For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and all are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
– Romans 3:23-24
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith
– and this is not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God – not by works,
so that no one can boast.
– Ephesians 2:8-9
My uncle was a cattleman and lay pastor in a small town in southern Oregon. He spent most of his days on the road, driving to various ranches and arranging deals to buy and sell cattle. He had his own stories of love and loss, of rebellion and redemption, but his trials had shaped him into a grace-filled man of humility and quiet strength. He was in the midst of a tough battle with his health when we arrived on his doorstep, but even when he was in tremendous physical pain and the uncertainty of ever being well again loomed over him, he was kind and generous. He welcomed my mom, our tiny chihuahua, and me into his home and into his heart without hesitation.
Before the stitches from his surgery had healed, my uncle was in the backyard teaching me how to throw and catch a softball. He scheduled his travel around my games so that he could attend and cheer me on from the stands, and he was the one that made sure I had a proper glove to take to my first practice. At night, he would stay up late to sit and talk with my mom at the kitchen table. The conversations they had that year would be the foundation of my mom eventually finding forgiveness and freedom in Jesus. My mom and I shared a bedroom and a bed that whole year, but I remember feeling like we had room to breathe and breath to laugh with for the first time in a long time. Someone knew us and knew our story, and he loved us anyway. My uncle was the first man I ever met that shined with the light of Christ.
Someone knew us and knew our story, and he loved us anyway.
My mom and I were about to jump into her white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and head out of town for the weekend when we received the call. My sister was on the line and told us that my dad had been in a terrible car accident, and that it wasn’t looking good. I remember my uncle sitting with me as my mom made a few calls, and then he took us to the airport and bought our plane tickets to Texas. By the time we got to the hospital, my dad had already been pronounced dead and was being kept on life support so that we could see him and say our goodbyes.
I remember everything about being in that hospital room. My dad looked like he was sleeping. He had a thick bandage covering his forehead and his whole body appeared to be swollen. I held his hand and cried and told him how much I loved him. When my grandma arrived she thought that he was alive because she saw his chest moving up and down. She shrieked and called for the doctors and almost fainted. She didn’t understand that the machines were filling his lungs with air, and that he was already brain-dead. That moment of her being told again that her son was indeed gone is one of the saddest things I have ever seen.
The months before he passed away, my dad and I would write letters back and forth to one another. I was in Oregon and he was still in Texas, and being pen-pals was the closest I ever felt to him. The fact that he would take the time to draw me a picture, update me on how his latest work project was coming along, or simply ask me how school was going and tell me that he loved me and missed me – it meant the world to me. I still have every one of his letters, and they have provided a strange amount of comfort to me over the years. Those crumpled pages somehow helped me believe that his heart was not completely hardened, and that there was still a glimmer of good inside of him. He was trying to love me.
Losing my dad was the end of a chapter. The force that had caused so much pain and destruction, the man that could never quite overcome his demons, was suddenly gone. My dad did not have a will, and with my parents being divorced and me being a minor at only 12 years old, the responsibility of the estate fell to my beautiful sister who was twenty-two at the time. Looking back, I don’t know how she had the capacity or found the courage to deal with the logistics and details of my dad’s assets during that season. For her ever-graceful strength, I am eternally grateful.
Even though my dad had never been truly present, I was clinging to the hope that he would eventually be there for me in a real way. I knew I needed a dad, and I always wanted it to be him. But the hope that I had held on to so tightly died with my dad that day. I was officially fatherless. I knew I had heard of people calling God their Father, and in a moment of desperation I silently cried out to him for the first time. I told God that if he was real, I needed him to be my Father. I said that I knew he was invisible and that was okay with me, and that I had heard about his power. I told him that I wanted to be a daughter that was loved by her Father.
My journey of faith started that day, even though 4 more years would pass before I would begin to understand the connection between my faraway Father and Jesus Christ. It would take longer still for me to recognize that I needed the mercy of a Savior just as much as I wanted the love of a Father. The concept of someone up in the clouds that cared about me was consolatory, but eventually discovering the reality that the God of the Universe put on skin and came to Earth to sacrifice Himself for my sin was unbelievably breathtaking. It is impossible to grasp the staggering concept of grace until we recognize our need for it, and I still struggle with comprehending the magnitude of the unconditional love of Jesus. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make Him love me any more or any less than He already does, and that blows my mind.
It is impossible to grasp the staggering concept of grace until we recognize our need for it.
I missed school for about a month after my dad passed away and stayed with my sister in Texas. My teacher would send me homework and tests in the mail, and I would complete the assignments and mail them back to her. After those few sweet weeks with my sister, I returned to Oregon and to school. We stayed there until the summer, and then my mom got a job in northern California and we headed across the state line to our new home. My uncle had made a complete recovery, and it was time for us to venture out on our own once again.
The following year was a good year. I was in the seventh grade and I loved school, had made wonderful friends, and my mom seemed to be more hopeful than I had ever seen her. It was a bit of a surprise when we abruptly left California shortly after the beginning of my eighth grade year. My mom and I were on the road again, and this time it felt like we were moving backwards. We made it to Oklahoma where my ex-stepdad was living, and stayed with him in his duplex for a couple of weeks. I didn’t know that my mom had been thinking about getting back together with him, but I knew that I had my doubts. It didn’t take her long to realize that reconnecting with him wasn’t what she truly wanted, and we ended up back in Texas before we ever had the chance to unpack.
I am still not sure how she managed this, but my mom arranged for me to be home-schooled for the first half of my eighth grade year. I would read books and sometimes have assignments, but the fall semester passed and I never enrolled in or attended school after we left California. We were in a bind when we left the duplex in our rear-view, and we moved in with my sister and her boyfriend in Texas until we got back on our feet. We settled into a new apartment down the street from my sister’s place around Christmas, and I started school after winter break. We didn’t move again after that, and my mom still lives in the same neighborhood today. We found a place to land, and we stopped running.
After being terrified of organized religion and steering clear of attending any church, I was skeptical when a friend from my basketball team invited me to a local youth group during our sophomore year. I ended up going with her and the pieces just started falling into place. I would hear the speaker read from the Bible and talk about Jesus with both reverence and familiarity, like he worshiped Him but he also knew Him. God was all-powerful, but He was also all-loving. The stories made sense to me, the songs we sang made sense to me. The Gospel became real, and my heart was overwhelmed with the harsh realization that I could never be perfect, and the immense relief that Jesus is. The next time the Youth Pastor asked if anyone wanted to make a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, my heart leaped in my chest and I slowly made my way to the front of the room.
My heart was overwhelmed with the harsh realization that I could never be perfect, and the immense relief that Jesus is.