Stories of Forgiveness


By Rebecca St. James

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Young men and women who have fallen away and then rediscovered the love of Christ speak of God’s forgiveness and healing abilities in these stories of modern-day prodigals. Some follow a path much like Jesus’ parable, turning their backs on family and faith in exchange for money and power. Some slip into a more subtle slide away from faith, allowing doubt or apathy to pull them away from who they are. Some make huge mistakes and are forced to pay painful penalties.
Yet each story has the positive ending of a life saved by Jesus Christ. Each story offers hope of renewal and restoration. Written for all those who fear that God can’t or won’t forgive them for what they did, LOVED is a book of hope.



Due to the sensitive nature of the topics discussed, all names have been changed and identifying details have been modified.

Copyright © 2009 by Alive Communications, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. • All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. • Scriptures noted nlt are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. • Scriptures noted nasb are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. • Scriptures noted nkjv are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. • Scriptures noted esv are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.  •"You Are Loved" lyrics on p. v used by permission. Written by Rebecca St. James © 2005 Up In The Mix Music / Rambuka Music (BMI), admin. by EMI CMG Publishing


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First eBook Edition: September 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-55817-4

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also by Rebecca St. James

Sister Freaks


Wait for Me


SHE Teen

Day 1


From Princess to Freak

When four-year-old Melissa stepped into the heated baptismal waters, her white robe billowed around her stomach. I'm a princess, she thought. The hot white lights were blinding, preventing Melissa from seeing friends, family, and the hundreds of church members watching from the pews.

It was Melissa's spiritual rite of passage. A fairy tale that would begin with, "I baptize you in the name of…" and one day would end with, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

But Melissa couldn't have guessed that, in a few years, this baptism wouldn't mean nearly as much to her as would a much different experience—one that would take place in cold, murky water.

Melissa was a good girl who wanted to be an actress when she grew up. In school, she studied hard and had many friends. At church, she was a role model to her peers. She memorized all the verses, preached at kids who used bad language, and tried to force conversions on all her non-Christian friends. Yes, she was that girl.

But Melissa's family started to move a lot, living in four states while Melissa was in elementary and middle school. By the time she entered high school, they'd come full circle, back to the small southern community where she'd started. Though the faces were familiar, Melissa found that her friends weren't. The relationships weren't easy, like before. Now they were strained and awkward. Instead of being at the center of the social circle, for the first time, Melissa was left trying to figure out how to get in at all. And her attempts often failed.

"I analyzed everything that came out of my mouth," says Melissa, whose mistakes played over and over in her mind like an iTunes playlist with only one song.

Why did I say that?

What was I thinking?

Why couldn't I do that better?

"I wanted to kick myself each time I did something stupid." She looked for ways to punish herself—doing a thousand sit-ups or skipping meals. Herself-inflicted punishments caused her to lose weight. Though Melissa had never been fat, people started noticing her figure. The attention felt good. Soon a few lost pounds became too many pounds.

Melissa had punished herself right into an eating disorder.

"It became what I knew, how I dealt with the hard stuff," says Melissa. "I didn't want to think about things, so I'd think about food, exercise, and how much I hated myself. The more my bones stuck out, the better I felt." In Melissa's mind, she had control—control she didn't have in other areas of her life.

One night at a Rebecca St. James concert, something in the music moved her. Melissa knew she needed to let others in—the eating disorder had become too big to handle on her own. After the concert, Melissa confided in her mother, hoping she'd help. Instead, her mother thought Melissa was once again being a "drama queen" and looking for attention.

Melissa was dramatic. But her confession wasn't an act. It was real. She needed help. And the help she sought wasn't there.

Melissa began spending less time at church and more time with the girls from school. She felt at home among the outcasts—those who were weird, even a little freaky. Their nonconformity matched her insides. She became one person at church: Good Melissa. Another at school: Freaky Melissa. And at home she was just confused. Who was the real Melissa?

Over the next few years, a pattern emerged. Good Melissa was a leader in her church. She was even a speaker at a youth evangelism conference. When things were going well, "Good Melissa" would get everything under control and the eating disorder would fade into the background.

But when she messed up, she became "Freaky Melissa." The eating disorder took control. She isolated herself from others. And she stopped going to church.

In college, things got worse. She started drinking and cutting herself. Forced into therapy, Melissa learned that she had been living with depression and borderline personality disorder. Her doctors put her on medication, which she would take until she got a handle on herself. Then, just when everyone thought things were fine, she would spiral downward again.

The week Melissa was diagnosed as bipolar, she lost her virginity in the back of a car and was kicked out of her sister's house. A few months later, she wrecked her car in an alcohol-induced blackout, spent two days in jail, and had her license taken away for a year.

It can't get any worse. I've got to stop this.

Sitting on the kitchen floor, her back pressed against the cabinets, Melissa tried to take control the only way she knew how. She took a knife from the drawer and slit her wrists.

But she didn't even do that right.

She survived, and after a trip to the ER, she spent the night in a state mental hospital. Surrounded by certifiably crazy people, Melissa knew she wasn't insane. She was desperate for a solution.

Again, Melissa picked herself up. She moved to New York to pursue her dream of being an actress. "But the pattern started again," says Melissa. She tried to stop drinking. She'd succeed for a few days or weeks, and while she was clean, she'd visit a new church. "I wanted to fit in. I wanted to connect with people. But I was afraid that if they knew my past, that would be it—they wouldn't want me in their church. So I pretended to be someone other than who I was."

A friend invited Melissa to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. The people all seemed so different from her. She attended for a while and then quit. Then she came back and shared a bit more. Finally, she said it: "I'm Melissa, and I'm an alcoholic."

She'd found what she was looking for—people who didn't judge her, no matter what she did. Melissa admitted defeat. "I walked into that room and asked for help from this community of drunks. At AA they like to say, 'Let us love you until you love yourself.' They loved me sober."

Melissa's sponsor told her, "If the god you have isn't working for you, get a new one." So Melissa put her Bible away, dropped out of church, and made AA her new spiritual home.

AA helped her get sober, but it didn't help her connect with God.

Melissa wanted a God who loved her as the drunks did. She wanted a God who not only accepted her but wanted her enough to chase her and knock her down with His love. And she wanted forgiveness—not only from God but from His people.

Eventually Melissa found this perfect God. His name was Jesus.

They were introduced by Jim, the pastor of a new church in her neighborhood. Before Melissa visited Jim's church, she e-mailed him and told him everything she'd done. She warned him, "If your church can't love me unconditionally, then I'll get up and walk out."

"Not once did I see a look of surprise or disgust when I got there," says Melissa. "Instead of the legalism and rules I'd grown up with, I was encouraged to ask questions. My doubts were discussed at length. I was given love and room to explore."

On a cold October morning, Jim, his wife, and a few friends gathered to baptize Melissa in the cold, murky waters off Coney Island. The smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes drifted in the air. They heard laughter from the Ferris wheel, and if they listened closely, they could hear the barker on the Midway enticing people to "shoot the freak."

Shivering in shorts and a T-shirt, Melissa felt cold sand between her toes. She was prepared to send "Freaky Melissa" and all her sins out to sea.

"I'd been given the choice," says Melissa. "I couldn't think of a better place for my baptism than the freezing, polluted waters off Coney Island. It was everything I could have ever asked for in a baptism—dirty, disgusting, crazy Coney."

This time, Melissa was surrounded by the faces of those who had prayed for her, guided her,and—most of all—loved her unconditionally.

"I was baptized into a wave. Coming out of the water, the first thing I became aware of—as I gracefully tried to spit saltwater out of my mouth—was the sound of clapping and whoops and hollers from the beach. I remember feeling like I'd just gotten the biggest do-over in the history of do-overs. A 'get out of jail free' card—good for eternity."

Salty tears mixed with the saltwater and sand on Melissa's face. She'd never felt more loved. Or more clean.

Day 2


A Wanderer Comes Home

Gwen's relatives pulled her aside when she was nine years old. They shared the Bible's plan of salvation, explaining to Gwen that she was a sinner deserving death, but that Jesus had taken her sins upon Himself. Terrified of hell, Gwen embraced the Gospel and became a pint-sized evangelist, sharing Jesus with all her friends.

But her unstable home life took its toll on her zeal. Gwen changed schools every year from kindergarten to fourth grade—excruciating for a shy girl who often got picked last in P.E. She spent many terrifying lunches worrying about whom she would sit with, and many evenings wondering whether her mom would again pack the family up to move in with Grandma, leaving Gwen's dad behind.

Gwen questioned whether God could protect her, or even see her. She had nightmares about hell. In her dream, a trapdoor under her bed led straight to hell, where the devil was waiting for her. She kept her dreams to herself, sure that no one would understand.

In her later elementary years, she asked herself, If God is real, why doesn't He take care of me? And how can I trust Him? After all,He hasn't protected me. She pictured God as a sneering judge, indifferent to her painful life. She figured He didn't like her very much, so she chose not to turn to Him anymore.

"I will live my life my way," she decided. "I know I'll do a better job, watching out for myself."

To numb her pain and cope with the challenges of moving so much (she attended four different high schools in four years),Gwen drank almost every day before school. She tried marijuana, speed, and painkillers.

Still not feeling fulfilled, Gwen had a handful of boyfriends over the years, hoping to be loved. She worried over how she looked and longed for attention from guys. She purposely dressed in sexy clothing and relished the looks that followed her. This fueled her obsession with her weight. She worked out every minute she could find, trying to achieve just the right look. "I thought I was fat," she says. "I wore a size four."

Looking back on that time, Gwen says, "I didn't really know the whole character of God. My ignorance and self-hatred made me doubt the Bible. I didn't think I could trust God with how my life was turning out. He obviously didn't care, or He thought I deserved a bad life."

Gwen moved out of the house when she was a senior, living with her best friend's family. After high school, she moved in with her boyfriend. Her life continued to spiral downward in depression. She entertained thoughts of suicide, but her grade-school fear of hell returned. She worried that if she took her own life, she'd go there. To quell the pain, Gwen let her emotions control her, alternately punching brick walls in blind rages and weeping, cradling herself in the fetal position.

She broke up with her boyfriend and dated another guy, eventually getting pregnant. Her new boyfriend told her, "Now is not the right time to have kids. We can get married and have children later." Though she knew taking the life of her child was wrong, she scheduled an abortion. During the procedure, a nurse's voice floated in and out of her mind.

"You're okay."

"It's all over."

"Here's a pad."

"Call if you have any problems."

Guilt, shame, and self-hatred flooded through her. She broke up with her boyfriend.

Gwen tried breast implant surgery to fix her insecurity, but after she felt more ashamed. "Afterward that, I felt fake outside, like I had always faked being okay inside." She partied a lot, frequenting bars with friends. During that time, she met her husband-to-be at a restaurant. They moved in together, eventually eloping to Las Vegas. They had a baby, and they ran into financial trouble.

During the first year of her marriage, Gwen was still emotionally attached to her previous boyfriend, the father of her aborted baby. She kept up her relationship with him through an emotional affair. She spent hours talking to him when she was supposed to be working. Her marriage suffered. "I couldn't stand the sight of my husband after I'd been talking to my ex-boyfriend all day," she confesses now.

"This isn't working," her husband finally said. "Are you still talking to him?"

She nodded.

"You need to call him right now. Tell him it's over."

"No, I can't. I don't love you." She told her husband to move out.

A week later, he came back, and they decided to start over. A job transfer landed them in Colorado, far from the other man. Their relationship improved, but they spent money unwisely and constantly struggled with finances. Gwen's car was repossessed. Her grandmother died, but she couldn't afford to attend her funeral.

Gwen and her husband both worked to make ends meet. Their son went to daycare at a local church, even though they were not interested in religion and did not attend. One day when she picked up her son, she realized that he had hurt himself and no one had called her. Gwen was angry and removed him from that daycare without telling any of the workers what happened. When no one from the daycare ever called to check on the status of her son, it cemented Gwen's bitterness, proving in her mind that Christians simply didn't care about people like her.

But God was still reaching out to Gwen in her complicated situation. "Life started to change when we were both offered jobs on the same day," she remembers. "And both of our bosses were believers."

Gwen wanted to change, to get past her family's rough beginning. They started by going to church together, and then started volunteering to serve together. Slowly, Gwen allowed God to remake her, body and soul.

When Gwen started to struggle with how slow the process of transformation was, God gave her a dream. "In the dream, my son had a rock tumbler. He could take the ugliest rock and put it in the tumbler, only to find it beautiful on the other end. God showed me that His purpose was to polish me like that tumbler."

The dream changed Gwen forever. "From then on, I felt that God saw me. I finally believed, and allowed God to strip me of my shame."

God has taken Gwen the Prodigal and transformed her into Gwen the Loved. "I tried men, looks, money, materialism, but nothing satisfied me. But God's love has soaked into the dry places of my soul."

Gwen, the shy girl who moved from place to place, now wants to share His love through writing and speaking. "That's another God thing," she says. "I never wanted to be a writer or a speaker, but now I can't stop talking about God and His love. He is the greatest of lovers. I am touched by His forgiveness and grace."

Day 3


Picture-Perfect Paradise

Lori grew up in paradise, surrounded by the blue water and white beaches of the Caribbean.

But it wasn't just the place that was perfect. Lori's life, from the outside, seemed perfect, too. Her parents loved her and brought her to church. Lori can't remember the first time she asked Jesus into her heart—her mom says she was four or five. When she was ten, and old enough to really understand salvation, she prayed with a camp counselor in the rain.

Lori had lots of friends in high school and loved to babysit. Her mother homeschooled her and her sister, and the family all attended church together. On the outside, Lori lived a life that fit her "paradise" surroundings.

But behind the picture, things weren't so pretty. Lori struggled with guilt and loneliness, knowing that her heart was not as good as everyone thought it was. She wasn't doing anything wrong, exactly, but she felt badly about her self. When women told Lori that they wanted their daughters to grow up just like her, the pressure to be perfect mounted. She worried that God would see behind her mask and understand just how sinful she really was, so Lori backed away from Him. Even as she memorized verses for Sunday school and prayed with her family before meals, she felt the distance growing. She figured God didn't care.

Lori struggled with being a teenager. She was surrounded by kids her age who called themselves friends, but the relationships were shallow. No one knew who she really was. She wasn't sure they would want to—they laughed at her haircut and clothes, and she struggled to accept her weight every time she looked in a mirror. She liked a boy for years but couldn't tell him, convinced she wasn't worthy of him. Her schoolwork began to slip. Lori couldn't keep up with her academically gifted sister and started to feel like a failure in that area as well.

In fact, it was homework that pushed Lori from being silently insecure to outwardly sinful. Unable to keep up the pace, she started cheating on homework, then on tests. The guilt from this behavior intensified the pain she carried, and she started looking for ways to make it go away. She turned to what she'd heard others used when they were sad—alcohol.

Careful to keep up the perfect image, Lori drank in secret, swallowing a little bit of the gin her mother kept for Christmas baking. She didn't like the taste, though, so she went looking for something else to heal her. She tried to control how much she ate, skipping meals for a day or two at a time and throwing up when she did eat, but it was too hard to hide the effects. During those dark days, Lori started looking at explicit pictures and reading pornographic stories on the Internet, hoping to escape into fantasies where she felt better about the way she looked. Like the cheating and the insecurity before it, though, Internet pornography only grabbed on to Lori and pulled her deeper into shame and isolation. "If this is what love is," she told herself, "then I don't want it."

Lori started cutting herself with a pair of fingernail clippers. In this physical pain, she finally found some level of relief and control. She could go to church and give Sunday-school-perfect answers when people asked how she was, knowing that on her thigh, hidden by the jeans she wore all the time—even in summer—were marks and scars that showed the real her.

When she was seventeen, her family left the church she had attended all her life. The change hurt her already wounded soul. She didn't try to make friends at the new church, although she continued to go through the motions. She knew that the people in the new church were genuine and caring. She could see that her Sunday school teacher really wanted to get to know her. But she was afraid, far away from understanding the God who loved her.

It was in that Sunday school class that God finally broke through the walls of Lori's exile. Her teacher spoke one week about what it meant to shine with Christ's love, and he read a verse from 2 Corinthians:

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."


It was a shocking moment for Lori, to hear and really understand for the first time that God wanted to see her—all of her—without the veil of picture-perfect behavior. Lori had been looking in mirrors for years, seeing nothing but ugliness. Now, with Paul's words to the church in Corinth echoing in her mind, she knew she had to let God, and the people around her, see her clearly.

That day, before she left church, she told her parents, "I'm telling you now before I back down—there are things we need to talk about today." When they got home, Lori laid out the cheating and the drinking. Her parents were shocked, but supportive. They had always seen Lori the way God saw her, as a beautiful young woman. Although her words hurt them, they were glad to know what was really going on and committed to praying for their daughter as she sought the peace of a God who really, truly loved her.

The change wasn't immediate. Lori still struggled with the temptations of her past behavior. A few months after she talked to her parents, she found herself in the bathroom with the nail clippers. Just a few marks, she thought. But instead of the straight lines she'd always cut, she found herself cutting a word—-LOVE—into her leg. And as she looked at the ugly marks and the beautiful word, God's love finally broke through her heart as well as her head. She knew at that moment that she was loved. Not because she branded herself—that was a mistake. But because God had sent His Son, who was branded in ways more horrible than what she could do in her own home.

Today, Lori strives to be transparent with those around her. She is on her way to a Bible college, determined to start her life fresh and to rest in the secure love of Christ. She knows she was rescued by a power far greater than her own. "I'd clearly still be in a pit today if God hadn't taken me from all I'd ever known and made me completely rely on Him and start my life from scratch," she says.

Day 4





On Sale
Sep 21, 2009
Page Count
256 pages

Rebecca St. James

About the Author

Australian born Rebecca St. James is a Grammy Award winner and a multiple Dove Award recipient, with international success that has driven her record sales into the millions. In January 2008, she was named Favorite Female Artist in Contemporary Christian Music by readers of CCM Magazine for the seventh consecutive year. Rebecca also won Best Female Artist of 2007 from fifth consecutive year to be given this honor. She’s been involved in several film productions and voiced the character of Hope the Angel in VeggieTales’ bestselling DVD production The Easter Carol. You can read more about Rebecca on her official website: or on her Facebook page,

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