In evangelicalism, we have a bit of a weird tradition. I've heard special speakers in church and read books that follow this pattern. Someone will share a testimony, the story of God's grace in their life, which goes into gory detail about their sinful and messed-up life prior to their encounter with Jesus, with greater and greater drama up to and through their conversion, and then pretty much finish up with, "And then I lived happily ever after."
This pattern has long seemed weird to me. It gives the strong impression that the most interesting and compelling part of anyone's life is the BC—Before Christ—part. It's hard not to get the idea that the listeners or readers are getting a vicarious thrill out of hearing the down-and-dirty parts of someone's life, and then get to feel okay about it as long as the message is that sin doesn't pay and Jesus can redeem everyone. It can also make someone like me, who never had a "past" in the way people talk about that, feel like they have a second-class testimony.
It also whitewashes what the post-conversion Christian life is really like. Those of us who are Christians know that it's not a "happily ever after" story. There are a lot of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, successes and failures. Our conversion is only the beginning of a process where God is continually healing, restoring, shaping, and working through us.
My wife Cecile's new memoir, Loved by Strangers, is a better kind of testimony. She candidly discusses her early life without Jesus, from childhood abuse, drug use, and glamour, to divorce, alcohol abuse, and the loss of everything. She sadly doesn't have a "boring testimony" like I do. And God has been using people with a checkered past for a very long time (see the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, or John Newton) to demonstrate his transformative power. I'm also convinced that God uses these life experiences to embolden and empower the people who have had them. So the stories of sin, loss, and brokenness are relevant.
But Cecile also describes how God's grace brought her to salvation, sobriety, love and
remarriage, growth, the peaks and valleys of the Christian walk, and
ministry to others. It was remarkable, in the process of writing this book, how we could see the threads of things that had once been wounds and weaknesses be healed, sometimes through new experiences that transformed their meaning, and sometimes when events forced Cecile to confront and overcome previous fears and scars. It wasn't a conversion experience where everything got magically fixed all at once; it has been a process spanning years and decades. God's always still working through all of us.
At the same time that all this healing is occurring, Loved by Strangers also shows Cecile come full circle and use the experiences she has had to contribute to ministry to others. It turns out that nothing we go through is wasted; nothing is pointless; and very few things are simply for ourselves and no one else. Sometimes we can't listen to others, no matter how "right" their answers are, until we know that they've gone through something similar to what we've gone through. God has used Cecile's testimony, as well as the empathy she's developed for people in the grip of sin or enduring its consequences, to touch other people's lives in a way that many people, including me, never could.
All along the way, her inspiring story offers hope that, no matter where your personal journey has brought you, you can regain joy and purpose through the mercy and power of Jesus.Loved by Strangers is published by Risen Lord Press and is available on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle, in the Apple bookstore, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.