On Easter Sunday, I shared my story in church. Easter Sunday – a day where there is hope and there is victory. I saw her as I spoke. I imagined her sitting in the middle pew smiling with her bottom lip quivering. Her eyes were bright as she listened because she knew this was for her – the little girl in me:
This is what I shared:
In 1997, I walked into this room for the first time. I was late and I slid in on the back row over there on my left. I remember at the shaking hands part I leaned back with my arm extended hoping those around me did not smell the alcohol and cigarettes. I remember thinking I am not like the people here. I will never fit in.
But, I kept coming back, and every Sunday I would leave before the singing at the end was over. This lady named Betty saw me and followed me into the parking lot every Sunday – One day she practically chased me – saying, ” Melissa! Melissa!” I stopped and said, “my name is not Melissa. It is Michelle.” She said, “ I wanted to invite you to a retreat the college and career class is having at the beach in a few weeks.” I replied “thank you, but I am not interested. I did not come here to make friends.” (I know! You just had to know me then).
Betty became very intentional about finding me and even occasionally got my name right and I started coming to their Friday night bible studies and I ended up going on their beach retreat and making friends. God started to do a major work in my life and he started to meet me in my sin. I started going to church more and going out to clubs less. I had a lot of sin to work through, and just when I felt like I had been completely freed from a sin – the enemy would throw it back in my face. I remember going to Betty and talking about it and she would say lay it at the cross – you are forgiven! She kept saying it to me over and over so I had her voice reminding me I was forgiven as far as the east is from the west, yet I had another loud voice in my head reminding me of what kind of girl I really was, and I was desperately afraid of people finding that out. So I cleaned up well, and overtime I fit in just fine.
Anthony and I were dating and he started coming to church here too and eventually we both joined. We sat with a couple in the parlor and they asked us to share our testimony. I think I sat up tall, leaned back and just faintly said, “I was raised in a Christian home and I was saved when I was a child – I think around 10 and I was baptized shortly after – it was around October.” There was no way I could say to them some of the things I had said to Betty and even to Betty I had said very little.
Anthony and I were married here in 2000 right here where I am standing. I knew the minute I met him that I would marry him. I even told two people who were with me that day that one day I am going to marry that man – and those two people were in our wedding party and Betty directed our wedding celebration! I knew He was a gift to me and when we said I do, I said Thank you Lord!
I continued to try to fit in. I showed up and I signed up. I said yes to this committee and that committee. I stayed busy, but I stayed distant. I did not really connect deep with others, not just here at church but elsewhere too. I had many “friends”, but I also had many secrets and I shared them with No One. My relationships with others was at a surface level and quite frankly my relationship with God was at a surface level.
With God, I just wanted to stay off of His radar. I didn’t want to get in trouble or have Him mad at me. I was afraid to miss church, or miss reading my Bible. I was like the walking dead Christian, going through the motions and checking off my to do list. There was no life in me, all that fresh hope died long long ago…
But His Word tells us that he came so that we would have life to the full! I was full – but I was full of fear, and full of shame. I was full of walls protecting my broken and shattered heart. I stayed busy by working full-time, being a wife, being a mom to three and a “yes” girl. Busy kept me from thinking. Busy kept me from connecting. I was always present, yet always distant.
Then in 2012 God started to shake things up for me through Zumba and the Breaking Free Bible Study by Beth Moore. I remember leaving one night and one of the ladies said to me jokingly, “yes, we often refer to you and Anthony as Mr. & Mrs. Cresset – because y’all are so perfect and have it together” Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. That one sentence struck something deep in me that screamed “Noooooooo, that is so not true!!” That statement took me all the way back to 1997 when I said I would never fit in…and I realized how I had desperately tried to be ok, to fit in, to appear “christian”.
But, I am not ok. I am not perfect. I am broken. I am broken in many pieces, but God can take broken and mend. Jesus can take broken and heal. That is why we are here today – Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and for the sins that were committed against me.
I was sexually abused throughout my childhood. Children should never suffer this way. It confused me about who God was and how God felt about me. I thought as I sang Jesus loves the little children – Jesus loves the little children of the world – but not me so much. Some girls were precious in His sight – but not me. It confused me about church in general and even the Bible. I saw and read and felt everything through the horrific pain of abuse. That was my reality and that filter distorts everything. If statistics are true, many of you in here share a history like mine. Someone harmed you. Someone took something very precious and innocent away from you. Someone violated you in the worst way. Someone abused their power and their trust for selfish gain. And you suffered tremendously, and you still suffer. It was wrong and you never deserved it and it was never your sin to carry. Jesus does not take lightly any sins committed against His precious Children.
[ Causing to Stumble ] “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
I am here today to tell you three very important things that I wish I had heard sooner: You are not alone. It was not your fault. Jesus loves you.
You are special. You are precious in His sight. You are a gift. He can heal you and restore what has been taken away. I have been in counseling almost two years now so I know complete healing does not happen overnight. But, the first step is taking that hard hidden secret painful stuff to the cross and laying it at his feet. You see, when I laid my sins at that cross years ago, much of that sin was connected to the sins that were committed against me. I continued to carry those sins and with them I continued to carry the heavy weight of guilt and shame.
Jesus carried all of the sins of the world when He died on the cross and three days later he arose and there is victory! Whatever it is that you carry, and whatever holds you back – He died for you. He died for that sin. You are important to Him, and He is deeply intimate and present – but when you have built walls all around your precious heart, it is hard to go deep anywhere. Today is Victory for you. Let the walls fall. Jesus came so we could have life and have it to the FULL, and to do that we have to surrender it all to HIM. Each piece by broken piece. Give it to Him today. Ask Him to help you to be brave. The cross is about your Freedom. Easter is about your freedom. He died so that we could be free. Embrace freedom today.
What does Freedom look like? For me today, freedom is knowing that Jesus has tenderly walked through all of the pain and hurt with me. It was a process, but what I came to realize was TRUTH. My relationship with Christ is alive and His Word is very alive to me. It was sitting on this second row here in the front that I learned that Jesus can take any child of his just like the little girl in Mark 5:41, and say “Talitha Koum” – which means little girl I say to you – Get Up!
In John 5, there’s the paralyzed man, who has been laying by the pool wanting to be cured for 38 years. Jesus knows he has been in this condition for a long time, and he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” I began to see My story in the Word and see my Christ respond to my pain by enduring the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate suffering on the cross for my freedom. I was in chains. All I had ever known were chains. Chains are best friends with darkness, secrets, and lies. When you let the light of Christ shine into those dark places – you are forever changed and the chains are no more. You are Alive! That is Freedom.
I remember long ago someone saying in church when you die and go to heaven the video of your life will flash on that screen before Jesus Christ and you will be judged. It absolutely terrified me. I don’t worry about that anymore. In the last two years, Jesus and I have watched that movie together, and sometimes he has me press pause or rewind, but he never lets go of my hand and he never lets go of me. He has shown me the scenes where He was right there all along. My Jesus has removed my chains and he has set me free. He desires the same for you. No matter how dead you may feel, no matter how long you have suffered – Jesus Christ died on that cross for you personally. To give you Freedom. To give you Victory in Him. Bring your broken pieces to Him today. Embrace Freedom that only comes from Him. Let Him set you free…
Linking up with Bonnie Gray