My Story of Grace // Sue Martin by Jamie Hagan

My story about grace is a little embarrassing because the person I yelled at like an uncontrollable maniac was God. I was married to a very non-believing man for about 10 years, had two small kids and one day when I was ready to walk out on them all and never go back, I ended up walking into a church with a friend of mine. Something moved in me that day and I went back to my family and kept going to church. My husband constantly harassed me about my new belief but I kept going anyway. I was signed up to go on a weekend retreat and was having second thoughts about it and couldn’t decide if I should go and suffer the consequences when I got back or just keep the peace and stay home. 
I was working the graveyard shift and worked in a building all alone doing cleaning. The trip was the next morning and I just couldn’t decide what to do. I got up from my desk to go clean and was stomping down the hallway like a child and started yelling at God. “PEOPLE AT CHURCH ARE ALWAYS SAYING YOU TOLD THEM THIS AND YOU TOLD THEM THAT, WHY DON’T YOU EVER TALK TO ME. I NEED ANSWERS AND YOU DON’T TALK TO ME, WHY WON’T YOU TALK TO ME?”

All of a sudden I heard the kindest, gentlest voice reply “I have been talking to you but you don’t listen.” Whoa! I stopped dead in my tracks in disbelief, sat down on the stairs and just listened. God told me that I needed to go on that trip because things would happen there that would never happen if I did not go. He told me not to worry about things at home, that He would take care of everything there. I don’t know how long I sat and listened but I was shocked. I did as I was told and trusted that if He would still even speak to me after ignoring him AND yelling at Him, that I was NOT going to not go on the trip.

I went and learned amazing things about myself and about how amazing my God was. I was a little nervous going home but when I got home, things were peaceful and there were no punishments or nastiness. A few months later I went back to where the retreat was held and was baptized in the pond there. I had to sneak out to my own baptism, but I went any way, eventually got caught and harassed but survived. Eventually I stopped going to church because the consequences got unbearable.
 

After 24 years of a hellish marriage, my husband passed away and I was free to go to church again. I got married again two years later to a wonderful man who strongly believes in God. We found NorthPointe where we are always learning and growing in our faith. We are still fairly new there but have felt welcome from day one. 

God and I still have some great conversations. I know He has forgiven me for yelling at Him and I consider THAT Amazing Grace. He could have ignored me, He could have yelled at me right back, but instead He responded in the kindest, gentlest voice I have ever heard and I will never forget that. I try to remember to extend grace to others, but sometimes it’s tough when you deal with someone with NONE on a daily basis. God is always there to give me a little nudge when I forget though.

My Story of Grace // Nathan Marcotte by Jamie Hagan

So, I was always the guy that believed he was a "good kid". I followed the rules, was nice to people, and did whatever good deeds I could so that I could be someone people liked. I drew my own personal line in the sand and said to myself "As long as I don't cross this line, I'm good. If I avoid doing drugs, breaking the law, or hurting anyone than I am a good person". The problem is, I didn't realize how some of my behavior could lead me down the wrong path. I had incredibly low self esteem, combined with diagnosed depression and anxiety. I was hospitalized throughout high school for trying to take my own life. I ended up in unhealthy relationships, started drinking, and became a much more negative person. I couldn't see that I was walking too close to the line, and that by doing so I was crossing it in ways I couldn't recognize.

One of my relationships was extremely unhealthy on both of our parts, and after a while she became physically abusive with me. My low self esteem and youthful ignorance led me to decide to try to fix the relationship. But after six months of it, I reached my breaking point. One night, she was hitting me more than she usually did in an argument. A combination of negative emotions overtook me, and I ended up hitting her back. She ended up calling the cops, and I spent the night in jail. I remember sitting in the cell completely lost. I didn't understand how I could have fallen so far. I had family who were in and out of prison, and I didn't make the decisions they made. But somehow, I lost myself and messed up. I was ashamed of myself, and didn't see how anyone could ever look at me the same way again.

I realize now that I was prideful, and God used this circumstance to prepare my heart for Him. Around this time, I started doing community service at a church. It wasn't a good church, but I found myself thinking about God when I would do my service there. Next thing I know, I'm talking to Him while there. All of a sudden, I'm talking to Him when I'm home. Then one night, I just felt Him. I knew He was there, and I couldn't describe the feeling of peace that it brought. But I was still ashamed of my past, and I didn't believe that He could ever forgive me.

When I finished my community service, I decided to start looking at other churches to see if they could help me understand God in a way that I couldn't before. I found Northpointe, and it was here that I was able to learn about the saving grace that we are offered thanks to Jesus' sacrifice. Even though my entire life had been sinful in a way I hadn't realized until it was too late, He took on my punishment with his perfect sacrifice, and as long as I chose to devote my life to Him, I could be forgiven and be adopted into His kingdom. It was a no brainer to me, and so I was baptized and devoted my life to serving Him however I could.

God started softening my heart six years ago, and he has set me free and changed me in ways I never would have assumed possible back then. I am now a student at Bible college learning more about Him and how I can use my gifts for His kingdom here on Earth. I'm no longer the foolish boy I was back then, and it all started with the grace that God offered me. Grace is a powerful thing, and when we show grace to others, it shows a picture of who God is to them. No matter what circumstances a person is in or how they have lived in the past, anyone's life can be changed through God's redemptive power. It all starts with grace.

My Story of Grace // Justin Hagan by Jamie Hagan

Two years ago Jamie and I moved to Rhode Island to make it our home. We love it here, but still try to do our best to keep in touch with our old friends that now live an 18 hour car ride away. And one of the biggest ways that my friends from both high school and college have kept in touch is by playing computer games together. We would get on to play a few games together while talking about life over Skype. The problem is that I let it become about the game more than the friends. Essentially, I played too often and too competitively.

There was one evening where had played a round and afterwards I had something to do, so I said goodbye and logged off the game, but I absentmindedly forgot to hang up the Skype call. Later that evening I came back to my computer hearing a group of my friends, one in particular, complaining pretty harshly about me; specifically for my habit of playing games an unhealthy amount.

That’s when I had a choice to make. Either extend grace and ask for grace in return, or let my anger get the best of me and wall up. At first I was really upset and bothered by what he said; getting defensive would have been easy, and I wanted to, but after thinking through what to say and how to respond to the situation throughout the night I came to a few conclusions:

One. Even though it’s hard for me to give grace in this situation, this relationship is too important to me to respond without grace.

Two. Sure, I didn’t appreciate the way that a really close friend talked about me behind my back. He’s been my friend since grade school, usually we know how to talk to each other about the others' issues in a way that helps and builds each other up, as opposed to tearing them down. And even though I wish he would’ve talked to me about it, the truth was he wasn’t wrong. I had been playing too much. I needed to ask for grace.

Since then I've been able to grow as a person, find new ways to keep connected to my friends, no longer play games, and spent my time more productively. The great thing is, that even though grace was hard to extend on both ends, it is what healed the relationship and ultimately made it stronger. 

My Story of Grace // Jamie Hagan by Jamie Hagan

    Grace can come from those we’re close to. Justin and my family have definitely showed me grace, as I’ve started arguments or had a bad day. I’m thankful for them, but at a certain point, we come to expect grace and forgiveness from those who love us. But a couple of years ago, I experienced grace from a very unlikely source; Justin’s ex-girlfriend and her family.
    Now, my life has never been marked by drama, but with this story you may not believe me. Justin and I met during our freshmen year of college, on a mission trip to England. Our school is pretty small, but up until the spring semester we’d never had any interaction with each other before. But on this trip, we instantly became friends and spent most of our time with a group of four of us that bonded close together. We both were dating other people at the time; my boyfriend had been someone I met at a summer job and we’d only been dating a short while. Justin and his girlfriend had been together 3 1/2 years and were long-distance while he was at college. While we maintained a friendship during our time in England, as the trip came to a close Justin and I realized that we had a lot of decisions to make as we both admitted we had started to develop feelings for each other.    
    I’d just say long-story short, we started dating after we got back to school, but I think that would undermine a lot of the hardships that we dealt with over the next few months and even years into our relationship. This process of breaking up and dating, we didn’t take it lightly. We both knew we would be hurting a lot of people who hadn’t done anything wrong. Both of the people we had been dating were good people, who we’d had a good relationship with. Justin especially, with the length of his relationship, had become a part of another family. We knew that if we started this relationship, it had to be something we were willing to take seriously, because of the surrounding circumstances. We talked about it a lot, and with others that we trusted, but as you may have guessed, we did decide to date.
    And it was hard for a long time. Justin comes from a small town, where a lot of people knew his relationship and were very shocked at his break up. The next year, his ex-girlfriend came to the college, and we had to learn how to navigate that aspect. Justin even lost some friends over the break-up and that was really hard on him. We hated that our decision to date had broken so many good relationships.
    As time went on, things got easier. His ex started dating one of their mutual friends, and things became less awkward. Running into each other at school wasn’t that bad, and Justin began to talk to some of his old friends again. Soon the mountains that we had been facing, looked smaller. Justin and I got married before our senior year of college, and a year later his ex and his friend were married. At that point, the events that took place our freshman year seemed far away and just another part of the story that got us to where we are today. But I think this is one of the coolest parts of my personal story, because of God’s grace. Justin’s ex is now a friend of ours. Her and her husband have visited us in New England. Her parents are amazing and write and support us each month. When we visit Illinois, they call us to grab coffee and pray for us and the ministry in Rhode Island.
    The world we live, nobody would expect for this type of relationship to come out of so much pain, and hurt, and broken hearts. But the thing that unifies us is Jesus. He allowed Justin’s ex and her family to see a bigger picture, and to replace what the world would say is the right emotion of anger, vengeance or just to ignore us, with love and support. Because of their love for Him, they have been able to become some of our biggest encouragers. I know that I am so thankful for their unexpected grace, and how much it’s allowed for healing for everyone involved. And if Jesus really can allow ex’s to become friends, anything else is possible, right? 

My Story of Grace // Holly Salerno by Jamie Hagan

I grew up in a home with parents who both practiced their Catholic faith very strongly. Church going was a regular part of our life. But it didn’t stop there. All of the family friends that we spent time with were also part of our Church, so I grew up with their kids, too. I was up to my neck in religion but never understood Faith. I always saw the Bible in the hallway but nobody ever read it. I always hear the stories during Mass or Sunday School, but nobody ever explained them. So needless to say, I never understood grace. I grew up and I outgrew my religion. It held no meaning in my life because nobody ever explained it to me, and I didn’t know where to start looking. It soon came to be that the people speaking to me the loudest were the ones who didn’t believe, and so I listened. And eventually I had no faith either. But I did have an emptiness inside that I couldn’t explain. It lasted years and grew more intense. Little by little I could hear the calling; the still, small voice that was whispering my name and asking me to come back. I hear it, but for a while I ignored it. I still held so much anger in my heart for all the abuse I suffered growing up. I wasn’t ready to face the truth of why I was meant to go through all of that, but deep inside my heart already knew the truth. 

The day I decided to turn back to God was a glorious day. I had turned 25 and it was raining. The sun would peek through here and there. I went to the bookstore with my mom. We looked for the rainbow but didn’t see one. So we went in. We browsed and eventually checked out and headed for the car. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining. We got in the car and began flipping through our books. I looked up. I could hear Him so loudly but it was the rainbow that was right in front of me that did the speaking. I knew it was Him. I looked down again at my book. A moment passed. I looked up again and there were two rainbows. It was like He was not just talking any more. He was shouting. He punctuated His call with two rainbows. God’s version of an exclamation point. I listened. I turned back to God that day and started reading a Bible. I started going to Church and learning about having a relationship with God. I finally learned about Grace. Forgiveness. Mercy. The more I learned about it the more people I forgave for hurting me as I grew up. I forgave everyone. But one person remained, and to this day still remains, unforgiven. Me.

I struggle to find myself worthy enough to be forgiven. I still hold a grudge against myself for all the things I put myself through. All the decisions I was in control of but still went down the wrong path over and over again, causing myself so much unnecessary hurt. For turning away from God. I find that grace hard to accept. From God, who I know in my heart has forgiven me already, but yet I still feel so unworthy. For my sinful nature that I know is part of me because I am human, and for the hurt I cause others with my sin, I feel unworthy. I struggle with the grace the God gives me. I know that I am forgiven. But I don’t deserve to be. And yet, He forgives me anyway. It seems too good to be true. I know it is true and I believe it with all my heart. But it is so hard to accept. Harder some days than others, but hard every day just the same. I am so grateful for His unmerited favor.

My Story of Grace // Shawn Green by Jamie Hagan

Grace is a hard thing to write about because it typically involves uncovering wounds, whether they be wounds I inflected on others, or ones inflicted on me. Either way, stories about grace require us to come face to face with things we’d often times rather leave in the past.

My story of grace took place about four years ago. I was serving on staff as Outreach and Discipleship Pastor and it was a very chaotic season of ministry. My plate was full and I was stressed. I had no margin left in my life, so anything added to my to-do list was going to be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

I was overseeing a recovery ministry during this time that met every Thursday night. On Thursday afternoon, the guy I had arranged to lead worship that night had to step out because of a work commitment. I felt my blood pressure rise, but I figured I’d just go into our worship ministers office and ask him to lead that night. No big deal.

Our worship minister, though, told me he wasn’t able to do it. He didn’t give me a reason (he didn’t have too), he just said he couldn’t do it and offered no other assistance in my time of need. That’s when I broke. I stormed out of his office shouting something about all the things I had to do and how everyone is so wrapped up in their own stuff that they never lift a finger to help anyone else. I was playing the victim looking for sympathy, but instead, I was acting like a fool. Literally. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Proverbs 29:11

After I came to my senses, I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. I locked myself in my office and didn’t want to face my co-workers, but I knew I had to apologize. So, after a few moments to compose myself, one by one, I went to each of them and asked for their forgiveness, starting with the worship minister. He stood up, gave me a great big hug and said, “Shawn, I love you and I forgive you.” Each of them showed me an incredible amount of grace that day and it made an impact on my life and my ministry.

It’s hard to say, “I’m sorry,” it’s even harder to ask, “Will you forgive me.” But grace can set you free when you own your shortcomings and ask for forgiveness.