With a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, Sharon Ast knelt beside her bed and asked God’s permission to take her own life. It wasn’t the first time her fate was about to be decided at gunpoint. Growing up, her alcoholic father would often hold a shotgun on Sharon and her brothers as he decided whether or not they’d be better off dead. The only difference that afternoon was that Sharon’s finger was on the trigger, not his.
How Had Things Come to This?
What would drive this mother of four children to conclude her life was so hopeless she had no better option than to throw it all away? Take a brief glimpse into Sharon’s past, and you might say her entire life had been leading up to this moment, persuading her to pull the trigger. The real question is, what miracle had allowed her to survive for as long as she had?
A Child of Rage
To say Sharon grew up in a dysfunctional home would probably win you the prize for “understatement of the year.” Describing herself as “a child of rage,” Sharon and her two brothers were raised by a mentally challenged, drug addicted mother and a violent, alcoholic father. Besides periodically holding a gun on his children, Sharon’s father would also beat them regularly. Sharon often received the brunt of the punishment as she tried to protect her younger brothers. “He beat me into the concrete every night,” she says. Her mother was no better.When Sharon and her brothers were young, she tied them to chairs with belts when they ate and beat them if they dropped any food.
She would also lock Sharon in a wooden closet for days, making her share the small space with rats and spiders. And when Sharon was six, her mother forced her to hold and kiss a neighbour’s dead baby because she was alarmed Sharon hadn’t cried when she heard news of the baby’s death.
Although just a child, Sharon realized she had to do something to stop this abuse. At first, she sought help from her local church. But no one there was interested. Sharon and her family were too poor and messed up. So she turned to the sheriff’s department. She thought getting close to someone who wore a badge would make her safe. Such was not the case. Instead of helping Sharon, a member of the sheriff’s department abused her. “I stopped crying when I was six, and I stopped talking when I was nine or ten,” Sharon says.
A few years later, Sharon’s mother landed a good paying job, enabling the family to move into a better part of Phoenix. But the beatings didn’t stop. Sharon tried to make a go of it in school. She even met her future husband, Ed “Skip” Ast, during that time. But with so much turmoil at home, she just wasn’t able to keep things together. So she eventually dropped out.
Despite his abusive behaviour, Sharon’s father did have a conscience. When Sharon dropped out of school, he decided he needed to do something “to protect her,” mostly from himself. So he changed her birth certificate to make her appear older than she was and sent her off to the Marine Corps.
For the next two years, Sharon was safer than she had been at home, but by then she had become an angry, bitter young woman. She didn’t really express that anger in the marines though. She was too afraid.
When her first stint was up, she was called back for Officer’s Candidate School. Realizing he was about to lose his sweetheart to the military, Skip asked Sharon to cancel her plans and marry him instead.
A New Start Turns Into a Dead End
While it seemed like Sharon was finally on the verge of a new start in life, her dream of marriage quickly turned into a nightmare. “As soon as we were married, it was like someone popped a cork off a bottle,” Sharon says. “I suddenly realized Skip drank, even though I had never seen that side of him while we were dating.”
Realizing she had just walked back into the very scenario she had sought to escape - and that she was about to bring children into that same situation - Sharon went ballistic, turning loose on everyone. “Our home became a place no one visited, just like when I was young,” Sharon says. “Not even Skip’s friends would come by.”
Although most people were afraid of Sharon, there was one man who decided this angry, violent woman was worth saving: Skip’s father, Ed Ast. But it was going to take everything he had and more to get through to her.
It all began when Sharon’s brother Tommy tried to commit suicide. This was just one of many such attempts, but this time in addition to shooting himself, he had also shot some people at an Elks Club.
Stuck with the task of getting Tommy into surgery, Sharon called on Ed for help. That was extremely difficult for her, because Sharon had kept this part of her life hidden from everyone else. By allowing Ed in, she made herself vulnerable to being victimized once again. But she didn’t have a choice.
Unable to Help My Baby Brother
During the crisis, Ed tried to get through to Sharon, to form a relationship with her. But Ed was seeing things Sharon didn’t want others to see, and Sharon hated it. “It was a moment when I realized I had not been able to protect Tommy, although I had spent my life trying. And that hurt more than I could contain, so Ed saw it.”
One night when Ed tried to talk to Sharon about things, she began to scream at him. Ed wouldn’t listen to a word of it. “He screamed right back at me, and that shut me up,” Sharon says. “No one had dared handle me like that. He said, ‘You are such a young animal, and you have built a wall around yourself that I don’t think anyone can ever penetrate. But I’m going to get through it. In fact, I’m going to dedicate the next five years of my life to reaching you.’ And that’s exactly what he did. And I hated him for that.”
The Dam Breaks
After five years of fighting off Ed’s every attempt to help her - circus tickets for the kids, offers to babysit or assist Sharon and Skip financially - Skip came home with some bad news: At age 49, Ed had dropped dead of a heart attack. At that moment, Sharon heard an animal-like scream unlike anything she had ever heard before. Later, she realized it had come from her own mouth. But at the time, she simply slipped back behind her mask of defiance and refused to acknowledge what was going on around her. Despite her best effort to deflect Ed’s rescue attempt, he had gotten through to her. But Sharon wasn’t about to admit it.
During funeral arrangements, Sharon was asked to be the person who greeted everyone at the funeral home. “I said, ‘No problem.’ I hated the guy, so it was no big deal.” But on the way over, something strange happened. Sharon felt like she was about to cry. As she walked down the hall, the feeling grew stronger. This angered Sharon, and she fought to get hold of herself.
After receiving instructions from the funeral director, Sharon was left alone with Ed’s body. A few moments later, she realized she hadn’t yet turned toward the coffin. When she finally did force herself to turn around and look, she fainted.
There IS a God!
When Sharon came to, she was still alone. She doesn’t know why, but all at once she realized there was a God, there was love - and it was in that coffin. She’d given up praying to God long ago. But Ed’s example of persistent love finally got through to her heart, and the realization was just too much.
Running across the room, she tried to drag Ed’s body out of the coffin. “A thought went through my mind that he just couldn’t stay in there,” Sharon says. “That’s how desperate I was for love.” But, at 200 pounds, Ed’s body was too heavy, and she fainted once again from exertion.
When Sharon woke up again, she saw a Bible in the room. In shock, she sat down in front of it. All of her defences were gone. And then, for the first time in over twenty years, she started to cry. “That lasted for six months,” Sharon says. “For most of my life I couldn’t cry. Then all of a sudden I couldn’t stop.” She went to doctors, but they told her she was fine. She was just grieving. That seemed strange to Sharon and everyone else, because she wasn’t even Ed’s blood relative. And to all appearances, she had hated the man for as long as she knew him.
Sharon may have been fine physically, but she was no longer able to function as a wife and mother. She figured the only solution was to take her own life. Thus the fateful decision at her bedside.
A Miracle on the Radio
After putting the house in order and sending the kids next door, Sharon pulled out a gun, loaded it and went to her bedroom. Knowing enough about Christianity to realize God would not be happy with her decision, Sharon dug out a Bible someone had given her while she was in the marines. She turned up the radio so the kids wouldn’t hear the gunshot. Then she got on her knees, opened the Bible and began to read. She also started talking to God. “I said, ‘You know how tired I am, how old I feel.’ I asked Him if He would just give me permission to come home.”
While Sharon was having this conversation, her mind suddenly tuned in to the radio she had turned up in the kitchen. Someone was preaching. As she listened, she heard him invite listeners to give their lives to Christ. In that moment, Sharon heard God’s voice in her mind. “What came through to me was, ‘I have sent my Son, and He will love you far more than Ed Ast ever loved you. He will teach you how to live your life right.’”
“I told God I don’t know anything about his Son, but God kept coming back by saying, ‘Give your life to my Son.’”
This argument went on for a while, but eventually, Sharon put the gun down, lay on the floor and, weeping and sobbing, offered her life to God. “I didn’t understand what I had done,” Sharon says. “I just understood I was ‘home’ for the first time in my life.”
Three Years of Healing
When Sharon got up, she was calm for the first time in six months. But that wasn’t the only thing that was different. From that point onward, she was never without her Bible. For three years she studied it intensely. She was so amazed that Jesus loved her enough to die for her. Eventually, she made a connection between what she was reading in the Bible and what she presumed was being taught in church. But when she approached a local pastor about what Jesus meant to her, he told her, “We don’t talk that way in this church.” Undaunted, Sharon continued in her private devotion to God and the Bible.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Skip to notice something about Sharon had changed. Instead of fighting with him all the time, she would merely fix meals and take care of the household and the kids then get back to reading the Bible. This was a real mystery to Skip, because prior to that, he and Sharon had a violent relationship. He was always at the pool halls, drinking and gambling. Sharon often had to chase him down just to get the paycheck so she could buy milk for the kids. They fought all the time.
Sensing he was losing his wife to her new faith, Skip attempted to “get religion,” too. He went through confirmation classes at church. He even got baptized. But whatever had happened to Sharon’s life had yet to happen to his. He was still the same guy. Skip was about to give up when his pastor gave him a ticket to a lay evangelism institute. Skip knew it was his last chance to find whatever Sharon had found. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. (To read more about Skip’s story, click here.)
Using Her Past to Help Others
Feeling her own healing was complete, Sharon started helping other women who were in crisis. She understood what they were going through, and she could get through to them. This ministry grew quickly until Sharon was helping many women. But then disaster struck - again.
One day while Sharon was praying, she felt sick. Going into the bathroom, she vomited so severely that she lost all of the electrolytes in her body. When she came out of the bathroom, she went into a seizure and then fell to the floor, breaking the first three vertebrae in her neck.
Thankfully, the doctors said Sharon would recover. But she was still stuck in the hospital for many weeks, a halo on her head to hold her neck in place. Unable to help herself, Sharon was forced to rely on the women who had been part of her ministry. While Sharon didn’t mind getting into the personal lives of others, her own feelings were still off-limits. Undaunted by Sharon’s feisty refusal of their offers of help, these women forced their way into her life. She yelled and screamed, but eventually she just ran out of energy and gave up. At that point, she felt God telling her, “Sharon, these women represent me. If you’re going to be what I want you to be, you have to let them come close to you.”
True to form, Sharon argued with God about this for about a year before she gave in. “I thought we had a deal: I give away my time and my money. In return, God wouldn’t make me get close to people. But I realized there was no such deal. I was just fooling myself.”
Tea and Comfort
Today, Sharon is fully recovered and continuing in her ministry, called Tea and Comfort. Furthermore, she has twelve women or “comforters” who surround her at all times. Together, they deal with hurting women, in a nurturing way, giving them leadership, watching for signs of suicide and pointing them toward Jesus. Over the fifteen years Tea and Comfort has existed, they have worked with over 1,500 women, many of whom have been healed of their past hurts.
Although Sharon wouldn’t wish her own past on anyone, she’s thankful she didn’t suffer in vain. “God doesn’t make us go through difficult things just so we can use them in the future,” Sharon says. “But no matter what we’ve been through, He does expect us to use our experiences for the benefit of others.”
More stories and help NAADD
Types of drugs & their side effects