I Loved Her, But She Loved Jesus

When I left my church, I left behind a girl I loved.

She loved Jesus more thomaszsebok, AWSeebaran, MART PRODUCTION | Canva

Ashli was my favorite roommate in my early 20s. Within the first week after she moved in, we rapidly transformed from strangers to housemates, then confidants. She was easy to like, easier to adore. Ashli lived in color, donning salmon, orange, and watermelon pink. She had a genuine sense of wonder; she was a Disney fanatic and likened herself to Rapunzel from Tangled. She was forgetful and clumsy but made adventures out of the mundane.


Religion was the driving force behind our easy intimacy. We were youth ministry minors at Flagler College — we sat next to each other in classes, partnered on assignments, and spent weekends discussing theology. Our lives orbited around faith — she even referred to herself as "Blessed Ashli."

We were affectionate, not just with one another but with everyone. In Christian communities, intimacy is natural. We're taught to hold hands and confide our inner thoughts in prayer. Small groups looked like sleepovers — only instead of watching romcoms, we watched Beth Moore videos.

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Prayer group holding hands Doidam 10 / Shutterstock

Beyond Christian admiration, something about our connection was distinct. We would sit on each other's beds, talking late into the night while our roommates slept. We ate Phish Food ice cream and watched How I Met Your Mother with our legs or feet intertwined. We were enamored with one another.

In our church, marriage was an expectation. My pastor preached weekly that women were created to produce children and submit to their husbands. Ashli longed for this in a way that was strange to me. Whenever she confided in me about a new crush, acid rose in the back of my throat. While she planned for us to meet godly men, quickly marry them, and then raise our children together, I tried to convince myself I wanted that too if it meant having a future with her in it.


Somewhere along the way, my singleness was deemed “a problem.” Our college mentor convinced me to start a journal for my future husband — I was told to write prayers on behalf of my perfect half.  I wrote in my "Future's Husband Journal" weekly. Nothing changed. If anything, I noticed that my "future husband" began to reflect Ashli.

In the middle of a stressful Fall semester, Ashli and I skipped class and headed to Downtown Disney. She wore a lavender dress under her favorite leather jacket and held my hand as we walked. Her hand was warm in mine, comforting like a mug of hot chocolate on a windy day.  I remember the way she smelled — like the sweet mixture of vanilla and cinnamon. I remember dense crowds, multicolored shops, and my immense pleasure. I remember wondering if I could feel like this with somebody else.

While I can't recall the particulars, I decided to prank Ashil before we headed home. I bought her favorite dessert, a candy apple from the Candy Cauldron, and led her to a bench along a central walking path. When she wasn't looking, I dropped to one knee.  Holding my thumb ring up to Ashli, I smirked. Her eyes widened in alarm. "Leslie, Get up!" she hissed. Ashil looked from me to the gathering crowd. I bit back a smile and waited until a group surrounded us. 

"Ashli," I enunciated loudly, "Will you marry me?"


To my amusement and Ashli's horror, someone started clapping. Ashli openly gaped at me. I breathed out two long breaths before gasping out a fake sob, tucking my face into my elbow, and sprinting away, leaving Ashli alone with the confused onlookers. As soon as I turned the corner, I braced myself against a shop wall while I waited for Ashli to catch up to me. She was equally entertained and irritated.

"Leslie!" She sputtered, slapping my bicep, "What if my future mother-in-law was here and saw? Now, she's going to think I'm gay!" 

Holding back laughter, I silently handed her my apple in apology. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the car. We never talked about that day again, but I thought of it often.

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Once we graduated, Ashli and I both moved — she returned to her hometown while I left mine. She worked for a small non-profit, and I pursued a postgraduate degree. Despite our physical distance, our relationship flourished. I cherished our letters and anticipated phone calls weekly, if not daily.

However, once I was provided room to explore my identity, I hid a significant part of myself from Ashli. She knew everything about me except this: I was questioning my sexuality. I needed to figure things out on my own before I was ready to share a truth I dreaded telling her.

The more accepting I became of same-gender attraction, the more distance I put between us. Our friendship was based on a conservative ideology I was outgrowing. Conversations with Ashli chaffed like unwashed wool. Our inside jokes felt like forcing on skinny jeans from high school, I could squeeze myself into them, but I no longer wanted to.

In my second year of school, I decided to post a coming-out story. I wanted to come out to everyone at once. I smothered my sexuality for the past 25 years. I couldn't do it any longer.


I knew Ashli believed homosexuality was a sin and a choice. I knew she would try to attack my new lifestyle — it's the same thing I would have done. Regardless, I yearned for her acceptance. I needed her presence in my life.

After weeks of planning what I would say, I still wasn't prepared when she called. She furiously accused me of lying to her for years. As she questioned the sincerity of our relationship, toxic words assailed me. She was a busted fire hydrant showering accusations in the open air. The more I tried to explain, the more enraged she became. I waited until she exhausted herself, then implored her to hear me out. "Please," I begged, "Please, Ashli, please." She paused. In her hesitation, I saw hope. I can fix this, I thought.

"Ashli, please just give me the chance to explain?" She relented. After our phone call, I sank to the ground; my forehead pressed into the dirt. "I can fix this," I repeated over and over as I sobbed. 


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The following day, I went to meet Ashli, filled with foreboding. When I arrived, I walked around the restaurant and peeked through the windows. Ashli sat at a table facing the entrance. She wasn't alone.

As I called her, a heaviness blanketed my shoulders. "Are you here?" I asked. I waited for the confession to tumble from her lips; for her to admit our breakfast for two had an extra guest — her pastor's wife. Instead, I watched Ashli shift in her seat silently.

"Are you with Tiffany?" I asked. She responded, "Yes, I met with my pastor, and we agreed I shouldn't meet with you one-on-one; Tiffany came to support me."


Indignation reverberated through my body. Ashli had been a constant presence in my life for the past five years. She’d always been a place of refuge, but now was someone I wanted shelter from. She interrupted the silence, adding, "I didn't trust you to not try and twist things." I understood what she meant. I was well-acquainted with the Bible she loved. That made me a threat, warranting backup. It was never my intention to justify who I was or how I loved. 

Devastated, I drove away with the realization that years of friendship had vanished over a phone call that lasted three minutes.

That was the last time I saw her. For Ashli, the moniker 'blessed' signifies her identity. But to members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans and non-binary individuals, names hold profound significance. Names give life, death, identity, and purpose. While 'Ashli' loved me, 'Blessed Ashli' couldn't accept me.


Coming out was liberating — it was also the first significant milestone Ashli didn't celebrate with me. By condemning my 'lifestyle,' she missed all the bittersweet experiences that accompanied stepping into who I really was. Her betrayal aches worse than any breakup; she's never acknowledged the pain her rejection caused me. Growing up, our pastor constantly reminded us to 'forgive and forget,' but that never sat well with me. Some memories become stretch marks; they shift as we grow but stay with us.

Since that aborted breakfast, I've maintained, ended, and created meaningful friendships; I've learned and implemented healthy boundaries. Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon Ashli and reminisce. Whenever I do, my partner tends to be close by, and I’ll simply hold her hand and narrate a hilarious or painful story about Ashli, depending on my mood. My partner has her own stories navigating religion, sexuality, and friendship.

We understand each other's journey to find ourselves. Now, our friends affirm our sexuality. We have no space for anything less. There is no uncertainty or fear, only love.

RELATED: Why LGBTQ+ Mental Health Matters More Than 'Religious Freedom'


Leslie Ann Cox is a freelance professional and founder of Love Les, an LGBTQ storytelling blog. She is a dedicated advocate who strives to amplify marginalized voices and promote inclusivity through narrative sharing.