This is a story about a girl. A story of redemption. A story of a great and powerful, yet loving God who chased her down and scooped her up. A story about hope and a future. This is a story I tried to write myself, but God had other plans.
I grew up in the typical Southern Baptist home and church. I was baptized at age 9, and was very active in my youth group. I was well versed in all the things Christians were suppose to do – and the things we were not. I lived in the same house from birth until college. I was in the same school system from 1st grade through high school graduation with the same people who grew up the same way I did.
Although I had spent pretty much all of my life in church at this point, it took me much longer to really understand God’s grace and unconditional love. I had yet to understand that it really doesn’t matter how hard we work, we can’t earn His love and make him like us more. Don’t get me wrong, I had Ephesians 2:8-9 memorized, “By grace you are saved through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Knowing that in your head while you witness many people around you tiredly working away makes you question the reality of it.
As a teenager I was a leader in my youth group. As a national campaign for sexual purity launched, I was a spokesperson at many events and in many national news worthy interviews. It was a good fit, as I was an outspoken girl and had strong opinions. What I was not a good fit for was the pressure that came with this role coupled with the rules and regulations of how a “good Christian” should behave.
As I left home to attend college, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. There were no rules to uphold. There were no people to please. No one watching to see how much volunteer work I was doing. And most importantly, I didn’t have the same support group I had been surrounded by during high-school. In fact, I had quite the opposite. A group of peers surrounded me that mocked my public statements of sexual purity and lifestyle. The pressure built to keep “doing good” and I eventually popped.
I set out to deliberately sabotage my reputation. I didn’t want to be the person that some people expected me to be and others mocked me for being. I needed to figure out how to be my own person and the quickest route there was to quit being the person others thought I was.
Once this choice was made, I felt everything I had identified with was destroyed and therefore it didn’t matter anymore. My mentality was that, since I had already ‘messed up’ so badly, continuing to ‘mess up’ didn’t matter. And so I began living a destructive lifestyle.
Later in life I began to see people who had a real peace about them. They were literally in love with Jesus. They had a passion for scripture like I had never seen. And they weren’t working themselves to the bone. They were serving others, their community, and making a difference in other’s lives. This was very different than how I grew up.
As I slowly started to dig into the scriptures and treasure its truth, things really began to change for me. The people I was now in community with always turned to scripture when a question arose or when there was a disagreement about how things “should be done.” Scripture is the only truth. Even when it goes against “what my preacher said.” This was revolutionary to me.
My life with Christ was deepening, but I was still trying to get all my ‘works’ in. All of my volunteer time began to irritate my husband. I was not giving him the time he needed and didn’t take care of my family the way God desoired. Our marriage began to really struggle. I was defensive to the fact that he was upset with me. I mean, give me a break, I’m doing this for God, right? Not right. But I could not see that at the time. Instead, I searched for someone who would be supportive of what I was doing. I was still seeking the approval that had always gotten me into trouble. My marriage almost fell apart as I strayed from my husband for nearly a year.
Through a lot of prayer from our family and friends, God saved our marriage. Jesus’ love shone through my husband in a powerful way. Through Josh, I was finally able to understand the way God viewed me. I was finally able to understand what grace meant. Josh loved me through everything. Nothing I did ever changed the way he loved me or the way he treated me. And he forgave me. I mean, truly forgave me. He welcomed me back with open arms and an open heart. Although our marriage covenant still existed, our relationship was broken until I finally repented and asked for forgiveness. Until I chose to come back and leave the way I was. The same with God. Although His covenant with me was still intact from when I first became a believer, my relationship with Him was broken until I came back and repented. We can’t have a relationship with God while we are living a lifestyle of sin. We have to ask for forgiveness and turn to Him. Give Him our entire heart. Our entire life. Our entire everything.
Josh and I have three children. How we raise our children is an ongoing discussion for us. We often talk about generational sin and wonder if it is possible to not pass on our sins to our children. As this has become a regular prayer for me, God has revealed many things. The first thing He told me is that in order to break the sin, I have to recognize and understand the sin. This has not been a fun process. God is regularly showing me new sin I did not even realize I possessed. There are so many deep rooted seeds of sin in me. The next thing God asked of me is to acknowledge my sin and repent. And the most recent thing that God has asked of me is to go public with the story of my sin. This has probably been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. But as usual, God provides the perfect setting and the perfect opportunity to share exactly what He has asked of me. One of my favorite verses is “Consecrate yourself for tomorrow the Lord will do great things among you.” If I had missed any one of the above calls from God, I would have never been prepared for the opportunities God gave me.
God places many calls in front of us when we listen. When we are sensitive to His Spirit. Josh and I are still learning to listen to what He tells us. The more time we spend in His Word, with Him in silence, and worshiping Him, the more sensitive we become to hearing Him. There have been a handful of things that God has asked us to step out of our comfort zone and do. And we have. And looking back, everything makes sense. It sure didn’t before we took that step. But because of faith and trust and knowing that He is always faithful, we did. And God was faithful. Only God knows our future. And when we let go and let Him, we are fulfilled, His purposes are fulfilled, and the kingdom grows. Life is not about us. It is not about our comfort. It is not about what others think of us. It is only about Him. But how beautiful it is that when we make our life all about Him, He makes our life more than anything we could ever dream.
I tell you my story for two reasons. The first is to let you know that we all have struggles in life and no one is what they seem on the outside. You are not alone. The second, and most important, reason I tell you my story is to share with you the hope, peace, and joy I have found in an authentic relationship with Christ. I found these things when I acknowledged that I can have them only because of what HE has done. Nothing I can do will make Him love me any more or any less. That HIS grace IS enough for you. No matter what yesterday looks like in your life. No matter how others perceive who you are. He is begging for you to embrace His unconditional love for you. His biggest hope is that you will repent of your past and accept that HE is enough. That you don’t have to keep trying so hard. Just allow His Spirit to fill you. Just rest. Just embrace. He will take care of everything else.