Tarnished Saints

***Warning: Contains Explicit Subject Manner – Please don’t read if you are sensitive or easily offended.***

For generations religion has dictated that if you were a Christian you couldn’t have any faults. It said you couldn’t stumble and fall. And if you did happen to, you were condemned and no amount of forgiveness was attainable.

This post originally started out going to cover the topic of my heroes of the Bible who had shady pasts. I will still touch on this, but ultimately this has become my testimony, a memoir. I feel that God has finally given me leave to share the dark details of my journey.

I grew up in a fairly sheltered environment. I was a Sunday School kid. I could tell you every Bible story from front to back and even illustrate with flannel graph if you asked me to. I had a pleasant childhood. When I was nine I gave my heart to Jesus. This felt like the right thing to do, in my young and tender heart. For a couple years I was as on fire as much as a kid in a fundamental independent denomination could be.

I was always the over achiever. I liked extra curricular reading in the summer time. When I was about twelve I started reading romance novels. You know the kind…the ones with the half naked couple on the front engaging in steamy activities. I could read a couple of these books a week without it phasing me.

This didn’t seem wrong to me. And I don’t place this blame on any one. It just seemed the natural order of things.

As the years went on I read more and more of these books. Some smuttier than others. In my early twenties was when the trouble began.

I’ve always had the desire to write stories. Particularly fictional stories. Fictional stories with adventure and romantic themes. At that time in my life I was deeply engrossed in reading this genre as well. However, it soon crossed over into the realm of unhealthy. The steamy, smutty romance stories that I had been reading turned into overtly and extremely detailed sexual fictional accounts. And I contributed to those accounts in my writings.  I believe the term is “soft porn”.

With this new and yes, exciting territory, came a rather dangerous one as well. My mind was filled with this intense imagery that I couldn’t shake, in fact I wanted more of it. So much so, that I turned to a source that I never thought I would. Online pornography.

Adults admitting to Internet sexual addiction: 10%.

More than 70% of men from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month (comScore Media Metrix).

28% those admitting to sexual addiction are women (internet-filter-review.com).

34% of female readers of Today’s Christian Woman’s online newsletter admitted to intentionally accessing Internet porn in a recent poll and 1 out of every 6 women, including Christians, struggles with an addiction to pornography (Today’s Christian Woman, Fall 2003).  Source: http://www.safefamilies.org/sfStats.php

I had become a statistic.

This went on for well over a year, likely a couple, that detail is still quite vague. The images that I’d surf the web for overtook my mind and my heart until that’s all I wanted 24/7. And yet I was going to church every Sunday like a “good little Christian” and no one knew the difference.

But I knew. And I hated it. I hated myself.  I would lay in bed every night crying myself to sleep because I didn’t know how to escape the hold that it had on me. I could feel my soul dying more and more as the days went on.

And yet it continued. I kept reading the smut and kept looking at porn. I would be sick afterward, but I was driven by the inane desire to feed this rush of adrenaline.

Every night I would hit my knees and pray to God to help me. To save me from this thing that was controlling me…killing me. Every night. I was sure He didn’t hear me. And yet I kept going back to Him.

It was at this point that I was at the end of my rope. I didn’t know what else to do. I think I had given up. And then somewhere… I don’t even remember how it came to me…but the verse Philippians 4:8 was there in front of me: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

I wrote this gem down and taped it to my night stand where it would be the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes and the first thing I saw when I opened them.

At first it didn’t seem to be working…whatever it was supposed to do. I still engaged in these activities that had taken control of me. It became such an obsession that I believe I would have acted on these carnal thoughts physically had a guy been interested in me at the time. Yes, that’s right, I would have given up my virginity for a single moment of pleasure.

As the last thread of my rope was nearing the end, a friend from work reached out (she had no idea that I was dealing with any of this) and invited me to go to church with her. It was a new church on the north side of town called North Point Church. I put her off for about three months. During that time I knew I was searching for something I just didn’t know what.

And yet still I was praying every night for God to break this hold over me. I knew a darkness was fighting for my soul. Fighting for my failure. I kept meditating on Phil 4:8. I kept on with the acts that were killing me.

Finally the cord broke. I knew that the only way God could help me was for me to take a step toward what He was offering. At the time I didn’t know what that was. But now I know that it was freedom. Freedom in Jesus. As simple as that. I broke that day. Or should I say He broke those chains that had held me captive for too long. He saved me from the pit of darkness and despair.

It was then that I knew I needed change. I conceded to go to church with my friend. Happenstance had it that it was an event for the youth group she was a leader in…the theatrical showing of Passion of the Christ. I came to know Jesus in a whole new way that night. About a month later, I agreed to go to an actual church service with her, that was ironically held in an old movie theater. That day changed my life forever. I can remember that service as clear as day. Pastor Tommy was speaking about Jesus feeding the 5,000. You know the story…where He takes five little fish and two loaves of bread that a little boy offered and supernaturally made it to feed 5,000+ people. I never quite heard it put the way that Tommy put it. So down to earth that it all made sense and I knew what God wanted of me. My undying devotion.

That was seven years ago. I have been free of that bondage for seven years. Has it been easy? Not by a long shot. I have had times of such intense loneliness that it feels like I’m suffocating. I’ve had moments where impure images came to the forefront of my mind. Make no mistake. There are some things that you can never erase from your mind. But for the grace of God, He helps to move those thoughts to the very back recesses and plants good images and thoughts in their place.

I took an oath, I guess you could say, to Him. I am still a virgin. At least physically speaking. As a symbol of this promise to remain pure until I’m married, I wear two purity rings. One on my right hand that says “purity”. And one on my left hand that says “true love waits”. The latter is what I will be giving to the man that I will marry as a way to show him that I loved him even before I met him.

This revelation just struck me tonight. How scared I’ve been all these years that someone might find this out about me. Family, friends, especially someone in church. Because you know, Christians aren’t supposed to fall. I had only shared this in detail with one person before tonight, my best friend who I met at church and who’s stuck by me through thick and thin for five years. And a friend who lives a half a world away and isn’t a Christian. Yet neither of them judged me.

So I ask this of you. Please don’t look at me differently or down on  me, because I’ve done that to others.  But I’ll understand if you do.  Please don’t judge me, because I have judged others. But I’ll understand if you do. Please don’t condemn me. But I’ll understand if you do.

King David had an affair with a married woman and then had that woman’s husband murdered. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart.

Rahab was a prostitute who committed treason against her own people to save a couple of men who were mighty men of God. Yet she was the great great great great (…) grandmother of Jesus Christ.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, became pregnant as a teen in an impossible, inconceivable way, and deserved death according to Jewish law. Yet her life was spared by a man who chose to be her husband rather than run away from an unbelievable situation.

Peter — disciple, apostle, best friend of Jesus — deserted Him when He needed him most. Yet he was asked to protect and lead His sheep.

Saul of Tarsus, aka the Apostle Paul, arrested, tortured and murdered Christ-followers in the name of religion. Yet he became the most renowned Christ-follower throughout history, in fact much of the new testament was penned by him – and was even murdered because of this.

All these saints had rather sordid pasts. Much more than my time of enslavement to a vulgar desire. And though I don’t feel like I’m nearly righteous enough to be included in their ranks, I believe with my whole heart that God honors my devotion as He did theirs. As He redeemed them, He redeemed me.

“…being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,  and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His people in the kingdom of light.  For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” Colossians 1:11-13

I am a Tarnished Saint.

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11 thoughts on “Tarnished Saints

  1. I am so proud of you! It must’ve been extremely difficult to share this part of your past, but you will be even freer than before, because sin hates the light. I, too, have dealth with this in my own life, and have learned to place safeguards in place, including filters for my internet. OpenDNS has been extremely helpful, but that is another story.

    Authenticity. That is, I’m sure, what drew you to North Point Church, and pastor Tommy. And because of YOUR authenticity, many lives will be forever and eternally impacted.

    God bless and keep you.

  2. Love your title and your last sentence! That’s just it. Really, we are all tarnished saints in our own individual journeys. To me, your story speaks more of redemption than it does of failure. See, our ‘failures’ in life don’t even compare to our destiny in life “to be redeemed by a loving God”. The greatest thing about your story? Think of how you will be able to connect to others that may be going through situations in their life that give them the same type of ‘feelings/thoughts’ you had? That’s the other amazing thing about redemption…God doesn’t stop there, He then uses what you brought to Him for something you never expected it! Great story, keep it going girl!

  3. Tara, great post. It took a lot of courage to write that out, awesome.

    And of course people are going to look at you differently. Even though I don’t know you very well, I’m going to look at you differently. But not in any of the negative ways you seemed to be worried about.

    I know I’m going to be looking at you with more respect. And you should look at yourself that way too. Especially considering that you’re not satisfied to pretend to be perfect.

    Authenticity is kinda a big deal 😉

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  5. Tara,
    I always knew that you are an incredible young woman, but the bravery that it took to post this is beyond comprehention. Now I understand the great passion that you have for purity, not just for you but for oters. I will not think of you any less but now my thoughts of you have just went out the roof. You are going to help so many that walk through the hallways of the church that carry this same weight and shame as you did. I thank God for people like you.
    Thank you for sharing your story. This I will never forget. You are an exceptional person!

    Sandra

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  7. This is so encouraging and insightful. I’m so glad to see that there are others out there who are striving for a Godly life and not just gratifying every sexual desire. I’m praying for you man.

  8. You rOck for sharing this. It is only when we some to see the counterfeit in the pleasures the darkness peddles, and the delicious pleasures (ps 116) at His right hand, nail-scarred hands, that we will find freedom from all that binds us. Love in Christ. Diana

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