If you were to look at a family picture from my childhood, you would say, “What a nice looking family.” We were picture perfect. I grew up in the country in a large home built by my father, a “self-made man” whose company grew to great financial success. My mother, a beautiful woman, worked in marketing, taught Sunday school, and was involved in school activities. She even taught aerobics on the side. We were a busy and successful family.
It was in the midst of this busyness that my world began to privately crumble. My mother often used babysitters when I was young. One babysitter, a high schooler, would take us over to her boyfriend’s house while she was caring for us. It was there that I was first exposed to pornographic videos. I was ten.
Not too long after, friends of the boyfriend began to commit acts against me. They would physically hurt me or threaten me if I resisted. At that age, I wasn’t able to comprehend what was happening. All I knew was that I had a terrible secret, and I began to hate myself.
The abuse continued as I moved into junior high. It expanded from the friends of my babysitter’s boyfriend to the boys in the neighborhood. I then began to enter into controlling relationships. I remember one in particular.
When I was fifteen, I met a boy in high school who was older than me. He preyed on controlling others, and I willingly came under his mental, emotional, and physical control. If I spoke to another boy in the hallway, he would come beside me and hold my hand. What others could not see is that he would squeeze my hand until I wanted to drop to my knees in pain.
My boyfriend had a friend, Jason, and the three of us did a lot together. Jason was very nice to me; he was kind and nonthreatening. When my boyfriend saw that Jason and I were friends, he told me that I couldn’t hang around with Jason anymore. I obeyed and ended the friendship.
One night, a couple of weeks later, Jason drove to my house in tears. He was armed with a bottle of tequila and a loaded .22 caliber handgun. He said he could not understand why I had stopped being his friend, and he wanted to kill himself. We talked for two hours and mended our friendship. During our conversation, I asked him to unload the gun, and he did. By the time we were finished talking, we were both smiling, and we hugged good night. I gave him back the bullets as there didn’t seem to be a threat anymore—another secret I hid from my family.
The next day, I learned Jason was dead. After Jason left my house, his car slid off the icy country road and got stuck. According to police, he tried to dislodge his car with some boards but was unsuccessful. So he sat back down in the driver’s seat, reloaded the gun, and shot himself in the head. I was the last person to see him alive. Since I had returned the bullets to him, I naturally blamed myself. I was sixteen, and another negative emotion—guilt—was added to my life.
From that point forward, I stopped actively living life in a healthy way. I got pregnant, suffered a miscarriage, and barely graduated high school. I surrounded myself with abusive relationships familiar to what I had experienced in the past. Distrust for people grew, and I began to view myself as “damaged goods” with no value to anyone.
I turned to alcohol, and it helped block out the voices in my mind that screamed I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or smart enough.
Those voices continued into my early twenties, when I finally hit rock bottom. I suffered a rape from my boss, a trusted authority figure. Not knowing how to deal with it, I began to think of ways to end my life. To make it worse, his wife was like a mother to me. Now, I had yet another secret from another woman I cared about.
One night, I drank as much wine as I could stand, drove myself to a quiet, out of the way area, and put my plan of suicide into action. I carefully tucked rags around the tailpipe of my car and inserted a garden hose. Next, I placed the other end of the hose through the driver’s side window of my car, carefully wrapping it with towels. As I sat in the car and sobbed, I begged God to end my pain and all the suffering, guilt, and shame I had carried throughout my childhood. I was tired of living every day, feeling like an unworthy, unlovable, ugly person.
I cried and breathed in deeply, but nothing happened. Frustrated, I got out of my car to find the poisonous fumes escaping into the cold, night air through thousands of tiny holes in the hose. The hose I had used was a porous water hose that would not allow the poison to enter my car. I believe God divinely intervened and saved my life.
That night, in my desperation, God began to reveal Himself to me. I sensed great peace as He showed me that my life had a bigger purpose than just dealing with my own pain. He had a plan where my life would actually be a light for others who were struggling with deep hurts.
From that point, I began to seek God, and He met me with open arms.
He granted me forgiveness from past decisions, and He gave me grace to move forward. No, my pain from the past didn’t magically disappear, but God began to heal me one wound at a time.
Good things began to happen in my life. It wasn’t long before I was blessed with an incredible husband and two beautiful children. However, a part of me remained tied to the past.
As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, He began to show me that the unforgiveness I harbored toward myself was anchoring me to the past. You see, I had forgiven God as I realized that He hadn’t done those things to me; rather, it was people who were acting under their own freewill. I also knew the Word of God directed me to forgive the many people who had hurt me, and I had done so. But there was one more person I had not forgiven. Me.
Because of this unforgiveness toward myself, I still carried a load of guilt, shame, self-hatred, and a sense of unworthiness. I couldn’t move forward in my own life, much less help anyone else do so, because I was weighted down by these emotions. I didn’t realize that every time I let my guilt remind me of how unworthy I was to receive anything good in my life, it was like I was saying “no, thanks” to the love of God, a love full of forgiveness and redemption. It was like I was receiving the cross as a mere splinter!
Colossians 2:13–14 says, “You were dead because of your sins and because [of] your sinful nature.… Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” What I realize now is that the moment I asked Christ to be the Lord of my life, He made me alive in Him. He forgave my sins and cancelled the charges against me. Wow! Everything I had done in my past, all the poor decisions I had made, were nailed to the cross over two thousand years ago and allowed for me to receive forgiveness.
Yours are there, too.
Let me ask you something. If God has given us forgiveness, isn’t it time we give ourself the same forgiveness? Why do we constantly remind ourselves of our shortcomings, when God has already forgotten them? Psalm 103:12 says, “He has removed our sin as far from us as the east is from the west,” and Jeremiah 31:34 tells us He remembers them no more! If God doesn’t condemn our past, then why should we?
Will you join me in tossing aside the weighted rope of unforgiveness so that you, too, can run the race of life victoriously and discover God’s peace and forgiveness? Ask God to reveal any areas of bitterness, anger, guilt, shame, or hatred that are weighing you down and then forgive. Forgive your parents, spouse, boss, friend, a stranger, coworker, sibling, child, or pastor. Most of all, forgive yourself. Jesus already has.
It’s time to realize that, in God’s eyes, you are worthy. Yes, you! Not because of anything you’ve done or not done but because God says so. He says you are worth it all. Think about it: before a single day of your life ever came to be, God—knowing every decision you would ever make and everything that would ever happen to you—still saw value in your life and allowed for you to have forgiveness. And then, in the gift of His Son, Jesus, who laid down His life for you, God said, “You are worth everything to Me.”
Allow God to heal your innermost wounds. Unleash the weights and ropes that are binding you and choose today to move forward with a new view of yourself. You are worthy of love, worthy of joy, worthy of healing, worthy of forgiveness, and yes, worthy to be used by God. God is waiting for you to agree with Him so that He can use you to touch the world.
Photo by Ian Espinosa