My name is Shelli.
My childhood certainly wasn’t all bad but unfortunately, I remember more of the bad than good. My parents divorced when I was a year old. My dad left and decided if my mom didn’t push him to pay child support, he wouldn’t push to see me. So we’ve never really had a relationship and the occasions that I would see him while I was growing up were always awkward and uncomfortable. He would tell me how much he loved me but I didn’t even know him. I wanted him to love me though and I wanted to be close to him so in my mind I made him up to be a dad that was crazy about me and it just didn’t work. I never knew what it was like to have a father who truly loved me and wanted me.
I suffered sexual abuse when I was very young. It happened over the period of a few years and by different men in my life that I should have been able to trust. At 5 years old I went through the experience of testifying in court to sexual abuse at the hand of my step-grandfather. This, along with the other violations, was a horrible experience that stole my innocence and distorted my view of love, affection and eventually sex. I had no idea how deep the wound would go or how long it would take to be healed.
Around the age of 7, I met a group of kids from a church at the park near my house. I enjoyed playing with them so when they weren’t coming to the park, I was going to their church. I started walking myself to church every Wednesday evening and Sunday. I did that until I moved away in third grade. In my new town, I eventually started going to a church with kids in my new neighborhood, although it wasn’t like the previous church I had attended I must have liked being in community with people because I kept going back until some time in junior high when I just quit going. Once I stopped going, I never went back to church, nor had any desire to. Those isolated visits as a kid were my only experience with the family of God until I was much older.
I was physically mature at a pretty young age and began getting the attention of boys by the time I was 12 years old. The attention of boys became what made me feel valuable and important. Sadly, I would go to great lengths to gain the approval of boys that showed interest in me as a teenager. This led to an unwanted pregnancy that I ended with an abortion.
I was 19 when I met my husband, Jason. Neither of us knew the Lord or had any desire to know Him. I would have called myself “spiritual”, believing that there was something bigger than me, but I was unwilling to give the Bible any authority over my life. Jason was a devout atheist believing that there was no God and no devil. We didn’t agree on these matters but it didn’t seem like that big of a deal because neither of us was committed to anything apart from our own desires. Within 3 months of dating, we were living together and within a week of living together we were pregnant with our first child. We got married at the courthouse when our son, Jared, was 6 months old and a year and a half later we had our second child, Jakob. Jason and I were very happy until our 7th year of marriage when we began to have serious problems. The root of our problems was disrespect for our marriage and for each other. We would go out together and party with friends. Both of us flirted with those friends unapologetically. We would justify it by saying how great it was that we were confident in our relationship and with each other so flirting outside of our marriage was no big deal. We even thought it made us “cooler” spouses because we weren’t being overbearing and jealous. We were fooling ourselves.
This disrespect grew so deep and the space between us became a wide canyon filled with hurt, anger and disappointment. We came to the point where we weren’t even living the same lives anymore, we just came home to the same house at the end of the day. During those dark days of emotional separation I dishonored my husband and my marriage to the fullest extent. Again, I’d received attention of a guy. That attention made me feel important and valued; I chose to commit the ultimate betrayal against my husband by being unfaithful to him. The happy couple we imagined ourselves to be was no more. My heart was headed down a dangerous path.
But Jesus came after me.
I was at a women’s event for a biblically based jewelry company that I had been a part of for a couple of years. Through this company I heard often about Jesus’ love for me but I was always so uncertain. I knew nothing of what it really meant to follow Jesus. I wasn’t sure that He could love me after all I had done. But one particular weekend I really felt the presence of God at one of the company events. I called Jason and told him that when I got home I wanted to start taking the boys to church. The next day as I was getting ready to leave the retreat center, a close friend pulled me aside and asked me if I had ever accepted Jesus as my savior. I told her no but that I thought I was ready to. She led me in a prayer that changed my life and more importantly, changed my heart. As I prayed to Jesus to ask Him to be Lord over my life, I felt like I had electricity running through my body. I was shaking all over. It was a unique experience and when we finished praying, I felt so light and so free. I thought I was going to bubble over with joy. I went back home to my family and eventually my husband and both of my sons also accepted Christ. Jesus came for me at just the right time, and he saved my entire family.
The anchor verse of The Grace Mask, Ephesians 5:27, is the greatest news I’ve ever heard. It changes everything.
“He did this (Jesus gave up His life) to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.”
Before I knew Jesus I viewed myself as the ultimate failure, the definition of selfish and evil, responsible for the ultimate betrayal of those that loved me the most. But Christ saw me as His Bride while He was on the cross paying for my sin. I’m so glad someone loved me enough to tell me that Jesus knew my real story, the beginning and the end. I’m so glad I chose to believe it. When I accepted Jesus, I didn’t know that He would set me free from the bondage of shame, guilt and sorrow that I was living in. I just knew that I was in need of a Savior and no matter how hard I tried to make myself worthy, I could never get it all right. I knew my story needed to change and I knew He was the only one who could change it. And He did.
Jesus offered me forgiveness when I couldn’t even forgive myself. I couldn’t believe the overwhelming peace and joy that I experienced once I invited Him into my life. He didn’t just stay temporarily. He doesn’t come and go. I’ve messed up but He never leaves me. I have an enduring joy that stays with me. Years after being unfaithful to my husband, my Jesus, my Redeemer, my Groom (Isaiah 54:5) was with me as I confessed that sin to Jason in tears. My God covered my heart and my husband’s heart and that gave me the freedom to repent and be freed from the secret of that sin. God was with us as we began walking through the healing process. God was working in my husband’s heart before I confessed and enabled Him to forgive me. I received true and complete forgiveness. My husband is a man that has shown me the love of Christ in such a real and tangible way. I thank Jesus for him all the time. Even as I wrote this story for you all my heart broke all over again for the pain I caused. I got up from the computer and walked down the hall to sit in my husband’s lap and cry. He held me and comforted me with loving and encouraging words. What an incredible gift Jason is to me! God has given me a physically safe place in my husband. I am so thankful.
My life with Jesus is so different and not because I tried to make it that way. Having a relationship with Jesus changed me and changed my desires. Outwardly my life looks different because I don’t spend my time fulfilling selfish desires like I did in my past. I’m fully committed to my husband, my children, my family and my church. I process decisions and difficulties in life by taking them to my Heavenly Father who knows everything and who has a plan and purpose for my life. I look to Him for wisdom and direction and He is faithful in all things. Inwardly, I’m being renewed by Christ all the time. Jesus has redeemed what was lost and broken but redemption of the past isn’t all He offers. He has given me a hope for the future that is beyond anything I could have thought to ask for. He has enabled Jason and I to change our history and the history of our boys! Because of Jesus, we will leave a completely different legacy than we would have without Him. Jesus has made things new and given me an unmistakable spiritual marker in my life that can’t be denied. I have experienced Christ in a way that gives me confidence in all situations- He can do anything and He is FOR me.
Jesus uses all things for the good of those that love Him. Jesus will use the mess Jason and I made and He cleaned up to encourage other couples. I believe that He will use our story to show people His strength, His goodness, His love and the depth of His forgiveness. It’s my greatest desire to be used by Christ in whatever way He wants and I’ve felt for a long time that He wanted me to share my story but I have been afraid to tell it. He’s been working in me over the past 6 months, preparing me for this time and now I’m just so expectant to see how He will encourage and restore others through my story. I want people to see all that Jesus rescued me from and all that He’s forgiven me for. My story was headed toward a bad ending, I made a horrible mess of my life, BUT God was still able to reach me and rescue me. Jesus has sanctified my secrets for His Kingdom and transformed them into His unique story for my life. And I want my story to be told. No secrets.
Secret sin unconfessed in the dark places of the heart chains us to our past and denies Christ His full right to completely cover the sin HE paid for on Calvary. He doesn’t suffer for it, but YOU do. Yes, you are completely forgiven for that sin. Yes, He still loves you. But those secret chains are hard to forget. They weigh you down and rob you of the freedom to help others become free from their own chains. If you want freedom from those chains, tell your story and put it in God’s more than capable hands to use it for His glory! One of my favorite passages from Scripture is from Paul: “forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead. I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
I know God’s heavenly calling for me is this: I am the Bride of Christ! I am cherished, forgiven, so loved, free, clean. New. I am new! And I will tell this story.
I want my kids and grandkids to know that Jesus is for everyone. There is no one that has been too bad, there is nothing that the grace of God cannot overcome. I want them to know that He loves us before we even give Him a second thought and that He is always calling us to Himself. I want generations after me to see the drastic before and after picture of my life so they can know that meeting Jesus isn’t something that just makes you feel better or changes who you are for a moment- meeting the Savior of the world is life altering. Once you’ve accepted His grace and forgiveness, you’ll never be the same.
I love Jesus with all my heart and even though that’s true, I still mess up. I don’t spend time with Him as often as I should and I have feelings and attitudes that I’m later sorry for but the grace of Jesus covers it all. This relationship with Him isn’t about behaving well in order to earn His grace, mercy and love. Grace has been a hard thing for me to grasp because I constantly want to try to deserve all that He has saved me from and the future he has promised but… I can’t deserve it or earn it. That’s what makes Jesus who He is. He is selfless, He is perfect love, He is abundant grace, He is all that is good and right and nothing that He offers depends on me and how deserving I am. I am forgiven and free to be His beautiful Bride because He is good and faithful.
My anchor verses:
All of Psalm 32…
Epheisians 1:4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
Colossians 1:22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.