“The root of all sin is self-sufficiency — independence from the rule of God. When we fail to wait prayerfully for God’s guidance and strength, we are saying with our actions, if not with our words, that we do not need him.” -Charles E. Hummel
This blog has been about ten years in the making. The words that follow have rested on the tip of my tongue, on the tips of my fingers, and on the edge of my heart for about five years now. My story is not unique in that it displays God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption…but it is unique to me. The decisions and choices that I made between the years of 2004 and 2008 set the stage for my life from 2009 until today. I’ve lost count of how many times I sat down in front of my keyboard to type out the events that led me on an unbelievable and unexpected prodigal journey into the arms of Jesus, and the heart of God.
And then, after reading Hummel’s quote in The Tyranny of the Urgent, it all came tumbling out. God said to my heart, “Now. Tell them. For my glory.” And that is exactly what I intend to do…
In 2005 I married a godly, salt-of-the-earth guy who I’d dated all throughout high school — he was the only boyfriend I’d ever had, and we were involved in church activities just about every time the doors were unlocked. I was living as a good preacher’s daughter should. In 2006, I graduated with my English degree and began teaching high school, we bought a house in our hometown, led worship on Sundays, and were sponsors in the youth group. In 2007, I started teaching at a brand new campus — I was responsible for two different preps (sophomores and seniors, if memory serves) on an A/B day schedule, and I was cosponsoring an after-school extracurricular activity. I usually got to work around 6:45am to get everything ready for the 7:25am class. By the end of most days, I had mounds of grading to accomplish, copies to make, and lessons to plan, so I’d stay at work until 6:30pm. By the time I got home, I was exhausted. After a few months into the school year, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from the long days. I didn’t know it until years later, but I was flirting with depression due to lack of sleep and being overworked. (I say this not to blame my bad choices, blatant mistakes, and deliberate sin on depression, but to make the link that once someone is depressed, they generally don’t care about long-term consequences of poor decisions…which is why there is often a string of really dumb decisions that don’t make much sense to outsiders.)
During this time period, I tried my best to help a good friend through a break-up, which meant we hung out in downtown Fort Worth an awful lot. I had never partied, drank, or “went out” until I was 24 years old. At first, we just hung out together — two girls laughing the night away — then it snowballed into a lifestyle that left me spending more quality time with a girlfriend than my own husband. I was naïve and ignorant, and paid no attention to the fact I was making terrible decisions. This left me open to major temptation, and my spiritual life had withered into nothing more than a song-and-dance routine I performed on Sunday mornings. Let me paint this ugly picture: I would go out on Saturday night, stay out until 2:00am, and sing praise and worship songs on stage with a microphone…nursing a hangover. It disgusts me to type that out and see it in black and white. But it is so necessary. I can look back on my former life through the lens of grace and God’s forgiveness, and I can now see it for what it was: Sin. Ugly, selfish sin.
I grieved those who loved me the most, and I betrayed those who trusted me. This “just having fun, no harm done” mentality led me down a path that no one — not even me — saw coming. That’s how sin works. That’s how The Enemy so efficiently steals, kills, and destroys.
Backtrack a few years to 2004: I met a guy on a military training tour in England — he was a friend of a friend, and we all spent time together over several days after we were off duty. Had I been involved in prayer and scripture on a daily basis, I would have been able to see this man for what he was — temptation. After returning home from the 2004 training exercise, we emailed back and forth for a few months…something I never should have done. In early 2005 I decided to stop emailing him — I was now married and knew enough to realize it was an inappropriate relationship.
Fast forward to 2007 — flirting with depression, almost zero quality time with my spouse, and even less than zero time spent in prayer. Out of the blue, we reconnect via MySpace, and the emailing begins again. He’s in England, I’m in Texas…I knowingly lie to myself, saying it’s harmless because there is literally an ocean separating us. Distance doesn’t matter where sin is involved. My heart was deceitful, and I was involved in an emotional affair. Keep in mind, at this point I was staying out late on the weekends, working twelve hour days, and treating my husband with no respect. I was in a tailspin of sin, going down in flames quicker than anyone noticed. By the time someone from church confronted me about my lifestyle, my heart had become hardened. I no longer cared that the façade was crumbling and people were starting to see me for who I was…and who I was not. I didn’t care that I was committing the sin of adultery, because I was still lying to myself, repeating the mantra that it’s all just a harmless friendship. A lie straight from the pit of hell.
I hated my life. I wanted to escape. I couldn’t believe this was the person I’d become. I felt too far gone to come back…so I ran. I ran fast and I ran far. Incredulously, I applied for teaching jobs in England, never expecting to get an offer. Turns out, if you seek out sin, it is easily found. In early 2008, I was called for an interview on my way to work one morning, and offered a position within a week. I accepted the position without ever consulting my husband. I resigned a good teaching job half-way through the school year, waited for my work visa, packed my bags, and left. I destroyed my marriage, and broke my family’s heart. I entered my own Lo Debar, and I settled in for the long haul. When I arrived in England, he was there to pick me up from the airport.
As I well deserved, this man quickly began cheating on me and became downright mean. I was the recipient of his anger, and I knew I deserved everything he could dish out. No doubt, my parents were praying for their prodigal daughter in the midst of this terrible time. I knew I had disappointed them, and that knowledge alone left enough of a crack in my heart to eventually lead me back to my Heavenly Father. After a particularly rough week, I confessed to my parents via email how deep my sin had become, and I knew I was on the precipice of the point of no return. There, in my self-made-misery, I began to seek the face of God. He allowed me to hit rock bottom and feel the weight of my choices, so that he could be glorified…the same way he allowed Lazarus to die so that he could be resurrected, for God’s glory. All of my sinful choices were rooted in the ultimate sin of self-sufficiency and my desire to be independent from the rule of God.
After two months in England, I resigned my teaching position, packed my bags, and headed home. My parents were there to meet me at the airport. I returned home to face divorce, broken relationships among friends, and shame. But, I still wasn’t done sinning. I proceeded to indulge in drive-by-dating, thus further injuring my bruised and battered heart. I knew I was in desperate need of God, but I was still running. This time I just happened to be on U.S. soil. I refused to just be still and know…instead, I racked up a series of broken relationships before meeting the man God had reserved for me. God used my pain and brokenness from my sinful choices to solidify my need for his grace.
In The Tyranny of the Urgent, Hummel goes on to say, “The opposite of such independence is prayer in which we acknowledge our need of God’s guidance and empowerment. In this respect we have seen the example set by Jesus in the Gospels. He lived and served in complete dependence on his Father. Contrary to popular views, such dependence does not limit or repress human personality. We are never so fully personal — free to become our true selves — as when we are living in complete dependence on God.”
Having been utterly laid bare before God, I know I am nothing more than a sinner in dire need of his grace. Having been the recipient of his unharnessed, matchless grace, I am nothing more than a vessel through which that same grace flows to others. To whom much is given, much is required. I have been clothed with much grace, love, and forgiveness. I have experienced God’s faithfulness in a way I never thought possible. In the seven years since my return from Lo Debar, my mission in life has been to extend God’s grace, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness to others. After everything I’ve received, how could I not?
May you be clothed with grace and mercy. May your heart forever be open to God’s voice. May you walk in the power of his love and forgiveness. May you run into his open arms, and never leave.