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1 theGrace aDventure God’s grace has a drenching about it. A wildness about it. A whitewater, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it. Grace comes after you.

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ou steer your kayak downriver, your heart hammering like a hummingbird’s wings against your chest. Are you ready for this? No turning back now. The swirling eddies and cascading currents that lead to Monster Rock are just ahead. You surge forward, the foam flying and rapids roaring. A shout escapes your lips before you even realize An overworked it: “Wooooohooooo!” waitress approaches a This is living. regular customer and Quick paddle strokes move asks, “Do you know you past one boulder, then the difference between another. Suddenly, there it you and a kayak?” The is. A black mound bigger than customer shakes his your garage. The Mother of All River Rocks. head no. “Sometimes,” You know from scouting the waitress says, “a this spot that the current kayak tips.” is your true enemy. You’ve got to veer left, before the raging water takes your cork of a craft, slams it against stone, and mashes you into pumpkin pulp. Time to paddle!

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You pull with all your strength. Your heart is beating so loudly that you’re scared your eardrums will explode. Left! Left! Are you going to make it? Suddenly, you shoot through the mist into calmer waters. You did it! You’ve conquered the Monster! Only a moment ago your heart was pounding like a drummer on steroids. Relentless. Desperate. Now the danger has passed. You’ve pushed through the moment of near panic. And your heart is changing. From rushing like a freight train to the calm thump . . . thump . . . thump . . . of a heart at rest. If only it were that easy to change the rest of your heart. You know, the part that houses those other monsters. I’m talking about selfishness. Superiority. Anger. Greed. Guilt. Nope, no easy switch for any of us. But for God? Not a problem. He’s in the business of changing hearts. We would be wrong to think this change happens overnight. But we would be equally wrong to assume change never happens at all. It may come in fits and spurts, an “aha” here, a breakthrough there. But it comes. Could you use some?

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You stare into the darkness. Your cat slumbers at the foot of your bed. The ceiling fan whirls above you. In fifteen minutes the alarm will sound and zoom you like a snowboarder on a half-pipe into another free-for-all with teachers, classmates, teammates, and friends-who-might-not-be-friends. For the millionth time, you’ll make your bed, breakfast, the bus, and homework deadlines . . . but for the life of you, you can’t make sense of this thing called life. Its beginnings and endings. Makeups and breakups and due dates and drama and questions. What’s it all about anyway? You turn the page of your Bible and stare at the words. You might as well be gazing at a graveyard. Lifeless and stony. Nothing moves you. You yawn through the daily reading with the same barely awake expression you save for sixth-period calculus. But you don’t dare close the book, no sirree. You’re afraid God will give up on you if you do. You run your finger over the photo of your mom’s face. You promised her you’d never touch drugs. Then your best friend asked if you wanted to smoke some pot. You were curious. You only meant to try it once. But once became twice became a few times a week. Now it’s practically a habit. Even worse, your mom guessed something was up. When she asked if you or your friends had ever tried marijuana, you said

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no. You lied to her face! Now you feel terrible. How are you supposed to fix this? You listen to the preacher. A tubby sort with jowls, a bald dome, and a thick neck that hangs over his clerical collar. Your dad makes you come to church, but he can’t make you listen. At least, that is what you’ve always muttered to yourself. But this morning you listen because the minister speaks of a God who loves prodigals, and you feel like the worst sort of one. You can’t keep the pregnancy a secret much longer. Soon your parents will know. The preacher will know. He says God knows already. You wonder what God thinks.

YourstorY: What’s the biggest problem you’re dealing with right now?

Do you have a plan to solve it?

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “no sweat” and 10 being “I’m doomed,” how confident are you in your plan?

Where does God fit into this picture?

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It doesn’t get easier, does it? Bad hair days. Bad class days. Bad choices that ruin families, friendships, and futures, making you feel like a failure. Will you ever figure it Could there be more to all out? grace than bowed heads God answers the junk of life at dinner and “Good with one word: grace. bread, good meat, good We talk like we understand God, let’s eat”? the term. The library gives us a grace period to pay a late fine. The no-good politician falls from grace. Musicians speak of a grace note. We describe an actress as gracious, a dancer as graceful. We use the word for hospitals, baby girls, kings, and premeal prayers. We talk like we know what grace means. Especially at church. Grace graces the songs we sing and the Bible verses we read. Grace shares the church office with its cousins: forgiveness, faith, and fellowship. Preachers explain it. Hymns proclaim it. Bible schools teach it.

One dictionary definition of “grace” is “unmerited divine assistance.” Sounds simple enough— God giving us something we don’t deserve. But do we really get grace? And even if we do, does it have anything to do with our lives?

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Here’s my hunch: we’ve settled for wimpy grace. It politely occupies a phrase in a hymn, fits nicely on a church sign. Never causes trouble or demands a response. When asked, “Do you believe in grace?” who could say no? Have you been This book asks deeper questions: changed by Have you been changed by grace? Shaped by grace? Strengthened by grace? grace? Emboldened by grace? Softened by grace? Snatched by the nape of your neck and shaken to your senses by grace? God’s grace has a drenching about it. A wildness about it. A whitewater, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it. Grace comes after you. It rewires you. From insecure to God-secure. From regret-riddled to better-because-of-it. From afraid to die to ready to fly. Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.1 Once you encounter it, you’ll never be the same.

A girl named Shannon understands. As she drove to high school on the third day of her junior year, her biggest worries were memorizing her class schedule, locker combination, and pepsquad routines.

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Oh, and one more thing: lipstick. She’d forgotten to put it on that morning. Shannon was driving on a country road, the kind that features endless views of cornrows and clustered cows, but rarely people. Almost never, in fact. So Shannon adjusted her rearview mirror for a quick swipe on the lips. It took only a moment. When her eyes returned to the road, she glimpsed something moving directly in front of her. The car jolted. Shannon braked. She’d hit something. The sinking feeling in Shannon’s gut turned to horror when she got out and saw the body of a woman lying facedown in the grass next to a mangled bicycle. Paramedics soon confirmed the worst. The woman, Marjorie Jarstfer, was dead. Shannon wanted to join her. One thought kept running through her disbelieving brain: I should have been the one killed, not her. Later, Shannon learned that the dead woman’s husband, Gary, wanted her to meet him at his home the night before the funeral. That was the last thing Shannon wanted. She was terrified. Yet she knew she couldn’t say no.

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When Shannon stepped into the house that day, her heart raced. From the end of the entry corridor, a burly, middle-aged man approached. He opened his arms wide. Shannon couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t angry. He wanted a hug. This grieving husband embraced Shannon, and the tears she’d been holding back flowed freely onto his flannel shirt. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.” Gary sat Shannon down and Shannon began to tell her about his wife. Marjorie loved and was close to couldn’t believe the Lord. She’d told Gary she it. He wasn’t sensed she’d be going home angry. He soon. “You can’t let this ruin wanted a hug. your life, Shannon,” Gary said. “God wants to strengthen you through this. He wants to use you. As a matter of fact, I am passing Marjorie’s legacy of being a godly woman on to you. I want you to love Jesus without limits, just like Marjorie did.” Gary refused to press charges against Shannon or sue her family for damages beyond insurance. Shannon kept waiting for Gary to come to his

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senses and dish out an appropriate punishment. It never happened. Grace had chased Shannon from the moment she got in her car that fateful school-day morning. She finally let it catch her and, like Gary Jarstfer, wrap her in a bear hug that wouldn’t let go. Shannon went from feeling guilty to feeling chosen. Her future was assured. She would live out Marjorie’s legacy, a godly woman who loves Jesus beyond measure. Today, Shannon Ethridge is a best-selling Christian author, speaker, and counselor.2

What a difference grace made for Shannon. What a difference it can make for you. Can’t forgive the friend who humiliated you in the cafeteria? Can’t face your parents because you failed a test? Can’t forgive yourself for the terrible thing you said or did yesterday? Christ can, and he is on the move, aggressively Grace is a budging you from graceless to certain beginning grace-shaped living. The giftof glory in us. given giving gifts. Forgiven people —Saint Thomas Aquinas forgiving people. Mistakes still? Of course. Despair? Rare.

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Grace is everything Jesus. Grace lives because he does, works because he works, and matters because he matters. To be saved by grace is to be saved by him, not by an idea, rule, or church membership, but by Jesus himself, who will sweep into heaven anyone who so much as gives him the nod. Not, mind you, in response to a finger snap, a religious chant, or a secret handshake. Grace won’t be stage- managed. It’s like Jesus himself: uncontainable, untamable. Like a wild, whitewater kayak ride that is thrilling and scary and joyful. Grace isn’t merely an app to be acquired. It’s an adventure to be lived. Are you wondering what to make of this crazy existence? Too weary to have hope in yourself or your future? Worried you’ve messed up so badly that even God will turn you away? Wild grace is what you need. Let’s make certain it happens to you.

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Wild Grace