Forgiveness: Shelley Armato
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. -1 John 1:9
I love hearing a story about someone who could have taken the path heavily traveled and who could have lived in past regret. But then this person makes the decision to take what happened in the past and use it as a stepping stone, a platform to champion the cause of Christ, even though doing so may be painful and cause unwanted attention.
Shelley Armato was almost seventeen years old. Her life had been defined by a series of events that left her feeling worthless and hope- less. She was searching for love with the only thing she had to offer— giving her body away. She believed that no one would ever want anything of her other than using her for physical gratification. While all this inner turmoil was going on, the Roe vs. Wade bill had just been passed. Newscasts around the country were proclaiming the legalization of abortion. The headlines touted, “Finally Women’s Rights!” This is her story.
IT WAS perfect timing for me. I felt I had nowhere to turn. I could not confide in my mother; she had taken enough beatings in her life, and this would be just one more reason for my father to attack her. So that door was closed.
I had heard all my life that I was worthless and would never be anything. My grandparents even wrote me out of their will. Money was for men, and women in my family were less than the dirt under their feet. My perception of myself was flawed from the beginning. I had a burning desire for connection and love. And there were a lot of men who would oblige me. Only now I found myself pregnant, in fear, and alone.
After this horrific event, I never spoke of it. I would not dream of ever allowing anyone to know what happened. It was a quick, thirty- minute procedure that defined the next thirty years of my life. I harbored shame, guilt, and a legacy of unforgiveness. My heart was heavy. I had adopted a mask that held people at bay even while it kept me lonely and fearful that someone would find out.
A mere $200 came with a lifetime of regret. Shame and guilt are the worst emotions, but I live with them long enough they became my friend. Drugs and alcohol could only squash the feelings for a brief time. For a few blessed minutes I could be free from the pain and everything was alright, but the second I sobered up, it was there again. But it was only a temporary numbing of the pain that would come right back. Staring me in the face. Waiting for me to respond.
My journey is one of finding understanding, forgiveness, and love. In 2009, I was nominated as a Fearless Business Woman. I had moved on from my past mistakes and was now making a difference in the community as a business leader. At the event to celebrate my nomi- nation, I was asked to come up on stage. The crowd was watching as I was handed the microphone and asked what legacy I would like to leave my children. For most of the other women, it was money. For me, I stood proudly and said, “Jesus Christ, because with Him, all things are possible.” The crowd gasped as one entity. This was a busi-ness event; no one was bold enough to proclaim His word over money. I was now publicly outed as a follower of Jesus. I took my seat, proud of holding to my convictions, and the evening continued.
Shortly after that evening, a lady connected with me and asked me to attend an event in California. This lady was hosting it and teaching other ladies how to become an authentic speaker. It was six days of peeling the onion and learning to speak from your heart. I went, not knowing what to expect, but eager to learn. On the last day, we had two minutes to share a story. It was on that stage my absence of the truth came out.
I stood and told a politically correct story and received a standing ovation. I stepped off the stage and cried uncontrollably for thirty minutes. I knew I had missed an opportunity. I also knew I had let God down, but even more I had let myself down. Deep within, I knew the truth had to be set free. I was standing next to a lady, so I looked at her and said, “I am going to start a movement of women who stand in their God-given power and live free from judgment and change this world with forgiveness.”
Out of that experience, The Courage Coalition was born. After much prayer, I decided to hold a two-day event on June 30 – July 1 and invite women from around the world to come to our city to share their authentic stories, not knowing at the time all the planning was really for my own story. I was merely acting on faith that God would provide me with what I was to share and what the event was to look like.
As I planned the event, God began bringing women to me. They had a need for a venue, a sacred place to be heard. They wanted a voice that could change the world. I believed that authenticity was key. We would only change the world if people knew we were real. The planning was amazing.
We had 115 women come to share their story. As I sat in the back of the room watching and listening, I was in awe of the power of testi- mony; every one of the stories told of Jesus protecting them and providing for them. That was the first day I found my courage.
I stopped the planned program and asked my friend, Stephanie Tillman, to join me on the stage. She was unaware of my past. She didn’t have a clue what I was about to share. My heart was pounding out of my chest. But I knew I had to speak out as each of the other women had done. I told my true story in front of 100 women. Little did I know the impact I would have on the audience that had gath- ered that day. The event stopped. God had brought several women to the venue to be healed, and tears began to flow. We leaned on each other, formed circles of love and joy, and danced in our sorrow.
Now for the big problem. I had just told all these women this huge thing, and no one else really knew. Especially not my children. So I knew I had to ask for their forgiveness.
The first one I chose to tell was my oldest son; he was in the Navy. I called him and asked him to come home for the weekend, and he jumped on a plane and flew home. He was standing at the counter in my kitchen, six-foot-five inches tall, a gorgeous man with a huge heart. I swallowed hard and told him of my terrible decision when I was so young. He walked around the counter and hugged me like I have never been hugged.
He looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, I love you. I am so proud of you!”
Through tears, I responded, “The crazy thing is God still trusted me with you!”
I had been blessed beyond my wildest dreams, and I asked him to forgive me, for my shame had defined my parenting.
Next, I had to tell my youngest son, William. I call him Dr. Will for Dr. Phil; he has great wisdom and knowledge. I think I should have named him Solomon. He is also a six-foot-five young man and is a drummer in the church band.
Soon after telling my oldest son, my youngest and I were driving one afternoon. My mind raced. How would I tell him? I burst into tears.
He stopped the car as he asked me what was wrong, and I told him everything was finally right. I looked over at him and shared the same story with him Will got out of the car and asked, “Mom, do you need to go see my pastor?”
“I’m good with God. I just needed to ask you for your forgiveness,” I replied.
“I’m glad God still trusted me with you.”
He hugged me again and looked me in the eye. “Go tell the world. Don’t let this ever happen to anyone again!”
Wow, what a relief!
Now I had to tell my daughter. She has two children of her own. Tatum is a wisdom-filled woman, beautiful and driven.
Time was not on my side; she knew many of the women at the event. I didn’t want her to hear this through the grapevine, so I knew I had to be aggressive. I asked her out to lunch.
On the drive to lunch and through my tears, I told her the same story I had told her brothers. Again, I told her how amazed I was that God still trusted me with her. We sat in silence for some time as I wondered what she was going to say.
Then she looked at me. “Do you want to go have lunch?”
That was it! Each of my children forgave me and extended grace and mercy. I was so thankful. When I think of what it took for me to be honest about my past, Crazy Faith comes to mind.
Then, a letter had to be written to the unborn baby.
Dear little child of mine,
I hold you in my heart. I am in awe of your spirit that still lives in me; your love is so bold, your beauty so great. Each and every day I praise God for you and the wisdom you bring me. Please forgive me for the terrible choice I made. You are a child of mine. My heart aches with pain, yet my soul rejoices knowing of your presence.
For some this will be read in disdain. Women in your life are hurting, and judgment will come back to you. Others will be set free from their own pain. Some will not realize the impact on their life from a decision. God still loves us; He holds us in the palm of his hand. He delights in giving to us. He died on the cross for our sins, so many and so great.
Loving others out loud is my life’s work, and holding a space for others to stand in their authenticity is my joy. I’m so grateful God gave me the Crazy Faith to share my story with others.
SHELLEY CONTINUES to share her story, and her business continues to make great strides in enabling her to speak life into people in all walks of life. Her crazy faith is making an impact every day.