It occurred to me at sixteen, as we flew across the Atlantic for the 3rd time in 3 years, that this move had benefits. While 4 different high schools on 2 different continents resulted in mile-wide, inch-deep friendships and raging insecurity, it also meant fresh starts. And boy I was in desperate need of a do-over.
I vowed that no one would ever know what I’d done or who I’d become. I would simply bury the past and forge ahead.
For the next several years my soul quietly imploded. While I thought pretending would free me, it held me captive and slowly devoured me. At first I just hid, allowing my sin and shame to keep me in the shadows; out of sight and seemingly out of trouble. But I soon discovered that when kept in the dark, sin simply festers and grows. My addiction to shop-lifting and pornography grew, while I masterfully hid my tracks.
When a broken engagement left me undone, I became desperate enough to respond to the Lord’s gentle tug on my heart. He slowly started to reshape my identity and give me hope where there had been none. Hope for the future, I was desperate for; but healing for my past, I was dead-set against. I locked the door to that portion of my heart and denied Him entrance.
I went from hiding in the shadows to hiding behind a mask; pulling off an elaborate “good girl” masquerade I had scripted out of good works and ministry involvement. I began speaking at women’s events, leading Bible studies and youth group, and started working in Christian radio. I was determined to earn my way back onto God’s good side, while forbidding Him to touch my wounds.
My performance became so flawless that at times, I even fooled myself. Maybe it was all a figment of my imagination. Maybe all the promiscuity and addiction and lies were just a bad dream after all. Three years of celibacy and religious hustling followed.
But on the morning of August 9th, 2003, my performance came to a screeching halt. Sitting in the front row of a large youth event, God presented me with the opportunity of a lifetime… and I needed to act within the lifetime of that opportunity.
Engaged to an incredible, Godly young man, we were two months away from our wedding day, and I felt like a farce. He knew nothing about the life I had led and I had been perfectly content to allow him to buy into my lies. I knew it was time to lay down the mask and stop running. I had to surrender, or this charade would destroy me.
In what turned out to be the hardest night of my life, I confessed. Between tears and snot and dry heaving, it tumbled out. I returned his ring and assumed the fetal position on his bathroom floor, begging God to take what was left of me. The truth was finally out in the open, and I felt filthy. Undeserving of love, and crippled with shame.
After what felt like hours, he found me. Picked me up and forced me to make eye-contact with him for the first time that night. He then got down on one knee and asked me to marry him again.
Oh, friends, this. This is the gospel right here. For the first time in my life I understood grace and mercy. His bold declaration of love that whispered, “I see you – all of you – the ugly and broken and dirty parts – and I still choose you," changed my life. When he scooped me off that bathroom floor on that warm, August night, the shattered pieces of my life were surrendered to the Father and He has slowly been reassembling my heart, my worth, and my identity into a mosaic of His grace.
And those stories I hid for so long – the very things the enemy tried to destroy me with – once surrendered, became my most powerful weapons. They speak of a God mighty to save, abounding in love and mercy, ready to redeem even the most painful of stories. They declare hope for the lost and wholeness for the broken.
JOY MCMILLAN is the founder of Simply Bloom, the creator of the We ROAR Project, and the author of Penduka. She lives in Michigan with her scrumptious hubby and their two little loin-fruit. You can connect with her on Instagram or Facebook.