New Grace

A woman follows her convictions and finds a new relationship with God.

by Alice Drake*

What if they’re right? I wondered again. Holding the letter in my trembling hand, I was even more unsure of my decision. The elders from my previous church wanted me to return and submit to their counseling — their way of saying I needed church discipline. Either I did what they said, or I would be excommunicated.

Fear welled up inside as I thought about all I’d gone through to escape with my daughters to another town and a new life. After enduring years of verbal abuse from my husband, I began to “talk back,” only to have the situation escalate to physical abuse.

A firm believer in “until death do us part,” I stayed until the one time he laid a hand on my oldest daughter. After that, I realized the situation could only get worse. I took $60 cash, a carload of baby supplies, and snuck out of state while he was at work.

New start

I moved to be near my mom and to start a new life, giving only my P. O. box in hopes of getting some child support. My husband sent checks all right, but he didn’t hesitate to give my address to anyone who would send me letters, warning me of my erroneous ways.

I couldn’t blame them. They simply didn’t understand the danger of returning. The newest letter from the church elders dealt a crushing blow to my resolve.

Safe place

As I sat there, my daughters tramped through the living room, armed with dollies and blankets. “Can we watch A Bug’s Life?” They’d seen it a hundred times before, but we didn’t own many movies. The TV was on loan from my boss, and the VCR had been a gift from a friend.

“Yes,” I answered. It would keep them quiet for a while. I needed time to think.

Our little apartment didn’t offer much luxury, but at least my daughters were safe there. As I watched them settle onto the floor in front of the TV, my decision became clear: We couldn’t go back. I would take care of them by myself, no matter the consequences.

They glanced at me, puzzled, when I crumpled up the elders’ letter and tossed it in the trash.

Loneliness

I found a new church, but my heart wasn’t into worship or fellowship. The elders from my previous church had implied that I wasn’t really saved if I didn’t obey them, meaning I was on my way to hell. I resolved in my heart that anything was worth keeping my girls safe. I made sure they went to Bible school and children’s choir practice. They could still have a good Christian life, even if I couldn’t be involved in church.

I feared that if I got too close to people at church, they would want to know why I wasn’t with my husband anymore. So I kept my distance to avoid any condemnation. It was bad enough that I was so disappointed in myself; I didn’t want to see their disappointment too. I was a self-appointed second-class Christian.

I met many nice friends in my college classes, but most of them were still in their teens. Even if there had been someone I could fully connect with, I wouldn’t have had the time between work, the kids, and homework. The loneliness intensified after Mom moved away to care for my aging grandmother.

Distance from God

Not only did I avoid other people, I also pushed God away. I had failed Him by marrying the wrong person. I saw my burdens as punishment for irrevocably messing up my life and causing so much pain for my children. If I allowed God to be close again, would He refuse until I went back to my marriage?

That was one thing I could not do, even if God asked it of me. In that state of mind, I convinced myself that I really didn’t deserve His grace, let alone any divine help.

Hardship

We lived in a noisy apartment complex. Though I received grants to attend community college, I still needed to work part-time on weekends. Even with one child in elementary school, daycare costs ate at my meager budget. Many times I wondered how I was going to pay the rent and buy food.

I even potty-trained my youngest early. “Sorry, kiddo,” I told her. “Mommy doesn’t have the money to buy diapers. You’re going to have to wear the big girl panties.” Despite the little we had, I savored every free moment with the girls. Those were the “macaroni and cheese” years.

Divine provision

Looking back, I can see how God provided time after time. One morning I got a call from the local Walmart saying that someone had anonymously donated a $100 gift card for me. Somehow He kept my dilapidated car running when it should have sputtered its last exhaust fume years before.

My boss, who couldn’t have known how empty our cupboards were, gave me a box of dry goods out of the blue, simply because she was cleaning out her pantry. Still, I constantly struggled to make ends meet.

Surrender and peace

One night, after putting the kids to bed, I couldn’t face the pain anymore. Loneliness and financial struggle had taken their toll. I knelt by the couch and prayed to the God I had avoided. No matter what it took, I wanted to be back in the center of His will.

“Please, God. I want to be Yours again. Show me what to do.”

A peace settled over me that night — an unexplainable, heaven-sent peace that buoyed me for the long trek back.

I finally realized that nothing I had done caused me to deserve God’s help or grace. No amount of teaching Bible school, working in the nursery, or attending Bible study and church services could do that. His grace was a gift, free for the taking.

Connecting with God

I stopped settling for just a once-a-week sermon and started digging into the Bible, not out of a legalistic desire to look good on the outside or to earn forgiveness but out of extreme thankfulness for His mercy. I found books on holy living and began to pray about everything.

God did not show me exactly what to do all at once, but He led me through baby steps. He seemed to know just how much I could handle at a time. Our family was healing bit by bit.

Blessed commitment

Gradually, God led me into a courtship with the man I was to marry — a man who loved Christ and had committed to follow Him wherever He led. He had walked a similar broken road, having found himself a single parent of two girls. We committed our relationship to doing whatever God asked, no matter what. Though our faith was tested, God honored our commitment with more blessings than we can count.

Today we raise our children together and enjoy fellowship with a wonderful church family. I am surrounded by so many friends and loved ones. More important, I’m surrounded by God’s love and faithfulness that will go with me the rest of my days.

* Alice Drake is a pseudonym