Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess
“The Mess that Changed Everything” On the morning of April 19, 2011, I pushed the publish but¬ton on a blog post that changed the course of my ministry. Most important, it profoundly altered my view of God and allowed me to see His gift of grace and mercy in a new light. I opened the post with these words:
Few would argue that the “Mom, I’m pregnant” announcement is at the top of a parent’s list of knock-the-breath-out-of-you announcements you hope never to hear from your unmar¬ried child. As someone who has written on the topic of sexual purity, I have stated often that my kids are not exempt when it comes to worldly temptations. I was humbly reminded of this fact a few weeks ago when my oldest son delivered the news, “Mom, I think Casey may be pregnant.” Ryan and Casey are good kids who made a bad choice. Two months into their engagement, they let their guard down, and as a result, they face a new challenge—shortly after marrying, they will become parents.
I want to give you a bit more background about that morning—just six weeks prior—when I learned about the pregnancy. Ryan had recently graduated from college and was living at home before the big wedding in July. His fian¬cée was finishing her last semester of college eight hundred miles away. When he left for work that morning, I was sit¬ting in my living room in my favorite writing chair, reading over the final manuscript for a new Bible study for moth¬ers of sons called 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son. In my lap were the final page proofs for the book, and I was putting the finishing touches on Conversation #3: “Not everyone’s doing it! (And other naked truths about sex you won’t hear in the locker room).” Yep. It was all about sexual purity, and it provided some handy tips on how we as parents can encourage our sons to save sex for marriage. (In addition to the Bible study, I had also written a book by the same title, and it was due to hit the bookstore shelves just weeks after I made the announcement above on my blog. I’ll go ahead and pause here and give you a minute to clear the lump in your throat regarding the irony of the rather awkward timing of my son’s announcement.)
I was absorbed in proofing Conversation #3 when my boy walked back through the front door after leaving for work just fifteen minutes before. I assumed he had forgotten something, but when I saw the look on his face, I knew some¬thing wasn’t right. It was one of those mother’s-intuition moments. I immediately got up to meet him halfway as he made a beeline for me. He was ashen and his voice quaked. “Mom, I can’t stand it any longer. I had to come back and tell you something.”
My six-foot-one boy fell into my arms and mumbled through tears, “Mom, I think Casey may be pregnant.” In that moment, I was not an author. I was not a speaker. There was no thought whatsoever of the parenting books I had writ¬ten or the one that was about to release. In that moment, I was a mother and I did what any good mother would do. I cradled my boy in my arms, wept with him, and boldly reassured my son that, with God’s help, we would get through this. I was a fellow sinner whose own life had been radically altered by the good news of God’s amazing grace, and now it was my turn to administer that grace to my son. There was no pep talk. No “How could you?!” No condemnation. Only grace.
I shudder to think of what my response to my son might have been had I not already vowed to give up the pretender game a few years prior. You know the game—your life may be unraveling at the seams, but you paint on the trademark plastic smile and pretend like every day is rainbows and but¬terflies. And, in spite of my once bold declaration to live in openness and transparency, I find that I still have a tendency to pull the game off the shelf from time to time, dust it off, and play another round. Old habits die hard. I like to think of myself as real and authentic, but until the day of my son’s announcement, I had handpicked what I would allow to be exposed and what would remain covered. That buffet-style authenticity changed on that day.
When the blog post went live, comments began to pour in, and I held my breath. Like any mother who is bent on protecting her cubs, I was ready to do battle with anyone who dared to rob my children of the forgiveness and grace that was theirs to claim. I had been in ministry long enough to feel the sting of judgment that can come from my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And, dare I say, I’ve been that sister who at times has administered the same harsh sting of judgment. (More about that in a later chapter.) As I read through the comments that posted on that day, I was pleas¬antly surprised at the graciousness of God’s people. There was no judgment, no suggested “Vicki Courtney Book Burning,” no unsolicited advice about what might have been missing in my parenting arsenal of teaching—only grace. It was as if all of us—my family, my readers, and my audi¬ence—breathed a huge sigh of relief on that day as we came out of our hiding places to remind each other what God’s grace really looks like.
As I read the comments from my fellow sisters and broth¬ers, a passion to write this book was birthed in my heart. I realized that you, too, are exhausted from playing the pre¬tender game, and many of you are desperate to remove your masks. You shared your own muddy messes and begged for the opportunity to be real and to emerge from the shame-laden trenches emboldened with a newfound brand of grace. You wanted permission to be imperfect and to expose your own blemishes. Not permission to stay there, but permis¬sion to be a work in progress. And then it dawned on me. If more people could see this brand of Christianity, they would be beating down the doors to the church to get in. I honestly believe that. If we’re looking for a successful evan-gelism strategy, this may be the one. Imagine a world where people are drawn to the life-changing displays of God’s love in our own lives, rather than repelled by our harsh words of judgment and finger pointing over the sins and imperfec¬tions of others.
I guess you could say that God staged an intervention in my life that day when my son dropped his bombshell news. A much-needed intervention. I’ve been in recovery in the days that have followed. And honestly, I hope I never recover from what He’s taught me about His grace and mercy. The truth is, we’re all a mess. But the good news is that God is bigger than any of our muddy messes. Unfortunately, most Christians will live their entire lives attempting to clean up their messes on their own or, even worse, hide their messes under a multitude of modern-day fig leaves.
This book is for those of us who are weary of hiding and pretending. It’s about finding the courage to come clean about the messes we are. To lay our hearts and souls bare before the Lord and say, “I’m not okay and I need your help.” But this book is also about finding the courage to come clean with each other and acknowledge our struggles and imperfections. To remove our masks and live whole-hearted lives rather than the double-minded lives many of us have settled for. It’s about saying “good-bye” to that person we’ve been pretending to be and celebrating the person God created: a gloriously imper¬fect mess who is loved by a perfect and holy God.
Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess by Vicki Courtney Available August 2014 from Thomas Nelson, Inc.