Grace Without Limits

cross“I’m sorry. Since you are pregnant, I cannot bless your marriage nor officiate your wedding.” 

These are not words you would want to hear from your mentor/pastor … the person you look up to the most. But these are the words we heard when my husband approached his life-long mentor who was a pastor of a church, about marrying us. Ryan was 21 and I was 19. We had just found out we were pregnant and we were totally in a panic, trying to process how to move forward when our lives completely just changed in a moment. We knew we needed to go ahead and get married. We were in love and had known for several years that we would eventually spend the rest of our lives together.

We just never dreamed it would happen the way it did. Pregnant … then married. 

I mean, I grew up in church. I was a Christian. I knew better. And I blew it.

Ryan knew immediately that he wanted to ask his mentor that he had growing up, the man that led him to the Lord, to marry us. Growing up, this man would pick Ryan up and drive him to youth crusades and Wednesday night church, always encouraging him and speaking life to him. Ryan called him to ask if he would officiate our wedding and Ryan was open and honest from the beginning, telling him that we were, in fact pregnant, but wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and make our relationship right with God. I know that not every girl that gets pregnant is supposed to marry the father of the baby, but in our case, we knew that for us, we were going to get married.

This man crushed our hearts saying he could not and would not marry us. It hurt. It pushed us away even more from the church. Had we screwed up so bad that God wouldn’t bless us, even when we were trying to make our lives right? We felt like we were marked with a “scarlet letter” with my growing belly as my display of sin for the world to see. We fell short of being worthy to be blessed. We found a back-up pastor that we also loved dearly and thankfully he agreed to bless us and marry us.

I know that I’m not the only one that had been hurt by a church or pastor and I’ve heard several horror stories … but there is SO much more good than not. I’ve seen churches see the need, and open their arms to embrace these girls with unplanned pregnancies. We all sin and fall short. We all need Jesus.

Years later, Ryan’s mentor called us out of the blue. We had not heard from him since he passed his regrets along for the wedding. He shocked us by asking for our forgiveness.  He said it was his biggest regret as a pastor for saying “no” to marrying us and that he wished he could go back in time and redo that conversation. Of course we forgave and Ryan and him are as close as ever. They talk all the time and Ryan still looks up to him in the highest regard.

Just this past week, an Embrace Grace alumni that went through our program a few semesters ago contacted me because when going through her unplanned pregnancy last year, her home church would not offer any support. After leaving the church during her pregnancy and returning after having her baby, she wasn’t sure what to expect and was surprised to see her pastor SO relieved to see her back and actually apologized to her along with a few other girls that had been through similar circumstances. Ever since, he has been teaching and encouraging his church to step out of their comfort zones and accept the unaccepted, and even wants to start an Embrace Grace program now.

Now with helping these girls out, I have to watch the way I react and speak about the church. Sometimes I feel like I need to defend and protect these girls, remembering the way I felt when in their shoes. Grace has no boundaries or limits – and God has grace for all but I’ve noticed lately that sometimes in my crazy defense of a pregnant girl, I can have the same limit on grace for the churchgoer or pastor that snubbed their nose. I’m getting upset about something they they are doing to the girls, yet I’m doing it to them too! They need grace too. If we have a tiny shred left of unforgiveness, doubt or hurt left, Satan takes it and twists it just ever-so-slightly, and we might become a little judgmental or self-righteous towards them, when that is the exact same reason why we are upset at them.

God’s grace has no limits. NONE.

But what about ….. (fill in the blank)?? Yep, that was covered in grace too.

Do we as Christians, do a good job at conveying God’s grace? Love how Phillip Yancey words it:

When I ask people, “What is a Christian?” they don’t usually respond with words like love, compassion, grace; usually they describe a person who’s anti-something.  Jesus was not primarily known for what he was against.  He was known for serving people who had needs, feeding people who were hungry, and giving water to the thirsty.  If we the church were known primarily for that, then we could cut through so many divisions.

He just had grace without limits. He served and loved. And we even need to have grace for the ungracious people!

I just finished reading this AWESOME Christian fiction book by Cynthia Ruchti called, When the Morning Glory Blooms that just released in April. It’s SO SO good, I highly recommend reading it! You can purchase here. It was especially dear to my heart because it had 3 story lines all intertwined together, and each of the stories had to do with unplanned pregnancies. One story was set in the 1800’s about a girl that set out against the town’s disapproving gossip and stares, to open a pregnancy home. Another was set in the 1950’s about a girl that had an unplanned pregnancy and her boyfriend was off at war. She lost her job and had to learn to forgive and love herself through that season. The last was set in 2013 about a mom that had a daughter in high school with a baby. Want to know what the moral of the book is? GRACE. A lot of it. It’s SO beautiful and I’ve dog-eared so many pages within the book that captured my heart and stood out to me.

One of my favorite moments in the book was in the story of the maternity home in the 1800’s when Anna, the main character that ran the home grappled with her tendency to judge and hold unforgiveness towards the church-goers that judged the girls in the pregnancy home and her revelation to have grace for them too. Judging people for judging people. Kinda funny but yet hits close to home.

“The church was slow to be convinced. Wouldn’t one think that the forgiven would bebook quickest to forgive others? That the redeemed would fall over one another in their rush to carry the song of deliverance to those who had yet to hear its calming melody? That those who had found refuge would do everything in their power to light the way for others? 

But despite Pastor Kinney’s best sermonizing on the subject, the church people seemed to  only sin and rebellion, bulging bellies of disobedience to God’s plan of purity. They raised their chins and crossed the street to avoid us, as if their own white robes of righteousness might turn gray if they walked through the same patch of air. As if He whose hands had fashioned their robes had reached His limit of sinners to love. As if He’d exhausted His supply of grace. 

Puff assured me the townspeople were not hopeless, just stubborn, steeped in traditional taboos, bound by fears that they couldn’t love the sinner without being tattooed with her sin … 

I recall an afternoon’s conversation with Lydia that almost forced a confession. I wasn’t hiding my disgust at the latest snubbing from the president of the Ladies Aid Society. Insightful to a fault, Lydia would have noticed even if I had successfully masked my disappointment …

“Lydia, I don’t understand how you can be patient with these people.”

“Our parishioners? They need grace, like anyone else.” She crossed her arms as if that were the end of it. 

“They’re pigheaded and rude and self-righteous and–”

“And your words just now were …. were what, Anna?”

“But their hearts are Siberian! They’re cold and unfeeling toward these unwed mothers. How can they not see that the girls don’t need more judgment and shame, but love and careful guidance and encouragement and … and understanding that when people are in trouble, they need more grace, not less.”

Lydia, always the wiser of us, waited a moment before she spoke, allowing the poignancy of what I’d spoken to seep into my soul.

“They can’t see, Anna, because we haven’t shown them.”

“But–”

“We have talked AT them, not with them. We’ve responded to their disgust with disparaging looks and remarks of our own. Their arrows of prejudice against these hurting women are returned by our poisonous darts of judgment against their judging others! How can that honor God?” 

“Lydia, I know He wouldn’t want my girls to be shunned by His people.” 

“Nor would He want us to grow bitter toward those who have yet to plumb the full depth of His grace.”

Had I plumbed the full depth? Obviously not … 

Lydia’s comment stung in a healing way. Medicinally. Like iodine. “They deserve the very kindness I’m asking from them?”

“Yes, Anna.”

“My most challenging assignment yet.”

“But might it also be among the most rewarding? Few things are as beautiful as the scene when the Son parts the clouds.” 

When the Morning Glory Blooms by Cynthia Ruchti

My challenge to you this week and beyond is to be an example of God’s grace and love by our actions. Like Cynthia wrote, “They can’t see because we haven’t shown them.” Let’s show the world GRACE. Also, buy and download When the Morning Glory Blooms – it’s SO good!

Written by Amy Ford

5 thoughts on “Grace Without Limits

  1. I have struggled for years with the unloving way my daughter and a few others were treated in our church. I see now that I cannot judge them anymore that they should have judged my daughter. I did eventually leave that church and find one that was more loving. In the process of leaving the church my pastor said he had to judge the congregation because he was being held responsible for them. My reply was I don’t think God would find a pastor at fault whose church showed too much love and forgiveness. I don’t understand pastors who won’t marry people trying to do the right thing.

    • Karyl, what a difficult situation! So glad you’re on the other side of this now. For those who have treated us without grace in the past, our ongoing prayer is that they, like we, will constantly grow in our understanding of others and our grasp of grace.

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