I have the privilege of co-writing this post with my husband, Ruud.  As we focus at the opening of 2023 on the foundational beliefs of our faith, we each have a story to share about moments in our life when our understanding of grace and Christ and the gift of salvation had to change in order to continue to follow the path set before us.  I am sure, if you have yet to have an experience like this in your own faith-walk, it can seem intimidating. Trust me when I say, going deeper in your understanding of the Gospel is always a gift from God. May the words we are sharing today help increase your hunger for the Lord as we humbly share moments in our lives when our understanding of God had to “level up” in order to continue to serve him wholeheartedly.

I was 7 years old when I placed my faith in Jesus.. In fact my 2nd grade public school teacher, Miss Bob, led me to the Lord. It was simple, exciting, and joyful. When Jesus invited the children to come to Him he said, Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15).  That brings me comfort: child-like faith with no strings attached.
I graduated from a Christian high school and then a Christian college. I got a graduate degree, and later went to seminary. It seemed with every Christian milestone came another layer of obligation, expectation, approval or disapproval. A new set of rules, and a new list of dos and don’ts. My faith didn’t feel so simple, and free anymore. It felt complicated, encumbered. I wasn’t approaching my faith in Christ like I had in the beginning. What “spiritual” people in my life thought became too important.
Then came Alyssa. 
She was a stick your head out the window, let the wind blow through your hair kind of gal. 
She was a no one is a stranger, believe me you’re going to like me, you just don’t know it yet kind of person. 
Alyssa had brain cancer and she came into my life as the girlfriend to my son.  Soon after her diagnosis, she became my daughter-in-law. Jesus flowed through her like electricity. She was the Spirit’s magnet that drew everyone she met to see Jesus. She lived a grace-filled life, even when things were hard. She truly believed as God said to the apostle Paul, “my grace is enough for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) While she was living, we all believed it too, living out our time together wholeheartedly.
After she died I began questioning what was really important about my Christian life; what is important to God my Father. Paul chided the Galatian church for forgetting the grace of God by faith. They were living by a set of rules to gain favor with God and the church. Paul calls them fools, bewitched by a spell. Having accepted God’s grace by faith, I too was foolish, trying to earn God’s favor by being good enough, by doing the right things. 
God’s grace is freely given: both His favor in giving us salvation, and the grace He gives to life. When I try  to be good enough, I’m walking in pride. God resists the proud, but he gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thank you Jesus for saving me. Help me to live by trusting in your grace.

Today we are going back in time to visit a very different Ellie than any of you have had the opportunity to know.  Somewhere near 2011 there is a young woman, a girl, really, in her mid twenties desperately trying to regain control of a life that was wildly off track.   For nearly four years she had been in and out of hospitals and treatment programs for a life-threatening eating disorder that had been slowly taking over her life for a decade.  Although this younger me was compliant with treatment and wanted help,  she was deeply afraid of letting go of this way of keeping herself and her fears contained.  She believed in the God of her childhood and her relationship with Him had seen her through the unraveling of her parent’s marriage and her family as she knew it in the last several years, but, try as she might, she could not get well.
On the heels of her most serious relapse, re-feeding, weakening of her heart and other signs of malnutrition, this younger me was desperate for God to help her do what she could not do for herself.  It was clear that this cycle was not sustainable, but the feeding caused emotions to rise to the surface that were unbearable, flashbacks of events that could not be from her own life, and a reality that younger me was afraid to admit might be more than just her mind playing tricks on her. 
It is a gift that I have been able to sense the Holy Spirit working in my life in many ways since my childhood. That being said, there are very few times in my life I have sensed clear words to my heart.  The Ellie of 2011 was about to have an encounter with the Lord that can only be the grace of God.  She was crying out to God for direction, facing a waiting list for a residential, faith-based treatment in Nashville, that would lead her away from the few supports she amassed, and she heard in her spirit  “When you accepted me as your savior, did you not surrender to me the number of days in your life?  Why are you choosing this long and painful way of taking your own life? Do you or do you not believe that I will supply what you need to face what is underneath this? Will I not send you Aaron and Hur to hold up your arms when you are weak, just as I did for Moses so that you will be victorious in the battle?”
I knew then and there that I had a choice.  A choice that would mean acting in a way that demonstrated that I believe God is savior and He does what He promises.  It was that or effectively walking away from my faith and choosing my eating disorder and continuing to live in denial of the abuse, brokenness, and fear that I thought would destroy me if I faced them head on. 
I chose God. I chose to put my daily actions behind my salvation and the belief that He is bigger than any stronghold that we face in this life.  I set out on a journey of healing that would lead me to much harder places before I would feel the joy of freedom.  I chose walking in daily faith  because in my weakness my God was strong. 
It can be tempting to think that if you are raised in church and grew up a child who believed in the storybook Bible Jesus of your youth, that God is not big enough, close enough, or doesn’t care enough in the desperate, darkest moments of your story. He is a real God, with real power, and  I can testify that He cares for that which concerns you, His child.  When He begins a work of healing in you, and you are surrendered to join in the process, He is faithful to complete that which He begins.  He was with me, His grace surrounded me, as the Ellie of 2011 walked the path to becoming the woman you see today, and while we don’t have time for that story today and though I still have more healing to do, I am in awe of how much He has restored to me.

In closing, as we study the most important fundamentals of our walk as Jesus followers and what marks us as His, stay open to going deeper in your understanding of grace, salvation and Christ himself.  Stay open to allowing Him to whisper to your heart and bring a wider, and broader understanding of how He loves you, chose you, and will work in you to advance His kingdom here on earth and redeem you as His own. He is your inheritance, your portion, and in Him you live and move and make visible the invisible work of God in His children and in the world.

Ellie Hamilton
Ruud Stolvoort, guest blogger