So I’ll go by “Renee” – my middle name. Neither of my parents were Christian when I was born, but they chose a name that means “Born Again.” (How cool is that?)
In contrast to many, I had a lot of stability in my early years. My parents were married to each other, neither drank nor cursed nor yelled and they valued hard work. We didn’t have a lot of money but they provided a home in a safe neighborhood, food on the table, special remembrances on birthdays and set us up to value education and a solid work ethic.
I did not FEEL very loved, however. Whether that was reasonable or not, based on some circumstances in early childhood, I didn’t feel accepted, had a strong desire to excel—perhaps to earn love—and a deep fear of rejection.
My parents had their own spiritual journey and we started attending a Bible-believing church when I was in elementary school. From then on, the Word was very much a part of my life. I knew Scripture and all about Jesus. I even personally experienced the way His name was a strong tower; in times of spiritual oppression as a young girl I could sing a Christian song or say the name of Jesus and get relief.
But as I went through my teens, it became increasingly clear that there were two paths—I could choose either the way of the world OR the way of Christ. I waffled for a few years but as I graduated high school, chose definitively the way of the world and dove head-first into living a life on my terms. And at least initially I thought I made a wonderful choice. I thrived (I felt) with new-found freedom and did what I wanted.
Now if you asked me, I would have said (with great offense at the question) that I was still a Christian, even a true born-again Christian, not like those in name only. I knew what real Christianity was. I could quote Romans 3:23—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God—but I really didn’t think of myself as a sinner. I was a pretty good person, you know? I tried to be nice to people and even on occasion might volunteer or donate or whatever.
I also couldn’t see the contradiction in my life. I tried going to church periodically, when it fit my schedule. I recall one weekend in college when after dropping foul language left and right and drinking heavily I told someone that I intended to make church the next Sunday. I remember their incredulous, “You? Go to church?”
And I, highly indignant, was like, “Yeah. What is your problem? Why are you surprised I go to church?” I really was offended. So what that I had a social life and drank? I was still a good person!
Enter a series of God-intervening events that brought intense pain, bewilderment and trauma but which I see now as very loving. I wound up pregnant and alone, at which time I still didn’t turn to God. But in His mercy I got away from heavy drinking because I didn’t want to harm my son.
A few years later, still looking for acceptance, I met and married a man who intently pursued me and lavished me with great praise, affection, and attention (while we were dating). I thought he must really love me. To my confusion and shock, he immediately rejected me once we were married. His infidelity always simmered beneath the surface throughout our marriage and his kind affection towards my son while we were dating turned into cruelty after he adopted him. I couldn’t understand his response when I got pregnant either.
It is hard to describe the intense emotional suffering I experienced in those years—I didn’t understand why my husband no longer loved me (having mistaken lust for love) and tried vainly everything I could think of to rekindle his affections, spark his interest, and improve our marriage.
I also couldn’t understand why the two men I loved in the world (my husband and son, my dad having already passed away) had such a very strained relationship and why my husband rejected this little boy he had appeared to love.
Adding to my confusion and hurt was my husband’s claims that we had a wonderful marriage and home life, and his adamant denial of any infidelity regardless of the evidence that surfaced from time to time. He claimed it was all my warped view and fears. He would claim I misconstrued his gifts to other women, etc., and that I couldn’t trust because of past trauma. He suggested that if I dared keep asking for answers I would be forcing him to have an affair. So I tried all the harder to be a wife he’d want. I ached also for my son and could find no solace for my heart.
It would take a long chapter to explain all God’s marvelous ways, but they and a few more years led me one night to a point in my living room where emotionally spent, utterly unable to go another step on my own, I basically threw up my hands and told God that fine, I would live His way instead of mine. At the same time I realized (perhaps for the first time in my life) that I actually was a sinner. God showed me that my unfaithfulness to Him was as bad as my husband’s unfaithfulness to me. That was very, very hard to accept, but true. I realized that my bitterness and unforgiveness was sin and desired to give it up.
I began to be filled with a love I can’t explain. Joy bubbled up inside. Instead of cursing under my breath when my husband did something cruel, I began to pray for him, to ask God to bless him. Everything was . . . new. I felt like I had been born again (praise God, I was)! God instantly took away things I didn’t even realize were problem behaviors of mine and I began to hunger and thirst for God’s word.
Now this is my actual life, not a fairy tale or Hollywood saga. So my husband did not suddenly come to his senses, stop cheating and beg my forgiveness, and we did not live happily ever after. If anything life circumstances got worse. But I praise God because in all of these things He has given me far, far, far more good than whatever difficulties have come.
My husband left two years after my conversion in a very publicly embarrassing way and it seems his cheating was even more pervasive than I imagined. He didn’t exactly show kindness in the divorce or in the years following. But I can tell you without any hesitation that those who hope on the Lord will never be disappointed (Isaiah 49), that God is a Rock and a Strong Tower, that He is a husband to the woman whose husband of her youth has rejected her (Isaiah 54), a father to the fatherless and that He rescues all who are oppressed (Psalm 103).