“Are you that duck girl?” That question used to reallllly get to me. Sometimes I would simply reply yes, because I obviously knew what they meant, but I have to admit there were times I said no. I even would tell the pastors at churches where I was speaking not to say anything about Duck Commander or Duck Dynasty when they introduced me, not because I wasn’t proud of it, but because it seemed like that was the only thing people knew about me. I was trying to start something new, like ministry, speaking, and writing, but it felt like I was just stuck being “that duck girl.” I did not want to be known just for what I had done; I wanted to be known for who I was.
The struggle between who we were and who we are is a tension that many of us know well. It can be difficult to let go of our past and how we used to be known to others, whether it involves positive or negative experiences or a little bit of both. It can feel hard to be confident and worthy of stepping forward in a new way—especially in the age of social media, where it seems our past is never far behind.
We live in a time when everything is posted for everyone to see. Most posts are fun and filled with good memories, but some are meant to hurt or embarrass others. And some posts show people in situations they never should have been in. Mistakes, misjudgments, and moments of weakness and rebellion live forever online, preserving our lowest moments. I have had friends whose reputations were clouded because of posts from a not-sogood past—not only others’ posts about them but their own posts when they were living a wilder life. Girls have told me how they weren’t accepted into a sorority or they didn’t land their dream job because of damaging posts, texts, or tweets from years past that have stayed with them.
It can be difficult to convince those around you that you’ve changed. I’ve talked to people who have turned their lives around only to struggle with others accepting their new life choices. It is tough when you get past the hardest part of forgiving yourself and then have to face the people who want to remind you of what you did. I’ve seen people gripped by fear that pictures they sent or words they posted online will come to the surface one day and they will be humiliated. That shame about who they used to be often keeps people from becoming who they are meant to be.
When we hang on to the past, we get stuck where we are instead of moving forward to where we’re going. Whether we do it to ourselves or it’s pushed on us by others, it’s unfair that online records force some of our worst moments to relentlessly haunt us. But just because life happened and the pictures show something from our past doesn’t mean we have to stay stuck. There is a way for us to let go of past mistakes and transgressions, and that way is with Jesus.
Paul, a man who had a bad past himself, put so plainly why we can and need to move forward and not stay stuck where we are or where we were: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1–4 esv)
The question then becomes, How do I become who I am when everyone knows me for what I did or who I was? I’ve heard this so many times, and I’ve even lived the story.
When Christian and I started dating, we talked about Jesus all the time. We shared podcasts with inspirational messages, Bible passages we were reading, the latest worship song we loved, and anything and everything Jesus was doing in our lives. That was naturally how our relationship formed because that was who we both were and what we both talked about.
Christian and I formed this relationship based on who we were at that time. This was the only version of Christian I knew because of who he was when we met and who he consistently was as we started dating. He and I didn’t grow up in the same place; we did not meet until he was going into his junior year of college and I was living in Nashville. I didn’t know Christian’s past and he didn’t know mine. I never knew who he used to be and he didn’t know who I used to be before we each drew close to Jesus. And it turns out, Christian was pretty wild in high school and lived a very different life than the one he lived by the time I met him.
After he graduated high school, Christian went on to college and his first semester was also pretty wild. Just your stereotypical college start. One night at a party, Christian was shotgunning beers on a balcony, and this guy walked up to him and said, “I thought you didn’t drink!” The guy said this because Christian had joined his fraternity saying he was a dry pledge, even though he did drink—he just knew it was something he probably should not have been doing. But that night, on the balcony of his frat house, he looked at the guy and said, “You’re right. I don’t drink.” In that moment he realized that what he was doing was not aligning with who he wanted to become.
Christian walked two miles home that night in the rain. He got back to his dorm, got on his knees, and prayed to God. After that, he turned his whole life around. He got involved with the church and started serving, and he made this amazing group of friends who shared and supported his values. They even started a Bible study on campus that very quickly grew to have more than one hundred guys! He totally changed. It’s pretty incredible. Really, it’s a miracle. It’s one the Bible says will happen when you give your life to Jesus.
Even though Christian had become this new creation and was on fire for God when we met, I started to notice that some “past posts” were still making him feel the need to hide. When Christian would go home, he felt as though his family all knew him as his high-school self because that was the last version of him they’d seen. They didn’t know the man he had become. He tended to revert back to the same attitude he had in high school when he was around people who knew that former version of him. He really struggled with going back to the place that held so much of the past that he was not proud of. He wanted to be who he was, but pressing past the past is hard. He wondered, How do I press past who they knew me to be and show them who I actually am now?
Now, I didn’t know any of this during our first visit with his family—so that made for some weird moments. When I casually brought up Christian’s relationship with Jesus in front of his family, I noticed he didn’t want to talk about it. I thought it was super strange he was being so evasive and awkward, because with me he was always so open and confident about it.
The funny thing is, all his family members are believers who love Jesus and love Christian. But the enemy has a way of making you feel stuck. And as long as he can keep you stuck in who you used to be, he does not have to worry about the miracle you have become.
I encouraged Christian to share his story with his family. Part of his hesitation, though, was that telling them how far he had come would expose the whole truth of who he was before. His family had never known just how wild he had been, and it would be hard for him to tell them. But he did it anyway. He finally told his parents all about how he used to live and what had changed for him when he got to college. He shared that he was on fire for the Lord.
Of course, his parents were so proud of him. They are such loving parents. The honest conversation created a freedom with his family to talk openly about what God was doing in his life and to be proud of where he was.
You might feel caught in that same situation. When we are becoming someone new and feel God doing something in our lives, we need to fully step into it. And yet too often we fear that people are going to hold us in that place where we started, so we end up holding ourselves captive there and don’t let ourselves actually be free. Christian had to let go of who he had been to fully step into who he was becoming.
The Bible says when you die with Christ, when you’re baptized, or whenever you give your life to Jesus, the old self is gone and a new self has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 esv).
Baptism symbolizes that you are burying your old self and are washed clean under Jesus’ blood, and when you come back up you are new. You are no longer the version of you that people used to know. You’re starting a new life. When Christian gave his life to Jesus, he was letting go of his old self and becoming someone new. So, of course, he was going to act differently than he used to. That’s how it should be. That is the power of the gospel. Christian experienced exactly what the Bible describes: he became new.
I have heard people comment that God does not seem to perform miracles like He did in biblical times. Many in today’s culture question if God is even capable of performing miracles. Maybe that comes from not seeing any of them for themselves. Maybe that comes from never asking for a miracle. Or maybe they did ask once, and God did not provide the miracle they were expecting, and they are upset because they don’t understand why.
Regardless of where you stand on God being a miracle working God, I have to say that I believe with my whole heart that He was and still is because I have seen it. And no, I have not seen a mountain physically move, but when someone goes from old to new and from dead to alive, that is a miracle.
Jesus gives us the opportunity to embrace Him in His death and resurrection and become a new self. Don’t doubt that this miracle can happen for you. You get to walk with Jesus and live a better life.