I busted up our marriage and God fixed it
Meet a couple rescued from suicidal plans and restored to relationship through Jesus
A week before Catherine Sharpe went to hear American evangelist Will Graham speak in the NSW town of Orange, she was planning to kill herself and take her daughter with her.
She was in despair over the break-up of her marriage a year earlier, and all the mistakes she had made, including picking up with a man she had met while being treated for depression in hospital. At that stage their daughter, Sofia, was ten months old.
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“It was such a shock to everyone that we broke up because you show up to church, you say all the right things, keep that smile going, but you can’t be fake with God – he knows,” says Cat.
“I don’t belong anywhere – all I am is a burden on people …” – Cat Sharpe
When her husband Jeremy, who everyone calls Sharpey, moved from Bathurst to Orange, Cat decided to follow him so Sofia could see him regularly.
“Once I’d got there, I got my own house with Sofia, but then I was like ‘what am I doing? I am in this new house in this new town, I don’t have any support or know anybody here and I’m still struggling through uni.’ I am not a natural mum – I find motherhood quite difficult.”
Cat decided that the best thing for everybody would be for her to remove herself from the picture so that she was not a burden on anyone. After all, to die would be to go to heaven, which would be better than the life she was living.
“Mother’s Day was coming up and we weren’t still together. The time for separation [before divorce] was coming to an end and I was like ‘what is my life, what is my purpose? All I’ve done is made all of these mistakes and I don’t have anybody, I don’t belong anywhere – all I am is a burden on people. My family is ashamed of me, I need all this help and I’ve always been taught you don’t burden people with your problems.'”
“I got to the point where I went, ‘the best thing for everybody will be for me to remove myself from the picture so that I’m not a burden on anyone, but if I leave Sofia behind then that’s going to be a burden because people are still going to be picking up after my mess. So, I’m just going to have to take her with me – and it’s going to be sad because Mum will lose a grandkid, but then there won’t be any loose ends, we’ll be out of the picture and people can just move on with their lives.’”
At that point, Cat realised she was in serious trouble, so she put a message on Facebook saying “help me.” Sharpey responded by taking her to a local church where her uncle and aunt worshipped.
“Even if I feel like nobody else is there for me, he’s there and he’s got my back.” – Cat Sharpe
“The next week, when I went to church, I met this new friend and she said, ‘the ‘Billy Graham thing’ is on tonight – do you want to come with us?’ So I went in and Will [Graham] is talking about how Jesus loves us even as we are and Jesus knows everything about us and he cares about what’s going on in our life and we’re important to him.”
“And it’s just like the revelation hit me and I was like ‘what am I doing? Of course Jesus loves me! He actually thinks I’m valuable; he actually cares. Even if I feel like nobody else is there for me, he’s there and he’s got my back.’
“We cannot do this, but God can do this with us.” – Cat Sharpe
“So I went up for the altar call and rededicated my life and I said, ‘Jesus I am so sorry [that] I don’t want to be here; I want to be doing what you’ve got planned for me.’ I met Will and his team at Maccas afterwards. And I told him ‘a week ago I was ready to kill myself and you guys have just reinjected life into me, thank you.’
“So that was the real turning point when Sharpey and I started going ‘all right, we’re serious. We cannot do this, but God can do this with us – Sofia deserves a family.’”
Cat and Sharpey are telling their story to Eternity in the kitchen of their home in Goulburn, near Canberra, with two-year-old Raffy taking a nap in his bedroom. Their easy rapport is a far cry from the painful relationship they are remembering. With the advantage of hindsight, Sharpey believes the marriage failed because he thought Cat would be better off without him.
“At that stage I was about 170 kilograms. I hated myself because I could see what I was doing to my wife and I basically pushed her out the door,” he says.
“You basically stopped talking to me,” adds Cat.
“Because I didn’t know how to relate to her. I didn’t know how to treat her, but because I hated myself, the worst-case scenario when your head gets in that space is ‘she needs to go because that’s the only way that I can feel peace about her being OK.’”
“I was an arrogant jerk. I was so full of myself.” – Jeremy Sharpe
Sharpey had been bullied every day in primary school and even at church copped a lot of mocking from the kids in youth group.
“Mum and Dad ended up leaving and went to another church, but I definitely wasn’t ‘saved’. I hadn’t figured any of this church stuff out because my experience of church was nothing but being humiliated.”
Cat explains: “We got married when we were 21, 22, very young and inexperienced, and proceeded to make all of the mistakes in the marriage book – breaking of trust, bad financial decisions, terrible communication.”
“I was an arrogant jerk,” adds Sharpey. “I was so full of myself – everything was about me. I was working 60 to 70 hours a week and getting paid for 40, so I was stressed out, but in my mind Cat was never really a wife. She was more of a friend that just happened to live in the same house. I put that firmly down to me not understanding marriage at all. I didn’t understand what it was, let alone putting it in a biblical perspective.”
Cat adds: “I used to say he was a slob and I was a nag. That just doesn’t work. So we’d made all these terrible decisions; I was at uni at the time and three years in we got pregnant and that was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was ‘how on earth are we going to look after a kid? We can’t even look after ourselves.’”
Cat says she tried to do everything she could to fix the marriage – including going to counselling alone – but eventually she felt she’d run out of options.
“I was sitting underneath a tree in a field on a nice day, but more importantly there were these arms wrapped around me from behind.” – Jeremy Sharpe
About six months after he and Cat separated, Sharpey’s self-hate forced him into his own suicidal crisis. It was at that low point Sharpey had an experience which would change his outlook on life.
“I’d pushed Cat out and hated myself but decided she was better off. I figured the only way the hate would end would be to end me,” he says.
“But Jesus ended up finding me on my bedroom floor. It’s one of the most crazy experiences that I’ve ever had. I closed my eyes in my bedroom because I thought ‘it’s over’ and when the enormity of that decision sinks in, you realise that this is actually where you’ve got to.
“I closed my eyes. I was, like, ‘OK, here we are.’ And I opened my eyes and I wasn’t in my bedroom. I was sitting underneath a tree in a field on a nice day, but more importantly there were these arms wrapped around me from behind. And a voice just said in my ear quite plainly, ‘this is not what I made you for. I love you and you are so much more than this.’ And that was it. I cried for about 18 hours straight. And then I came out of the room the next morning and I remember saying to my housemate that I’d decided to live and he was ecstatic.”
“I was done with playing church.” – Jeremy Sharpe
After his dramatic encounter with Jesus, Sharpey was fully committed to learning how to live like a Christian, with the help of mentors from Harvest for Christ (now Ever Upward Church) in Orange.
“I was done with playing church. I’ve seen what playing church does and I don’t want to be there,” he says.
“But the biggest lesson that I learned that is still with me to this day is God is a God of restoration, but the restoration has to start with yourself first … you have to be right with God.
“Through there, I wasn’t depressed anymore, I saw the self-hatred for what it was, out of the back of years and years of abuse … it meant that from then on, whenever Cat would say something snide or would hold something against me, it didn’t matter anymore. I had forgiven her, so I was free.”
In the meantime, Cat had decided she wanted to learn to be a real wife, either for Sharpey or for an imagined future husband.
“So I started praying through The Power of a Praying Wife [by Stormie Omartian], and I started praying, ‘change me, make me able to forgive mistakes and not hold on to them, make me able to support people and forgive them for being human.’”
“One of my favourite quotes is ‘sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to realise that Jesus is the rock at the bottom.’” – Jeremy Sharpe
Six months after the pivotal Will Graham rally, Cat and Sharpey felt strong enough to try to be a family again.
“So we officially reunited in November 2012 and then we planned a second wedding rededication. We dedicated Sofia at church on the same day, and we redid our vows and had everybody back to our place and had a beautiful lunch,” says Cat
Even so, there wasn’t an immediate fix for the anxiety Sharpey felt about Cat going off with another man.
“That took us a further four or five years of physical insecurity on both parts to work through – it’s been a long time to come out the other side. It’s not a matter of, bang, Jesus comes in and everything’s better. It’s, bang, Jesus comes in and suddenly the journey is doable.”
Cat loves giving her testimony and has spoken at three Will Graham rallies now – at Broken Hill, Mildura and Narrabri.
“People will say to us ‘how do you be so vulnerable?’ That’s the testimony, really, that we are so,” says Sharpey. “One of my favourite quotes is ‘sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to realise that Jesus is the rock at the bottom.’ But that vulnerability is part of our heart and that has led us to really successful ministry with numerous different people.
“It’s been a tough but a good journey, I wouldn’t change what we went through at all. I’ve seen the darkest side of myself and I’ve seen the darkest side of where I can go, and I wouldn’t change that … And if we hadn’t busted up, there’s no way I’d be anywhere near where I am now. If Jesus hadn’t found me, I’d still be a rotten mess, playing church, having the facade. It was an easy process for me to hand my life to Jesus because I’d wanted to get rid of my life.”
“It just makes life so much more exciting because it’s like an honour to be able to live your life back for him.” – Cat Sharpe
Cat sees the birth of their son Raffy two years ago as the culmination of their testimony.
“It’s such a cool story, but I’m so glad I’m on this side of it because you learn so much about who God actually is, as opposed to the human filtered version of what we think he is.”
“You hear ‘God will be with you always’, but until you put that to the test and go, ‘are you actually going to stick by me, God?’ You can’t know it unless you experience it yourself.”
Asked how the experience has changed her, Cat says: “I’ve learnt grace. It’s a word that’s become stigmatised, like people think it’s almost like an excuse, but grace means beautiful – that’s what grace is, it’s God’s beauty on us.
“It just makes life so much more exciting because it’s like an honour to be able to live your life back for him, to be able to sow into other people, and to be able to tell people about hope – that’s a privilege and it’s exciting.”