When Mischelle Saunders-Gottsch was just a young girl, her family was swept up in what seemed like nothing less than a friendly church group. But what looked so good on the outside, quickly turned to control and abuse.
This week, we’ll hear from Mischelle as she shares her story of overcoming hurt and betrayal and how she learned to trust again.
Mischelle is the founder and CEO of Altered Stories Ministry, a place where women learn the power of telling their stories of God’s redemption and healing. To learn more, go to https://alteredstories.org/
She also hosts a podcast by the same name, where women share their stories. You can find it wherever podcasts can be found, as well as on her website.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28
Not a very pretty word is it? But there it is. In black and white. You can sugar-coat it and call it something different, but it’s all the same ugly sin.
This week, we dive headlong into our own journey of adultery and the grace and redemption that God provided. Eight years have passed since the news came out that shook our world to its core.
We invite you to step into this conversation with us because we hear, on a near daily basis of so many other marriages that are struggling with their own battles of infidelity. We want to bring hope and encouragement to those of you currently walking this path and in next week’s episode, we want to provide some common pitfalls to avoid or overcome that oftentimes lead to an affair.
If you are struggling in your own marriage, please listen. Please reach out. To us. A pastor. A counselor. There is grace. There is healing. There is a new beginning available to you and your marriage. You are not alone.
We can also be found in Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes), Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Spotify and pretty much any podcast app. Please share with your friends, neighbors, people you love, and people you love to hate because everybody needs a little encouragement and grace.
“…be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit,
intent on one purpose.”
– Philippians 2:2
It’s never easy, is it, coming to others to ask for help?
What will they think if they know my need is this great? Will their opinion change once they know just how dark my heart and thoughts can be? Or, will they think I’m silly; wasting their time with my needs which seem so insignificant?
I’ve had these thoughts on more than one occasion. Yet, at every turn I am amazed by the response I’m met with when I take a deep breath and share my heart.
Sometimes it’s a prayer need, sometimes a thought I’ve been mulling over for days and need to talk through. Other times it’s a sin that I keep finding myself struggling with. Often it’s the critical thoughts that tend to take up residence in my head, shoving aside God’s words of truth and bring me to tears and of guilt, shame, fear and overwhelm.
Consistently though, God has met me in those places of need as I’ve turned to someone at church and bared my burden. I’m met with encouraging words, reminders of God’s promises and faithfulness, prayer and often a hug.
Likewise, I’ve been met with gratitude for my willingness to be vulnerable and broken in front of others. Because, honestly, that’s just not a thing you see all the time.
These kinds of relationships are born in and grown through fellowship in and around church.
Three years ago, our little congregation of less than 50 merged with another local small church. A majority of church merges fail. Ours has been a story of success. And in that place, I’ve gotten to know a whole new group of people; people I’d never have met otherwise.
Some are well into their grandparenting years, enjoying traveling the world. Others are just starting out, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first baby. And there’s everyone in between. We’ve got nerds, geeks, intellectuals, blue collar, white collar, scrubs, lab coats, graduation caps, Bermuda shorts and button downs with a tie. And every single one of those people has impacted me, whether they know it or not.
You see, going to church is really good. You learn a lot about God. You sing some good songs full of good words and truths. You hear things that encourage you and maybe even challenge you.
But being the church…that’s even better.
Because then you get to rub elbows with people who are just like you and nothing like you at all. You get to see the vast array of people who God calls His own. Sometimes things get a little messy, but hopefully, as Christ stays the focus, even the messy is made clean again.
Being the church you can speak into one another’s lives. You can experience that ‘iron sharpening iron’ accountability and growth that’s talked about in Proverbs 27:17. You become invested in something that is so much bigger than yourself and it reminds you just how incredibly generous our God is.
Going to church is really good. Being the church is the best.
What about you? Do you just go to church on Sunday, letting the message slough off you as you walk out to your car, while the music fades in the background? Or do you take the church with you, presenting Christ to a broken and hurting land, recognizing that left on your own, you’d be just as broken, too?
It had been years since I’d stepped into a church. If not literally, then certainly in my heart. I’d been apart from God for a long time, rejecting Him and His word at every turn. Living life on my terms was way more fun.
Until it wasn’t.
When my lies finally caught up with me, I could see my surroundings more clearly. I hadn’t been living large, I wasn’t in control and all my feelings of grandiosity and self-assurance were just a facade for the absolute fear I felt. Fear of being found out, fear of my own depravity, fear of who I’d become and fear of the dark and lonely pit I found myself in.
But there I was. At the threshold of a new start. Beyond those double doors was a world that I’d known and grown up in but somehow seemed foreign and frightening.
It was a new church. A big church. One where I could get lost in the crowd. I didn’t want to be seen, even by strangers. I was certain that my sin was palpable; that by merely looking at me, people would know immediately that I was among the worst of the worst. In Old Testament times, I’d be stoned to death for my sin. And though it was 2010 AD, I was pretty sure, the response I’d get from others wouldn’t be far from that Old Testament notion.
Beyond that, what would God do to me, a sinner, a harlot stepping foot onto holy ground? His holy ground. I’d never heard of anyone getting struck down by lightning for walking into a church, but it seemed possible.
With a deep breath and holding the hand of my daughter, I walked in, my husband and son by my side. No lightning. Not even the rumble of thunder in the distance. So far, so good.
My daughter, upset by the fact that we weren’t going to be returning to our old church, the only one she’d known, had been given the important job of choosing our seats. Somewhere in the back seemed good. That way, I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with anyone and we could leave the second the service was done.
Nope. My sweet baby angel decided that we needed to be front and center. And I do mean front. And center.
With a little coaxing, we managed to get her to move one row back. So now we were second front and center. Right in everybody’s line of sight. And I mean everybody.
Thousands of people come to this church every week. They had no less than 5 pastors on staff at the time, in addition to the worship pastor and the youth pastor. And there I was, with my sin oozing out of me, right where everyone could see and point and judge and either feel pity for or be repulsed by me. But my daughter wouldn’t budge. We were not moving seats when I’d already made her move to a new church.
Okay. If sitting there would make my daughter feel better about life, I’d do it. I’d just keep my head down and try not to draw attention our way.
Then the music started. Piano, guitar, the rhythm of the drums. It all came together into a beautiful melody of praise, making much of Christ and His great love for us, sinners through and through.
I don’t remember what songs we sang. I didn’t know most of them. What I do remember is the worship pastor, sitting at the piano and looking at me as he sang about a God who loves his people, who calls us His sons and daughters. He sang about God’s goodness and glory, his redemption, and grace. And it seemed to me, his eyes never left my face as the tears streamed down my cheeks.
The house lights were low, the stage lights bright. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t see me at all, but everything about that moment pierced my heart and dropped me to my knees.
I was a wretch. I was broken. I’d hurt the people I loved the most and lied to them for years. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. But here was this man I didn’t know, singing God’s word over me, assuring me of His love and forgiveness.
And I began to heal.
Every week we returned to those same seats. Every week we sang and praised God. Every week my husband and I cried out to God asking for His grace to wash over us and to heal our brokenness and save our marriage. Every. Single. Week.
And He did.
God met us right there. He met us in song and in the teaching. He met us in the people we started to meet. He met me at the Bible studies and recovery groups I attended. He met me in the kindness of a stranger offering words of encouragement. He healed us. He restored us. He turned our ashes into garlands of praise and redeemed our days.
And it all started with a small step. It didn’t take much to get my foot over the threshold of that church, and yet, it took everything. It required that I admit that without God, I am a mess. I can’t do life apart from the Creator of life. I need Him desperately, especially when I think I don’t need Him at all. Left to my own devices I will wreck havoc on myself and everyone in my path. But with God, anything is possible.
He can even take a broken, messed up, guilt-ridden sinner like me and create something new.
Go to church, Beloved. You need it. Trust me.