God will never forgive you. He doesn’t love you because of the things you’ve done.”
These words were spoken over me throughout my childhood and young adult years. I believed it all. I thought I had to earn God’s love and forgiveness, but I also thought it wouldn’t be possible. After all, I became pregnant at just 15.
Not Quite Desperate Enough
I grew up going to the neighborhood church, where many ladies took my sisters and me in as their grandchildren. They picked us up for church and took us out for ice cream afterward. Looking back on these sweet memories, I see how God worked behind the scenes in many different ways during my childhood.
One summer, we attended VBS — you know, all the fun you can handle followed by a very scary salvation message at the end. I went down front with many other kids that night and was baptized with my best friend in a neighborhood pool not long after.
I would love to say after that I grew up madly in love with Jesus. But I can’t.
Years after giving my baby up for adoption, I longed for a true relationship with Jesus. I went to church with anyone who asked. I felt tired of doing things my way, but I wasn’t quite desperate enough to actually change.
I sat through messages feeling so guilty for my choices, but then I just continued in my sin. My shame from my past felt so heavy that I justified my way of living. I believed all of the lies people told me about God not loving me because of my sinful past.
In 2006, I married the man of my dreams. We created great plans for our lives, and we were on the same page about everything — except church. Matt grew up in church and didn’t desire to sit in church every Sunday like I did. This went on for many years. I sat and cried most Sundays, desiring to worship with my husband in God’s house.
After the major tornadoes hit the Southeast in 2011, Matt and I served with some friends cleaning up the wreckage. We joined forces with Epic Church, a church all about serving the community. Their message — no perfect people allowed — spoke directly to me. This was me! I knew I was far from perfect, and I wanted somewhere to belong. I was a sinner looking for a Savior. I was hopeless and needed hope. I was desperate for change.
I may have really put the pressure on Matt at that point, begging him to just check out Epic Church. I told him we could sit in the back row and leave as soon as the service finished.
Well, God had other plans.
We felt so welcomed. Both the worship and the message were so meaningful. With so many friends there already, it felt like home. When we got in the car, we looked at each other and knew we had found our place.
Bringing God Honor and Glory
I became a Christian that August and got baptized in September. This time was so different. When I was baptized, I could literally feel the old me being washed away. The new me felt free and on fire for the Lord!
Until I was asked to share my story.
I never knew freedom and definitely didn’t know God desires us to live in freedom. All I knew were lies, shame and guilt. I didn’t know that sharing the painful things would bring so much healing and restoration.
In this new life direction, we came to church every time the doors opened. I soon became the children’s ministry director and began working on staff. But I still believed I was unworthy and unqualified.
One day at work, we all sat around the table sharing our thoughts on a book study we had finished recently. The pastor asked me to share, and my legs began shaking uncontrollably. I knew the Holy Spirit was not just whispering, but yelling that it was time to share my story in this safe place.
My youngest sister sat across from me. Because my parents and I hid so many things from our family regarding my past, I knew she was too young to know about the baby I gave up for adoption. I shared my story through many tears, and when I looked at her, I saw her smiling with her own tears running down her face. It was a moment when I knew God was real.
I lied to her for years. I kept deep dark secrets from her, but in that moment, I saw forgiveness and grace. I wish I had a picture of that moment. She immediately got up and ran to hug me. The staff all came to me and hugged me. I’ve never felt more loved.
Satan kept that from me for so many years. I believed the only things that would come from sharing my story were shame, judgment and condemnation. But when I finally opened up, it felt like a layer of pain ripped away, and God replaced it with healing and freedom.
I began sharing my story here and there in small groups and to anyone God led me to. Eventually, I made a video we shared with the entire church. I’ve shared at women’s nights and Mother’s Days. I’ve had the honor to speak at other churches and a women’s conference. It is not about me, though. I share to bring God honor and glory. Each time I share, it gets easier because my heart has healed.
My pastor has spoken many times about the last 10%; that small portion of ourselves we want to keep a secret and take to our graves. But that last 10% is what God wants to use to bring healing, wholeness and restoration. He wants to heal our hurts and restore what the enemy used to bring shame and brokenness.
Because no matter what your story looks like, when you share it, you bring God honor and glory.
Guest Author: Emily Williams