Part 2 in a blog series about being ashamed, embarrassed, and accused by your past.
Learning to accept God's grace and trust Jesus to change us as we follow Him.
If you missed the first post in this series you can find it here:
In this series, I (Thad) am taking some time to unpack and remember my own story. Remembering where I came from, what I came from, where I have been lost in sin, and remembering the people God brought into my life along the way to protect me and steer me toward Jesus. In part, I wanted to do this to pull back the curtain and be very real with those that know me and those that are just finding me online or getting to know me. There is something powerful about sharing our stories with one another - even more so when we can be vulnerable and honest.
But beyond those reasons, I wanted to do this series of blog posts to help me remember what I've been forgiven of. Truthfully after years of living as a Christian, it's easy for me to tuck away the memories of the old me and re-write my story by cherry-picking the good times and painting myself to be more righteous than my record deserves. Not only is this untrue but it can greatly affect the way I feel about other people. It doesn't take me long to slide down the slippery slope before I am judging others or holding back empathy and understanding.
It's not about going back to bring up past mistakes to beat myself up or wrongly hold those things over my own head again. It's about remembering what I've been forgiven of and increasing my capacity to love myself and others in line with the way Christ has forgiven and loved me.
There's a story in the Bible in the book of Luke 7:36-50 that inspired me to take this look back at my own life and share it in this series. It's a story about a strange event that took place when Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a pharisee named Simon. Accepting the invitation, Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. Word had spread around the neighborhood that Jesus was at Simon's house for dinner. The news reached a woman who had a reputation for immorality. That's bible lingo for, "she was a slut" or possibly a prostitute. When this woman discovered where Jesus was eating dinner she made her way to Simon's home and somehow made her way in. She brought with her a very expensive jar of perfume, likely her most prized and valuable possession. She approached Jesus, knelt down at His feet, and began crying. Her tears ran down her cheeks and onto Jesus' feet. She was so close, that as the tears hit his feet she instinctively used her own hair to wipe them away. She sobbed and wiped and kissed and sobbed and wiped. It would have been impossible for anyone present to ignore. Then, to add to the shock of this situation, this sobbing woman begins to pour her expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. Engaging all the senses of those in the room, hearing her soft cry, seeing her clinging to Jesus' feet, and now smelling the sweet aroma of something normally reserved for wealthy women in a much different setting.
The story describes what the Pharisee was thinking to himself as he watched this interruption taking place in his own home. As you might guess he didn't have the kindest thoughts running through his mind. He thought to himself, "if this man really is a prophet, then he would know what kind of a woman is groping at his feet - a sinner!'" Then Jesus answered His thoughts, "Simon, I have something I'd like to tell you." I imagine Simon with a smirk on his face as he told Jesus to go ahead and speak his mind.
Jesus tells him a story. He says something like, "A man loaned money to 2 different people. To the first person, the man loaned $50,000 and to the next person, the man loaned $500. But, over time the man realized that neither of the people could repay him what he had loaned them. So the man kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts." Then he went on to ask Simon, "Who do you think would have loved that man more after this?"
Like most of us, Simon answered, "The one that he canceled the greater debt for." Jesus agreed and tells Simon he's right. I imagine Simon sitting a bit taller and his smirk turning to a coy smile as Jesus tells him he's right in front of all his guests. But, it's a smile that quickly fades away as Jesus continues. "Look at this woman kneeling here at my feet. When I entered your home, you didn't offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn't greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in she hasn't stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume."
You can imagine Simon shrinking in stature with each comment. Feeling the weight of being humbled and embarrassed publicly. Jesus continues, "The truth is Simon, this woman does indeed have many sins - but they have been forgiven, so she has shown me a great deal of love here tonight. And in a similar way, a person who is forgiven little shows only little love."
The story ends with Jesus publicly telling the woman that her sins are forgiven and the men around the table scratching their heads, wondering who this man is that He can go around forgiving sins.
It's a story that Jesus tells to illustrate the connection between forgiveness and love. Particularly highlighting the idea that those who realize that they have been forgiven of much will love Jesus greatly and I think it's implied that they will love more in every way.
That story spurred me to reflect on my past. In part one of this series, I unpacked the early years, reflecting back on things that stood out to me from my childhood. For the rest of this post, I want to dig into the teenage years.
Circa 1990-91 HS Sr. Pic
These are some of the memories that dredge up the most shame or embarrassment. And at times, they're the stories that the enemy brings to mind to accuse me or to remind me how unqualified I am to do the work I feel called to.
As I process and share them I'm simultaneously telling myself that these are among the many things I've been forgiven of. And I pray that like the apostle Paul, staying in tune with who I was and what I have been forgiven will grow my love for God and my passion and sincerity to tell others about Him as I go.
I think it was probably about 6th grade that I discovered pornography and from the first encounter, I was hooked. No matter how guilty I felt it seemed literally impossible to stay away. Like one of those bugs that know the light is hot but keeps flying back to it only to get burned again. To make matters worse and add a layer of shame and embarrassment, I first discovered it in my mom's closet. Digging through her closet, looking for art supplies I found some small magazines called Penthouse Letters. Essentially erotic stories, and of course pictures scattered throughout. Every bit of me knew I shouldn't but I did.
Later on, a friend invited me and a few others over to his house after school with the promise of something we had to see. So we all went over anticipating something awesome. His dad worked a swing shift at the mill and was never home after school which meant this house was a popular place for kids to go when they wanted to do things that required their parents to be gone. On this fateful day, I saw my first porno movie. Scratchy VHS on a 19" color tv in a living room with 5 or 6 big-eyed junior high boys. I have a hard time remembering so many things from my childhood or even high school years but sin has a way of searing itself in the memory banks. I can recall the name of this movie, the scenes, and all the stuff. This house became a popular after-school spot throughout my 7th & 8th-grade years.
Still in junior high, I was visiting my dad sometime in the summer when boredom had me in the garage rummaging through shelves and boxes trying to find something to tinker with or tear apart to "fix". And there they were. The jackpot of all teenage boy jackpots. Two huge boxes of Playboys. From finding to sneaking to sinful thoughts and actions to stealing - down the path I went. To this day I have no idea if my dad ever knew but I'm sure he was keeping them as "collector's items" to one day sell. Well, they were undoubtedly worth much less when and if he ever discovered that every single one of them was now missing their famous 3-page fold-out centerfolds. I meticulously removed every single one and used them to wallpaper my bedroom back home at my mom's. Which I was quite proud of by the way until one of my siblings turned me in. My mom barked about taking them down but I knew 2 things. First, my room was upstairs and I knew she'd never make the effort to come up and actually take them down. Second, I knew she had similar magazines in her room and I reserved that knowledge to fight fire with fire if it ever came to that. Sometime later I had a girlfriend and invited her over. When she saw my room she was appalled and thought it was gross - so I took them all down and hid them away out of sight.
For a moment I did think it was really weird that my mom had that stuff. But, as my friends and I talked more about porn in general and shared stories, I learned that nearly everyone I knew had the same kind of stories. They knew where their dad's stash was, or where their parents kept their dirty movies. And in no time at all, it was just a normal part of life. It seemed like everyone did it. It also seemed like everyone was embarrassed about it and thought they were keeping their secrets hidden.
One friend had a satellite dish and told stories about the playboy channel and others that were even more raunchy. At the time we happened to have a satellite dish at my home. Mind you this was back in the day when home dishes were huge and it looked more like you were trying to contact aliens than watch tv! Somehow, my friends and I figured out that if 2 people went outside to move the dish while one person watched inside you could get it pointed at other satellites and scan through to see what channels would come through. The perseverance of boys prevailed and in time we figured out where to point it to tune in the dirty channels. This became yet another source of sin and continued to paint all the wrong pictures about love, relationships, and marriage.
Pornography was a struggle throughout my teenage years and into my early 20's. One that radically shaped what I was interested in, what my friends and I thought of girls, how I talked and behaved and what I hoped for when I did get a girlfriend. Although I got away from looking at magazines or movies over time, so much damage had been done, the memories made, the images seared in, even without pursuing it anymore it still caused problems well into my 30's.
All of these memories and the others I'm too embarrassed to tell anyone about have come to mind many times over the years. But not as fond memories but as accusations. Shouting out to my inner mind that I shouldn't be working in ministry. I shouldn't be preaching the Bible or talking to people about Jesus - what if they knew? And what comes to mind is this question. Maybe you've thought it too. "What if they knew the real me?" It's a lie of the enemy meant to scare you. To panic you back into fear and shame. The true question is "What if they knew how good and grace-giving and forgiving my God is?"
Stealing felt fun
The problem with growing up almost entirely unsupervised is that I was a terrible parent of myself. By junior high, it was clear that I could come and go as I wanted. On weekends or summers, I was out every night with friends doing whatever we wanted. Before we had cars we were confined to wherever our bikes could carry us. I thank God that I grew up in a very small rural area and try as we might, there just wasn't much trouble to get into before cars and spending money. Had I grown up in a city with more access to things I have no doubt I would have ended up in juvenile jail at some point. One summer the group of feral boys I hung out with decided we should try and break into the local elementary school. After some recon and a few failed attempts, we finally achieved success. Once inside we were dead set on getting in the supply closet for a coveted prize... Giant bags of rubberbands or as my wife calls them in Canada, elastics. Why? Because we were dumb boys and wanted to have rubberband wars, snapping and shooting each other. This crime might have been on the petty side but it emboldened us and gave us less pause when we tried to steal other things later on. Like lumber from the local sawmill or money or alcohol from our parents. At one point a member of the group broke into a local store and got caught. His shame and stiff punishment dissuaded most of us from continuing on down that road much more.
But as the years went by I found myself in places where I could take something without anyone knowing. Once I stole some cedar logs and sold them for a profit, other times I would chicken out for fear of being caught. But the urge was there. Those early years of "harmless" sinning in this way planted seeds... and not good ones.
Drugs, booze & stupidity
This is an area where I have no doubt that God's grace was at work in my life, long before I ever knew Him. From the first time I drank beer I never really liked it. Now, don't get me wrong, I drank lots of beer. I was drunk in my teenage years more times than I can ever remember. But I never drank because I enjoyed the drink. For me, it was always about fitting in or getting up the guts to try and win over some girl at a party or bonfire. My "drug of choice" was always girls. I tried pot many times and never enjoyed it. It made me cough and then just sleepy which I didn't enjoy. I've never tried any other drug of any kind and was pretty scared at the thought of it. I didn't like the feeling of being drunk, groggy, and out of control. As time went on I caved less and less to peer pressure in this area which I credit to God's intervention in my life to make sure I didn't like the flavor or effect of alcohol and pot.
Fast-forward to my life about 10 years ago and alcohol had crept back in as a problem. At first, it was only a problem for my ex-wife (Yes I'm divorced and remarried - we'll get to that later). But over time I contributed to her use and then started occasionally drinking with her here and there. For a season it was becoming more than occasional and so were the consequences. I never took it to the level that she did but in my heart, I knew I had sinned against my conscience. After my divorce, I decided I wanted to make a pledge to not drink any alcohol of any kind for 6 months. I wanted to do a self-check to see if it was maybe more of a desire for me than I was telling myself. That was December 2019 and in just a few weeks it will be the 3-year mark since I've had a drink of any kind. I've thought of having a rum and coke or a mike's lemonade a time or two but in the end, it didn't seem worth it for me personally. I don't know if I'll never drink again but comfortable with where I'm at and honestly don't give it much thought.
Does remembering my sin help?
As I think back through these stories and countless others from this time of my life that I am too embarrassed or ashamed to share I can't help but feel gratitude towards God. Gratitude for protecting me from so many things. I could have gotten into so much trouble, so many ways my life could have been so much worse. I could have seriously hurt myself or someone else. I think about these years of my life and the messes I made, the sin upon sin upon sin that I stacked up, the regrets, the shame, the secrets, and lies, and it's not hard for me to imagine myself sitting on the floor next to that immoral woman sobbing at Jesus' feet. Tears or shame, sadness, embarrassment, and humbling gratitude toward a benevolent King who would take the time to know me, forgive me, and offer me a new life following Him. Indeed, remembering where I came from, and what I've been forgiven of is helping me appreciate Jesus even more.
How are you & Jesus?
As you read this post I'm wondering how it's hitting you? What memories is it bringing up? Is it relatable or not at all? Can you see yourself with me sitting next to the immoral woman at the feet of Jesus? What are you feeling as you sit there?
If you're anything like me, writing out your thoughts is a powerful way to process what you're really thinking or feeling. I would encourage you to take some time to answer the questions above in a notebook or journal.
I would love to hear from you if you're comfortable sharing some of your story and what Jesus is saying to you in response to this post.
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