I can’t help but be stirred to think of the amazing work Christ did for me—and humanity—every time I hear or sing that famous hymn …Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me… It causes me to ponder the moment when I made my decision for Christ at 17 years old in an auditorium packed with high-schoolers at a weekend sleep-away Christian camp (I went to this church retreat as an unbeliever—pretty close to atheist—desperate to make friends having just moved to a small town in Texas from San Diego in the middle of my junior year of high school). I can still place myself back in that moment when the pastor made an altar call and my heart started racing and all I could do was stand up to say “I chose Jesus” to relieve the yearning on the inside. Immediately came the rush of relief to know that I had just made a choice that gave me life and gained my freedom—the saving grace that only relationship with Jesus provides. It was my first taste of a confident assurance that I was no longer alone—I was really seen by God and my life had a purpose.
What I didn’t understand then was that that saving grace moment was only the first of a lifetime of grace moments with my God. Because when you choose to follow Jesus you aren’t choosing a carefree, “no worries,” easy kind of life—just ask any believer. You are choosing a life where every day you endeavor to be more like “Jesus on earth” in order to draw people closer to a life of eternal salvation—and more times than not that means facing and overcoming adversities and problems in a way that doesn’t seem “normal” or “natural” to the secular world we live in. I don’t have enough room to share all of the life-altering encounters I have had with God’s limitless grace (which He gives, despite my getting in my own way a lot of the time!) but I stand as a testimony that by clinging to Jesus when it was embarrassing, when it would have been easier to walk away or just end it all, Jesus was able save more than just me.
To see me in the spring of 2007, you would have thought I had life pretty well worked out. I was in my late 20’s, had a wonderful family, amazing friends and a very demanding—but exhilarating—job in fashion/lifestyle/celebrity public relations. I worked the majority of the time in New York City but jaunted off to Los Angeles (and stayed at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, no less) several times a year to support my clients in their Tinseltown endeavors. I lived in the East Village, ate amazing exotic food, listened to whatever live music I could get out to see and shopped more than my budget allowed. I was a part of the leadership team of C3 Manhattan – a vibrant urban church – leading a women’s small group, singing in the worship team, welcoming on the greeting team among various other volunteer jobs. On the surface everything looked perfect—just the way I wanted the world to perceive me.
Then I “slipped up.” I had a brief encounter with someone I never saw or spoke to again and got pregnant. My life literally turned upside down in less than the 5 seconds it took for the pregnancy test to come back positive. Everything that I thought I knew about what my future held disappeared, and I found myself numb and in shock on the floor of my best friend’s bathroom. My friend (if you are reading this blog you are probably familiar with her) for once in her life was speechless. She did the only thing she knew to do in that moment—call our pastor. My beautiful pastor, Melissa Hickson, was at the apartment in no time (not that I am a good judge because at this point time was standing still for me) comforting me, counseling me and eventually getting us to the point of laughter. In the moment when the wrong encounter with a believer could have pushed me off into oblivion, these women held me, prayed for me, cried with me, told me God still loved me and that He worked ALL things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. The next morning just happened to be Sunday and immediately following the sermon my Senior Pastor, Stephen Hickson, found me and gave me the hug Jesus would have given me had He been standing there. He spoke the words of reassurance, hope, faith and grace that Jesus would have whispered to me had He been in the room.
The leaders of my church set the standard of grace and acceptance that my entire church embodied throughout my pregnancy, delivery and taking care of a small child in a big city on my own for the years that followed. The safest place I found during the entire experience was in the church—I didn’t have to explain myself there, make excuses, lie or be judged. The body of Christ came together in every way possible—filling every gap… even the ones I didn’t think anyone would take on.
After my son turned 6-months old and I was just beginning to come out of “survival-only” mode, God gave me a promise that I continue to hold on to today: “I (God) had to have Oliver in this world and you (me, Kelly) had to be his mom.” So there, in the confusion of it all, God had given me my new purpose.
To say there haven’t been awful, hard, gut-wrenching days along the road would be a flat out lie, but I never have been alone. The same God that saved a confused teenager at church camp, stood by me using his arms and legs (the Church) to carry me through the worst of times. I know that I will continue to be in need of grace for my entire life, but I know now more than ever that the God that gives that grace will never leave me or forsake me.
ISAIAH 61 NLT
I know this story, I walked with you in it, I’ve heard you tell it and yet here i am crying at my desk again reading it. You have a powerful message of grace and redemption, Kel! I can’t wait to see/hear/know the next chapter! xoxo
kelly, you are an INCREDIBLE picture of what it means to walk with Jesus… hold his hand every step of the way, no matter what happens and to be open to what he wants for us. so beautiful!