Gracefolk
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 Gracefolk:
a memoir

I—XI.

 
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 Hey, love. Hillary here.

When I say “memoir,” I’m talking about my story with the grace of God.

This is gonna be long, ok?

Might want to pour a fresh one.

There’s not really a way to cut this short.

And it goes back…way back.

A lifetime.

I.

My mother tells me I accepted Jesus when I was 3 years old. I love knowing that something in me responded to the gospel at such a young age, but I have no recollection of doing so. What I do remember is sitting at my family’s dining table at six, bawling my eyeballs out as I begged forgiveness for my sins and asked Jesus into my heart.

In the arms of my mom, a red-faced baby brother wailed in the background. I can still see that moment. I can feel it. I recall being glad he was louder than me, and that his hollers drowned out my profuse repentance and begging God to save me. In some way, I felt that it gave me a place to hide as I brought my shamed, scared and sinful self to God for salvation.

At the ripe age of 7 I sat in a pew at a local church for my first exposure to all things apocalyptic: a viewing of the infamous 70s film Thief in the Night. Fear took root in me that day, fed and watered over the next several years by acquiring a belief system that said the pre-trib rapture was not biblical and Christians like me would go through the great tribulation, reject the mark of the beast, and be killed for our faith.

We had no doubt this would occur in our lifetime. We believed Jesus was coming back and the only important things were saving souls, preparing for the end, and living a holy, obedient life.

From that point on, I became stricken with fear. I would cry hot tears into my pillow at night, terrified of the antichrist, of being tortured, of being ripped away from my family, of accidentally blaspheming the Holy Spirit, of nazi-like police, of not being good enough, of being rejected for some sin I forgot to confess, of being imperfect, of everything.

I did not know anything about grace. But I had a glimpse, a seed planted through the patience of my father who held with tenderness the sleepless, terrified nights and theological despair of his seven-year-old.

I don’t know how I would have made it otherwise, because an unshakeable paralysis was born in my youth that continued for many years. In my teens, futility & depression nearly killed me, because what was the point of anything? All my creative dreams were foolish and had no place in an apocalyptic world where no one would be reading novels or wearing custom-designed dresses or planning beautiful weddings or decorating homes or doing anything other than trying to survive. When your only foreseeable future consists of dodging the antichrist until you finally get your head chopped off, writing love stories is stupid. Hoping to get married is stupid. Sewing pretty things is stupid. Learning to play guitar is stupid. But learning what native plants are edible? Learning how to live without electricity? Reading how Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews from the Nazis? How to be faithful unto death? All of these are important. All of these things would be useful to know during the apocalypse.

I finally came to realize I was either going to die in the tribulation…or die waiting for the tribulation. As a perfectionist who very much wanted to please God and my family, I never experienced the typical teenage rebellion that some do, but at nineteen I thrust everything end-time-y out of my mind and refused to think about it for almost twenty years.

But wait. Let me back up. It wasn’t only about the apocalypse.

II.

One of the first things I ever learned was that if I wanted someone to love me, I had to earn it.

You don’t just hand love out for no reason, see. (Why so selfish, Hil-la-ry? Everything is not about you.) There’s other kids to love. Other folks to spend time with. You have to prove why you deserve it, why you are worthy, why the gift of love should be bestowed upon you. But there’s a catch. You’ll never actually be worthy. You’re a despicable dog, a filthy rag, a terrible daughter who deserves the fires of hell, and no matter how hard you try to obey and be good, you’ll never actually be good enough. Because you’re a sinner. A sin-sin-sinner.

But from time to time, a few scraps of love will fall from the table into your starving and famished mouth. You’ll swallow them. You’ll feel guilty.

You’ll want to kill yourself, you’re so guilty.

But this, you learned, is grace.

III.

I was the firstborn in a large family, and most of my formative years were spent working for love.

Around nine or ten I was given a nickname: “happy helping Hillary.” I was the second mother, the happy helper. And because I longed for acceptance, approval and love, and wanted to please God, and did not want to be rejected forever or sent to hell, I became a militant perfectionist. I had to be, see. Perfection was a matter of life or death.

We were desperately poor, but we trusted God to meet our needs, and glory to God, He did. Through literal miracles we never went hungry for food. But inside, I was dying for love.

By the time I was twelve I discovered the million-dollar-secret: when I was obedient, godly, and helpful, that’s when I got the love I craved. For a fleeting second, I was a good girl, with no reason to repent for taking up space. My existence was justified: I was useful. I was justified by my usefulness to others. I found salvation in work, which made me approved unto God. My acts of service, labor and self-sacrifice made my life matter. I was worthy of being alive.

With the years came hormones, emotions, and despair. Depression crept into my life like the slowly-darkening edges of an aging photograph. So did exhaustion. And shame.

As the oldest child in my family, I the firstborn was responsible for the actions and hearts of my younger siblings. “They are watching you,” I was reminded. Constantly.

And not just them; so was the world.

Whenever I failed to be godly, obedient, helpful, kind, patient, or perfect, the burden of knowing that I might lead my brothers and sisters astray, and damage my Christian witness before a lost and dying world, heaped guilt and shame on a soul already staggering under the weight of it. My depression grew worse; I was not a happy helper. The horrid truth dawned: I was a sinful burden who, no matter how hard I tried, could not be perfect. I failed constantly. I caused pain and stress to the ones I loved. I always made my mother cry. I was a huge, sensitive, emotional, evil disappointment to my father. I didn’t show the patience and love of Christ to my siblings. I was a walking embarrassment to everyone, including God, because I was gaining weight, had ungodly dreams for my adult life (who will need a fashion designer when the economy collapses? Besides, fashion is worldly), because I got impatient with my younger siblings, was a terrible example of holiness, was tired all the time, argued with my mom, and no matter how hard I tried, could not overcome sin or be perfect.

I wanted to make myself die.

But if I did that, for sure I would go to hell.

My only recourse? More. More of what I already did. So I doubled down. My presence, my very being, was a constant source of stress and disappointment to my parents. Helping out through labor and work was the only way I knew how to apologize and hopefully make up for some of the pain I caused.

Physically? I was exhausted. Sometimes I think there are no words in the English language to explain how weary-down-to-my-bones and my soul I felt. But this brought guilt, too. Because if I was tired, how much more tired must be my mother? I heard this over and over as more children were born. “Your mom must be so tired!” Yes, of course she was. The least I could do was not complain, keep helping, and try to become like Christ. To be humble and obedient. To sacrifice and die to my flesh, even when my flesh just wanted some rest.

At fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, exhaustion became my holy offering because this is what it meant to take up my cross and die to myself. Suffering refined me and made me more like Christ.

I wanted this so much. He was perfect.

IV.

Over time my family withdrew more and more from the world. We withdrew from churches and many other Christians. Our doctrine became harsh, gaining strength through fear-based, guilt-driven theology that put heavy emphasis on behavior, actions, lifestyle, sin and holiness. Nothing of grace except that it was God’s undeserved favor. What I knew of grace was that I, as a sinful child, was just as wicked as a child molester or murderer, because sin is sin and grace is the only reason I was not in hell.

But I could be, if I fell away. I could lose my salvation at any time, especially if I sinned willfully. If I became worldly. If I wasn’t holy enough.

Yet I also learned that I would never be holy enough, because of my sinful human nature. So my heart—at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen—became ravaged by a polarizing theology that taught:

Keep trying to be holy, for God is holy. But remember: you are a sinner. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be holy enough. But if you give up trying, that’s sin. If you grow weary or lose heart, that’s sin. It’s the weakness of your sinful flesh. If you follow your flesh, you are turning away from God. And if you turn away from God, you’ll go to hell.

I knew clearly what the Bible said. Jesus warned of the folks who came to Him and protested, “Lord, Lord.” To them He replied, “I never knew you.” If the righteous are scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear?

I was a sinner. And this filled me with dread.

So for years, quaking and trembling, I became obsessed with perfection and holiness. I begged forgiveness daily for my sins. For being a terrible witness for God and a terrible daughter and sister in my family. I wrote pages and pages of confessions, apologies, and tearstained prayers in my journal. I cried over it and prayed relentlessly. I read my Bible daily and memorized pages and pages of Scripture. I fell asleep with holiness and perfection on my mind. I sank into deep despair when I failed. I wished I could die constantly; I believed I deserved it, and I was not immune to wondering if anyone would miss me or be glad their burden was gone. But mostly it was due to the staggering fear and shame and tiredness. I was never good enough, never worthy enough, deserved no mercy, and the fact that I was “loved” at all was the undeserved patronization of a high and holy God.

The threat of hell loomed over me as constant and intimate as breathing—not always by others, for by now I was well-versed in Scripture & this sort of theology, and my worst tormentor was myself.

I decided that if I couldn’t become perfect enough, I would die trying.

V.

I was raised to obey God, regardless of the cost. Even when it meant going against the flow, and especially when it required making incredibly difficult choices that would garner condemnation, accusations, persecution or rejection from others. We knew the world hated Jesus, so it would hate us, too. If we weren’t reaping some kind of criticism or judgment for our holy and peculiar lifestyle, we weren’t being holy enough.

Our convictions led to an unusual way of life: to become as self-sufficient as possible, live off the grid, and follow strict hierarchal roles of men and women in the home. It led to authoritarian control and being trained what to think and how to believe. My eyes learned to strain and search everything for evil or deception; I became vigorous and suspicious. Nothing was exempt from scrutiny, because scripture warns that “even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” Daily we judged whatever happened to came up: media, government, food distributors, school systems, churches, local officials, doctors, modern medicine, banks, books, messages or music on the radio, news sources controlled by those with an “agenda,” clothes, careers, personal choices, lifestyles. We questioned others' hearts, intentions, mind and motivations. We criticized people who had Internet, who used cell phones, who sent their kids to public school or dyed their hair or who “didn't want to know the truth.” We judged people who used modern medicine, were “trapped in the world,” who took advantage of modern conveniences, who owned a checking account, who went to (or encouraged) college or higher education, women who moved away from home before they got married, people who were caught up in “the system,” who went to big mega churches, used birth control, or hired a babysitter for special date nights. Folks who were “tolerant,” which meant they were soft on sin.

Anyone who was not like us.

This was righteous judgment, see. Holy conviction. The proper discernment of a people set apart, who knew the truth, who lived according to the Bible and whose purpose was to convict others. They needed to be convicted. They were worldly. They needed to feel guilty, repent from sin, learn the truth, and live in self-denial and holiness.

Because if they didn’t turn away from the world, if they were weak and addicted to the comfort and convenience of the world, they would give in. Only the weak ones, the deceived and worldly ones, believed in a false teaching known as a “pre-tribulation rapture.” They just wanted to escape. But we knew there was no escape. And if the others were not willing to become uncomfortable, or to give up their worldly lifestyle and become wiling to suffer, they would take the mark of the beast. They would go to hell.

As a child and young adult, 1) anxiety over the end times, mark of the beast, and the antichrist, 2) dread of death, hell, and the torments described in the biblical book of Revelation, and 3) my obsession with sin and perfection led to an unbearable, suicidal, impossible-to-hold weight.

Amidst unspeakable inner and outer turmoil, I left home at nineteen and entered “the world.”

VI.

The unfulfilled hunger for love eventually takes its toll. And it manifests in many ways. I realize, now, that for me, it showed up as unbelief. I did not believe I was lovable as-is, and I didn’t believe God. Who would love this? This sinful, evil, rotten thing I am, not even worthy to be called a person? How could a perfect, holy God love such a wicked, wicked girl? Sure, my eyes read the words: “for God so loved the world…” but remember, I was not of the world. I was actually trying to be faithful, godly, pure. I wasn’t someone “out there” to whom redemption was offered. I had accepted Jesus when I was six and lived my whole life trying to be good. I was a blight on the inside.

I grew up with strong faith, but my faith was no match for the tenderness of a young girl aching to be loved. A young girl who felt faceless and unmemorable in a sea of others—just one of the kids, one anonymous face in a crowd, one soul in a million souls. How could I be loved when there were so many other children? So many other women? So many trillions of people throughout history that God made? What made me special enough to qualify for love? How could there be enough love to go around?

And yet I did not want to be loved at the expense of others. To me, love was something you quickly ran out of, like patience, like money, like time. I did not want others to be any less loved. So I found a new and twisted way to justify the pain, so at least it felt bearable. I gave it spiritual purpose. I told myself, then I will sacrifice. I will be less-loved so that others can be loved. I will give love. I will love and love and love.

I became fiercely codependent and attached myself to whomever seemed kind. I loved them intensely the way I wanted to be loved. I gave service, devotion, gifts, words, at-the-drop-of-a-hat presence, anything and everything. I wasn’t promiscuous—I still feared hell and the displeasure of God—but I made terrible choices in friendships and employment. I had horrible boundaries and relationships drenched with toxicity. I wanted to prove my love, but underneath it, I wanted to prove I was lovable. If I was lovable then God was justified in loving me, and maybe He wouldn’t send me to hell.

When grace appears

One evening in January, many years ago, I stood on my balcony alone. Crying. I don’t remember why.

I was married by now, and the healing love of my husband had laid a foundation of hope. He saw the wicked me, and loved me anyway. He saw the overweight me, and loved me anyway. He knew and saw everything I hated about myself, and continued to love me in ways I believed.

In the south where I live, January can be luscious. I remember that night as a poem on my skin. The wind felt balmy and soft; the stars glimmered after dusk, sweet and serene. I looked at the stars and suddenly realized that I was seeing them with my own eyes for no other reason than so that I could see them. For myself. I could see them, and I didn't have to work for it or give this seeing to anyone else. In that moment, all this beauty was for me.

I remember touching my eyes, and in those moments, illumination burst through my entire being. In a lifetime of “doing,” where I learned that it was holy to work hard, sacrifice, and give my Self completely away, I also learned that nothing belonged to me. I had no right to good things or beauty. If I had anything good, it was mine to work for, share with others, and to sacrifice. Nothing felt sacred in the sense that it was private, with protective boundaries, worthy of holding close and treasuring and keeping.

And yet here I stood, gazing at stars with my very own eyes, eyes that were given to me for my own benefit and pleasure. Not because I was perfect. Not because I earned them. They were given to me, simply because God is good. Eyes are good. They make life a lot easier, richer and more beautiful. And I got to keep them. I had something beautiful to keep for my very own.

And revelation poured into me: this must be love. I felt like I discovered a thrilling secret: I have eyes, and this person over here has eyes, and we both get to see, and my seeing doesn't take away from theirs, and theirs doesn't take away from mine.

This moment.

This was the first moment I began to understand. It wasn’t immediate, this understanding. But a holy doubt began to tremble with hope in my heart. Maybe? Maybe I am loved...just because? Maybe I am loved...even if I don’t do anything to earn it? Could I be loved...just because I was born? I have eyes just because I was born. And these eyes are the sweetest gift. Imagine going through life without eyes! And with these eyes I can see stars and words and flowers and the face of my beloved husband and the smiles of my nephews and so much indescribable beauty.

And the God who made me and gave me this good gift of eyes—I have my very own—He gave them to me before I even earned them. I didn’t have to earn my eyes. And look at how good this gift is. I could be a bad, bad, evil and wicked person…yet I still have the gift of these eyes.

This is how I received a tender knowing of grace. And how I came to believe it. Slowly. Softly. With tear-stained wonder. Could it be? Yes. Still more years passed before that seed bore fruit, but as the Lord began to heal my heart, He healed my unbelief, too. I learned what love is—WHO love is. He opened my eyes and showed me the truth I’d read hundreds of times: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us...” (Titus 3:5a, 2 Cor. 5:21)

Not one act of service can make me more or less loved in His eyes, because His love is not based on what I do or don’t do. His grace is not based on what I do or don’t do. The free gift of eternal life is not based on what I do or don’t do.

I could sit here for the rest of my natural life and not lift a finger and He would not love me any less. I would not be any less saved. Just the same, I could work myself into the grave through service & sacrifice, and not be any more saved, more righteous, more holy, or more loved.

By giving His life on the cross, Jesus took my sin and gave me His righteousness. Because of this, in the eyes of the most high God, I am perfect.

Because it’s not about me or anything I can do. It’s all about Him.

VII.

Late autumn. 2016. My mom.

“Have you heard about that star?”

I had not. “What star?”

“Some star or something. It’s in Revelation 12. It’s supposed to do something on September 23 next year.” She’d heard about it on shortwave radio but knew I had the Internet and could find out more. “Just look it up.”

And with that, by the grace of God, I was snatched up and dropped in front a heavy, locked metaphorical door to face the fears of my childhood.

That door, mentally scrawled with “end-time-y things” across the front of it, splintered open. At my mother’s urging, I Googled the Revelation 12 star and what I discovered riveted me. But that was just the beginning. I suddenly felt a hunger like I’d never known to dive into theology and really search out whether all the beliefs I held about the end times, doctrines, and salvation were true. Over the years I held so much at arm’s length, including the finer details of my faith, but now it was time. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew it, I felt it, I heard it.

God was moving.

But darkness was just around the curve.

VIII.

I never stopped being a Christian.

I stopped calling myself one. For a season that lasted about four years I held my faith at arm’s length, frustrated with labels, afraid and doubtful of Father God. Like the wicked and lazy servant, I judged Him to be a hard man (Matt. 25:24-25). When I determined that the God of truth was not who I thought, I wrote about the god who died. I overflowed with questions that seemed too big to hold back, but too sacrilegious to speak out loud. I whispered them. Wrote them. Explored them in the dark night, in the shadowlands of my soul.

I believed in Jesus, but didn’t know what else was true. I experimented with labels—trying them on, peeling them off. I called myself “spiritual, not religious.” I called myself a “mystic” and then “Christian mystic.” And then nothing, because no word seemed to be honest. I needed a spirituality that was comfortable with mystery. I needed to not try and dissect everything through intellectual discourse, or to try and explain faith. I needed “I don't know” to be enough. I created sacred space around faith and held a lot of it at arm's length because I needed to rest. This was the only way I could move forward despite the pain and the questions I had no answers to.

Because if I thought I knew pain before, this season of unraveling brought a new wave of heartache that plunged me to an impossible level of grief. It’s hard to write about without tempering the drama. A few years before, in obedience to the calling of God, I did something extraordinarily difficult. The aftershocks in my world took years to find peace. And now, this? Would the pain never cease? Into this new struggle came a deeper sorrow.

I don’t want to turn my story into a melodramatic, self-absorbed tale of woe and I am not seeking sympathy. The point is to share the glorious mercy and grace of God. Some of the details are hard to write about, and most I can’t even. I have been foolish in my life. Despite my quaking fear of hell, and my obsession with holiness, perfection, and sin, I have sinned very much. Sins of the heart, sins of the mouth, sins of the flesh and mind. Sins of unbelief.

I came into the idea that maybe one has to become the worst possible sinner they could think of, the kind of person they judge the most, or the kind of person their loved ones despise the most, criticize and reject, in order to know if the love of God is true.

Would you still love me if…?

That question haunted me like a shadow. It was the deepest, most secret cry in my heart. And following that if…? was a whole litany of shame.

In my unbelief, I tested God.

I found that God indeed did love me if.

Others didn’t.

This pressed me into the beginnings of a profound loneliness I called exile because I finally crossed the line—an electrocuted boundary line, where love was on this side and I was over there in the wilderness, in the fog.

Fill in your own story, here.

There is nothing like pain to send you to the arms of your Father.

IX.

When I followed the revelation star, I had no idea what God was doing, but I felt like I woke up in shock. Everything came flooding back—the dread of the end times, the futility of what’s the point?, the fear.

I could not deny the material I’d found. A celestial alignment happening on September 23, 2017 did indeed seem to point to a prophecy in the very middle of “Apokalypsis Iesou Christou,” or what we know as Revelation.

What does this mean? What if these really are the end times? What are we facing in these prophetic days? What if He is about to be revealed?

Those were my questions as 2016 drew to a close.

There is nothing like pain to send you to the arms of your Father.

Again: pain. The first month of 2017 brought tragedy to my husband and I. As we stumbled through the following weeks and months, grieving and in shock, I continued to study the revelation star. I also began to read a book about perfectionism and shame that I picked up at a late-night bookstore run. Events around me felt like darkness closing in, but I had no idea about the depth of it. As I read and journaled through the book, willing to sort through the sordid roots that choked me, I became assaulted by a shame storm so fierce that it felt like my entire lifetime of shame, from the time I was a tiny child, gathered itself into a ball and crashed into me. I could barely breathe. It felt like a sinister, deliberate plan to crush the life out of me. For the first time in my adult life, I seriously thought about suicide. Twice that week, unexplainable hives broke out all over my body. During that week, I received a strange and demonic invitation that startled me into a new sort of awareness: this is real. This is spiritual warfare.

I knew about spiritual warfare of course, but mostly from an over-dramatized evangelical perspective that attributed every little unwanted thing to the power of the devil. It also arose from fear. Part of the rejection and grief from the past few years stemmed from accusations that I was serving the prince of darkness. I was accused of witchcraft and becoming wiccan. These statements were untrue, but I could not change minds. Now, suddenly plunged into a shame-driven despairing of life to a depth I had never known, along with evident demonic activity, made all of the previous comments feel like a joke. Like a bunch of people playing dress-up with something they knew nothing about.

On a black night in March, basically dying, I cried out: “I will no longer follow the voice of condemnation!”

The next morning I awoke and could actually breathe. I hadn't realized how heavy the weight of condemnation felt in my lungs, but I awakened to lightness and peace. In those quiet early morning hours, a phrase came to me unbidden: “Christ the healer.” I believe now that the Spirit of God was gently introducing me to my Savior, the One who despised the shame and went to the cross, and by whose stripes I am healed.

But what I did then was to Google it.

I found a book by that same title, written in 1924 and posted online. I started to read, and I started to sob. I read the entire book that day, bawling my eyes out, and ordered a copy of my own from Amazon via same-day Prime. And I read the whole book again over the next day and a half. It spoke of salvation in a way I had never heard of before. It spoke of faith and healing. It spoke of a God who cared about this body we live in, my own body I’d hated my entire life because it could do nothing but grow fat and sin.

But this book suggested that I was loved. All of me…even my body. My healing mattered to Jesus. He did not die just so I could barely escape from the hell I deserved, or live everyday in penitence, guilt and shame. He did not die so I could elevate suffering as the obligatory path to holiness. He came so I could be healed. He came to save me, yes, and to give life, and life more abundantly. (John 10:10)

The truth soaked into me like water in a thirsty land.

I am not here to recommend the book—I’ve not read it since that time, and the nuances of my beliefs are drastically different now as I’ve grown in understanding. But the Lord used this book to awaken a hunger in me for Scripture.

As a dutiful, godly child, I lived in the pages of my Bible. It was often read aloud in my family and I studied it faithfully on my own. It was a “should,” and a reason for awful guilt on the days I missed it.

I thank God for such a thorough biblical foundation. Regardless of questionable doctrines and ways I lived them out, His word was in me. Even when I stopped reading it. Even when I adopted a skeptical approach as a mystic. You know, the guys who put together the canon—didn’t they hate women? Didn’t they have an agenda? How do we trust the origins of it? How do we know they correctly translated the original manuscripts? Is it really inerrant? What about the contradictions? Instead of reading it, I read about it. I wanted to be sure. I wanted to be honest.

All that time, I never stopped being a Christian.

But was I actually saved to begin with?

In March 2017, I bought a new Bible.

Other than a few Psalms and Proverbs, I read the entire Old and New Testament in less than three months. Those days, I’d pack up my husband’s lunch and kiss him goodbye for work. I’d refill my coffee and sit down with my Bible only to look up eight hours later with him coming through the door, and me sitting there with nothing ready for dinner. I devoured the written word. I couldn’t get enough. I’d read it a million times before but I felt like I was getting it for the first time. It was alive to me, nourishing places I didn’t know were starving, but were now filled with rejoicing. I researched theology. I studied prophecy. I fell in love with the Old Testament, reading entire books at a time like a novel I could not put down. The Holy Spirit transformed my prayer life and taught me more than I’d ever learned. He led me to sermons, teachers and pastors who helped exegete Scripture. I received what feels like twenty years’ worth of seminary—no disrespect to degreed theologians—in about six months. My theology changed. My beliefs changed. My friends disappeared. The landscape of my business changed and unsubscribes rolled in. I stopped listening to music and watching movies. Not from a thou-shalt-not point of view, but because I literally had no desire for them. My desires changed. The most astonishing part: I wasn’t even trying. None of it was from me.

Out of it all, the biggest transformation was that I finally understood the gospel.

Glory to God; I finally understood grace.

And that thing you’re supposed to get when you confess your sins and ask Jesus in your heart? That you have to work hard to keep hold of, and could lose at any time?

Salvation. Yes. I finally understood that.

I don’t know if my six-year-old sobbed-out version of the sinner’s prayer “worked.” I do know God is faithful, and I know He helped, guided and kept me throughout my forty years of life. I clearly remember answered prayers and His presence during difficult times of obedience and grief. So I can’t say whether or not I was born again before, but I do know that salvation happened to me in March 2017. I was drowning. God, as literally as ever, plunged His holy arm down from the heavens into a swirling toilet of darkness, condemnation and shame to save me. And the fruit He has born in me since is fruit that can only come from the Spirit. Seeds planted long ago have burst into being, and it is all because of the love, faithfulness, and mercy of God.

He saw my indescribable foolishness. He saw all the ways I questioned, doubted, and did not believe. I tested Him, and He did not leave me. I was afraid of Him, and thought lies about Him and myself, while He suffered long and remained kind. He heard the sinful things I said and saw the sinful things I did. He knew and saw everything I hated about myself, and all the ways I expressed it. And He continued to love me in ways I believe.

So now I get to tell you how good God is.

Not because I learned some religious-sounding words or kept myself in perfect moral behavior. (I didn’t, but nearly killed myself trying.)

Not because I’m afraid that if I don’t, I’ll go to hell.

Not because I think I’ll lose my salvation. (I won’t. It’s impossible, actually. I know that now. Because it’s not about me.)

Not because I have a quota to reach or a witness to maintain.

But because it is true. And our Creator is kinder, more patient, gracious and loving than our human minds can understand. He tenderly does the work, while I babble like a little baby.

With all my heart, soul, mind and strength, I love Him.

X.

In the course of my Spirit-led healing and growth in the faith, I have come to perceive that we are in fact nearing the prophetic time of the end. My beliefs around it are significantly altered from what I grew up believing, but I cannot deny that prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes. I believe that soon, God will call the body of Christ home through what is known as the rapture, and afterwards, Daniel’s 70th week will begin.

This is not a surprise to God. He is sovereign and long-suffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. In His wisdom, God chose you and me to be born during this time and to be witnesses of His goodness, grace, and truth. He has called us to preach the gospel and to be sober-minded, watchful, and prayerful, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Scripture is under attack like never before. So is our faith, both within and without. There are many false prophets, false apostles, and false teachers who are deceiving others with their doctrines and words. More than ever we must be discerning.

In these times, here is what the Lord has reminded me:

“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:22-26)

He has given me a profound love for the written word that leads me to study it with reverence and share what I’ve learned. I do not consider myself a teacher—that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. I write to bless the body, encourage, strengthen and comfort. I write to share what the Lord has shown me. The Holy Spirit dwells within me, but I am human, fallible, and still learning. Do not be a follower of me, but follow Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

XI.

Let me tell you another story.

This one’s about you.

You owe money to the owner of a huge corporation. It’s so much money that you could literally never pay it yourself. Millions. Billions. A ruthless lawyer is involved and the debt is taking its toll on your health and your heart. You’ve opened an account and pay what you can; a dollar here, ten bucks there. But it doesn’t put a dent in what you actually owe. The stress is unbearable. If something doesn’t change, one day it will kill you.

You don’t know it, but the owner of the corporation is actually in love with you. He knows how the lawyer is beating you up. He sees how this debt is tearing you apart. It keeps you from being free. It keeps you from seeing him and that he’s in love with you and wants to be with you. His heart aches at all the pain you’re in and how you struggle day by day. He lives in a gorgeous mansion and want you to live there, too. He knows that eventually, this debt will kill you. He can’t bear that, but there are legalities. You have an open account. He wants you to be free, but the debt must be paid, whether by you or by someone else. And the truth is, you owe the money. So it has to be done right.

He’s a smart guy. Wise. He knows his beloved son will inherit everything he has. He also knows his son wants you in the family. And he knows that if his son paid your debt for you, the legal requirement of your debt would be satisfied, you would be free, and his son would lose nothing. Win win!

They talk it over. It’s a perfect plan, and his son does not hesitate. He loves his dad so it’s an instant, “Of course!” So he goes off to handle the actual work of getting your debt paid so you can be free and see how much his dad loves you. He’s excited about it, and can’t wait for your life to change.

So he calls to set up a meeting with you. He doesn’t care where you are; he just wants to give you the money you desperately need so you can be free. “I’ll meet you anywhere,” he says. “I’ll come to you.”

What do you do?

::

You hear the call, but are sure it’s a scam. How do you know this guy is the owner’s son? What if he’s just saying that? You could say you’re Michelle Obama, but it doesn’t make it true. And why would he pay that enormous bill you owe? What? He loves you? That doesn’t even make sense. You’re not gonna fall for something dumb like that.

::

He’ll meet you anywhere, he said. You look around your place. It’s a mess. You haven’t showered in days. Phew. That you? You stink. There’s no way you’ll let someone come over. But since your car broke down you can’t go out right now. Plus, you don’t really owe that much. Not like your sister. She’s…whoa. You’re just glad you’re not in her shoes. “Maybe later,” you tell him. “I need to get cleaned up first.”

::

“Oh, I’m good,” you say airily into the phone. You’re sitting poolside, a martini in hand. Your boyfriend sure looks good, muscular and tan as he lays beside you. “I’ve spoken to my attorney, and he’ll be in touch. We’re going to refinance. I don’t need your charity, but thanks.”

::

Is this for real? You’re so tired. Your pillow is comfy. You know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But for a sec, you let yourself dream. Wouldn’t it be nice to be taken care of for once? And besides, that guy has everything. What’s a few million-billion to him? Wait a minute. Are you seriously considering this? Ehhhh, what if you showed up and it was like this prank TV show and they had hidden cameras and everyone was laughing at you? “Wow. That would be nice,” you say finally. “I wish I could believe it. Nothing good ever happens to me.” You hang up and roll over. You’re just so sleepy. You close your eyes.

::

You grip the phone like it’s a lifeline. “You mean you’ll pay my bill? Just like that? All of it?” You can’t believe your ears. This guy just made your heart flip upside down. “I mean…why?”

“Well, it’s like I said. My dad is in a lot of grief that you’re struggling under this. He doesn’t want this distance between us. He loves you and sent me to take care of it. I just need to meet you.”

“That would be really great,” you say softly. “Can you come over right now?”

You’re stunned, but somewhere inside flickers a tiny ray of hope.

You meet the owner’s son. He different than you expect, but there’s something about him. He’s nice enough. Maybe this is real?

“I’ve paid it,” he tells you. He is earnest. “You don’t owe a thing. You can stop being embarrassed. You can stop hiding. You can stop dulling the pain; you’re free now. My dad really loves you. He misses you and we want you to come live with us one day. Trust me—your debt is gone. Do you trust me? Do you believe?”

Do you?

::

God doesn’t save us just because we recite a special prayer. Or because we believe that a guy named Jesus walked around in Israel for awhile.

God saves us when we trust the payment His Son made on our behalf. We must understand that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus was crucified for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. To have His payment applied to our account, we must believe from the heart that He alone did this for us.

“For He made Him knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

God is holy. Humans are not. All have sinned, and even one “tiny” sin is enough to separate us from the perfect God.

God hates all sin, because it keeps us from being with Him. God loves us and did not create us to be separated. But He is holy, and sin cannot be in His holy presence. This means that our sin must be taken away so we can be reconciled to God.

The payment for sin is death. Here is why: God is everlasting, and if we are to have eternal life, we must be free from sin because sin cannot be in the presence of the holy, living God. So there must be an end to sin. Death puts an end to sin.

Death also puts an end to us, the ones He made and loves.

When Scripture tells us God loves us, it is not throwing out words to sound nice. God loves you. He really, really loves you. Not in some distant, “eh, hope she makes it” sort of way. But with, “I’ll die for you. So you can live.” Literally.

God the Father, who loves us with a desperate, powerful love, sent His only begotten Son to take our place and experience death for us. Jesus the Messiah died for our sins. Jesus, who is God, humbled Himself to become a man and to live a perfect, sinless life—which none of us can—so He would be the perfect sacrifice.

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. All we can do is trust that it has been done. The debt has been paid through the death of God the Son. He died for us, was buried, and rose again from the grave. Death has no power over God! If we trust that His death paid the debt of our sin, then God accepts Jesus’ payment on our behalf and gives us the gift of eternal life.

When He looks upon us He does not see our sin, but the righteousness of Jesus through the blood He shed on the cross. Our debt has been paid in full. The requirement has been fulfilled.

Believe.

Thank you for reading this super long story. If you need prayer, or if anything I’ve written has helped you understand the gospel and you want to share your story with me, if you have questions about the gospel or if you are struggling, you can reach me here.

The Lord Jesus bless you.

Love, Hillary


“…Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” (Eph. 5:14)

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