Teresa Henry ~ Forgiven and Free {Story 7 of 30}

I remember the day I heard about the Lord.  I remember what I was wearing – a red sweater and black pants. I remember where I was standing.   It was March 11, 2001.  I was 34.   I began to read my bible like crazy.  I learned scriptures, went to bible studies and retreats.  I plugged in to the church and fellowshiped with other believers.  I began to teach in children’s ministry.  I taught the children all about the bible, told them how much God loved them, and made sure they knew how precious they were to God.

But all of the scriptures, all of the promises, all of the love…I  believed they were meant for those children, my friends, my neighbors, but not for me—the one with secrets locked inside…the one who was ugly and dirty and bad.

I spent my life hiding.  I spent my life searching for the “thing” that would save me…accept me. 

Even when I came to know the Lord, I still searched because surely all of those beautiful words that I read in the leather-bound book could not be meant for me.  Not the one whose family growing up was broken and where fears and secrets were present.

Not the one who was 15 and went to a party and was raped—the one who never told anyone and slapped on labels such as ugly, dirty, and guilty.  Not the one who sought love through intimate relationships. Not the one who had a baby without being married.

Not the one who had an abortion—and then another.  Not the one who wore shame, guilt, fear, and disgust all over her body.  Not the one who dated whomever asked her out.   Not the one who was date-raped—who never told anyone.

Not the one who would not eat for days on end just to create an outward appearance that looked in control even though her insides were falling apart.  Not the one who took laxatives to get rid of all of the ugly inside of her and stuffed her face but purged it all out just to feel empty.

Not the one who married someone because maybe that would make her life different, but ended up in divorce.  Not the one who found God but still made an immoral decision that cost her relationships, trust, and respect.  Not the one who decided to punish herself and wanted to die, who ate nothing or almost nothing for days until she weighed so little she had to go away and leave her kids.

Not the one who could only see the words ugly and hate and guilty and unforgivable and disgusting written across her face when she looked in the mirror.  Not the one who had to be in the hospital—the psych ward part of the hospital– for 12 days and hated herself.  None of those words could be meant for her…

But God sent me people who continually spoke truth in to me.   

One was a Christian counselor.  I came to her office with secrets shoved in to the dark parts of my heart.  One day my story came out in this desperate need to be free.  My story, the words, poured out so fast that they stumbled and tripped over one another.  For years the memories, the sin, the hurt, the pain that captured the essence of how I saw myself pushed and fought against the prison wall of my heart.

But I was able to open up and let it all pour out and the darkness was exposed to light.  This person who heard all of my words…all of this darkness, she loved me anyway.

She accepted me anyway just as Christ does.  

She asked me to draw a picture of myself as God saw me, not how I saw myself, but how the bible said God saw me.  There was no way around it…

He saw me clean.  He saw me beautiful.  He saw me forgiven.  He saw me free.  

Little by little I began to believe those words in the leather-bound book were meant for me too…that Christ died on the cross for me too.  I began to believe Christ stripped off all those labels and made me clean.  I began to see myself not through the distorted view of my past, but through the clear image of Christ.  I began to walk in the truth, memorize scripture and believe them for me.

Our past can choke us.

Our past can hold us in chains.

But I am living proof that there is freedom in Christ.

Now I know I am forgiven.  I am of value.  I am His Child made new through my faith.

I am free.

John 12:46 “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.”

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My name is Teresa.  I am a single mom of three awesome children.  Megan is 23, Madeline (Madie) is 16, and Jack is 14.  I am a certified teacher but I am not teaching right now.  I live in a small town in Washington State and work at the busy, local grocery store.  

I am the founder of a nonprofit called What Is Beautiful.  The mission is to encourage women to find their value and identity in the Lord and to shed their past in order to live in freedom.  My blog is www.teresa-henry.blogspot.com.  While lacking organization, because I am completely not technical (I would love help), I hope to use it to share the light of God’s love with others.  

I love the beach, reading, learning, and I collect rocks that look like hearts.   In this season the Lord is teaching me to trust completely.

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I met Teresa online through our mutual friend, Marla.  I am often in awe of how God connects people – me in Ohio and Teresa in Washington state. I am thankful God chose to connect us and honored to share Teresa’s story.  It’s a story of a relentless Shepherd who pursues His sheep.  It’s a story of redemption.

Thanks, Teresa, for sharing so many parts of your life in hopes of helping others.  I know there’s someone who will read this and know they, too, can be redeemed by Him.  They, too, can be forgiven and free.

Leigh Anne Hudson: Too Far Gone? {Story 6 of 30}

Long before the pimp’s initials were permanently carved into my skin, I believed I was worth nothing. Zero. Natta.

I’d spent years being sexualized by older men. It started with my coach. I was 14 years old.

I thought he was a good Christian father-figure. I felt safe with him. I trusted him. And he took advantage of me. Over and over again.

But this was only the beginning…

At 16, random men showed up at my doorstep and I knew I was supposed to have sex with them. It didn’t take long for word to spread in Small Town USA that I was easy.

I had no value for my body. No moral compass either. I believed the lie that I was damaged goods.

And I lived that lie every day of my life. All of my choices were based on that one lie.

When you don’t think you’re worth much you tend to settle for even less. If a stranger complimented me, I thought I owed them.

And guess what I had to offer?

My body.

I felt dirty. Used. Unlovable. Broken. Hopeless. Worthless.

I spiraled further into a pit of promiscuity, alcohol, drugs, bulimia and eventually same-sex relationships.

Dark. Empty. Nothingness.

I knew I was too dirty, too broken, too far gone to be of value to anyone. Let alone be presentable to a Holy God.

So I hid. Behind a fake smile. Behind a master’s degree. Behind shallow friendships.

Thankfully the story didn’t end there.

Fast forward.

I’m on my kitchen floor. Crying. Planning my suicide. Desperate to be done with all the pain. I’d tried everything I could think of to escape the brokenness. Everything but God, that is.

In my spirit I heard him say, Go Get My Word.

I did.

I randomly opened to 1 Corinthians 6:18 and read these words: Flee Sexual Immorality. I screamed. Wailed.  Blood curdling cries.

I knew what it meant. Knew what God was calling me to do.

God met me in my darkest hour. When I felt most alone he reminded me he was my Abba father. When I felt so ashamed of what I’d done he told me he’d washed me whiter than snow.

And God is faithful.

God showed me he not only accepted me, but he sent his only son, Jesus to take on my guilt and shame so that I could walk free. This Jesus who knew no sin. Became sin. For me. So that I might become the righteousness of Christ.

It sounded too good to be true. But I was desperate. A shred of hope emerged. I clung to it like a trapeze artist clings to that swinging bar with all her might.

I packed up my crazy life and moved back in with my parents. Humbling at 35 years old.

As I walked away from everything familiar, I held tight to that scripture. And the God who wrote it.

In an instant I went from an “orphan” to a daughter of The King. From a “pauper” to a Princess.

In Revelation 2:17, God promises I will give you a new name. And just like that, this former stripper, prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, bulimic, low-life became God’s beloved.

The outcast now accepted. The abandoned now adopted. The rejected now received.

My entire life I thought I was too far gone. And God reminded me he’d been pursuing me the whole time.

How about you? Do you think you’ve done too many bad things to be accepted by God?

Do you believe you are too far gone?

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Leigh Anne Hudson is a proud Arkansan married to her best friend, Jim. She works full-time as a Christian counselor helping other hurting, broken people find healing and hope in Jesus Christ. Leigh is also a writer and she blogs at http://www.whiterthansnow.org

She is currently working on her first non-fiction book.

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I met Leigh Anne through the Kingdom Journeys book launch team.  While that book launch is done, we now find ourselves on another launch team together.  Through both, we’ve chatted via Facebook and email. I am thankful God connects with me people like Leigh Anne who grow my faith by being a living examples that nothing is impossible with God.  He loves us all.

Thanks for sharing, Leigh Anne!

Ali Hooper ~ A Wretch Like Me {Story 5 of 30}

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:24 (The Parable of the Prodigal Son)

I slid down the slope before I even realized it was slippery. Feet out from under me, I let go of the lamp leaving no light to direct my path. By 19 I knew the language of whores. By 20, the language of drug dealers. And before a sip ever passed my lips legally, I was immersed in a culture fit for sudden death.

Rewind a few adolescent years. I’m 11 with permed hair, a spaced-tooth smile, and a newfound love in Jesus. I served for the Gospel, missioned for the lost, and fellowshipped for self-growth. In my innocence, I beamed faith like a child, giddy with God regardless of my company. When the ‘it’ girl called me a Bible beater in front of my non-believing friends, I tittered, acting to save face while making a mental note that Jesus isn’t cool.

I arrived at high school’s double doors with a double life perfected. Sunday school sweetheart on the Sabbath and two-faced rebel the eve of. Crafty like the serpent, deception became my art.

What little accountability that was left in my life, Satan swallowed when I moved to college. His minions stretched their claws around every remnant of lingering faith and choked me breathless. Grasping for anything to fill the deep, I reached across the chasm and my hands drew back poison.

He took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. (Luke 15:13)

I savored instant fixes to numb my dying flesh – men, alcohol, drugs – self-destruction served like manure on queen’s china. I burned cigarettes, marijuana, opiates, bridges, and soul.

And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:16)

Every morning I woke up empty. But I never woke up dead. Delusional maybe, but never dead. He could have deluged me in His epic flood but in His infinite mercy, He was not done with this putrid rotting filth. Rather than a forever curse – infectious disease, unwanted pregnancy, or jail sentence – He sent in an army of angels to tear me away from the suffocating miry pit that sucked me near mortal.

Drunk nights spinning and a thought of Jesus flashes by. A heartbeat-skip romance with a boy who insisted no more drugs. A dear loved one destroyed by a drunk driving sentence. His angels pulsed through the community building an arc around me, and my eyes began to flutter open. I was crushed against the ground of landfill boiling, residue and sloppy seconds pressing me down, but I could see the light.

I moved slowly across the bumps and brokenness, but I moved. The layers molted, my past a nightmare still vivid. Steady like the tortoise with humility my guide, I crawled desperately back to the One whose promises never break.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

Arms wide open, He met me, His embrace warmer than I remembered. Like spending an hour too many in bitter wet snow then being wrapped in a blanket fresh from the dryer, His warmth met my frostbitten skin searing it to life, the numbness fading as feeling returned. They say to rest in His embrace. I crumbled.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.’ (Luke 15:21-23)

Instead of condemnation, He delivered celebration. Instead of punishment, He prepared a feast. Instead of death, He sacrificed life. And He did it all for a wretch.

He did it all for me.

Today I’m 32. Baby bangs and grey hairs from the gift of three babies. A stained smile that grows brightest in the presence of my adoring husband. A found-new-every-morning love in my Redeemer, Restorer, Rescuer. And a sound so sweetly sung to my soul that is giddy with amazing grace.

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Ali Hooper is blessed beyond her wildest dreams. Wife to Matt, mom to Henry, Harper & Greta, and ridiculously a mess before Jesus. She blogs about her blessings and her mess at www.blessedtreehouse.com.  You can find her on Facebook or Twitter:  alihooper.

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While I’ve only met Ali online, I am blessed by her story and her blog.  Her redemption could only be the work of a mighty God who loves each and every one of His children.

Thanks for sharing, Ali!