Grace found me 16 years ago in my bedroom late one night after youth group.
Grace picked me up my sophomore year of college after I had fallen really hard.
Grace brought me to UNC-Chapel Hill to do Greek college campus ministry for 4 years.
Grace gave me my husband.
Grace brought me our daughter.
Grace is my daughter’s middle name.
Grace brings me each new day, gives me each breath I take, and showers me with blessings that I do not and never have deserved.
Grace has given me every thought and word on every post of this blog.
Grace is a part of every single moment of my life, and yet it is so easy to forget. To overlook. To take for granted.
I’ve recently started listening to some free seminary courses from RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) titled, “Grace in the Church” by Steve Brown. My head is throbbing from all of the concepts that I cannot wrap it around. My heart is bursting with gratitude for all that I am learning and for all of who God is. My memory is being dusted off as I think back through all the marks of grace in my life. Grace is such a beautiful word, a refreshing concept. Yet we are all so resistant to it. Because Grace requires us to admit that we need it. That we are unable to accomplish things on our own. That we are desperate and in need of help. Let’s be honest, as human beings, that is just not our thing. We are attracted to stories of people who rise to the top, pulling themselves up by their boot straps. We’re drawn to motivational speakers and self help books. Churches that preach legalism (“make yourself a better person”) are way more popular then churches who preach grace. Grace is the gift of salvation and freedom we are given freely by absolutely no earning of our own. There is nothing that we can do “good enough” to earn the favor of God, and nothing that we can do “bad enough” to make Him turn away.
In thinking about this the past couple of days I’ve been reflecting back on my story of grace. You know, where I was without it, how I first encountered it, and how powerful it was in those moments I felt I needed it most. As I thought back through this story, I realized that the further I have gotten into my Christian faith, the less I have grasped the concept of grace, I think. You see, before I came back to Christ in college, I was a mess with a capital “M.” I had screwed up. A lot. In a lot of ways. I had become a Christian when I was 11 years old in my own bedroom one night after hearing the gospel clearly presented at my church youth group. And for the next 4 years, I cared SO much about that new faith! I watered it like a precious little plant I was desperate to see grow. I went on missions trips with my church, brought my bible to cheerleading practice, and would tell my classmates about this Jesus that I loved. But then something happened. I turned 16.
Suddenly I started noticing boys, and they started noticing me. I got my driver’s license, which offered me all sorts of new freedom, and new friends. I started caring about being popular and making people like me. I wanted to be a cool kid and started dating one of the “popular” trouble makers at my high school. I learned that there were all sorts of fun pleasures out there that seemed to interfere with the message of Christian faith I was receiving. At church I was hearing “don’t do this,” “don’t do that,” “don’t EVER do this,” and “stay away from that.” It seemed like way too many rules for me to follow. Just hearing them made me feel exhausted! On the other hand I had this new, exciting world around me making me false promises of love and worth. It was telling me, “do this, and people will love you!” “sleep with him, and you will be desirable, secure, and protected,” “drink with them, and you will have acceptance.” “Dress like this and you will get attention.” “Look like this, and people will like you and want to be like you.” I totally fell for it. And so that’s what my life became about for the next 4 years.
By the time I reached my sophomore year of college, I started growing weary. I kept chasing these things and chasing them, but they never seemed to deliver what they promised. I thought I was truly loved and safe as I gave my whole self away, to find that he made a list of all the girls he wanted to sleep with. I was not high up on the list. I fell apart. But then I picked up the pieces and gave them to someone else for 2 years. He cheated. And lied. And did other horrible things I will not mention. I flaunted myself around with thick coated self tanner, high heels, and the cutest clothes I could find during sorority recruitment. Inwardly begging for a group to want me and sick to my stomach at the thought that they wouldn’t. I drank the night away and got an underage drinking ticket on my initiation night in hopes to impress the older girls and earn respect. I would open my bible, missing the God I loved back when I was 13 but would immediately shut it. I knew I couldn’t live 2 different lives, and I figured I had already messed up enough that the decision was made for me. I had no choice but to continue to live in these chains that bound me to my need for acceptance, security and love.
That’s when grace found me. Throughout that whole 4 years I often felt something tugging at me inside, but I kept running away. Jesus loved me before I had done these things and while I was doing them, and wanted so much more for me. And He showed that to me one Saturday evening after I had broken up with who I thought was the love of my life but turned out to be a fraud. I fell on my campus apartment floor and just sobbed my heart out. I cried out to God and told Him I wanted Him back. I begged Him to just take my life and do with it whatever He wants. I had messed up bad, hit the bottom of my rope, and was desperate for His help. I could do nothing on my own to make up for the things I had done and the way I had been living my life for myself, as my own god. I needed grace. Grace held my fragile soul that night, and I had no idea just how much my life was about to change the moment I got up off that floor.
6 years later, I think back to that day and feel a bit of longing. Because in that moment, I really grasped my need for grace and in doing so, saw it’s full beauty. Outwardly, one may look at my life now and say that I’ve become a “better person” since becoming a Christian. Don’t be fooled. I may actually be a worse person. I look cleaned up on the outside, so it’s easier to believe that I am on the inside as well. And for that reason, I easily forget about grace and go on living as if I can do this on my own. As if I’ve “got it” now. I forget that I am a mostly evil person with the proclivity for good, not the other way around. It is only, only by God’s beautiful, loving grace that I am who I am and where I am today. I am a sinner. Saved by grace. I would only continue to make a mess of my life (and still may at times), were it not for His sweet love for me.
Grace is this: that God became man, the most humbling thing He could do, living the life that I could not, dying the death that I deserved, rising from the grave, conquering death and wiping away my destiny of eternal separation from God and giving me eternal life with Him in return. His blood shed signed my release from the debt that I very justly owed.
I earned nothing. He gave everything.
As I reflect on this with a grateful heart today, I am reminded of a poem I wrote soon after that night on my dorm room floor (You can read it here). May my heart reflect this perspective today and as I go through the rest of my life. Lord, save me from myself. May I care more about who You are than who I am becoming. May I care more about my daughter’s grasp of grace than I do about her “good” behavior and decisions.
Grace, don’t let me go. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; take my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
Sidenote: You may be surprised by how candid I was in this post with some of the things in my life. I debated whether or not to be so open and honest. In the end I decided that it is appropriate, as it highlights God’s grace in my life. If it changed your opinion of me, then you probably needed your opinion of me changed anyway. I am nothing if not a redeemed vessel that Jesus lives and works in and through.