Ebenezer Collective | LITTLE SIN GROWS IN THE DARK
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Shera O’Neal

I met my husband, Trey, at church. Ironically, it was the same church that we would be married in about a year later. I was a freshman attending the Christian college where Trey had just transferred to in the small Wisconsin town where I grew up. I knew pretty much everyone – whether it was through my parents who taught at the school, or my 3 older siblings. I had recently sworn off boys…you know, the whole “bad break up thing,” but as we slowly started to get to know each other, I quickly forgot about that. There was nothing fussy about our relationship…we just really liked each other. We weren’t officially dating, but there was definitely a spark. After summer break (which was pre-cell phones, so communication was sporadic), he came back to school and we hit it off big from the moment I picked him up at the airport to start football pre-season. We spent every free minute we had together and loved every second of it. He was so good looking, he made me laugh, we seemed to want the same things in life…oh, and that cute Texas drawl! Despite being at a Christian college, we definitely did not have healthy boundaries set up. Our relationship became sexual after a few months, and not too long after that, we learned that we were expecting a baby. It was not a question in our mind what the next step would be, so we were married just a couple months later.

This was the first time I had been really caught in my sin. I accepted Christ when I was 5 and never doubted what He had done for me, but I never really understood it. I knew Christ died for me and loved me, yet it all seemed more like a list of man-made rules to follow if I wanted to be a “good Christian.” Most people around me, including myself, stayed in constant sin patterns, but as long as they weren’t the “big sins,” it was usually acceptable. Or as long as you knew how to hide them well enough, that seemed equally acceptable as well. The idea of confessing my sins to others so they can keep me accountable in my sin struggles was not a thought in my mind. James 5:16 calls us to confess to others so that we can pray for each other and we can have healing. God’s plan for Christ-followers is to be open and humble with where we struggle…so we can help each other through it, so we can bear each other’s burdens, so we can have accountability, so we can know we are not alone in our sin struggles, so we can help each other not continue in habits that are not life-giving.

Although this situation was humbling, we continued in a legalistic environment, so much of how I dealt with my own sin stayed the same. We struggled in our marriage, though not all the time, and coming from two Christian families who confronted conflict so differently made resolving difficult. We attended  and served in church regularly, both in Wisconsin and later when our growing family moved to Texas. I stayed in the Word for the most part, but we did not have true Biblical community where we could openly talk about our sin struggles. So although we looked like a good Christian family from the outside, we had no idea how to resolve conflict and truly love the way we were called to. My “little” sins I had held onto for years continued: sins of pride, gossip, discontentment, dishonesty, and being judgmental. I didn’t look at those sins as if they were things that really would affect my life. I really thought I was doing pretty well…even with the average state of our marriage.

We hit a really busy season in our family about 8 years ago. We had 4 kids under 7. I stayed home, but also did what I could to make ends meet…all while trying to go back to school. My quiet time with the Lord was pushed out of the busy schedule, and it became a time where I was not rooted in much of anything other than myself. All those “little” sins began to rear their heads in ugly ways. My pride kept me thinking I could do one more day without being in the Word, and that I could put myself in precarious situations and be fine. It kept me from believing God’s Word when it says that the devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1Peter 5:8). My discontentment told me that there had to be an easier way to do life than the craziness that ours currently held. My dishonesty made it seem like the easy thing was to hide the little sins that ultimately led to the big sins. The big sin being an extra-marital affair. I never went looking for it, but I never guarded myself against it either. The deeper I continued in that relationship, the stronger I felt like our marriage could never weather this storm. Our marriage hadn’t been strong to begin with, but now I was in such a dark and sick place that it all seemed hopeless (just as David’s sin in Psalm 32 made him physically ill). But, as I was found out, there was a glimmer of hope. Trey, who I thought would NEVER forgive me, began to show me the Gospel played out in the most practical way…forgiveness. He gave it when I needed it most and when I deserved it least.

The Gospel was forever changed in my mind because of my deep depravity during that season. Seeing the dark place where those “little” and “big” sins took me, finally made me understand my desperate need for a Savior. And the uglier my sin was, the more I realized how much a perfect God would have to love me to send His only Son to die for me. And not die for all the great things I have done, but just the opposite…for the worst things I have done. He paid the price I deserved (death), and gave me life instead. My mind was blown. For so long, my focus on my salvation had been that God was allowing me a place in Heaven for Eternity…I had completely missed that He paid for my current sins. He set me free from the shame and guilt. I don’t have to live in the shadow of my sin, but can now live in the light.

Trauma is hard to come back from. Initially, Trey and I had one couple that we could process through tough things with, and when they moved away, we felt alone. We wanted so badly to have healing in our marriage, but we had no idea how to get there. God graciously allowed us to find Re:engage, a bible-based marriage enrichment program, as it was launched at a church in Rockwall, TX. As we sat and shared what our marriage had been through in a small group setting for the first time, we experienced our first taste of Biblical community. We could be honest and weren’t judged. We were encouraged, loved, and reminded that every marriage has tough times and challenges. When we were trying to find healing on our own, it felt like every marriage other than ours was perfect, but we were now beginning to see that no marriage is perfect, because every marriage involves two sinners. We were also encouraged to press into what a Biblical marriage looks like and live that out. We left that group encouraged, but ended up back in some of our own patterns because we still had no one to talk to outside that group. Basically no one in our church knew what had happened. Again, God graciously allowed us to find Watermark Church almost 4 years ago, where living in biblical community is something we’ve been a part of and seen modeled by so many around us.

We have begun to understand that we can love each other better through understanding how we are loved. We have shared our story with others for the sake of our own healing, as well as to show others that God is good and kind and loving enough to heal a very broken marriage. Because of His Work on the Cross, I understand that this story is NOT ultimately about my sin. It is all about HIM. He has forgiven my sin, healed our marriage, taken away the shame, and

given us boldness to share about Him. We definitely have a Romans 8:28 marriage. God has worked the ugly (very ugly) out for His own good. He has taken the darkest of circumstances and allowed good to come of it. Only a good and gracious Father could allow sweetness to come out of my own mess. I wish I could take the hurt away that I have caused, but I am so grateful that through my mess, God has allowed me to be more like Him (with still a LONG ways to go) and He allowed good to come of it. What a good, good Father!

Amanda Buccola
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  • Julie
    Posted at 20:41h, 29 November

    Hard times really open our eyes to the grace of God and teach us lessons we wouldn’t have learned any other way!
    Where in Wisconsin did you grow up? I’m a Wisconsin girl too, but I’m still living here!

  • Karen Yango
    Posted at 22:52h, 29 November

    So much transparency! what a lovely story and testimony of God’s grace in your life

  • Leah
    Posted at 05:49h, 30 November

    That’s a difficult thing I don’t think many Christians are willing to admit to. Good for you to come out with it. You’re so right that our sins fester and grow in the dark. Secrets are how Satan finds his foothold. Thanks for telling your story!

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