It can be all too easy to label ourselves as damaged goods. From things we’ve done or that have been done to us, many Christians or people considering giving their lives to Jesus stand on the slippery precipice of shame, a foot in the kingdom and another on the ice, their souls just one aching thought or painful night from utterly embracing the belief that they’re of no use to God.

A life of crime. A battle with addiction. A spate of lovers. A misstep, a stumble, a dark road you turned down for too many years. Now you feel filthy. Damaged. Broken. Unusable in God’s plans and purposes.

Recently a friend showed me the website of a pastor he met by coincidence on a flight (or so he thought). This was a woman covered in tattoos and piercings, laughing with pure joy on her face in the picture he showed me, attached to an article on her life’s story. A bio piece in a magazine detailed her past of paganism and loose living and how finding Jesus changed everything for her. Still decorated and pierced—not just her face now, but straight through the heart with Christ’s love—she uses her testimony to carry truth to people walking the same path she once made her own.

I thought about her picture as I looked at myself that day: unpierced, lightly-tattooed, and with a past of being raised in a Christian household with loving Christian parents.

Could my story reach the kids and young adults she’s reaching?

Maybe. I’m going to say probably not, though.

Now, my testimony is no less valid than hers, of course—none of ours is. But I couldn’t help but think of how easy it could be to scorn this woman for her past. To think less of her because of her appearance or shun her for her history with ungodly practices.

As I was pondering all these things, God brought a notion that resonated through me like a bell run in my spirit:

“If you didn’t have a past, some people might not have a future.”

I haven’t been able to shake this notion since. We often talk about God turning pain into joy, but somehow it can be much more difficult to grasp how He uses our past for His purposes. How He can use the testimony of a former lost sheep to bring others to the flock. To carry devastated souls back from the edge. Those with the darkest, most painful history can often reach others in places just as dark—people who would not be reachable by those with what might be considered a more “socially-acceptable” or “conventional” past.

So my encouragement to those who need to hear this word is this: don’t let your past define you with shackles of shame. Don’t let it keep you from serving and surrendering to God. Your past may be the guide for others to find a future in Christ. Tell your story with fearless authenticity, surrendering all you were and all you are to your Heavenly Father. Let your scars draw maplines for the lost, straight to God.

We need your testimony. Your strength. Your past to help others experience everlasting life in the Family of God.