Happy summer, everyone! It’s been over six months since I’ve blogged and honestly, I have missed writing. I have one month of summer left to get over this writing block and I’m going to do it. 🙂 I’d like to share with you an essay I wrote in my English class last spring about grace and my middle school years.
This essay is a confession of who I was years ago and a testament of who I’ve become because of grace.
When Grace Touched My Heart Of Stone
by Abigail Lee – 2/9/16
I used to think appearances and actions were everything. I’d scan a group of people as if scanning a book cover. If I saw a popular group, I’d steer clear because I assumed they were mean and full of gossip. If I saw an outcast, I’d avert my eyes because I labeled them a sinner. Through middle school, I allowed my sheltered upbringing and “churchy” excuses to justify avoiding and judging people. Extending grace was an afterthought. I was a selfish middle schooler who was so set in my ways and following the world that I was afraid to encounter others’ narratives, but that changed when a lion showed me grace.
I was at a Christian camp in an old auditorium when my judging ways shattered underneath me. I was sitting in a room full of strangers. The old floor of the auditorium was stained with fine orange dust. A lightstrip hung on a dilapidated wire from the ceiling and a fiery musty smell filled the room. What was I doing here? I wondered. It was my second day of camp. An old clock ticked in the corner reminding me once again that it was way past camp curfew. The camp hosts had unexpectedly called all of the middle school girls together for a late night gathering. We sat in creaky bleachers, rubbing our weary eyes and tugging at our jackets.
Our leaders, a group of twenty-year old women, sat in pajamas in the front and rows of middle school girls sat beside me. Without a word, we were handed a ballpoint pen and blue survey sheet with personal questions about whether we’d ever been tempted, took drugs, had parental issues, suffered through abuse, dealt with anxiety, etc.
“Don’t put your name on the sheet…just answer the questions,” a woman told us.
Hiding my apprehension, I answered each question. Afterwards, I handed my sheet back and waited. My feet tapped nervously on the carpet. I could hear everyone shifting uncomfortably as one of the women shuffled and then redistributed the paper surveys.
“I’m going to read to you each of these questions,” she said. “If the question was marked ‘yes’ on the paper we gave back to you, then stand up.”
One by one each question was read. Rows of girls stood up at a time and sometimes only one. The group of leaders also did the same. I curiously followed the activity, noting the number of girls that stood up after each question was read.
“You’re probably wondering why we’re doing this,” the woman announced after we’d finished reading through all of the questions. “We did this to show you, girls, that you are not alone in your pain. Look around you, these girls who stood beside you, they are your sisters in Christ. You all have your flaws and stories. But all of you also have a God who loves you and extends His grace to you. He calls you His Beloved.”
I bit my lip and looked around me. Every girl including the popular, the quiet, the immature, the cheerleader, the nerdy, the weird, and the nobody were all in tears. In that moment, I realized that everyone of them had stood up at the same time as I had. Everyone of them had a story of pain, anxiety, and uncertainty.
When I walked out of the auditorium, I found myself pulling out tissues for the popular girl and giving the outcast a comforting hug. I blinked through my own tears to give a reassuring nod to the nobody and squeezed the hand of my new friend. These were people I thought I’d never associate with. Through middle school, I’d pushed them away, thinking myself better. I was like Eustace Scrubb from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. My sheltered upbringing, my twisted perspectives, and the world had blindly led me to believe stereotypes and lies but as the scales fell from my eyes, I found myself standing beside people like me, broken souls, hurting individuals, and children of the One True King. As I stood beside my new sisters in Christ, I realized that God had done something radical, He had turned me against the tide of the world.
I started judging people by appearance when I was young. Growing up, I lived a happy childhood. I was homeschooled all my life. I was raised in a strong Christian family. As I grew up, my isolation from public school was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that I was able to excel without distractions. Prom wasn’t a priority. Peer pressure wasn’t a problem. I found fellowship in my cousins and parents. My interactions with the outside world, however, was another story. Since I didn’t pursue sports, relationships, or gossip, conversations with strangers were limited to talk of school and books. The topics that public school students wanted to talk about never overlapped with my own previous experiences, current knowledge, or interests. At times, I felt inferior to the group of public school students. Though I tried to be courteous, friendly, and understanding, people would forget or ignore me completely. Try as I might, I kept hitting a barrier in friendships. To many, I was just the quiet Asian girl who blended into the background. When I hit dead ends in several friendships, I began noticing a pattern. Popular blond girls treated me with distaste. Quiet brunette girls, though kind, dismissed me when with their other friends. Guys ignored me. Athletes talked over me. Nerds took everything literally. Even in my middle school small group, I could never get a word edgewise without the small group leader speaking up for me. Though one friend said the girls in the group loved me, I doubted her statement since I could never find a common ground with them. Their constant dismissal of my presence sowed a seed of bitterness in my heart. Those who approached me I kept at arm’s length. Whenever I met a popular, nerdy, quiet, or athletic person, I assumed they were like all the others I’d met. I failed to give them a chance to prove me wrong… I just judged and hid.
At the root of my misjudgements was my belief that every Christian had to be perfect. Every weekend, when I went to church, I saw my peers tackling each other with pool noodles, making jokes, gossipping, and flirting. As a middle school student at the time, I was disappointed and conflicted. I viewed Christianity as a list of “cans and cannots”. Christians were supposed to be modest, mature, honorable, and respectful. When I watched these kids, I felt like they were the opposite. In my selfish mind, I thought I was doing everything right. An adult once asked me, “Do you disobey your parents?” raise your hand, I, a kindergartner at the time, foolishly did not raise my hand, believing falsely that I was perfect.
As a middle school student, I came to think that no one understood me. But after I found myself standing and admitting with hundreds of girls that I dealt with fear, anxiety, and unworthiness, I realized that it was I who understood no one. Through my life, the world had spoon fed me these twisted beliefs about others’ appearances and actions. I believed in the lies “Christians are perfect”, “Blonds are mean”, and “No one understands me”. However, every one of those beliefs was lie. It had never occurred to me until that night that my constant judging and avoiding was a sword that tore people down. The world had taught me that judging was a way to hide from those people that had hurt me most. But who was I hurting really? Myself or others?
The Lion that showed me grace that night was none other than God who is majestically represented as Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. If one has read C.S. Lewis’s most profound story of Eustace Scrubb in the The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one might remember that Eustace’s story is one of redemption. This boy was a rotten individual who isolated himself from others’ narratives. However, he was radically changed when he was thrust into the magical land of Narnia where greed turned him into a dragon and humbled him to a point where the Lion, Aslan, could show him grace and turn him back into a boy. Like the moment Aslan turned Eustace Scrubb from a greedy dragon into a real boy again, God pulled the snake skin off my heart and showed me who people really were. They are broken and lonely. They desire to be accepted and loved. While they may dismiss, avoid, and ignore others, they aren’t that much different from me. They ultimately need grace just as much as I do.
In that auditorium, I faced the truth: everyone is broken; especially me. I faced the truth that appearances and actions are just the tip of the iceberg. Like what the speaker said that night, everyone has a story and identity that leads them to act and dress the way they do. This conflict showed me grace. God’s grace is a gift. It is a gift we don’t deserve and yet he still gives it when we’re still sinning, avoiding, hiding, or judging. God’s grace is what changed me that night. His grace turned me against the tide of the world and gave me the strength to fight the world’s misconceptions. His grace uprooted my feelings of unworthiness and hatred and replaced it with love and forgiveness. His grace showed me… Others’ actions and appearances are not everything… everything is the whole person: their body, heart, and soul.
*Eustace Scrubb, Character from
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader