“I saw that God’s grace wasn’t just for my past, but was with me -- and I needed it -- in the present.”
You turn the page of a story you’re reading and find only blank pages continue. As you thumb through, looking for any sign there’s more to come, you realize the story is over. It’s ended too soon. Despite hundreds of blank canvases brimming with possibility, you settle with, “I guess that’s the story.” If it were a book you could buy a new one. What if it were your life story?
As a journalism major and bona fide church kid, Jen stood between “the end” and a litany of blank pages. Ask her about her life and she’d gladly lead you through the story. It wouldn’t take long: she didn’t cause much of a ruckus growing up, was a good student, and thought believing in Jesus was a safe call, “I grew up in a Christian home; went to church and summer camp, and have a distant memory of raising my hand in Sunday school to ‘accept Jesus into my heart.’”
She started community college in 2004- her junior year of high school- accompanied by her entourage of the faithful and figured she had her story. It may not grab you around the collar, she didn’t need to make her simple biography into a drama. She just didn’t know what to do with those pesky blank pages. Being the writer she was, she thought it would be best to fill them herself.
Turns out, it’s difficult to be both the character and author of your own story as life didn’t continue the way she anticipated, “As college continued, I asked more ‘why’ questions. Why did I live life the way I did?” Jen switched to a different (and bigger) college nearby and didn’t seek out the community she’d had for years. Her life took on the growing qualities of her heart: rough at the edges and cold to the touch. Noticing her daughter’s rigidity, Jen’s mom loved her the only way she knew how: she reminded Jen of the Author’s voice. One day, Jen noticed a piece of paper that had been slid under her bedroom door. It read, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) God did just that. Tears rolled down Jen’s cheeks on April 16th, 2008-- Easter Sunday. Jen sat in a room full of people celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection and thought, “He died for me.” It was new, yet familiar like seeing an old friend after a time apart. “I started to see God’s grace wasn’t just something back there in my story. God had more to write.” Seeing pages of her story being filled, Jen was confident she now had her story.
Six years later-- after graduating, finding a job, switching jobs, and moving into an apartment-- Jen still saw the chapters of growing up and life in college as her story. As more years came between her and college she wondered if she was staring at more blank pages. It wasn’t long till she grew tired of the story-- again. “My heart grew cold. This time I wondered why it was happening again. I thought I was done with this in college.” Jen sought to fill them herself. “I went back doing it my way; I didn’t want to love others or care how decisions affected them.” It was familiar territory for her heart, and God’s pursuit of her. Her community-- Queens house church-- came around her like her parents had earlier. Similar to Easter in 2008, Jen began to see His grace anew, “I saw that God’s grace wasn’t just for my past, but was with me -- and I needed it -- in the present.”
Jen recently entered into a new part of her story. On May 23rd, Jen married Steve Ward on a clear and sunny day in Dayton, Ohio. As she enters this new chapter, she no longer stands between “the end” and a series of blank pages. She knows God writes the best stories dripping with the ink of continuous grace. “God keeps surprising me, most recently with Steve. God isn’t stuck where I was, nor is He surprised by where I’m going.” She sees the preceding chapters as a reminder that God won’t leave her with blank pages to fill herself. Ask Jen about her story and you’ll hear about growing up and college, but she won’t finish with, “... and that’s my story.”
Now, she’s excited to ask God, “what will You write next?”
Author: Ben Riggs