When God Rains Grace
Friends, I have invited some rare ones to share their stories here in a series of Wild In the Hollow guest posts. I love how story begets story, and today’s is a hard and beautiful one. I’m not going to begin to pretend that the church doesn’t have a sickness when I hear stories like this, but oh I believe it’s good to hear them, to get the great logs out of our own eyes before we remove the specks from others. Shelly Richardson is such a dear online friend of mine, and I want you to know how her story seems to be much of what I’m hearing from the cream of the crop. Dear church, please let’s find the low common ground of weakness with those in pain. This is the very way we’ll shine, the very way we’ll channel strength and power. Welcome Shelly Richardson!
I flung the doors fast and wide, the sunlight blinding eyes that were already stinging red with tears. Skin flush hot and heart racing. My hands fumbled useless in search of keys. The words still screaming through my head. Pregnant. Drugs. Alcohol.
Just moments before I sat on the front pew during choir practice too weak to stand and sing. A friend curled in close and whispered quiet. Had the doctors found anything? I chuckled at the thought. For months I lied in bed with nausea, unable to eat or drink, migraines that came like waves pounding the shore, I weighed all but 88 pounds. For months I saw doctor after doctor gone through test after test, but no. The doctors had not found anything.
Pregnant. Drugs. Alcohol. The words she spoke next might as well have been a death sentence, perhaps a foretelling of the future. I felt them straight in my gut like a knife severing and my insides spilling. My eyes searched hers in disbelief. I waited for the punch. Waited for the I am just kidding. They never came.
And I ran.
I ran because truth be told I was the good girl. I worked hard at not breaking the rules. I was a straight A honor roll student, excelled in piano, attended church every time the doors opened. I knew all the scriptures and hymns by heart. I knocked on doors asking strangers if they knew Jesus, I had Roman’s Road memorized and would spell it out to anyone who allowed me the opportunity.
I had this down solid. This Jesus thing. And this church? I pretty much grew up there. These people were my people, my safe haven from the world where I just did not fit. They knew everything about me. But in her whispers to me the faces appeared. Faces of all who asked me if I was feeling better, or had the doctors found anything. Faces that spoke words to me, “Bless your heart I will pray for you.” I pictured in my mind them turning to each other, heads shaking with lips pursed and whispering those disparaging words.
Of course they did. I had seen it happen over and over to the backsliders, you know the ones, believers fallen into sin. The prayer circles were like gossip mills. And it wasn’t long before the backslider was confessing to the congregation from the pulpit. Pouring out their dark secrets, telling how the evil one had reached straight into their chest and held grip of their heart.
They wanted freedom. So they did all they knew how to do, all that they were led to do, they stood and confessed. All were shamed. And all were asked to leave the church. No matter the weight of the sin. The consequences were always the same.
So I ran. I ran from that church. I ran from everything I believed to be true about Jesus and the Bible. I ran to find comfort and freedom. I ran straight into the darkness of the world. Because if this is what God and Jesus and all their people were like? I wanted no part of any of them.
From that day on I ran. For more than 20 years I ran and I broke all the rules. Thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not covet; thou shalt have no other gods before me; thou shalt not be drunk on wine. I knew the rules, and I broke the rules. Because really why should they apply to me? I did everything right. (Yes, I know. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Remember, I knew all the scriptures by heart.) But in my time of need, instead of comforting and loving, the people of that church, God’s people gossiped out every scenario possible as to why I was sick. Except for the truth. I was sick.
I was running toward God, but in all my running, God never left. He was there in every moment. Every word. Every boy. Every drink. He was there.
I never saw Him. My eyes blinded by a past that left nothing but brokenness. From abusive husbands and divorce, to autism and chronic illness, to ex-wives and blending families and making new marriages work. I was broken.
But it took more than brokenness to open my eyes. It took reaching the bottom of my health, weighing 93 pounds, suffering chronic migraines, and an anxiety disorder; all stemming from my illness that would soon be defined as Celiac disease. After 42 years of not knowing what was making me sick, what seemed to be taking my very life, the answer was not pregnancies, nor drugs, nor alcohol, the answer was wheat. And it was destroying my body.
When everything seemed to be falling apart and most of my days spent in bed my hope was all but diminished. Sure I had found myself back in church just a few years earlier and had been reading the bible. I felt I had run too far, ran too long for God to care anymore.
But God. I love when I read the word “but” in the bible, it always means something good is coming. And goodness was definitely coming.
One Saturday morning I was in bed staring out the window. My head throbbing and my stomach churning, my body wracked with pain. The sky was a brilliant blue as my daughter squealed as she danced and twirled, while my husband clapped in praise. The birds were singing and the planes were flying and I longed to be out there with them. But there in the room with me was a church service streaming through the interwebs. The worship team was singing words of God’s grace. The pastor spoke of God’s unfailing love. He spoke of His grace, the undeserving favor given to me even though I do not deserve it.
Grace. God’s grace. Never in all my years had I ever learned of God’s grace. Instead I was taught all the do’s and don’ts and grace was just a prayer offered up before the potluck meals served on Sunday’s out on the lawn.
God’s grace. It poured like rain that morning as God scooped me into His arm’s and whispered welcome home.
“And He will come to us like the rain” (Hosea 6:3).