by Sarah Kooiman
Driving home that night, I prepared myself for what I would say and thought about what I would do if the unthinkable happened. God made it very clear that my years of living in a prison built with my own hands were about to come to an end, but I was terrified at what might lie outside those walls.
“I felt my heart change. I felt like Jesus was right there in that room, holding my hand, listening to me.”
I would have claimed to have been a “Christian all my life.” After all, I was baptized as a baby, confirmed, the whole package. My ticket to Heaven had been stamped so I disengaged from the church as soon as my confirmation certificate was tucked away in my scrapbook.
I entered my teen years with what I thought was a firm grasp on who I was – a nobody. I based my entire sense of worth on the perception of others – the whispers of the popular girls in the hallway or the attention of whatever boy I was with at the time. My skewed sense of self-worth led me to engage in sexually immoral behavior beginning at the age of 12. I worked hard to excel academically so that adults would praise me and think I was “good,” but underneath I felt lost.
When I was 15, I met the man I would eventually marry. He made me laugh and pursued me like a treasure rather than just a commodity. He came from a family that didn’t just check the “Christian” box on a form, but lived and breathed it. I visited their church sometimes with him, but knew from experience the grace they spoke of there didn’t apply to people like me.
I became a really good actress. As the years passed, I fooled everyone in my life into thinking I had it all together when in fact I was struggling with an eating disorder, an increasing alcohol and drug problem, and a lustful heart. I lived a double life and it would only be a matter of time before it all crumbled into ashes.
My breaking point came at the age of 20, in the months leading up to my wedding. As the pressure increased on me, I turned once again to activities and people that made me feel good. At my lowest moment, I got incredibly drunk, drove to a friend’s apartment, and invited myself into his bed. We had a four month long sexual affair that tore my insides to shreds, but I kept returning because I knew the pain and shame were what I deserved.
The affair ended mere weeks before my wedding. My wedding day was clouded by the shame and guilt that showed on my terrified face as I walked down the aisle and recited my vows to the man I claimed to love, while the man I had been sleeping with sat in the audience right behind me.
Our first year of marriage was a nightmare, but we got enough help to hang on. Broken as we were, years passed and we managed to stay married and brought three beautiful sons into the world, but I still felt isolated. Out of nowhere, a new friend entered my world and turned it upside down. She introduced me to a group of moms from her church and for the first time, I had a circle of friends who were not just good for a good time, but were good for my soul. We hadn’t known one another very long when suddenly I was pouring out some painful stuff that I really had no business unloading on these women. They asked to pray for me, rested their hands in my shoulders, and approached God on my behalf.
The only way I can describe it is that I felt my heart change. I felt like Jesus was right there in that room, holding my hand, listening to me. It was the first time that I knew I needed to surrender my life to Jesus Christ.
After I became a Christ follower, our family began to transform. We became part of a community of believers who supported us and challenged us to grow. My husband’s faith was renewed and we became unified unlike ever before. Day after day, I begged God to forgive me for my horrible sin and to help me forgive myself, but it continued to haunt me.
We moved to Waukesha to follow my husband’s job. I had small children and I didn’t know anybody, so I signed up for a mom’s group at Elmbrook. There was a speaker who told of her multiple affairs and how she had felt like an outsider, like her sins were unforgiveable. As I listened, my head started swimming and I felt sick. Everything around me went silent, but I heard a clear voice say, “It’s time to tell him.” I had been a Christ follower for barely a year and it was the first time I experienced hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and recognized it for what it was.
I had never been so terrified in all my life. There was a very real possibility that my husband would take my kids away from me, or even just leave and abandon us all. Trusting God sounds great on paper, but it is another thing entirely when obeying means risking it all.
I confessed everything. Through sobs and tears, I poured out the details of what I had done nine years earlier and prepared myself for the worst.
The whole time God had been teaching me to trust Him, he had also been preparing my husband’s heart. He took a moment to compose himself and said, “I forgive you.” He explained that he understood now that God had changed me, that the person I had been nine years ago was nothing like the woman I had become in Christ. God had been softening both of our hearts to His will so that my horrible indiscretion would be smothered in an instant by His scandalous grace.
It was like I could breathe for the first time in nearly a decade. I wore my joy like a great new outfit, eager to share it with anyone who noticed. The gospel had reached the deepest part of me and I wanted to share its power with other people who might be struggling as I had. Where I used to feel unfit to even set foot in the church, I now felt led to lead a small group and serve on a women’s retreat committee. Now I am on staff at Elmbrook, working to spread the gospel and build disciples across the world through No Regrets Men’s Ministries.
For nine years I walked around with a secret that was rotting me from the inside out, convinced that if exposed, it would destroy me. To my amazement, Jesus took my shame onto himself and embraced me as a blameless treasure, fully redeemed and free from the guilt that held me in chains, free to share the story of who I once was, free to finally LIVE.
To God be the glory.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Sarah and her husband Evan have been married for nearly 11 years and have three sons. Sarah works on staff at Elmbrook Church on the No Regrets Men's Ministry team, but sometimes sneaks upstairs to visit iMoms when she needs some girl time. For her, writing ranks right up there with chocolate and coffee. You can check out Sarah's blog at www.thearenaupdate.com.