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Grace is such a huge word; God’s unmerited favor such a prevailing theme. It abounds in virtually every area of our lives. Each morning we wake to a new day full of new people, new opportunities, and new experiences – unmerited favor. Each week we talk to and see family members

know we truly hoped we would be – unmerited favor. God’s grace abounds. Kerry and I cannot help but think of our seminary journey as a sign of God’s grace. Two years ago I (Chris) enrolled at Fuller Seminary to pursue a Masters of Divinity. God was calling me to minis-

simply had a calling; instruction from Jesus to ask others for help, and a hope that they would pray about it as much as I had. They did. And they responded – unmerited favor. When beginning seminary, Kerry and I never could have predicted the number of ways we would

“Grace is such a huge word; God’s unmerited favor such a prevailing theme. It abounds in virtually every area of our lives. ” whom we did not choose before birth, but through whom God teaches us, cares for us, and laughs with us – unmerited favor. Over this past year, we’ve experienced God’s grace in the gifts of love, forgiveness, patience, and advocacy found in our spouse and best friend – unmerited favor. Every single day the sun shines on this corner of the planet revealing another startlingly beautiful day, with the bright colors, fresh air, penetrating warmth, and beautiful people God has called us to live among – unmerited favor. By God’s gift of Jesus, we experience an intimate journey with the God of the universe in which we are loved, given purpose and meaning, and changed to be the people we didn’t even

try and impressed on me that it was time to pursue my theological education. As I prayed and prepared, there was one clear message from God: “I don’t want you to do it alone.” After further prayer and discernment of exactly what God meant by that, I knew He was asking me to ask others to share in the journey of my education. I hesitated because of my pride. God repeatedly told me, “Don’t do it alone.” Finally, I reluctantly obeyed. As I was obedient, friend after friend, contact after contact, acquaintance after acquaintance, said “yes” to partnering with me by offering their resources, time, wisdom, and encouragement; none of which I had earned. I

need God to provide for us. As we look back over our first year of marriage and my two years in seminary, God has never failed. Our community gave their prayers, their time, their resources and their wisdom. We could not have journeyed this far without God’s grace in our community. Our God is a God of grace – pure, abundant, and humbling grace. His unmerited favor is experienced first in his Son, and then through His people. For Kerry and me it’s not a matter of thinking of stories of God’s unmerited favor; it’s a matter of deciding which to tell first.

Grace is a gift from God to each one of us in which He has given us something that we don’t deserve. This is so impactful to me. Grace has been given to us, but how is grace received? What do we do with it? How does it change the way we live? We must first be able to accept grace before we can give grace. Grace is not material. Grace is embracing the opportunity to receive something first,

in the health and well-being of others for over 30 years. The healthcare profession was not expected. A question that I constantly ask myself is “am I doing God’s work in the way that He intended? If not, then what do I need to do differently? And if so, what can I do more?” That’s the God-given grace that I live out and try to live out every single day. Individuals who can understand and

“When we use grace in the way that God intended, it changes who we are and how we live.” and then living in a way that will make a difference in the lives of other people by making this community a better place. That’s what grace means to me. It is the many opportunities given to us by God. When we use grace in the way that God intended, it changes who we are and how we live. Grace is a gift, and the gift of grace requires action. So when we receive, we should then take action. And when we take action we use the gifts as God intended. The biggest gift of grace that God gave me was the opportunity to be involved

are able to accept the gift of grace in my field can then take that gift and channel into actions that affect the lives of people – people who work for us and are providing care, people who come to see us and are seeking care, people who are marginalized and vulnerable, people who need to be given care because they cannot fend for themselves for various reasons. I feel so blessed to be given the opportunity to conduct my work as a gift from God.

I started this year, my senior year in college, and I was really excited about it. Unfortunately, I underestimated how much this year was going to cost and I did not have enough money. I started asking people to pray for me; people in my small group, people in the college group. I was really nervous and I feel a lot of anxiety about money so a looming feeling crept that I was not going to graduate and finish college.

I would have to get another job. Maybe something good would come out of it, but God wanted me to finish school. My roommate told a good friend at the church about my dilemma. That friend from the church reached out to me and told me that she cared about my finances and was going to help me pay for this semester in school. How incredible that someone in the church would help me in this way!

I really had to let go of the feeling of helplessness. It’s hard to ask for help for ourselves sometimes, especially when we devote our lives to helping other people. In retrospect, that seems so silly. I was caught by surprise when my mentor and dear friend asked me why I felt I couldn’t tell anyone about my financial trouble. I told her I just felt like I shouldn’t bother people with my money issues. Grace caused me to be vulnerable and let people in. I think a lot

“I had to let my guard down and be totally open with people. Through that openness people were able to help me.” I’d been praying over my situation and asking people to pray about it for two weeks. It was very difficult for me to reach out and ask for prayer. I don’t like to worry, so I pretended I didn’t have a problem, which probably wasn’t the smartest attitude. Once I started telling people and asking for prayer, the miracle happened. It was God’s grace. I was trying to think of what other plans He might have for me besides going to school. I thought maybe

I’ve worked here for two years in childcare, the nursery, and the preschool. More recently, I got involved in the college group and then became a Jr. High leader. I was shown grace by people who have accepted me like an adopted family and wanted to help when I was having a tough time. After our conversation I had an overwhelming sense of peace. That’s grace. This financial miracle was a gift of grace. God’s grace provided for me.

of times we expect grace to be given but we also have to allow ourselves to receive it. I had to let my guard down and be totally open with people. Through that openness people were able to help me. I don’t think grace just happens. I needed to be willing to receive it and be sensitive to God’s will.

When we were first married, trying to have people over to our house was exhausting. We’d occasionally have people for dinner or even a Bible study but they caused anxiety as everything needed to be “just perfect” beforehand and each event left us both exhausted emotionally and physically. Now,

Our own daughter learned that we had room in our hearts for others and hopefully both our children saw an example of stepping out to help others. Whatever the reason, God brought people to our home. Some have become close friends; so close they have become family. Others have moved on

“God kept bringing us other opportunities. We’ve opened our home to many people over the years.” who we are as a group and what we are studying are more important. We want people to feel welcome and cared for. It is just something innate in us. We aren’t sure how we changed, it just happened. We do know that God was working in us. Over the years, what we jokingly referred to as “our open door policy,” was really God changing us to be more faithful in our walk with Him. We are not that same anxious, exhausted couple that began their lives together almost 35 years ago. How else would we have become so open to whomever ended up on our doorstep in need of a helping hand? Why else would our weekly Life Group tell us how safe and comfortable our home was as we shared dinner and our lives “around the table?” We finally heard the message – we were living each day to make it count as part of God’s tug on our lives. And in the process, we were sharing grace that God has shown us by accepting people in all stages of their lives. He taught us to forget the details and focus on the people! What once brought us anxiety and exhaustion is now a joyful, innate part of our lives and our home. God kept bringing us other opportunities. We’ve opened our home to many people over the years.

and we haven’t heard from them since, and we don’t need to. Some we still talk to and are very active in our lives. We always thought grace was just a gift we received from Christ. Faith is grace and generosity in action, both giving and living with no strings attached. Grace is expecting nothing in return. Our houseguests were never planned. They were just people that were presented by God. In retrospect we realized we responded to the opportunity God gave to us to be gracious. At the time we just thought there was some way we could help. We put ourselves into the solution, not our money. We think Biblical grace is what we get from God through Christ. However, how we relate that grace to another person seems so small and insignificant in comparison. We get lost in that. God’s grace is really major. You just don’t know what God is going to call you to do. That’s the surprise. Now we feel like we have a story. We never thought we had one but now we do. Letting people stay with us used to leave us anxious and exhausted. But God has shaped us and changed us. Now it’s just what we do. It really is a joy. We are surprised at that. That was unexpected grace.

Grace to me is something you don’t deserve. Grace is something you get when you haven’t done anything. It’s something that’s unexpected that you can’t earn. There’s nothing you can give back. There’s nothing you can do for that person who extended you grace. It’s simply a gift. It has to be an act that is unselfish. It’s not out of personal motivation. Grace is freely given. It’s not an exchange. I feel like my mom is a constant

one for people and emotionally investing in their wellbeing is life giving. It’s hard in school to be a Christian. It’s hard to talk about your faith. That’s why actions become so important, especially grace. There’s a divide between my summers at a Christian camp and being surrounded by Christian people and God’s word and coming down the mountain and going back to real life. You actually have to work towards your relationship with God in the midst of the chaos. God extends grace in those moments of chaos every day. I’ve gotten to receive God’s grace during those times when I don’t always have that camp relationship with God. He’s always there for me even when I’m not always there for Him.

“It’s hard in school to be a Christian. It’s hard to talk about your faith.” reminder of grace in my life. She gives me undeserved love and unconditional love. I feel like love goes hand in hand with grace. You have to love to give grace. My mom’s grace towards me allows me to understand God’s grace. You can only understand what grace is if you’ve been given grace. Grace is not something you can learn, it’s something you have to experience. Because my mom creates such a safe place where I always have grace, even when I don’t deserve it, I can then give grace to the people around me in my life. Once you’ve experienced that, you can give other people grace in their times of need. It’s a selfless kind of love. I feel that I can be the caretaker of my friends because my mom has shown me how to be loving and gracious. I love that I can be the one that my friends come to when they need someone. Being that some-

It’s my role as a Christian, especially in a world that is so unchristian, to be different. I have to be gracious. I can only share faith through grace, not through guilt. I have friends who aren’t Christian who feel comfortable talking to me and opening up to me because I don’t judge them. Life can be awful for teenagers. I feel like showing grace is the way you can be different. Showing grace shows people that Christians are not as the media portrays them. Showing grace is the way you can reach people for Christ. I don’t think judgment brings people to God. Telling people that God loves them will help them receive the grace Christ gives us.

I kind of look at grace as a technical term, something that we get from God that we don’t deserve. I’m more comfortable with the term “compassion.” Several years ago, I got into a bitter dispute over the property line with my next-door neighbor at our summer home in Michigan. We had a number of acrimonious confrontations that ended up in litigation. I was successful in that, much to his disappointment. A short time after that, I decided to put my trust in Jesus and follow Him. I started looking for opportunities to serve and to be compassionate, to show grace. One day my neighbor was trying to saw something with a handsaw, and I saw this as an opportunity to be compassionate. I went over to my neighbor and asked him if he would like to use my electric saw instead. He accepted. His demeanor was absolutely astounding. You could see that he would never have expected something like that from me after our previous dispute. I felt at peace about my friendship with my neighbor after that experience. I thought that was something I would not have done had I not put my trust in Jesus. God used this experience as an opportunity for me to prac-

“We’re called upon when we follow Jesus.”

tice being compassionate. Now, I’m always looking for opportunities like that. We’re called upon when we follow Jesus. He has a program for us. It helps us to live life with a purpose. I’m not really in a position to do grand things like some folks do, but I can always look for opportunities. It puts me in line with the program that we are called upon to follow. It’s comforting when you’re following the program that Jesus gave to us, which, as He points out, carefully comes from the Father. It creates a feeling of contentment and peace in life. I surmise that there are probably many here at St. Andrew’s like me, who are just not able or don’t see opportunities. Through this I have learned that you can always be alert to look for acts of service and compassion daily, even though they may be very small. Extending compassion in the moments God gives you is rewarding because you feel, as I say, engaged in the program. The theme we have here at St. Andrew’s is “Following Jesus Christ to lead lives that reveal God’s goodness,” and that’s what we need to do. You see, the opportunities don’t come by all the time. You have to be alert because you never know when a situation will arise, like the one I found myself in with my neighbor.

In early 2008, I had a big goodbye party in the presence of many friends and family members. I was leaving for Niger, West Africa, where I was to be an agricultural volunteer with The Peace Corps for 27 months. At

In training we learned right away that some volunteers end up leaving early, often for mental health reasons. My thoughts were “Why on earth would someone come this far, and go through such a long waiting process, only to

“I was immediately discouraged upon arriving at my village.” the party, and before leaving, I received many notes of encouragement, hugs, and some tears. Friends told me that they would write, and that they could never do something so hard, and my parents told me how proud they were of me. Once in Niger, I was assigned a host family and my own hut in their yard. The other 30 volunteers and I were to complete two months of training before being assigned our own villages, in which we would live and work on our own alongside our fellow villagers for the following two years. In those first months, we would walk to the training center six days a week to go through language, health, safety, and cultural training. I didn’t mind this time, as I felt a part of something, and was able to have some community with the other volunteers (although learning the language, Zarma, was especially difficult for me).

leave early?!” and “That will never be me!” and “How could you ever face your family and friends if you leave after only a few months, when everyone expects you to be gone for over two years?” After two months, we received our village assignments. I was to live in Bani Zoumbu, a small village in the middle of nowhere. We were to visit our village for a week, return for one last week of training, then get sworn-in in front of our villagers the following week. I was immediately discouraged upon arriving at my village. The previous volunteer had tried to start a women’s garden near the well in the village. When I got there, there was a dilapidated chain link fence surrounding a square plot of land, without a single plant growing in it. Needless to say, it was a long and difficult week. I spent a lot of time

in prayer and with many tears. I felt lonely without my other volunteer friends, discouraged, and questioned everything. Was I going to spend two years of my life living and working here, feeling very isolated, only to have the village go back to how it was? Wasn’t I making more of a difference volunteering at my church back at home? What would everyone think if I packed up and went home early? How would I face them? I did end up deciding to leave Niger before the swearing-in ceremony in front of my villagers. My fellow volunteers encouraged me. Many told me that they know how hard it is, and some shared their personal struggles with me. My family and friends welcomed me home with open arms and words of encouragement. They poured out heaps of grace on me and never once made me feel like a failure. There is much more to my Peace Corps story, but I’m glad that I went and experienced what I did. I know that it was the right decision to come home. I’m so thankful to everyone who gave me grace during that time of uncertainty, and am always thankful for a savior who freely gives and never stops. I believe that grace is unearned, unexpected, and unjustified, merciful goodwill.

Connections Winter 2013/2014  

"How Sweet the Sound" is the theme of this issue of Connections, a magazine from St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, in Newport Beach, CA. Rea...

Connections Winter 2013/2014  

"How Sweet the Sound" is the theme of this issue of Connections, a magazine from St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, in Newport Beach, CA. Rea...