Grace and Friendship

Grace: God’s unmerited favor

I see God’s grace most clearly in my relationships. I did not do a thing to deserve the friends in my life. It is a privilege to have so many close, dear friends spread out across the country. I cherish those who are Team Caitlin and to care for me so well. I can’t quite put into works how thankful I am to have deep relationships with so many quality women and men. So today I’ll let someone else’s words speak how I feel.

“Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is. When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.”

-Shauna Niequist

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A Day of Grace

Today was my first full day off in 13 days. Today is my last day off for 13 days. In the month of October, I will only have 2 days of not working. This schedule I keep is taking a toll on my heart, mind and soul. But today I paused. Today, I created space, and God showed up. God showed up in extraordinary friendships amidst an ordinary life.

I started the morning off with a new friend. New friendships are hard because you never know quite how much to share and what they will think. It was special this morning to hear, “Me too,” more than once. It was wonderful to be able to understand where this friend is at and know that there are other 20 somethings fighting for community just like I am. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s now what we thought it would be.

Naps on fall days are one of my favorite things. I had multiple hours of nothing to do, so I curled up in my bed, watched Netflix (Gilmore Girls of course) and took a nap. Solid alone time was much needed since I spend a majority of my day surrounded by people.

Afternoon coffee with one of my oldest and best friends was refreshing. This friend has seen tears in Wright Food Court, tears in the IMU, tears on our baptism day in Chicago, and joys every step of the way as well. A friend who has seen it all and still chooses to be my friend is the best kind of friend. There’s no false pretence, just grace.

Since I’ve left college, so much has changed, I feel like I different person some days, but then I sit down with old friends and I realize that I’m still here, fighting for the same things I’ve always wanted, still the same person I’ve always been. I’ve grown and changed, but I’m still me. I love hearing my friends dream about what they want to do with their lives, it reminds me just how great and mighty God is and what He is capable of doing.

A post-coffee workout on the treadmill and dinner with friends – old and new – rounded off the evening. And then, I got to talk with another best friend. You know they’re a good friend when they call you at 10:15 and let you talk and talk and they listen without judgment. I love that this friend will ask really honest questions and I trust her enough to give her the honest answers.

From start to finish today was a day of grace. There was nothing extra special, but in the midst of my ordinary life, God continues to remind me of His goodness. It’s not what I do, but who I am that matters. I’m thankful for a day to slow down and reflect on who He is and the grace He extends.

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That’s Easy, “Grace”

Every Thursday, I meet with my friend from church and we talk through what God is doing in our lives and she trains me on some material that our church is passionate about people being knowledgeable on. This morning we were talking about what she called roadblocks, but I’ve previously heard them called defeater beliefs. Defeater beliefs are the ideas that keep people from believing in the Bible, become Christians or moving forward in their faith. She asked me, “Why Christianity?” What she was really asking was — out of all the religions, spiritual practices and ways to heaven and a higher power, why am I sold on Christianity.

I responded quickly, “Grace.” I am sold out for the Christianity thing because of grace. In my 18 years of life leading up to giving my life to Christ and in the 5 years since, I have not come across another religion that is built on the idea of grace. A lot of people will admit that they are bad, fallen, not perfect, but the natural response to this “brokenness” is to simply work harder. “If I work harder, I will be able to be good enough.” “If I do enough good things, they will outweigh the bad that I’ve done.” “Come on, I’m not really that bad.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are just that bad. And so am I. God set such a high standard for us that we could not meet it ourselves. No amount of good works can get us there. No matter if you go to church every day for the rest of your life, you’re not getting to heaven on your accord. Sounds pretty depressing, right?

Well, until grace comes onto the scene in the form of Jesus Christ.He lived the perfect life, rebelling against the religious leaders of His time, dying a brutal death on the cross. By living the perfect life, Jesus is able to pay the penalty for our sins. All of our sins are paid for, so there’s no need to work ourselves to death trying to make up for our shortcomings. Instead, because of grace, we can spend our lives living in gratitude to the one who paid the price. I’ve put all my eggs in the Christianity basket, I’ve built my life on the promises of the Bible, because of grace. I don’t trust myself to get there on my own, thankfully God made a way. That’s the only thing that makes sense for me — grace.

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Grace as a Practice

Today, after I finished my run on the treadmill, I walked upstairs at our apartment gym and started lifting weights. Even though I consider myself in pretty good shape, the past month has been busy and working out has not been at the top of my priority list. As I was doing bicep curls, I was cringing because I felt out of practice, like I was out of the habit of working my muscles in that way.

Some seasons I move very fast, other seasons I’m in a better habit of moving more intentionally and creating space for God to move. In seasons when I’m moving fast, as I try to put the breaks on, it’s a similar feeling to my muscles burning as I lift weights. As I try to learn more about grace and breathe deeper breaths, an action that does not come naturally to me, my muscles are burning; they are being asked to act in a way that is strengthening them in the long term, but hurting them in the present. Just like I love how defined my arm muscles are when I’m working out regularly, I love how present God feels when I take time to slow down and enjoy Him.

But it takes practice. Can’t I just be there now, God? My soul aches to know and experience You more, but this process of slowing down is just difficult. I’m being asked to say no to things that are good, they’re just not of You. I’m re-evaulating my priorities and starting to understand that they don’t honor you right now. Can’t I just skip to the good stuff? Can I see the fruit of my labor? But practice makes perfect. Maybe in this situation, it wouldn’t make perfect, but it will make You more present, Lord.

Practice leads to greater presence.

Building space into my day for grace is a practice. I’m out of it. But, I’m easing back into it. I’m slowing myself down, even though I don’t feel like I have time for it. I’m seeking the Lord to direct me. I’m asking Him what exercises will get me there. And hopefully, just like consistent work-outs leave me less sore, the practice of slowing down and letting God lead will allow more space for grace and the presence of God more clearly.

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Grace To Say, “No”

I recently started reading Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes. She writes about her life and coming to terms with her Best Yes, which is the role that each of us are supposed to place. She details that coming to these roles and playing these parts in God’s story depends on our ability to use the important words of Yes and No.

I’m a Yes Girl. Before I’ve even thought through what I’m committing to, Yes is already out of my mouth. I long to meet needs. I want to be available. I want to be dependable. Sounds good, right? In theory, but in practice, I can find myself committed to more than what I can handle, and as a result, I’m exhausted and unable to give my best to everything I have committed to. My relationships, specifically my relationship with God, suffer when I overcommit. The things I was so excited to do and the ways I was excited to serve become burdens and items on my to-do list.

I’m starting to say no more. No, that date does not work for me. No, I cannot fit that into my schedule. No, I cannot cover your shift. I don’t say no easily or lightly, I try to evaluate when and why I’m saying no. I’ve also started to evaluate what I’m saying yes, before I say it. Am I wanting to please someone? Am I afraid to say no? Am I making this about me? There are plenty of good things that I can say yes to, but are they God things, that’s what I’m trying to evaluate.

One of my very best friends shared with me early on in my walk with Jesus, as leadership positions and responsibilities started to pull me in different directions, that my no gives someone else the opportunity to say yet. When I say no, because that’s what God has led me to do, someone else says yes to what God is calling them to. To take that one step further, there are some wonderful yeses that I’ve been able to say because someone else said no first.

Yes and no are equally powerful words. Just as I can experience God’s goodness in saying yes, stepping up to the plate, meeting a need, He is equally as good when I am obedient in saying no.

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*I am over halfway through The Best Yes and I strongly recommend it. Lysa Tekeurst, the Executive Director of Proverbs 31 Ministries, does a terrific job storytelling and Bible teaching alongside each other about such a relevant issue!

Monday Lovin’

I’m a nonfiction girl through and through. I long to learn more about the world and to read about real things. But, once in a blue moon, I get so into a novel that I want to keep reading against my better judgment. To get so lost in the lives of the characters that I forget to care about what time the alarm will go off in the morning. This week, the characters of Jojo Moyes’ novel, Silver Bay, captivated me. It is a smart, complex multi-layered love story rooted in a mother’s love for her daughters. I strong recommend the novel!

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I have a shopping problem. I’m working on it, but given the amount of clothing I already have, I have no business spending more money on clothing. In an effort to curb my shopping, I bought a new storage container for my sweaters so that I could see them all at the same time. My hope is that in seeing them, I wouldn’t feel the need to purchase any more, even when they’re on a ridiculously good sale, and I can stack my employee discount on top of the discount price.

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The most exciting part of this story is that I build he cube container all by myself. I got the hammer and the screwdriver, followed the instructions and in 30 minutes, I was able to assemble the shelving unit. I am unbelievably proud of myself for having the confidence to start it and the persistence to finish it!

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Fall weather has descended on Indianapolis and it is here to stay. With children back in school and the leaves starting to change, it’s the season for vendor tables and National Adoption Month. I spent Saturday working at Indy Family Fest speaking with families about international adoption and MLJ Adoptions’ country programs. Each time I answer a family’s questions, or share about the need for international adoption, I’m reminded just how much I love my job and how God has uniquely equipped me to do it. I am humbled at the opportunity to interact with courageous families and to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable children.

 

 

Grace and Forgiveness

If you’ve been reading along since October 1st, you’re probably learning way more about me than you ever intended. One thing you’ve hopefully learned is that grace – making space for it, practicing it, or extending it to myself and others – does not come naturally for me. Last Sunday, during a sermon on divorce, my pastor spoke a powerful truth that has been moving from my head to my heart.

I will never have to forgive more or extend more grace than what has already been done for me.

He could have made that one statement and sat down. When I think about maturing, growing in my faith and growing up in general, starting to understand my own brokenness and the depth of forgiveness I have in Christ is crucial. Reading through the Gospel accounts of Jesus, I am continually struck by how people responded to Him. They were amazed, they left behind old lives, they repented of their sins; said simply, one encounter with Jesus radically changed their lives. This is because one moment in the presence of a perfect man led them to a greater understanding of their utter depravity, but experiencing unconditional love from Him caused them to view the world in a different way.

I wish I could have the opportunity to interact directly with Jesus, but for now, I have the Holy Spirit living inside of me, molding me into a woman more like Himself. It is the Holy Spirit, God inside of me that urges me towards grace and forgiveness even when my flesh wants to hold a grudge. The Spirit reminds me that I’m freely given grace therefore I can forgive myself. Knowing just how much I’ve been forgiven from moves me to extend grace faster to others. I can forgive because I’ve been forgiven. I’m no better than anyone else. I’m above no sin.

I am freely given grace. I can move from keeping score to freely extending grace towards others. In Christ, the playing field is even. Jesus has paid the price for my sin. I am completely forgiven. Just like the early Christians, my encounters with Jesus and His grace can move me to a radically different life, one driven by moving towards others and giving abundant grace because of the forgiveness I’ve already received.

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Grace Here & Now

“In this great day when most women wave banners of authenticity about our pasts, we crouch back from honesty about our presents. We’ll tell you all about our broken places of yesterday, but don’t dare admit the limitations of our today.” (Lysa TerKeurst, The Best Yes)

My senior year of college, I was in a relationship. It was good relationship that brought out really good parts of me, but it also exposed some scary parts of my heart. During that season, I was very open about past sin in my life – eating issues, control issues, pride issues, boundary issues, but if you would have sat across from me with coffee mugs between us, I wouldn’t have dared tell you about the insecurities in my heart. I would have asked you about your life, listened, nodded, and prayed to close us out. I would have told you how excited I was about what I felt God had in store for the next season with a confident smile. I may have begun to share about how I felt pressure to figure everything out, but that I was confident in where God was leading. I would have been lying through my teeth.

I can only recall one or two conversations during that season where I was actually honest about my fears and insecurities. It was easier to talk about places where I had already been freed by God than to admit that I was struggling. I was struggling to believe that outside of the relationships, God was moving in my life. I was struggling to see just how much God loved and cared about me, even outside of all the things I was doing for Him; He was delighted in me, and I could not see it.

In some ways, I have not quite learned my lesson. I let myself direct my day and then ask for grace on top of what top of what has already been done. Instead, another option exists – let grace and love guide my day. In the second option, I relinquish control up front instead of admitting that I was never in control to begin with. There is ample amount of grace for yesterday and today, but yet I believe the lie that if I try hard enough, I wouldn’t need grace for today. Like the season two years ago, I knew there was grace for things in my past, but I did not want to believe that I needed grace for the present. I was doing okay; I had it all under control.

When I am not open with my closest friends about my here and now, I deprive God of the opportunity to immediately grant me grace. Even if I haven’t finished walking through it, I can share about what I’m going through, knowing that to struggle is a human thing. Perhaps my openness about my here and now, whatever that looks like, will empower other women to be open as well.

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Grace Has Paid My Debt

Throughout my four years of college, I took out student loans to pay for school. It made me a little bit uncomfortable to not pay for it myself, but nowadays, it’s the norm for students to borrow money to pay for college. It wasn’t a significant amount of money, which is funny that I feel like I need to qualify that.

In the past year, I’ve worked a second job to pay off the debt faster. The fact that I owe someone money makes me very uncomfortable. I long to be debt free. I am indebted to the people who loaned me the money. I’m even more bothered by the government’s loan forgiveness plan that President Obama announced earlier this year. It upsets me that people’s debt will just be forgiven; gone away.

Putting aside the fact that loan debt does not just go away, ask me, I was an economic major for a hot second (one of four majors during my college career), this anger towards debt forgiveness says something about my views of grace. I don’t think that I should be left off the hook, nor do I think that others should be left off the hook. It just seems too easy. Too simple. I actually want to work hard to pay it back. I want to prove that I am responsible, that I could be trusted, that I was enough. The only thing that separates me from the self-righteous Pharisees is that I’ve realized that I can’t work myself to righteousness. The good that I’ve done will never outweigh my sin.

My sin created a debt that I cannot repay on my own. I cannot work overtime to make up for it. I cannot add on good works and extra church attendance. Thankfully, God made a provision for my sin. He created a way for my debt to be paid off. Jesus. He lived the perfect, sinless life that I was unable to live myself. He paid off my debt. No debt repayment plan, no loan forgiveness, it’s just gone. It’s gone for me and it’s gone for you, if you’ve repented and given your life to Christ.

Giving my life to Christ rocked my world because grace makes me uncomfortable; it works in contrast to my moralistic heart that longs to keep score. But, it has also freed me to know that I can’t get there on my own. There was a debt that I could not pay and Christ stepped in to foot the bill. The only thing He asks in return is a relationship with me. Through a relationship with Him, I’m learning how much easier I’m willing to extend grace to others. I don’t want to keep score as much, nor am I concerned with the debt of others. Come let us rejoice together for we can live debt free!

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