“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’”
Isaiah 43:1 (emphasis mine)
I first heard the Lord call my name as a young girl. The summer I turned five, I knelt on an old dusty altar and prayed (with an older girl in our youth group and later with my mom) the prayer of salvation. Looking back now, I can see that I didn’t really understand what that should or would mean for my life. I had been in church all my life. It was easy for me to say I knew Jesus and I believed He died on the cross for my sins and rose again on the third day. However, the concept of having a relationship with Jesus was foreign to me. It took over two decades for me to even begin to grasp the height and depth of God’s love for me (see Ephesians 3).
“For people will be lovers of self . . . disobedient to their parents . . . unholy . . . without self-control . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
2 Timothy 3:2-5
When I was only thirteen years old, I had my first sexual encounter. I didn’t give away my virginity that day, but I was no longer pure. Part of me, something that should have belonged to my future husband, was gone and I could never get it back. A foolish and naïve teenager, I wasn’t very discreet and in an instant, our entire church youth group knew what I had done. For the first time, I felt deep rooted shame. Walking into church afterward, I felt like I bore a scarlet letter. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the last time that my peers (and others close to me) saw my sin.
For the next twelve years of my life, I lived a double life. At church and in front of teachers and parents, I was the “good girl,” but around my friends, I was someone else entirely. I knew all the Sunday School answers and could list the books of the Bible. I prided myself in being a straight-A student and a teacher’s pet. Yet, there was a dark side to my life. Guilt became a constant in my life, but fear of disapproval and punishment kept me quiet. I was good at deception. Like the white-washed tombs Jesus calls the Pharisees, I might have looked good (to some), but I was ugly and barren on the inside. The emptiness gnawed at my soul. Eager to fill it, instead of turning to the Lover of my soul, I turned to guys and physical distraction.
“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
1 John 2:16 NIV
During a particularly trying time in our marriage a few years ago, our pastor recommended that we get everything out on the table. Because I struggled with trust and because my husband and I both come from tainted backgrounds, it was suggested that we be completely open and honest about our pasts (if we hadn’t been already). One day, I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and began writing down the guys who I had given away pieces of me. I don’t remember if I came to the end of the list. Humiliated, I brought it to Tony later that day. It was like a smack in the face. Since that first night, there had been so many guys pass through my life. Some stayed months, some only moments. To some, I gave away everything, and to others, I just sought to give (or receive) minutes of pleasure. It seems like I would do anything to feel loved. But it was so fake, and the shame was so real.
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
When I got married in early 2003 (and five months pregnant with our first child), I thought it would fix all my problems. My previous struggles were behind me. I was so wrong. Without taking them to the feet of Jesus (and leaving them there) and letting Him fill me, I kept chasing my empty lusts. In my senior year of high school, I began struggling with pornography and what would today be similar to sexting. As a wife, I encouraged my husband to join me in my depravity. I thought it would intensify our intimacy and his affection for me as well. Knowing what I did those first years of our marriage (and what I encouraged him to do), there is no human explanation as to why we are still married today. I can truly say that it is only by the grace of God.
Throughout my young adult life, I continued to wear a mask in church settings and around church people. I am ashamed to say that I even took on leadership roles with the youth. I would stand before them on Wednesday nights proclaiming the gospel, but live like the devil on the weekends. There are so many people I hurt and so many stupid and damaging things I did (I can’t even remember it all). To every person who I caused to sin or was hurt by my sin, every parent who entrusted their teen to my care and every youth whom I may have lead away from Christ, I wish I could tell them how deeply sorry I am. Maybe they will read this. If you are one of those people and are reading my words now, I don’t know that I have the right to ask for your forgiveness, but please know how truly sorry I am.
“ . . . I have redeemed you . . .”
There are many Biblical women with which I can relate, but the story that resonates with me probably the most is of Mary Magdalene. Possessed by seven demons, Jesus Christ turned her life around. His touch was so powerful, so redeeming. He loved her when maybe no one else could or would. His death that fateful Friday was devastating for her. She had lost, or so she thought, the most important person in her life. But her story doesn’t end there. I love what happens next! Sunday morning, when Christ arose, He chose to appear to Mary first. He found her sobbing in the garden. Perhaps her tears blurred her view, but she didn’t recognize Him—not until He called her name.
In 2008, I again heard God calling my name. I don’t think He had ever stopped, but my sin had warped my vision and turned my heart’s ear deaf. His voice was faint at first. Like Elijah on the mountain, it came in a whisper. He was calling me and our family to leave the church where I had attended all my life. I don’t remember a specific day or time, but slowly, I began to surrender to this new direction. He did not leave us aimless, but lead us to the place where I believe with all my heart God wanted to work in our lives and prepare our hearts.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.”
During our three years at Freedom, God did a mighty work on my heart and moved mountains in our family. He broke down walls in my marriage that had been there for several years. He began a redeeming work in my life and filled me in a way that nothing else ever did. Although I didn’t deserve it, He showed me that I could be forgiven for even my most despicable sins. In His strength, I turned from that lifestyle. I could write books on the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. I stand amazed. During that time, my older boys were baptized, Tony answered the call to preach, our marriage was saved and strengthened, my health (physically, spiritually and emotionally) improved and best of all, the intimacy with my Savior increased. The Lord became real to me in a way that He never had before. Now, we serve as a part of a church planting team in a city I said I never wanted to live in but have completely fallen in love with.
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Philippians 3:10 (emphasis mine)
As I write these words, I am sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital. Next to me, my eleven year old son lies sleeping. Just months ago, we found out he had brain cancer and only has a fifty percent chance of surviving it. My precious little boy has been an inspiration to many, and God is using his story for His glory. So why now? Why do I feel like God is calling me to share my story, the deepest, darkest parts, when we are fighting the biggest battle of our lives? Someone told me that it is to show how God’s redemption is complete. I can’t say that she is wrong. When I look back on my life, especially those twelve years of desperation, I am humbled that God would choose our family to bring Him glory in such an amazing way. Although it might not make sense, I believe that God has called us to suffer for His glory, and it is an honor. I can see how we are being tried in the fire and being purified. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I can say, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace . . . But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not [waiver]” (Daniel 3:17-18, my paraphrase). Years ago, I don’t know if I would have been able to say that.
He has broken my hard places, and oh, it has hurt. Like an onion, He has peeled back the layers of sin and scars and redeemed every part of me. His work is not complete and neither is my story. It takes a lot of courage to reveal the parts of my life that I wish to stay hidden; so, just like that onion, I will peel it back one page at a time. I’m not saying that every sinner saved by grace needs to air all their dirty laundry or tell the world their secrets, but for some reason, I believe God wants to use my story—in ways that I cannot yet see. Let me be a reminder to parents of prodigal children that there is still hope. No matter how long and how far they run, God’s redemptive love and grace can still reach them . . . even in the pig sty. I want teenage girls to know my story and hear my hurt so that maybe they won’t follow the same path. And I want women, spouses and families to know that no matter where they have been, no matter what shame hides in their past, God can use them for His amazing glory!
And when I think,
That God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die,
I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross,
My burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died
To take away my sin.
. . . ‘My God, how great Thou art!’