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A Lost Sheep

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“No matter what I had done the night before, I cleaned myself up and made it to church every Sunday morning,” said Emily Haring. “The truth is, I was far away from God. I found my identity in being wanted and accepted by people, especially men. I used lies and manipulation to get people to like me. I became a chameleon, mimicking others’ behaviors, and attitudes. I said things I didn’t mean and did things I wasn’t comfortable with just to feel like I was part of the fold. I found my worth in being good enough. I walked the razor’s edge of getting grades just good enough to make it look like I had everything under control, never letting anyone see me stressed or nervous.

“After college, things only seemed to get worse. With a job and a paycheck, it was easier for me to fund my habits, and my weekend drinking turned into recreational drug use. One night, in an attempt to impress a boy, I consumed a number of drugs far beyond my tolerance and began to overdose. As my body was shutting down, I somehow woke up and ran outside, contacted my roommate, and got to safety. I spent some time in the hospital and more time at home with my parents. Their confusion and anguish still haunt me to this day. I had never told them anything other than what I thought they wanted to hear, so when the truth of my actions was revealed, they didn’t even recognize who I’d become.

“My family saw a need for a deep change in my heart. My brother had been attending Watermark for a few years and knew about re:generation, a biblical recovery ministry on Monday nights. The following Monday, tears of anger brimmed in my eyes during the entire worship set and teaching. I didn’t want recovery; I wanted to go back to the life I was comfortable with. I was terrified to disappoint my parents, so I made a deal with myself. I could skate through a year of this recovery group, skimming the surface, and checking the necessary boxes to make it look like I had changed, and then I could go back to the way things were.

“I began re:generation with my heart locked and chained, sharing only surface-level stories, and tying them up neatly with a bow to appear like I had everything figured out. But, no matter how closed-off I made myself, God was working on my heart. He knew the messages I would hear, and He knew the leaders to place in my circle that would slowly chip away at the walls I built.

“I thought sitting in that circle meant admitting I wasn't good enough to be a Christian. Through re:gen, I learned that we’re all not ‘good enough.’ Thankfully, we don’t have to be, because God loves us enough that He sent His Son to die for us. Still, I could see a common thread through all my resentments, fears, and hurts. I just wanted people to think I was good enough, and I thought that being anything other than perfect would turn them away from me.

“I was scared out of my mind to confess a lifetime’s worth of sin to my community group. I thought they would want nothing to do with me after hearing everything I had done. So, with great fear, I invited them over and spent an hour nervously confessing my sins. I watched them watch me – intently, interested, and engaged.

“When it was all over, they had questions. Not to convict me, but to understand me. Because when they learned more about me and all those parts I wanted to keep hidden and locked away, they didn’t like me less. They loved me more.

“True community and connection come not from being perfect together but from sharing our brokenness. When someone comes forward with their struggles – the parts of them that aren’t shiny and perfect – we can feel free to share ours, too, and point each other towards the forgiveness that comes only through Christ.

“This side of eternity, I’ll never be completely free from the presence of sin in my life. Spoiler: neither will you. But we can live in freedom from the power of sin. We can live regenerated, new lives in Christ today.

“My drift away from God was so slow, I didn’t even notice. That’s why I love the metaphor that Jesus uses of sheep (Luke 15:4-6). A sheep gets separated from the herd not because it runs in the other direction — it gets separated because it stops looking to the shepherd to show it where to go. Sheep get distracted by things of the world, eating some good grass, or looking at the clouds. And before they know it, the herd has moved on and they’re lost.

“While I was wandering away from the herd time and time again, putting myself in unimaginable danger, God was chasing after me. While I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), God picked me up and put me on his shoulders and brought me home.”