My husband, Matt, and I have four children, and we have been members of St. Michaels since we moved to the wonderful city of Charleston eight years ago.
I feel fortunate to say that I was raised in a Christian home, and I formally asked Jesus into my heart my first week of kindergarten. Our school, Faith Christian, in Sarasota had an altar call every Wednesday at the end of chapel. I was one of those children who went up to the altar every week to “say the prayer.” After about eight Wednesdays of accepting Jesus into my heart, our school chaplain confronted me. He inquired as to why I continued to “accept Jesus for the first time.” I don’t remember my exact response, but I am told that it was along the lines of making sure Jesus didn’t leave my heart and, if so, making sure He returned.
My passion and my focus is my family, and I also really enjoy working. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry at Eli Lilly in sales, marketing, training, operations, sales management and special projects for almost a decade. So that I could have more time with my family, I retired from Lilly in 2006. To have some work on the side, a friend and I started a real estate company called Atlantic Properties, a buyer’s agency, and I went back as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry on a part time basis.
Peter Moore asked me to briefly tell about my experiences as a Christian in the workplace. I believe there are many ways one can be a light in a dark secular culture. Three guiding principles come to my mind about my experiences.
- Be bold about communicating my faith
- Be mindful of what my actions communicate
- Be in the world, but not of the world
During my tenure at Lilly, I was often given the opportunity to interact with upper management on several projects and would also meet with a few of these folks regularly to discuss my career path. Most of these meetings I don’t remember well, but there is one that remains a thorn in my flesh and has motivated me to witness in the marketplace. I had finished up a thirty minute career planning discussion and was getting ready to walk out the door when the vice president I was talking to said, “Ashley, tone down ‘the good girl Jesus thing’. It could be career limiting for you.” I nodded my head in reluctant agreement and left his office. As I walked away, I thought about 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you” (English Standard Version). I knew I had blown it. There were so many ways I could have responded, but, instead, I nodded my head, as if I were in agreement. I was disappointed in myself and knew that there was Someone Else disappointed in me. My internal dialogue went something like this, “I am like the disciple Peter who denied Christ three times. No, I am worse than the disciple Peter. Peter had his life on the line”. I prayed that God would soon give me another chance and the strength to be a little bolder about my faith. Gratefully, I have had those chances.
When Matt and I moved to Charleston in 2004, Eli Lilly upper management allowed me to keep my position and telecommute to Indianapolis. It made for lots of travel, and, when I traveled I generally indulged in my favorite food… ice cream. I had gone through airport security and made a beeline to the first ice cream vendor. While in line, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me “Buy the man behind you an ice cream; he is your brother.” Behind me was a young serviceman, dressed in military attire. His demeanor seemed cold and his eyes sad. I imagined the awkwardness of this potential situation and spent the rest of my time in line, talking myself out of this. Nevertheless, I placed my order and told the cashier I would pay for the next customer’s order. The service man said, “Ma’am, I can’t accept that.” Crushed, I replied, “Sir, please.” I continued, “You see while we were in line I did not hear God’s voice, but I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to buy you this ice cream in Jesus’ name. I will be very discouraged if you do not except this on His behalf.” His eyes welled up with tears and he said, “This is so wild. While passing through airport security, I prayed that God would give me a sign that He was with me as I make this trip to the Afghanistan.” I said, “Sir, I believe our God is with you now.” Keep in mind there were probably about 8-10 people in line behind this serviceman. I felt their eyes on me and I half expected one of them to yell, “Buy the ice cream and be done with this lady!” To my surprise there was a different response. A man covered in tattoos looked stunned and said, “That was really cool.” Many spoke with their eyes and all seemed to have stopped and listened to the exchange.
Whether it is being offended and sticking up for my belief or listening to the Holy Spirit, as a Christian, I understand it is important that I am willing to be bold about communicating my faith.
I don’t agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson on much, but I do like his quote, “Your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying.” There is also a quote in Proverbs 20:11, “Even children are known by their actions.” In 2006, I began doing some ad hoc work for a small biotech-consulting firm out of Raleigh, North Carolina. I agreed to do this because I respected the president/founder of the firm. When I worked for Lilly, I had hired him to help my team with a project. After he completed his work, our procurement department accidently paid him twice. This oversight would have never been caught. He knew that. Despite that, he called me and told me he had been overpaid. I remember there was a long pause on the phone after he delivered this news to me. Then I asked, “Are you a Christian, Rob?” He said, “Yes, I am Ashley.” Perhaps all this was insignificant to him, but it was incredibly encouraging to me, and it was a great lesson in how our actions communicate volumes.
In 2010, I started my own pharmaceutical consulting company; our niche is advisory board strategy. As I have built my team, I have tried to be “equally yoked” and hire folks of the faith. Having a Christian faith, there are certain actions I do habitually, like praying before eating my meals. On my way to Milan for a meeting last fall, I began praying prior to eating my airplane dinner. The gentleman next to me asked me what I was praying about. I made a joke about praying to not be poisoned by the airplane food, but then quickly engaged in a discussion about my faith, which lasted the duration of our dinner. The gentleman was agnostic, but, perhaps, a seed was planted as an outcome of the discussion.
Recently, I had another meeting in Hong Kong where a similar thing happened. I was praying at the breakfast table in our meeting room and an Asian lady grabbed my shoulders and asked me if I were “okay.” Shocked, I quickly opened my eyes and explained to her that I was fine and that I was just praying. She commented that it had been so long since she had seen someone pray that she didn’t even consider that I could be praying, but rather thought I had passed out from jet lag. She sat next to me and asked whom I was praying to. I told her I was praying to Jesus and why I felt prayer was important. The conversation was short, but, who knows, maybe a seed was planted that day as well.
I understand that as a Christian, I should try to be mindful of what my actions communicate; if my actions communicate secularity then my words of faith can’t be heard.
It is a colossal challenge being “in the world, but not of the world.” I think about this in the workplace, but I ponder it more as it relates to being a mother. There are many decisions we have made as a family that “go against the flow.” Sometimes those decisions are easy and quickly rewarding, and other times they are tough with no immediate benefit.
I try to be very intentional about how our children spend their time and what they are exposed to. During the school week, I lead a devotion with the children at their breakfast hour (i.e. right now reading Tim Tebow book to them). Matt and I make a big effort to sit down together at least five times a week as a family for dinner. Matt reads a chapter in the Bible after we have finished our meal; he quizzes them after the reading and sometimes dessert rides on their answering correctly. All four children are involved in a weekly Bible study that meets during the school year. The girls participate in a Bible study that has met every Monday for three years. The boys just started a Bible study last fall. We believe that limiting television and media is paramount. I believe the media is desensitizing us to sin…the very thing that Jesus died for.
When appropriate, I share these things with my work colleagues, my clients and my friends. Sometimes people want to know more and that is when I get super excited and feel as if I am fulfilling God’s real purpose for my life.