The truth about secrets

Growing up, I had a closely guarded secret. Apparently, my whole extended family knew the truth, but none of my friends knew what the inside of my home looked like. My friends thought my mom was cool. They had no idea that I spent most of my time wondering if I should love her or hate her. I was very good at keeping my secret--no, our secret.

Last fall, in 2009, I chose to share my secret. It was a tough decision--one rooted in love, out of desire to get help for something I could not fix on my own. I faced heavy anxiety as I boarded a plane to go bare my secrets--my family's dirty laundry-- before a film crew knowing that ultimately the revelation would be seen by millions of strangers. More terrifying was knowing that hundreds of people who've known me over the years would also possibly see the door opened to my "dirty little secret."

It has been eight months since we filmed the episode for "Hoarders." I have been contacted by many people via the internet--some were total strangers who saw the show and connected with me via Facebook, while others were friends that I hadn't seen or connected with in years. My secret is out there, and although I don't tell everyone I pass on the street or talk to at the grocery store about my life story, I am no longer trying to hide the truth. I feel people out when I think that sharing my story may be helpful or encouraging. And I'm finding that even those who didn't grow up amidst the hoard see themselves in my story--a dysfunctional childhood, the child parenting the parent, the hope and desire to be free from the past, and the encouragement to break free even when it hurts or is scary.

But I have also learned an interesting thing about secrets. If you keep something a secret for long enough, it becomes a part of your DNA. When you finally share the secret, it doesn't magically mean that you are free from it.

I spent so many years hiding the truth that illusion became a part of who I am. I mastered telling little white lies to avoid the ugly, stinky truth. I learned to dwell in what I wished it was instead of what it actually was. Those things became a part of my character, my moral standard. Although I think of myself as being someone with strong morals, high ethics, and good character, the child who was afraid justified these crimes as being less evil than baring the truth.

The secret became my addiction. Without it, I have nothing.

It is well known that when breaking an addiction, you cannot simply stop a negative behavior. At some point, the hole will cause weakness and a relapse. Think of the dieter who is told to stop eating in front of the TV at night. I can't just sit there and NOT eat if it is my habit to do so. I have a void that must be filled. I was told to go for a walk when I feel the need to snack during TV watching, or even better, to skip TV altogether and exercise. I had to replace the negative behavior I was quitting with something new AND positive.

My secret is pretty much the same thing. Although living a secret life was taxing--physically, emotionally, and spiritually--it became a part of me. Living the lie was as natural to me as breathing after 25 years. And yet, once I shared my secret, I thought I could just walk away like it had never happened. I thought I could live my life without breathing!

Of course, it's silly to think that I could survive 5 minutes, let alone five months, without breathing. But inadvertently, I had failed to replace the secret and the lies with something new AND positive. I kept coming up gasping for air.

And to be honest, I was a little angry with God about it. In John, we read:

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (8:32 NIV)

But I didn't feel like the truth gave me any freedom. I still felt very BOUND to the truth and to the lifetime of lying I had specialized in. And that made me very angry. As I continued to read through John 8, I happened upon another verse that put all of it into perspective:

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (v. 36)

I have spent my whole life telling lies and hiding secrets, all of which makes me simply this: imperfect, a sinner. On my own, I am capable of nothing good. I cannot get myself out of trouble, although Heaven knows that I often try (and fail miserably). Out of my brokenness, I was trying to make myself whole. And my truth did not, and still does not give me freedom. By itself, my truth only points out how far I fall from perfection. It illuminates the things about myself that I am not proud of.

But, when I walk into the arms of grace, Jesus pours out His love and acceptance over me. He gives me a new story--truth to replace the secret and the lies.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

The old--the secrets and lies--are washed away in the cleansing flow of Jesus Christ's blood, and I am a new creation. My past is just that, the past. My future remains unwritten. But I have today with God--I AM.

I am working still on embracing my freedom. Each day I have to remind myself that the past is gone. I have to tell myself over and over that I am a new creation. I have to tell myself that I'm not perfect and that's okay (I'll tell you a secret...neither are you, and it's okay too!). And I have to remind myself that no one, including God, expects me to be perfect.

And as I embrace that truth, I begin to find my freedom.

Daddy, I have always known that I wasn't perfect. But for a very long time, I've tried to live a life that kept that a secret from others. For years, I feigned a lack of emotion to hide the scars of emotional pain. I told lies because I didn't believe anyone would believe or accept the truth about who I was and what my life was like. Even now that I've shared my biggest secrets, I struggle to accept my imperfections as being okay. Continue to work in my life each day, reminding me that I am a new creation. Love me, encourage me, and use me for your glory alone. In Jesus' name, AMEN.


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