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The Most Beautiful Disaster
How God Makes Miracles Out of Our Mistakes
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Hope Carpenter opens up about her personal struggles that nearly destroyed her family, her church, and her ministry, but then God did something miraculous—out of her brokenness, He made something beautiful.
It’s Time to Get Real
I leaned forward as the wipers slapped back and forth across the windshield. Between the pouring rain and the tears that streamed down my face, I could barely see, but I kept driving. I passed exits for Spartanburg, Gaffney. Any one was as good as another. I didn’t know where I was headed, only that I couldn’t go home.
My husband had just kicked me out. Ron said he couldn’t live with me anymore because living with the news that I’d been unfaithful was just too painful. He thought that I’d lost my mind, that I might even be demon-possessed. And maybe I was those things; at the time I didn’t really know. I was numb. I was in shock. I just kept driving down Highway 85.
Ron and I had started our church, Redemption, in Greenville, South Carolina, more than twenty-two years before. We had started with a few families meeting in our living room, and the Lord had built it into a thriving international ministry. We had multiple campuses hosting over ten thousand weekly attendees, and Ron was preaching every week on television. We both spoke at national conferences and had hosted some of the biggest names in Christianity in our sanctuary. My women’s ministry, Women of Hope, was growing, and I had invitations to preach coming in weekly. I had three beautiful children and a grandson I adored. I had heard God’s call on my life when I was fifteen, and I knew Ron and I were following His path and serving Him diligently.
By this time, 2013, we had plenty of money, a beautiful home, dear friends. From the outside, it looked like I was living the dream.
And I knew, as I passed the exits for Blacksburg and Grover, that my life as I had known it was over.
I had just confessed to Ron that I’d been unfaithful. Not for the first time. He’d given me thirty minutes to get my things and get out of the house. My life and ministry were ruined. My husband was going to divorce me. My kids would probably never forgive me.
On the surface, it seemed like the worst possible thing that could have happened.
But the truth was, I finally felt free. I felt like the biggest weight had been lifted from my shoulders. There would be no more lies, no more secrets. I had finally told the truth, and it had—for maybe the first time in my life—truly set me free.
I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
You see, I had spent my entire life presenting a happy, flawless face to the world while inside, I was broken. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. I’ve spent most of my life in ministry, and I’ve talked with thousands of women, heard their stories and prayed with them through their pain. I’ve met female executives at large corporations who kill it in the boardroom but who inside are so insecure and scared they can’t sleep at night. I’ve met women whose marriages seem rock solid, who inspire #couplegoals hashtags on social media, but who secretly resent their husbands or are trying to figure out how to leave. I’ve met women whose children show up at every youth group event and every prayer service, but who are secretly in treatment for addiction, cutting, or eating disorders. I’ve heard their pain and seen their tears, and I know I’m not the only one.
I never intended to blow up my marriage, destroy my family, or ruin my ministry. I never thought I could cheat on my husband or live a double life for almost a decade. But that’s exactly what I did.
I also never intended to put on a façade. I never made the decision to hide what was really going on inside, and I certainly didn’t set out to make everyone believe my life was rosy all the time. It’s just that I had been destroyed inside for so long that the only way I knew how to cope was to make sure everything looked perfect on the outside. And after putting on the perfect front for so long, suddenly everyone knew what a total wreck I really was, and it felt strangely good.
The truth is, I didn’t have a clue how to cope with the pressures of my “perfect” life, and I sure didn’t have any idea how to ask for help. I didn’t understand how the trauma in my past was still affecting me in ways I couldn’t even begin to name. And I was not about to lift that veil and let anyone see how much I was really struggling.
Instead, I made a series of bad decisions that destroyed my marriage, my family, and my ministry. I messed up, big-time.
Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe, like me, you’re afraid to let people see what’s really going on. Your transgressions may not be as dramatic as mine—it takes a special touch to do it as thoroughly as I did—but I bet you hide what’s happening in your life sometimes too. Maybe you’ve snapped pictures of you and your little darling on a Mommy-daughter date but the truth is you spent the whole time snapping at her to stop wiping her nose on her sleeve. Perhaps you love to post videos of you and your friends glammed up and looking for all the world like you’re having the time of your life when really you’d rather be home on your couch. Maybe you make a big show of how much you love your husband but then you go home and Google-stalk that cute single guy at work. You get dressed up for church, know all the songs, say all the right things, but God seems farther away than ever before.
Of course, we all choose how we present ourselves to the world. We all want to put our best foot forward, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem begins when we can’t tell the difference between what’s for show and what’s real, or between how we say we feel and how we really feel. The problem is when you start mistaking the images for reality.
The funny thing is, once my façade had been ripped away and I could no longer hide behind the picture I presented to everyone, I finally felt free.
Authenticity is one of those buzzwords that you hear a lot these days, especially if you spend much time in churches. Women’s conferences are full of people sharing about being their authentic self. This is a good thing—the more we push to open up and really share with each other, the better.
However, going to a two-day “Live Your Best Life Conference” is not going to delete the forty years of experience that tells you being honest and vulnerable is risky. Real change, real deep soul change, is not a one-stop shop with a $99 registration fee attached to it.
And then there’s this: Are we really getting to true, deep, healing authenticity and vulnerability when we share that we didn’t get our laundry done or how long it’s been since we’ve washed our hair or that we don’t pray as much as we want to? How our morning quiet time was interrupted when we got up to make pancakes for our adorable child?
It’s not that these things aren’t true or real or hard. But I suspect that for most of us, our deepest, darkest secrets are quite a bit deeper and darker than arguing with our husbands about finances. How in the world can we ever open up about what’s really going on when so much of what is applauded as “authentic” feels so… superficial?
This is not a book about authenticity, exactly, although that’s part of it. I will encourage you to take off your mask and to get real with yourself and others. In this book, we’ll explore how deep-seated, long-buried pain and lessons learned in childhood drive the ways we act today, and we’ll talk about how we have to first face the brokenness and sin in our own lives for ourselves before we can truly get real with one another. Sometimes—often—the hardest person to be authentic with is yourself. We’ll also explore the amazing healing power of showing our authentic selves to our Lord and Savior and asking for His help in overcoming the hurts and hurdles in our lives. True freedom involves being willing to take a long, honest look at our hearts and what is really hidden deep down inside there. What sin are you struggling with? What pain have you buried deep, deep down but is still driving your thoughts and your today?
REAL TALK ABOUT THE CHURCH
People in general do a lot of hiding, but I believe Christians are particularly good at this kind of pretending. We show up at church on Sunday and put on our best face and don’t want anyone to know that we yelled at our kids and were rude to our husband just before we walked in that church door. We Instagram our devotions and hang Bible verses in our homes, but we feel disconnected from God. We go through the motions and know all the right answers, but it’s been years since we’ve felt the hope of Christ or the joy of the Spirit in our lives.
Now, we all know that we don’t glow in the dark, right? None of us are sin-free. We all wrestle with our own set of issues, and mine are different than yours and yours are different than your neighbor’s. If we know this, then why do we have such a hard time with telling the truth about what we are all dealing with? Just because we are saved doesn’t mean we won’t struggle. We don’t lose our desires, just like that. I wish churches were better at giving people real help for how to deal with our flesh. Instead, more often we are made to feel shame and guilt when we admit our issues and our struggles and our mistakes. It’s no wonder we feel the need to hide! That shame makes us afraid to admit our own problems, and the fear it inspires makes us turn our faces away from those who have fallen or who are struggling.
Given that we all struggle with the same forces and the same desires, and that being a Christian doesn’t make us exempt, I believe church should be an atmosphere where we can be honest about our hurt and pain and get counsel when we are struggling. But instead, so many of us have gotten the message that we are alone in our struggles and we need to hide what’s really going on to be accepted.
When I think about how the church makes people afraid to show their true struggles, I’m reminded of the man with the withered hand Jesus healed in Mark 3:1–5. Remember that story?
Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
This man had no doubt spent his life hiding his injury and the shame that came with it, and then Jesus came along and told him to stretch out his hand. I think most of us Christians would have stretched out the good hand, the one that didn’t cause us embarrassment and pain. I know I would have! I wouldn’t want anyone—especially Jesus—to see that I wasn’t perfect. But this man showed Jesus the broken parts of himself, and Jesus honored that faith with healing.
We acknowledge our inability to hide from Him and the richness of His healing power when we trust Him with our deepest shame and broken parts. The true church of Jesus Christ creates an atmosphere where we can willingly show our weaknesses, our “withered hand,” because that’s the whole reason He died for us! Church is supposed to preach the good news of the gospel: Jesus paid the price for our sins because He knew that we weren’t able to. A healthy church will foster an environment that encourages you to stretch out your withered hand, not make you feel ashamed or guilty when—not if—you struggle. So many people have fallen prey to sin because they didn’t have a safe place to open up and be honest about what they were feeling and going through. God help us!
YOU WILL STRUGGLE, BUT YOU HAVE POWER TO OVERCOME IT
So many Christians think that just because they gave their hearts to the Lord, they will never have a sinful desire ever again, and that’s just not true. Those desires do not go away. Just because we have been covered with the blood of Christ doesn’t mean that we are instantly made perfect. Sanctification is not a one-and-done kind of thing. It takes daily—hourly!—doses of God’s grace to keep us turning to God instead of giving in to our own desires.
I was brought up in a church where we were encouraged (to put it mildly) to strive for holiness and devoutness. I spent so much of my life genuinely trying to be holy, and feeling shame, hurt, and worthlessness when I failed. I honestly believe that the pastors I grew up listening to really wanted to encourage us to live a holy life. But the problem is this: Jesus is the only one without sin! He is the only one who is truly holy. Scripture even tells us that “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Wanting to please God is an important part of our faith and its practice. But all too often, in the midst of this pursuit of God’s pleasure, we forget the earth-shattering, mind-blowing truth that God’s love for us is already more perfect than the most sincere, lifelong pursuit of holiness. Genuine faith is not about trying to please a God who demands perfection; faith is about a relationship with a God who loves us just as we are. The deep transformative truth of living in relationship with God is that God finds us out of His great love for us. Where there is religion without relationship, there is striving, fear, and guilt, and the sense that we’re never good enough. In a true relationship with God through Christ, there is rest and peace and assurance that God loves us perfectly as we are.
Does that mean we don’t pursue holiness? Absolutely not! But we cannot be free to pursue holiness or to enjoy the beauty of our relationship with God when we live buried in shame, hiding our shortcomings and failures. I’ve been there and done that. Never again. I refuse.
On the flip side, when we start to think that “we’re above that” or we’re too holy for temptations to affect us, we’re really teetering on the verge of destruction. Proverbs 28:26 says, “whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (ESV). There is a battle that we have to always be fighting, and that is the battle of our flesh. Our feelings want what they want, and our feelings aren’t always truthful, nor are they righteous. My feelings want me to slap three people before lunchtime!
Here’s the thing: It’s no accident that we all struggle with our flesh and with the shame that our sins cause us. It’s not just some fluke thing. We have an enemy. He wants to destroy us, and he will go to any length to lure us, trap us, and ultimately destroy us (John 10:10). I’ve been in full-time ministry since 1990, and I have had the opportunity to observe, again and again, that most of us Christians are incredibly naïve about our natures and the destructive forces in our flesh. Truly, we are “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6 ESV). Although God’s Word commands us not to be led by our temporary feelings or to trust our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), we still fall into these traps.
But we don’t have to. We have the power of Jesus Christ within us, and that is stronger than any scheme the devil dreams up. And God wants us to use it! First, we have to admit we are tempted, and cry out to the Lord to help us! We do not have the power to overcome the enemy’s schemes by ourselves, but we do have the power of the Holy Spirit inside us and the Word of God to help us. When we pray, we are accessing the power of God to fight against the temptations of our flesh, and He gladly gives it to us. But you have to admit you need it and ask. Admitting that you need help, that you aren’t perfect, is the first step to being changed, inside and out.
So many of us have spent so long hiding. Maybe it’s time to start admitting that it’s not working for us, that we’re all hurting and broken inside but we don’t know what to do about it. What would happen if we started being real with one another about the struggles we’re all facing? I can’t help but think it would be a step in the right direction.
I know from experience that when you don’t confront your pain in a healthy way, it can eat you up inside. Even if you refuse to admit it’s there, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. I learned that the hard way.
IT’S HARD, BUT IT’S WORTH IT
When I was in my own dark pit after my sins had been revealed, I realized that to get out of it, I would need to dig deeper than I ever had before. I was going to have to admit that I had messed up, and then I was going to have to rely on God’s grace and fight my way out of the horrible mess I was in. I couldn’t do what I’d always done before, which was dance around what I’d done, blame other people, or run away as fast as I possibly could. I knew that this time, I was at a crossroads. I had to decide to face the things I’d been hiding from all along. I was so sick of where the fake, scared, and timid me had left me. I couldn’t live like this anymore. I was ready to do whatever it took, for as long as it took, to figure out who I was and fight for my rights as a daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
“God, if You’re really out there, if You are who You say You are, I need You right now like I’ve never needed You. I need You to help me,” I prayed. Meanwhile, I was full of doubt. Could I even survive this mess? This devastation? This shame? This failure? Can God ever use me? Had I gone too far? “Please help me,” I prayed. “I want to live and not die. I want to thrive and not just survive. Make me brave and strong and free.”
As you’ll see, it wasn’t easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And in the pages of this book, I’m going to show you what I’ve learned. I’m going to take you through the darkest days, when I was so lost and hurting and confused that I tried to find relief from the pain of my past in the worst possible ways. I’m going to take you back to the beginning, to the roots of the problem. It’s not pretty, but it’s real, and I’ve come to realize that that is far more important. We’re going to dig into Scripture, because I believe that it truly is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). My prayer is that you will come to understand how beloved you are, exactly as you are. You don’t have to put on a pretty front because there’s no fooling the One who created you.
I have to warn you up front that it won’t be easy. God delights in making beauty from brokenness, but don’t think that you can just sit back and let Him take care of it. It’s a process, and you’ll have to dig deep and look hard at parts of your heart and your history that maybe you haven’t wanted to spend time examining before. You’ll have to stop trying so hard to convince people that everything is great and take a good, hard look at the places deep inside you that maybe aren’t actually all that great. You’ll have to make yourself vulnerable, and I know that can be scary. Believe me, I know that better than anyone.
It’s not always going to be easy, and sometimes you might not like what you uncover. But even when it gets hard, I want you to stay with me, because I can promise you this: If you’re willing to put in the work—if you’re really willing to spend time digging deep and seeking God’s wisdom throughout this process—you’re going to find that your life can go from brokenness to breakthrough, and it can be better than you’ve ever imagined.
Back to the Beginning
I married Ron Carpenter on June 23, 1990. I wore a beautiful mermaid-style wedding gown covered in sequins. It was my dream wedding. He was the best-looking man I’d ever seen, and what made him even more attractive was that he loved Jesus with all of his heart. He felt called to ministry, and so did I. We were going to go out and save the world. We’d fallen head over heels in love, and we’d planned our future together. We’d even waited. For three and a half years, we’d managed to keep our relationship pure. And as I stood in a glittering white dress at the front of the church, I was so ready to say goodbye to everything that had come before and start living the great life God was surely planning for us. I was sure my life was going to be perfect.
- “Hope Carpenter holds nothing back in her new book. A life marked by trauma and shame becomes a picture of God’s redeeming grace. This book is vulnerable and powerful.”—Pastor Steven & Holly Furtick, Elevation Church
"Riveting. Authentic. Deeply touching. This read is inspiring and touches the soul of the reader. The way Hope draws us into her life’s story is impactful. Very few can do that effectively. She cuts through the fluff of our modern church culture to get down to the real truth—the maskless self that's exposed before God. If you want your life to be changed forever, READ THIS BOOK!"
—Heather & Cornelius Lindsey, authors
- “Hope Carpenter, you’ve been reading ouremail! Okay, let’s be honest. We’ve been caught fronting—putting on fake Instagram happy faces while trying to mask some unimaginable hurt from our past. Here, Hope reveals her own very personal trauma and shows us how to unravel our internal tangle of secrets and allow those old wounds to finally heal. It’s time to get real: Nobody’sperfect! And it’s comforting just to know we’re not the only one with scars.”—Pastor Nicole Crank, host of The Nicole Crank Show, author, speaker, & co-founder of FaithChurch.com
- “I love reading books that ignite a fire inside my soul. This book is a must-read full of broken dreams coming back to life, and it walks us through how God turns your scars into stars and makes your pain your pulpit. The Most Beautiful Disaster gives you a glimpse of what it looks like when God’s mercy meets your mess. He truly changes everything!”—Kimberly “Real Talk Kim” Jones, author & pastor
- “This book is more than a compilation of pages filled with information—it’s an instrument that introduces us to the God that redeems our life from destruction. This courageous, clear, and candid work will stir your faith and confirm the truth that God will bring beauty out of our ashes. Hope Carpenter is a gift to all who know her, and this necessary work is a gift to the world.”—Dr. Dharius Daniels, author & lead pastor of Change Church
- “Hope Carpenter's smile and contagious laugh would make you think that she has not seen or experienced some of the darkest moments that life throws our way. Even more compelling than her smile is her honesty in sharing those moments with us in her new book. Hope pulls back the curtain of her life, marriage and ministry and gives us a personal look at what beauty from ashes really looks like.”—Sheryl Brady, author & pastor
- “There are many books available that address the issue of 'Who am I?' but this book has a beautiful, realistic view of this question with a real-life testimony to back it up along with the Word of God! Hope is a personal mentee of mine, and I was privileged to toss my mantle on her. She has a heart for the Word, and I have great confidence in her. Do not wait to purchase this book and receive the wonderful testimony of a person who was set free and restored beautifully.”—Marilyn Hickey
- “Hope’s book is full of hope. The Most Beautiful Disaster will inspire you, encourage you, and change you! No matter what your circumstance may look like, this book will help you heal and move into your future stronger. With painful authenticity and transparency, Hope Carpenter shares not only her miracles but the heartbreak, the mistakes, and the misery caused from those mistakes. She shares all of this with the purpose of bringing you into the same freedom she has found.”—Dr. Dave Martin, author & America’s #1 Christian Success Coach
- On Sale
- May 4, 2021
- Page Count
- 240 pages