From Works to Grace in Parenting

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I grew up in a home to former hippies who were pursued by Jesus through mishaps, a life of drug use, and relationship despair.  I grew up believing that Jesus is the answer to our loneliness, grief and anger.  I believed fully in the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives and I wanted to be a missionary at an early age because I couldn’t imagine a life more fulfilling than telling others about God’s love and seeing that message change lives.

However, I also believed that obedience to God was the way I earned his favor and approval.  I believed that a life lived for Jesus was good works and I often feared what God was thinking about me at that moment.  Would he be looking at me with disapproval or joy?  This thinking eventually wore me out and during my Christian college experience, I became complacent and lazy in my faith- even though I still believed.  I felt exhausted with trying to be good all the time.

Through my early 20’s, I struggled on and off with this concept.  How do I know if I can be good enough for Jesus to be pleased with me?  What if I do a good deed with selfish motives?  What if my heart is in the right place, but I hurt someone’s feelings anyway?  

When my husband and I started having kids in our mid-twenties, I was determined to have kids that obeyed their parents- just like we need to be obedient to Jesus.  I read books that went along with this thinking and demanded perfection from my kids.  To those of you who have kids, you know that this was impossible and left me feeling like a terrible mother most days.  How could I get them to “listen and obey?” 

When my boys were 3 and 5, God was very clear to both my husband and I at the same time that He is a very different parent than we.  I was looking for obedience, while God is after our hearts.  I was wanting our kids to see clearly how good they have it with punishment and condemnation, while God woos us to himself with his love for us and continues to show us patience and gentle discipline as our Father.  I thought that a heart of joy and love followed behavioral obedience.  However, scriptures teach us that we are loved and accepted through Christ, and that our obedience flows out of that faith.

I am gradually learning how to parent with grace and love, rather than striving for a perfect looking home.  I fail often, feel despair often, and struggle with finding my identity in being a good parent.  But I am reminded again and again, through Scripture, prayer, and community, that our hope is not in what we do, but in what Jesus did.  He took on our failings, weaknesses, weight and sin because he loves us perfectly and delights in us fully.  We are loved and pursued and accepted by our good Father through his son, Jesus Christ.  He is after our hearts! And that’s the kind of love I try to show our kids, through God’s grace.  

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The gospel's answer to "what if...?"


The one question with which I have struggled my whole life is “what if?”  What if I was born a princess in a land far far away? What if I was born a boy?  What if I was sent to another country than the U.S.A.? What if, what if, what if...

As a little girl, I knew there was a God and He was close to me somehow, someway.  I had no fear, and I had all the freedom in the world because God was with me.  Then I began to grow up and learned about the Trinity, the things we have to do to get to heaven or else go to hell or purgatory.  I learned that everything was sinful and questioning that statement alone was the greatest sin.  Consequently, guilt became my companion.  Year by year, my best friend God became a scary giant being high up in the sky.  Not until my late twenties did I heard about grace and Jesus.  Thank God He pursued me and never left me regardless of how close or how far I feel to him.  

What if God let me believe my work was the only way to heaven? The first 25 years of my life was all about work.  My Catholic background, along with the traditional Asian teaching of never settle, formed a perfect set of life’s rules that I followed religiously.  I knew what and how to do almost everything correctly or above expectation.  Yet, I could not fool the God of our universe.  He saw my brokenness underneath my unsound pride and ignorant self-identity, and He showed me Jesus.  Our God showed me His love, faithfulness, and grace instead of the usual teaching of punishment of my failure to follow rules.  He replaced the lies of my wasted body from sexual abuse with “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” -1 Corinthians 6:19.  He replaced my alcoholic father with godfathers and host fathers who love me unconditionally.  He placed faithful friends around me during my most difficult and rebellious college life years to remind me of His existence and sovereignty.  Jesus loved me and met me where I was: a broken and ashamed girl shivering underneath a gown filled with unsatisfactory trophies.  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” -John 10: 27-28.  Before I knew I was His, He chose me first.  Thank God He was never going to let me go.  

What if God gave me everything I asked for?  I remember visiting my step sister a long time ago. She had a yellow rubber duck that I wanted. I asked her for it. She said no. Then I asked God to give me one. No answer.  So I took it from her.  What if God gave me the rubber duck, would that be enough for me?  Looking back at my life, I asked God to give me a job that I love, a social life of which anyone would be jealous, a great man I would marry, a green card I would have to stay in this country, etc... Some requests were given, some were not.  Would these gifts fulfill my bottomless heart of desires? Would I ever be filled with answered prayers?  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." -2 Corinthians 12:9.  Thank God for forming me just the way I am and knowing my heart so well to give or to take away my desires.  Only He can satisfy me, and when I forget, that is when I feel that hole of the bottomless heart.  Thank God for creating me to crave for the most perfected thing/person. Him. Nothing else will do.

What if I was never His?  From all the “what ifs” I had ever had, this one is the scariest of them all.  I would be completely lost in my own ignorance of grace and for the rest of my life trying to fill up my heart full of desires with things that this world can never fulfill.  I would be left with works and my own self-righteousness rather than the freedom of accepting my inherent imperfection and have the Cross cover me.  I would be a good citizen of the world and spend my entire life trying to save the world just to end up at my death bed thinking my work is not complete.  I would never be satisfied.  Thank God I never have to ask this question.  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9



Taking myself out of the equation

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I learned about Jesus as a child. As long as I can remember, I've considered myself a Christian. I was aware that Jesus died for my sins, and as a result, I was forgiven by God. I had no trouble believing in this concept. The idea that there was an answer to my sin, that left me standing clean before God, sounded like good news. My problem, however, was not what I said I believed, but rather how my life, both inside and out, reflected (or rather didn't reflect) the implications of this belief. 

Through my childhood and teenage years I treated God as a "fairy godmother". I would find myself testing God, asking Him to prove that He was there for me by making the things in my life go the way I wanted them to. I figured, if I could impress God, He would "return the favor" by giving me what I wanted. When life didn't go as I planned it, as it often did, I felt as if I had fallen from God's grace. I felt that I had to, again, become worthy of His love and adoration. I lived a very defeating and self-centered life. I completely missed the point of the gospel. 

When I was in college, I joined a campus ministry. I tried endlessly to paint a picture that I really knew what I was talking about as a believer in Christ. I volunteered for everything, and sought the approval of the leaders and the other students. I was living an uphill battle based on performance and recognition. 

Thankfully and miraculously, God sought me out. My heart was impacted dramatically on a retreat, centered around the gospel. I was actually pretty annoyed to have the gospel as the main subject. I had a very strong "I've graduated from this, let's get to the deep theological stuff" mentality. 

During an evening talk, the concept was expressed, that we do NOTHING to earn our salvation; I stopped dead in my tracks. I literally said out loud, "Nothing? But, I mean, I do at least a little, right?". This talk lead to an understanding of how I was heavily warping the meaning of the gospel. By trying to add my "good deeds" to the earning of my salvation, I was relying on myself to be in good favor with God. I was not trusting that Jesus dying for my sin was enough. By putting myself in the equation, I was changing the gospel into something that is not good. To quote Pastor Chris, I was "jumping ahead to apologetics without having a gospel invaded heart". I was making my salvation partially up to me, and in turn I was unable to fully accept the gift of the Gospel. 

The gospel offers us a freedom in Jesus Christ, not a list to follow or expectations to be met, in order to find favor in God. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

God so graciously allowed me to understand that taking myself out of the equation of the gospel was the remedy my heart so longed for. Suddenly, I understood, that because of the gospel, my sin does not change God's love for me. Jesus died on the cross, so I can be PERMANENTLY reconciled to God. "For our sake he made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21) When God looks at me, He sees Jesus.


When People Rival God

Throughout all of high school and into the beginning of college, I was a huge people pleaser. Though I might have called myself a Christian, I feared man way more than I feared God. To give you a little insight, my top two Strengthsfinder strengths freshman year were “woo” and “harmony.” I had a mission to win others over that first semester of college. I quickly said “yes” to nearly any opportunity that came my way. I would meet with the Cru and Campus Outreach kids on Wednesdays to study the Bible. Then I would go out to the frat parties on the weekend, drinking because that’s what the people around me did. I said yes to nearly any club and intramural opportunity I was presented with. I wanted everyone–the nerds, athletes, social partiers, and even Christians– to think I was one of them. I really struggled to ever turn down an opportunity for fear of missing the chance to improve my reputation with others. 

My testimony includes more of how God called me from this life of obsessing over others’ opinions to finding freedom from that very thing. One big turning point in this journey involves the summer after my freshman year, which I spent in South Carolina with about a hundred other student believers. It was the first time I lived in real Christian community. And this community had a lot to say about people pleasing.

I learned that I had been making excuses, denying that people pleasing was even a sin. “How could considering and caring about others be a sinful thing?” I had to learn that my whole identity was wrapped up in how I perceived others perceiving me. Jesus, the gospel, and the cross were important, but they didn’t have the final say in how I measured my worth. Furthermore, my comfort and joy came from winning others over instead of joy that comes from meditating on Jesus’ love for me, even to the point of death (John 15:13). I was being filled from a false fountain and, accordingly, my priorities were all out of sorts. I didn’t care about serving others as much as I cared about how my service might heighten their perception of me. I didn’t care about bringing others joy as much I cared about how my kindness or humor would make people like me more. I learned that people pleasing is actually a selfish and unreliable way to satisfy my heart.

The gospel dispels so many of the lies that come from people pleasing. Not only is God the most worthy of our fear and reverence, but pursuing an identity in Christ is the safest thing I can do. I have freedom to bring my sin to light, freedom from meeting everyone’s expectations, freedom from others’ thoughts dictating my choices and confidence.  Because Christ died on the cross for my sin and saved me by grace, my reputation and standing as a valued, liked, even loved person is unchangingly hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3). 

Only in Christ are we both made completely pure and commanded to rest. Only in Christ will my heart settle and find satisfaction and contentment and lasting peace. Other humans can never give me these things, regardless of how great they perceive me. Having a right view of my identity, like Chris Wachter mentioned one Sunday, means that my priorities and actions and behaviors everyday more naturally align with God’s call for a follower of Jesus. I love people better, I am more sanctified, I am filled with greater joy, and I better glorify God when I pursue my identity in Jesus rather than other people.


God's Story, Not Mine

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I was raised to work hard.  Those seeds of industriousness eventually took root, and I made it my ambition to be a self-sufficient “net giver,” like the one the Apostle Paul describes in his letters to Timothy and the Thessalonians.  

No one taught me to idolize ambition.  Any distortion was my own.  But somewhere in the process of pursuing a law degree and casting a vision for life as a husband and father, I came to see myself as the main character in my own narrative.  I entered law school quietly confident that I could purchase stability and security with grit and determination.  

The first two semesters went according to plan, and I expected to receive the the recognition that would lay the foundation for placement at the the most prestigious firms in town.  But at the end of that year, the school’s journal selection committee informed me that I was not good enough, that I would not receive the recognition that I was certain I deserved.  As I sat in my parents’ home reading that email with my wife and infant son nearby, I was not so much disappointed as confused; someone must have made a mistake.  

The eyes of my heart had become so darkened in such a short time that I could not see what Jesus was doing.  This was no mistake.  In his infinite, infinite wisdom and mercy, Christ was interrupting my slow descent into self-adulation.  

It was not until years later, as God showered manna-like provision following a period of wandering in the wilderness of disappointment, that I began to see that in each of those disappointments, it was the hand of God disciplining and pruning my heart and delivering me from certain destruction at the hands of my own conceit.  

I came to realize that I was not the main character and that “my” story was not mine at all.  God had plucked me from obscurity and given me the undeserved privilege of playing a role in a drama that transcended time and space with the singular aim of displaying the glory of Christ’s heroic saving work on the cross.  If ever I were to partake in the glory of being a counselor to clients or a provider to my family, that blessing was just a whisper of the infinitely greater glory of Christ.  He is the preeminent counselor of all wisdom and ultimate provider of all good things.  My weakness is not cause for worry.  It is the backdrop against which he has chosen to display his glory.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”  - 1 Corinthians 1:27-31


A new view of God that comes through Christ

For most of my life, I’ve had it backwards.

The picture I had of God was one of a difficult boss, a supreme being who insisted on impossible demands. Do this. Don’t do that. You’ll pay when you fail. I heard many times of God’s fatherly love for me but I struggled to reconcile this idea with the many demands I would read in the scriptures and the shame I carried from being unable to live up to those standards.

And, I knew myself. Deep down (and not so deep down), I knew I failed over and over. I put on a good face since that’s just what we do. But, no matter how hard I tried to keep the law consistently, I could not. Anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and apathy ruled as I saw very little hope in trying to climb the ladder to God. Then, by the grace of God, my ears began to open to understand the saving work of Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t, as I often thought, an example of perfect living for me to try to emulate. I would fail.

I wasn’t meant to read myself into the Bible stories as the hero. Jesus was.

I came to realize this is the point...Jesus was and is the hero!

Jesus came and died for me even when I was a sinful mess [*Rom 5:6]. He loves me so much he would do this when I was effectively one of the mob spitting on him and watching him die a terrible and undeserved bloody death. This very blood covers my sin allowing me to be reconciled to God. I no longer have to fear or be anxious since I am now adopted as God’s child [** 1 John 3:1a].

I now TRULY rest in the fact that Jesus already finished the work. What a relief! My role is to respond in belief.

Christ is the ark in the stormy ocean of life and death – the perfect vessel which will carry me through to salvation as I put my full hope and trust in him who already paid it all [***John 6:40]. “O praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”



* Romans 5:6 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

** 1 John 3:1a “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

*** John 6:40 “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”


Saved from a good life apart from God

In a perfect world, I would not HAVE a gospel story. In a perfect world, the gospel would have just BEEN THERE, in a way that was so consistent it was BORING (because that is something that we say often of the gospel, yes? Oh, that thing where the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE made himself like me because he loves me to an extent that I can’t even BEGIN to fathom, and then he died a terrible death and even though I don’t deserve to even glimpse eternal life with him, I am given it for FREE? Totes boring. SNORE). I was raised steeped in “church”, surrounded by churchy people doing churchy things. And yet, despite that, the gospel danced around me (well, perhaps I danced around it?), staying just far enough way to not be completely foreign but to stay nice and safe, nice and “understood”. Check, got it, what’s for breakfast?

I was raised in a Catholic home. We went to Church on holidays as a family, and I went every Friday with my school. My teachers were nuns, and monthly confessions were a thing.  I would tell the priest what I did wrong, he would give me a list of things to say in my head, and that was that.  God, or his heart, was never a thing that I even thought to deal with personally. It was all taken care of by the church.

I ended up going to a Lutheran high school, thanks partly to a move, and partly to my parents insistence that I continue my private education. I remember my first day, being asked if I brought my Bible. MY Bible? Why would I own one of those? I hear those stories when we go to church. It took me three years to understand that maybe God wanted to have a relationship with ME, instead of “you go exist over there and I will exist over here and maybe we will meet when everything is over and done with.” That concept BLEW MY MIND. It literally sent shockwaves up and down my life, changing me down to my bones.  My entire future upended when that took root. I don’t say that lightly.

Even so, the gospel danced. It twirled and jumped, and I couldn’t quite pin it down. So I would say JESUS DIED FOR ME, and now look at all these nice things I have done! Isn’t that nice? Aren’t I nice? I have my checklist of NICE THINGS that I can do, and I have my list of NOT NICE THINGS that I try to avoid as much as I can. And because of that, Jesus is my BFF, and I got that WWJD thing DOWN.  

That continued, through college, through the early years of my marriage, through my first few years as a (very exhausted) parent. I’d tick my boxes, and avoid the icky stuff, and then get on with the rest of my day. I identified as Laura, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Friend, Sister, member of this club, participator of that group, Cupcake Maker, oh and also, sure, a Christian. Of course.  

And then, 2ish years ago, the gospel stopped dancing, and it stood right in my way. So much in my way that I slammed into it, at full speed.  And it knocked me (and my entire family) off of my course. The intensity of it broke my back for Him. It morphed from a generalized Nice Thing to an intensely personal story of death, resurrection, and redemption. It changed from a megaphone calling whoever would listen, to a whisper, urging me forward. And, one step at a time, I learned that dance.

Turns out, when you dance with the gospel, you very rarely take a straight line.

I began to forget to check my boxes, and I forgot about the list of things I should avoid. And I just danced. And when I danced, I found that other people would start dancing with me. Put this foot here, it would urge. Turn your head there, it would whisper. Follow me now, it would call. And so we did.

You hear a lot about how the gospel can SAVE YOU FROM YOUR SINFUL LIFE. And it’s true. But I think we forget that the gospel can save you from your good life that is apart from God. It can save you from your good life that holds no weight. It can rescue you from a peaceful life with no direction.

It wasn’t until we came to Hiawatha that we understood the dance we were in. When we started coming just over a year ago, and we heard the gospel EVERY SINGLE WEEK, it was as if the gospel stopped dancing WITH us, but instead, stepped inside of us, and we couldn't HELP but dance. Jesus died for me! Alleluia! Absolutely nothing is dependent on MY power! PRAISE GOD!

I am Laura. I am wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend… but first and foremost, I am SAVED. And because of that, I can dance, I can shout, and I can laugh, all the while singing the words of our Savior:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” -Luke 12:22-26



From Perfection to Grace

I have always been a compulsive people-pleaser, and come from a long line of probable people-pleasers.  I am the kind of person who loves to be perfect…who loves to be liked...who follows the rules diligently.  I did everything I was supposed to do: get good grades, follow all the family traditions, participate in lots of extracurricular activities, play two instruments, go to church, etc.  And I didn’t do anything I wasn’t supposed to do: drugs, alcohol, sex, all the old clichés. Come middle school, I didn’t even realize that this mindset was slowly suffocating me with my first big battle against anxiety, and stomach ulcers to boot.  By my freshman year in college, however, I was still pretty sure that, despite all this, I was a “really good Christian” and had things (mostly) together.

Then, Jim Beilby’s “Christian Theology” class nearly knocked me out of my chair my sophomore year at Bethel University. It opened my eyes to an image of God I had neither heard of, nor considered: the idea that I am not a “good person” at all, that God’s grace saved me while I was entrenched in my sins (Rom. 6:11), not because of anything I did or will do.  How offended was I, as a severely Type A person? Very. That is, at first. Yet soon, my heart softened and found the freedom and immense joy that comes with not being in charge of my own salvation. Lord knows none of us could ever be “good enough” to earn that anyway.  God saved me and there is nothing (let’s just be clear: nothing) I did to deserve that. I didn’t earn it by being a “good person”, or by saying a prayer, or by being baptized, or by getting confirmed, or by being “spiritual enough” (Eph. 2:8-9). 

The Lord grew this understanding in my heart throughout college and into my first year of post-college “real life”.  It was a challenging year in so many ways.  I got married and we bought our first apartment and first car together, I started my first job, and we became involved in a plethora of weeknight activities. At that time, my family also started going through some real upheaval as both individuals and traditions started to change.  Though many wouldn’t know how badly I struggled (as I still tried to maintain my “perfect” mask), I suffered from severe depression and social anxiety that made teaching intensely draining and interactions with my increasingly distanced family members just short of debilitating. Yet, only a year or so later, I can see how the Lord is using the loss of some relationships to heal previously fractured relationships and help me take another step in breaking free from the lie of “being perfect”.  Now, admitting my weaknesses is freeing and a testament to how the power of Christ works in me despite my shortcomings (2 Cor. 12:9).

I’ll end with this thought: Stories are central to my job as a teacher.  Teaching students how to read and make sense of stories gives me so much joy.  One of the many things my students must be able to do as readers is to identify the main character in a story.

And it’s funny, because now I realize I’ve been doing it wrong all these years, myself.  I thought the main character of my story was me.  But it’s not. My story…and your story…are not mainly about us at all. They are all about God and His daily, saving grace. 

 “If I told you my story, you would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine.”  - My Story by Big Daddy Weave


finding worth in Jesus' love

Many people can recall a specific day, a specific hour even, when they handed their life over to Christ. I can't do that. I saw glimpses of who Jesus was as a child. I was introduced to Him by my mom and I saw how much she wanted to honor God. But being sexually abused by my father unfortunately greatly confused my childhood faith. I didn't tell anyone until it was obvious what had happened to me. My parents then divorced. And I haven't seen my father since.

I was filled with a great deal of shame. I never stopped believing in God. Rather, I stopped believing God and what He had to say about me. I no longer felt like a child and I no longer saw Him as my Father. Because of my skewed belief system, life was rather dark for me for a while after I was abused. My life was filled with sin and me trying to fill a giant hole in my heart with anything I could find, including breaking the rules, alcohol, and boys. Here’s a shocker: None of it worked.

I re-acknowledged my faith in Jesus and put my full trust in him during a college study abroad trip, but I didn’t believe God immediately. It wasn’t until I married James in 2012 that I began to take God at His word. Quite honestly, up until I got married I believed that my worth was dependent mostly on the ungodly "sacrifice" of my body. But God’s love for me and my worth aren’t dependent on how I relate to men but how Jesus relates to me.

Our first year of marriage was one of the most difficult years of my life, but I also believe that it was the most fruitful. I began to write down my story and share it with other women and I saw God use my pain for the benefit of others. I went from a severely insecure girl to a mature and confident woman.

My faith journey continues to be about believing God. Any time I struggle with sin it isn’t because I’ve stopped believing that Jesus died for my sins; rather, I’ve stopped believing that God loves me. That sounds contradictory—it is. I think that’s why faith has to be about heart and not just the facts and head knowledge. I’ve learned that I can’t just know that Jesus died for me. I also have to continue to believe in the deep and desperate love that his death signifies.


belonging before becoming

Even though I grew up around Christianity, I was a works based kind of guy who ran on goodwill to others and fed off of their approval. Once I finished college  and without the distraction of school, it was inevitable that I started a more profound internal exploration of myself.

My mid to late twenties were tumultuous spiritually for me.  I struggled with anxiety and OCD and so began searching out physical remedies such as pilates, yoga, prescription medication and therapy.  But I was still unfulfilled.  As life proceeded, I began looking into other religions, from Buddhism to Confucianism, to try and fill that spiritual void in my heart.  I was able to glean some growth from parts of them.  They satiated for a time, but never lasted.  

Sometime in 2007, a friend introduced me to Hiawatha Church.  I kindly thanked him for the invite and then surreptitiously avoided the next dozen Sunday services.  After several conversations I finally capitulated and cautiously and suspiciously took in my first sermon at Hiawatha.  Immediately I felt welcome.  From then, I began attending church services on a monthly basis and then it became weekly.  It soon felt odd to miss a Sunday.  I joined a community group and had a multitude of coffee dates with pastors and congregation members.  

What was it about this place that drew me in?  What was is about these people that intrigued me?

I had spoken to others on a number of occasions with regards to spiritual signs.  I had read about them and heard stories of others having them, but wondered if I had ever been a witness to one.  What did they look like?   Would I finally believe if I experience one?

I was sitting at the Dome watching a Twins game with a friend.  We were discussing my struggles with faith and the topic of signs.  I was told that Christ was and is the ultimate sign.  That it is the gospel that saves.  I struggled with this concept then, as I do to some degree now.  How could one struggle after a sign was revealed to them?  Wouldn’t that be the answer to all of their faith questions and concerns?

As we sat there, I comically (and maybe a bit sarcastically) leaned over to my friend and said “well buddy, if this next batter hits a homerun on the next pitch – I’ll believe”.  Within seconds, the pitch was thrown and the ball was sent sailing over center field.  Homerun!  As the crowd cheered, my buddy and I looked at each other and smiled in amazement.  Was this an answer to my lack of faith or was it just coincidence?  Yet within minutes my head tried to analyze and explain the situation away as a coincidence.  This, and many other moments like it that I have had over the years, cogently persuaded me that signs were not ultimately going to alter my heart. I needed something more – but what?

I turned to God on December 10th, 2012 and gave my life to him.  There were no signs, no fireworks, no homeruns – and unless my memory is failing, I don’t remember seeing the clouds part and hearing a voice from above.  I was sitting in a conference taking notes when the thought came to mind to ask God to come into my life.  It was faint, but I believed it – however small the feeling was.   I quickly texted and emailed family and friends that night lest I try and cover up this moment.  

The next morning I awoke.  My faith remained.  Although it was, and is (and still is), a mustard seed of faith, it is faith nonetheless.  And for that I am truly grateful. Life is still terribly hard at times.  By no means do think I have it made.  Although corralled, I still struggle with anxiety. But my fear does not own me.  I leave that to Jesus.  

One burden of this journey is that I see my sin with greater clarity, but one of the blessings of this journey is, that I see my sin with greater clarity. The daily, consistent message of the gospel has been the ultimate sign for me.  It is unwavering and unflappable – and that is becoming fulfilling.  

I see the gospel in action here at Hiawatha Church.  Hiawatha has been an essential conduit for me that sets its lens focused on Christ.  This has captivated my attention and I am honored to be a witness to it.  I attended services here for 5 ½ years before converting.  By no means did I make it easy.  But the warmth and grace that the church body has shown to me has drawn me in.  Why did I stick around?  Again I ask, What was it about this place and people?  The answer - faith in Christ and the iteration of the power of the gospel – this was and is at its foundation.

As my struggles continue and I waiver in my faith (which happen daily), my commitment to God continues.  I still don’t know all of the Bible.  I still say “I don’t know” to a majority of Biblical questions that are sent my way.  But I am slowly grasping that belief and dependence on God is not a sometimes thing, but an all the time thing.  In my imperfect manner I am grateful, I am truly grateful.



adopted into God's family

I was raised in a Christian home and went to church growing up with my parents and my sisters for as long as I can remember.  I prayed with my mom when I was around 4 years old to receive Jesus as my Savior and to forgive me of my sins. My parents set an example for serving the church but when it came down to it I never felt joy consistently when volunteering or serving. I often did not want to be doing what I was doing.  

I felt I had to serve to be a good person.  I lived most of my life trying to be a good person, to live with high morals and values, and to not do anything wrong.  I was proud of how good I was.  I would even go so far as to say there were great periods in my life where I thought I didn’t sin and was a good person.

In reality I was scared to look bad, of making poor decisions, and to not live up to what I thought God wanted me to be, which to me was a good person.  I feel this led to me becoming very timid and living in fear of looking bad.  This was not a freeing way to live and really not living the life God had given me at all.   

I tried many times throughout my life to read the Bible to deepen my relationship with God.  It came hard to me and felt like more of a duty than a gift.  As I moved on to college and beyond I made a point to go to church every Sunday and if I missed I would feel guilty.  My Bible would sit by my bed and I would rarely open it.  There was not a lot of joy or freedom in living my life that way.  

God brought my husband, Matt, into my life in 2008.  There was something different about him and his walk with God.  He was so knowledgeable about the Bible and would often reference passages and verses I had never heard even though I had been going to church my whole life.  Matt lived his life differently than me. God and church were not just a Sunday thing and he loved to read his Bible every day and learn more about God. He would talk about the sins he committed or struggled with and repent of them. He would find great comfort and encouragement from God’s word in ways I never had before. This intrigued me because I wanted to have that same joy to read the Bible and to be honest with God about who I am, a sinner, not a good person.  I can see God was using Matt to draw me closer to him in a real way.

Matt and I got married in 2009.  We started our life together and it was a very humbling experience for me.  Marriage was hard. I couldn’t be a good person all the time to Matt and would sin against him.  I needed God more than ever to help me in our marriage as I figured out how to be Matt’s wife.  I had a hard time repenting when I was wrong and letting Matt take the lead.  This is the first time in my life when I really began to see myself as a sinner in need of God’s grace.  I still did not quite know or understand how to fully receive that grace.  Matt was feeling led to change churches and I was struggling with that idea.  I felt God encouraging me to take the step of faith and follow him and Matt, and we ended up at Hiawatha Church.

I was exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ in a new way.  A way that I had never understood it before.  More and more the idea of being saved through grace and not works hit home in my heart.  It was not about being a good person or living by high morals or values but about admitting I am a sinner and will never be able to do enough good things or serve enough at church to make up for my sins or to prove to God that I am worth it.  

I kept hearing over and over at Hiawatha that God loves me and died for me and my salvation is a gift to be received by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 2:4 says, “ But God, rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved.”  It is all about God and his love and grace for me.  This brought joy to me and made me feel free.  I started to see the gospel working in all areas of my life.  

One of the biggest ways I have seen the gospel at work in my life lately is through the adoption of our two boys. There are so many parallels between the adoption process and the gospel.  I was constantly reminded throughout this process that he loves me and takes me as I am and sees me like he sees his son, Jesus. Galatians 4:4-7 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

I frequently stand in awe that we have a God who chases us down, adopts us into his family, making us heirs, and calls us his sons and daughters.  

We had the privilege of appearing before a judge under oath to swear to be parents to our sons just a few weeks ago.  I was flooded with emotion that day because I was reminded again how God as my father takes me as his daughter not because of how good I am or the good works I do but because of how much he loves me through the saving blood of Jesus Christ.


living by grace rather than law

I come from a long line of Christians. I say that I am a third generation Christian - as my grandparents (on both sides,) my parents, and myself all profess Jesus as our savior. I grew up always believing in Christ, but it wasn’t until later that I really understood the grace that my savior gives me.  

As I grew up, I was a very legalistic Christian, always looking to the Bible for my checklist of what was good and what was bad. I would take verses from the Bible to justify what I could or couldn’t do and then I would project my beliefs onto my Christian brothers, zealously judging them. I worked out my salvation rather than relying on the grace of the cross.  

When I looked at my life back then I see my Christian walk a lot like Paul before he met Jesus, following the letter of the law and not understanding the spirit of what Jesus was teaching. I looked at verse like John 14:15, where Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands” and believed that I had to prove my love for Jesus by following all of the commandments.

Sarah & Jerome Peterson

Sarah & Jerome Peterson

It was not really until I started coming to Hiawatha and heard the gospel being preached that I finally understood grace. I went from “I follow the commandments of Jesus so he loves me” to “Jesus loves me and out of that love my good works just naturally flow.” It was that grace that finally freed me from a legalistic lifestyle.

I could stop feeling guilty for my failures and rest in God’s grace. It freed me from having to spend time with God and feeling guilty when I didn’t to a place where I wanted to spend time with Jesus, my savior.  

Before I would avoid God because of my sin. I would feel that I needed to clean up before coming to church or praying. My week would be a struggle to be good and then I would feel guilty and convicted on Sunday morning and repent only to start the week over again struggling.

As I have leaned into God’s grace, I have seen how my savior can now use me. He has brought me the blessing of being able to share my faith with neighbors and co-workers in a way that excites me, rather than terrifying me. I now see how God can use me for his glory, rather than me trying to bring him the glory. I no longer feel the weight of trying to preach his gospel but now I live it and people are seeing God in it. I went from feeling that I had to do everything right for people to be converted to knowing that God doesn’t need me, but chooses to use me as a broken and fallen creature to show his wonderful glory! He uses my weakness and stuttering words to show his perfection in my weakness. I am free to be imperfect because God shows his perfection in that. I now rest in the grace that Jesus did all the work for me and I have nothing left to do.


freedom from worry and control

For as long as I can remember, I have believed in God. I grew up in a church-going family, but the focus was on keeping up appearances and doing right in the eyes of others in our church community. Our involvement in church was very calculated and all about how it looked to others instead of worshiping God.  

It was a confusing place to be and I looked to circumstances to form a false image of who God was. I was convinced I had to work hard at making myself acceptable to God and to others through school and community involvement, grades, a constant hamster wheel of things that would make me feel better about myself. I thought that one day I would be judged and it would be a dependent on God’s mood whether or not I would have salvation.

Emily Kleiber

Emily Kleiber

In high school, through a ministry called Young life, I was introduced to the concept of God’s grace being an undeserved gift through Jesus Christ. I knew then that I would never earn salvation and that Jesus died for me. This was truly the best news I had ever heard. Upon moving to college, I got involved in the campus crusade ministry and it was here that I made a commitment to give my life OVER to God. I spent so much time praying and worshiping – I just couldn’t get enough of this concept of having a real relationship with my savior. I started to see myself in a new way – not as a girl forever damaged by my parents’ broken marriage but as a new creation who could trust fully in God ‘s plans for my life. It was so freeing!  

For many years after I became a Christian I thought that I had to have all of my “ducks in a row” to show that God was at work in me – that I was the wife and the mom who had it all together. I dealt with crippling anxieties – worrying about so much and struggling to hand over control of my life. But God has truly pursued me. As I have matured in my faith, I have found freedom in more of Christ and less of me. John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Laying my life down is not something I have all figured out – absolutely not – but is a constant process and ongoing invitation. I am completely aware that nothing I could do could make God love me more.

I love teaching my children that we all will never be “good enough” on our own – and that everything that we have, physically and spiritually, is a gift from God. We can see our shortcomings, confess our sin, and know that we are forgiven – giving all the glory to God. It is a humbling and freeing concept our family is built upon.

God continues to ask me to give more and more of my life over to Him. A lot of things that I once thought would be important to me have grown strangely dim in light of the purpose and hope I have in the great God who loves me and has redeemed me.   


bought back from a hardened heart

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Knowing, believing, and trusting in Christ as my savior, I rest in the fact that Christ lives in me and it is no longer I who live! I still struggle at times with living by faith in the Son of God. My default is to trust in myself and live in fear and insecurity.  Thankfully, God's word has been changing my heart, and the scriptures are changing the way I think about the gospel.

Luke Albertson

Luke Albertson

I knew I had a heart for the lost when I started working with a couple friends at the St. Paul juvenile detention center early on in college. There were kids that were more broken than I thought I could ever be. They had committed murder and were abusing drugs before even attending junior high and this was heavy on my heart. Yet even though I was pursuing a degree in Youth Ministry at Northwestern College, being a youth pastor didn’t feel quite right.

Then, God gave me an amazing gift, Monica! We were married November 2006. I came into our marriage believing that I was strong man of God, but I was relying on my studies and training in the past. I wasn't leading and loving Monica the way Christ called me to.

Our marriage became shallow and focused on self and not God or each other, which lead to a hardened heart. Things hadn't worked out completely the way I had planned and I was struggling with purpose for my life. I was involved in different churches around town playing music but I was holding onto my love of self. I wasn't held in check, and I wasn't a part of a church community where I let others know me on a deeper level.

God then rocked my world when we found out Monica was pregnant with our first daughter Iylah. God forced me to think about someone else. At this point, we decided we wanted to attend one church and call it home for Iylah's sake, and God lead us to Hiawatha Church.

I am humbled by what God has done in my heart and mind, how He has loved me through his church and bought me back from a hardened heart. I don’t know where He will lead me next but for now I will rejoice in this fact:

“You have bought me back with the riches of your amazing grace and relentless love, I’m made alive forever with you life forever by your grace I’m saved!”