and be in this world.

It’s okay to say that the world is not kind to women and it’s not safe for women. One in four women have been sexually assaulted, and that’s just reported cases. I never reported. In fact, I only know one other women in my life who did actually report her sexual assault. Women are sexually abused at rates and one in three and sometimes one in four, that grows globally. That’s just the national numbers here in the U.S.

So think about that. Don’t tell me this world is kind to us. Don’t tell me this world is safe for us. Because it isn’t. So it’s important to speak to that. It’s important to release women from feeling like they have to hold that in. Or feeling like they have to act like the world is just awesome for them when most of the time it isn’t. I wanted people to be able to have safe space to process that for themselves, and to grow in freedom from that.

That’s not going to always come out of a woman’s mouth in a kind way. Because there’s so much aggression, or so much pain, or trauma. I’m not sure I can expect someone to speak up in a way that is going to come off kind, like I could hear it. You know?

Yeah. I talked earlier about being candid and kind. In fact, I would say the vast majority of times, women are so worried about being kind because they have to be in their workplace, or with the men, or in their faith community. So they can’t get to the candid part. So when women just are candid, then it’s like, “Oh, you should have said it better.” “Oh, I’m sorry that the oppressed person should say it better. Are you kidding me right now?”

I think we all have to grow in this. I think men specially have to grow in this. In their capacity to hear deeper than the way it’s said. As a white woman, if I was unable to hear anger in my friends who are people of color and dealing with issues like racism, or police brutality, or whatever it might be. If I’m unable to hear that because of the way they say it. I want them to clean it up before they tell it to me. Jeez, what are saying?

Take the emotion out of it.

Yeah, what are we saying to people? That we’re really saying, “You can’t be yourself here. It’s okay if I can, but you can’t be yourself here. You can’t tell me the truth because I don’t want to change.” That’s what it really boils down to. Because I don’t want personal responsibility for that truth, so don’t tell it to me like it is. I think we have to be the kind of people who can go, “Yeah, tell it like it is. Because I want to change and I want this world to be good to you. I want equitable spaces where we’re safe. So help me. Tell me. Talk to me.” We can be those people. We really can. Is our skin’s so thin that we can’t do that for one another? No, it isn’t.

Yeah, yeah. I think one of the ways that’s helped me — I don’t want to say toughen my skin. I’d more say probably raise my awareness, give me more empathy, compassion.

Yeah.

Is to watch movies that feature stories that are outside the context of my own world. Just recently my wife and I went to see two movies involving the death penalty. One called Clemency, which is a bit more of an indie film. It was in theaters, and Just Mercy.

Yeah, so good.

Have you seen that film?

I haven’t, but I read the book right when it came out. I’ve read it several times. It’s one of my favorites.

Yeah, yeah. Both of those films are just really emotional and heart wrenching. It was so fascinating. I share this story. I’m sure my wife would be fine with it. I guess I should ask her before I include it, but we walked out of the movie, the second one, Just Mercy. After two and a row she goes, “You know, I guess I never really thought about my beliefs on capital punishment. How could we kill another person like this? How does this even make sense?”

Yeah.

A huge part of the question is, is this person actually really guilty? The percentage of people who have been killed or been tried and found guilty, whether they’ve been killed or not, is whether it’s actually true.

Right.

Anyway, for me, I love the world of movies and that allows me to have access to a story. Because I find that even if I have a friend who maybe has gone through a certain experience, walking up to them and saying, “Hey, tell me more about your sexual assault.” “Tell me more about your friend who was murdered.” “Tell me more about the –.” Yes, I can get to that place in a relationship, but if I don’t have access to a story like that or connection, movies can be a powerful way.

So I’m encouraging those of you who are listening, there’s no excuse for saying, “I don’t have a friend who’s gone through that.” Watch a movie.

Yes, you really, really can. I think educating yourself is primary. I actually have been so baffled by people who are unwilling to do their own work, and constantly want others to explain everything to them. It’s like, why? In 2020. I used to have to go to the library and read encyclopedias. You can Google. You can figure things out on your own. It’s important that we do that. I like what you shared. That’s why I think stories are powerful. Stories, whether they’re on film or in a book, can help us educate ourselves in a way that we can understand, and then have empathy for other people. Because that’s important. I think stories do that like nothing else.

My second film that I made was called In Plain Sight. It was all about sex trafficking in the United States. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to see how that was making an impact in our world. So in 2014, I chose six female abolitionists around the United States. We went and interviewed them. Interviewed a bunch of survivors as well. Nobody asked me to do that. Ashley, nobody paid me to do that.

Right.

I chose to do that because I was interested in learning more and drawing attention to people who were making a difference in the world in that area.

Right.

So all of a sudden, I don’t know of any relative or friend who had been trafficked, and yet now I have such deep empathy, and knowledge, and awareness of that world. Even though I’ve never personally been through that.

Right.

Because I did the work. I went and did the work.

Yeah.

No everybody can make a film, but you can watch a film. You can read a book.

Yeah, totally.

Do research on the internet of whatever the issues might be.

Yes. I agree with you.

Okay, so the third section of your book, just so many powerful, powerful chapters here.

Thank you.

Where you’re just talking about truth, and justice, and reconciliation, and power, and good. You call it living with holy gumption.

Yeah.

What is that? I grew up in Kentucky, so I don’t understand the word gumption. But it sounds a little bit like we’re getting ready to have some sea food gumbo or something. What is this holy gumption you speak of?

I love the word gumption because it actually translates into a spirited shrewdness. I’m one of those people that I didn’t have the kind of opportunity afforded me that I wish I would have. Not to the extent that so many others haven’t, but I just feel like I didn’t get to finish my degree. There’s so much that I didn’t have access to. But this spirited shrewdness, “This is my life. I’m going to make the most of this. I’m going to live in it and I’m going to lean into it. I’m going to show up and be all of myself everywhere that I go. I’m going to create space for myself and create space for others.” That has just changed my life.

So sometimes when you think about gumption, you think about this idea of being out there and doing all these big things. I think gumption really boils back down to the small things. It really boils back down to you being honest in your day-to-day life, and you showing up for your life, and being in it. I think that takes so much gumption.

Why I like to say holy gumption, is because I think there’s this sacred part of us that drives us. There’s this internal thing in us. “When I do this thing, I come alive.” For some people it can be organizing. For some people it could be very administrative. For some people it could be leading a company, or making films, or writing books, or singing songs, or being with your children, or being in relationship with others. There’s a million ways that gumption works itself out. But we all have this ticker inside of us. “I was born for this.” I think that we need to figure out what that is and do it while we’re showing up in our life.

It takes a lot of gumption to be yourself. It takes guts to show up every day and be there. Sometimes just showing up is our best. That’s okay too. There are good days and bad days. But gumption is just this idea that no matter what your life is, no matter your responsibilities are, you can show up and live your life, and be who you were created to be.

So good. All right, so you are the author of Rise of the Truth Teller: Own Your Story, Tell It Like It Is, and Live with Holy Gumption. We’ve talked all about it today, but you guys, you need to get the book. The link to Amazon is in the show notes. You can swipe up on your phone now and click it. Or you can go to our website, www.insporising.com and of course it’s there. But you can go to Ashley’s website, www.ashabercrombie.org. That doesn’t even sound like a real name. It sounds like you’re straight out of a marketing company. What the heck? I know, that was your husband’s name. Did you choose him because of the name? My gosh, that is such a cool name.

It is amazing. I chose him for many other reasons but that was bonus for sure.

Seriously. I would have chosen him for that. AshAbercrombie.org. You’re also the co-host with Tiffany Bluhm of the Why Tho podcast. What is this podcast all about? Come on, sell us on it. Get some new subscribers.

Oh, it’s so great. You’re going to love it because it’s hilarious shenanigans and also real stuff of life. We like to laugh a lot but we like to interrogate the real questions of why. So why do your eyebrows look so good all the way up to existential crisis. We’re tackling questions. It’s called Why Tho, because there’s some things in life that make absolutely no sense. We just wanted to have a great conversation together about the difficult things in life, and the real things in life, and the funny things of life.

And of course, we’ll link to all of your social media accounts as well. Where you look absolutely perfect, because your life is perfect.

Totally. Everyday. It’s awesome.

Ashley, thank you so much for taking some time to hang with us today. I hope people pick up your book.

Me too. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

thank you!