“Don’t you know who you are? You are more than the choices that you’ve made. You are more than the sum of your past mistakes. You are more than the problems you create. You’ve made remade.” Tenth Avenue North
Don’t count yourself out because you’ve made mistakes in your past. I’m Kim Gray, and I’d like to share my story so that you’ll know no matter the choices you’ve made or where you now find yourself, God is more than able to turn everything around. Actually, I’ve found that He is able to do that and can use your story to turn someone else’s life around, too.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, hurt people, hurt people? That was me. I was growing up OK, and then somehow I hit my pre-teen years and the next thing I knew I was broken and completely worthless in my own eyes. A neighborhood boy who got too close and too touchy, finding porn, and low self-esteem fueled by distance in the relationship with my Dad equaled successive bad decisions and bad relationships. Enter guilt, shame, and worthlessness. Funny, because my parents named me after the diamond mine in South Africa, and God has named me loved, valued, worthy, and accepted.
Damaged, I lived my life damaging other people and relationships around me including those with my Mom, Dad, friends… I became sexually active, and did whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted, whether they were single or in a relationship with someone else. I’d like to say that at this point my story is unique, but it’s really not. I’m not the first person to search for approval and love in relationships, and sadly, in this dark world, I doubt I’ll be the last. Thankfully, my Mom remained a strong, positive influence in my life, and after a year of barely speaking to me once she found out I was sexually active, our relationship started to heal. She became my biggest champion, my steadfast cheerleader, my role model, and my best friend.
And then my life was derailed, when Mom died during my junior year in college. I was overseas chasing love and trying to put as much distance between myself and my father as possible. One day, I was trying to talk her into sending me money to buy a car. The next day she was gone. I last spoke to her on a Saturday. She said she would call on Sunday like she always did and we would talk about this car some more. She never called. Instead my family called to tell me that my Mom had died in a flash flood and I needed to come home for her funeral.
At that time, I was blessed to be dating someone who genuinely cared about me, but I was too damaged to receive any kind of real love. His school said they would kick him out if he came home with me for the funeral because we weren’t married, so he wouldn’t be excused from classes. He came anyway. On one of the many flights it took to get home, as I sat in tears, he pointed out the window, and told me God was out there in the clouds and wanted to comfort me. I nodded and smiled, and then I nodded and smiled my way through my Mom’s funeral, but in my heart I wasn’t having anything to do God. Almost 10 years would have to go by before I let go of my misplaced anger at God for my Mom’s death. And boy, was I angry.
“Just because you gave up on a dream doesn’t mean God gave up. He has a victorious plan for you.” Joel Osteen
I gave up on so many dreams after my Mom’s death. A few more broken relationships later found me married to Mr. Right, an old high school friend, and back across the pond living in America. But I soon learned that like Andy Stanley says you don’t marry the Right Person to make a marriage work, you become the Right Person in God’s eyes… you become the person who the person you’re looking for is looking for… and then commit yourself to making your marriage work by being committed to God and His Word. Still not quite sure why I thought I could keep doing relationships the exact same way and not see my marriage fail like all my other relationships, but I gave it the old college try. I sure was hopeful, I sure was codependent, too, and then I was filing for divorce.
About four months before I packed up my belongings and my daughter and separated from my ex-husband, I actually came face to face with God. Good Friday 2009 came on the heels of the bottom falling out of my marriage. We were cheating, we were fighting, we were a sinking ship, but to the outside world we were the perfect couple living the American dream. Not sure why I decided that I just HAD to do the Stations of the Cross that Good Friday, even if it meant reading through the prayers on a website while sitting at my dining table. Next thing you know I’m bawling over my laptop, sobbing uncontrollably. All I kept thinking was, “How could I live like this when Jesus gave up EVERYTHING for me?” But my misplaced anger at God had grown past my Mom’s death to include my failing marriage, and boy, was I angry. So Easter ’09 came and went, and it was back to life as usual.
Fall seven times. Stand up eight. Japanese Proverb
By the end of 2009, I was a divorced, single mom. I was the woman at the well (John 4) and I was the adulterous woman (John 8), and then someone invited me to Victory World Church during one of my trips up to Atlanta to find a job. It was Mother’s Day 2010. I was so late I missed praise and worship, but I ended up in tears watching an outreach video from flood-ravaged Nashville, soaked by memories of Mom’s death during a flash flood. I headed back to Florida, but the person continued to send me links to Victory messages, including Johnson Bowie’s Unstoppable Righteousness message. I made the mistake of listening to that message at work, and was so convicted by Pastor Johnson’s teaching on how the spirit of Jezebel has overtaken modern culture that I had to go and cry in the parking lot. I was the 100th sheep (Matthew 18: 12), and God was coming after me.
God pursued me through to the end of that summer, and then moved in to claim me. I moved to Atlanta, and the person who introduced me to Victory challenged me to throw myself into the church and go after God for 30 days because the pain and emptiness I used to be good at hiding was starting to spill over my mask. I gave my life to Jesus in August, I joined a small group in September, I was baptized October, and I joined the Victory family in December—the day after the one year anniversary of my divorce.
Still, even though Jesus had my heart, I was Lot’s wife, looking back at my old life. It was awful. Every time I hopped back over the fence, I felt something break in my heart. Then the morning after, conviction would wash over me and I’d flee back to Jesus on the other side of the fence. See, I hadn’t made Jesus LORD of my life. I was still firmly convinced of my worthlessness, convinced that my past, my mistakes, and especially my divorce, had disqualified me from anything good forever. So why would Jesus want the rags my life anyway? But God showed me that what I thought were irreparable cracks in my life were actually the stories and triumphs He was going to use for His glory. You know how people say Jesus will meet you wherever you are? He met me at the corner of Loving and Serving With Everything Inside Me and Still Unable to Live in Purity. Then in June 2011, I started Andy Stanley’s One Year Challenge and that one year became the line in the sand where I gave my life to Jesus, just like my Mom’s passing marked the end of my childhood.
During that year, I walked away from bad relationships, bad habits, cultivated healthy boundaries, and drew closer to God to get some much-needed healing, rest, and peace. I took Ancient Paths I and II through Victory, and finally let go and opened my heart to the reality that despite all my mistakes, through Jesus Christ, I’m loved, worthy, valued, and accepted. I think that’s why my life verse is “Do everything in love.” (1 Cor. 16:14) because it’s God’s love that has led me out and set me in a pure, wonderful, wide-open place. This place is where my daughter is filled with joy and has given her life to Jesus, my relationship with my Dad has been restored, and I get to live and work in my calling. I like it here. You can be here, too. God is good.
“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19