I sat on the sagging, dated sofa with my head down. It was difficult to make eye contact as I shared my journey into sin with this kind, godly Christian counselor. I didn’t like who I had become. I told her all of it: my marriage was over, my children were hurting, and my friends and family thought I had lost my mind. All my ugly feelings and painful choices were so heavy I couldn’t bear them. No point in sugar-coating it. I was at the end of my rope, and everyone knew it.

As a believer, I had wrestled with the question of why. Why would God allow me to set even one foot on a path that would lead to my near destruction? Why didn’t He stop me before I made such a mess? I knew I had made the wrong choices. But now what? I was crumbling under the weight of those choices—the secrets, the lies, the affair, and the collateral damage that ensued.

I was done. Game over. Whatever plans God may have had for me—CANCELED, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY.

Lisa listened patiently, but when she spoke, her words penetrated my darkness. She looked kindly at me and said, “Kari, when I look at you, do you know what I see? I see a godly woman. And when God looks at you, He just sees Jesus. And He can’t help but love you, even in the middle of this.”

The dam broke and the tears flowed. The pure grace of God washed over me in that moment. I was already forgiven. Already free. I just had to learn to walk in that forgiveness and freedom. I did not have to hang my head in shame, or hide my past or my pain, because He already knew and He loved me just as if I’d never sinned. I can bring my messy self—sin, fear, doubt, and questions—straight to the throne of Grace. He looks at my mess and sees only the beauty of His Son.

Too Stained for Service

Fast forward a few years down the road of healing and forgiveness. I sat in yet another office, with another godly and wise woman. She was not a counselor, but a staff member at my church, who had requested to discuss a potential ministry opportunity. I had been dreading this meeting, not because I didn’t long to serve God in the church, but because I felt like I was obligated to decline because of my past.

I rehearsed my “No, thank you.”  It went something like this:

“You must not know who I am. Let me tell you all the reasons I am not the woman for this job. Adulterer. Mistress. The Other Woman. Divorced. Not exactly the best image for your women’s ministry. In fact, I half-expect to be asked to leave every time I come to church.” (That has never happened, by the way.)

She looked at me kindly, and said “Kari, I can tell that YOU don’t think you are quite ready. So let’s put it on hold and revisit it later.”

I left feeling relieved that the meeting was over, but sad at the same time. Like maybe I had just missed an opportunity to do something I truly loved. So imagine my surprise when she called me back three months later and presented again the opportunity to serve the women of my church and community. This time, I was ready. My past was still the same mess it had always been, but in the meantime, I learned something about grace.

Getting Back in the Game

Once I was forgiven and walking in healing, God began bringing women who were going through the very same thing, or similar versions of it. They desperately needed someone to see through what they had done to who they truly were, someone who knew how it felt to walk that path, and someone to offer hope. I could walk with them not as a counselor, but as a friend who knew the way.

Second Corinthians 1:3-4 (MSG) has become my life verse:

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

Grace means I can get back in the game.  I can serve others and serve Him out of the very experiences that I thought had eliminated me. I can love women who are hurting because I have hurt. I can extend grace because of the great grace that has been extended to me.

“I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily pouring yourself out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”  Ephesians 4:2-3 (MSG)

A Work in Progress

I may never be free of the consequences of my past, and there are parts of my story I wish I could clean up. I’d like it to look more like a Hallmark movie instead of a Lifetime Movie Network miniseries. But seeing God use my ugliest moments for His glory has softened my view of my past.

My story isn’t over yet, and neither is yours. Whatever you are in the middle of God can use for His glory, in His kingdom, in His time.

“I am not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made, but I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal. where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)