Cheap Grace Packed in Suitcases of Trauma

*Please see my disclaimer page for a list of disclaimers.

It’s funny–and a little scary–how the first eighteen years of a person’s life shapes so much that happens after he or she leaves home. 

Those eighteen years in my family of origin included moving to a town where my family never belonged, joining a Southern Baptist Church that would destroy us, and enduring regular outbursts from a father growing increasingly unhappy with his life and taking his issues out on my mother, who was also battling her own set of demons and taking her pain out on us, especially my brother. 

My brother was being bullied at school, home and church; and, to an extent that I didn’t realize until much later in my life, I was, too. My parents’ fighting grew so bad that eventually my mom kicked my father out. My father, happy to go, went off to “heal,” and my brother and I entered years of misery that at any given time involved:

  • separation from one or both of my parents, 
  • substance abuse by the adults in my circle,
  • juvenile detention center and mental hospital stays for my brother, sexual abuse for me at the hands of people close to me, 
  • and as a result of all of the above, an increasing desire to lose myself in the warm fuzzy feeling I enjoyed from drinking alcohol and eating horrible foods while escaping into a little MTV or a makeout session with whatever guy happened to be around.

After leaving my mother’s home out of a desire for safety, moving in with my father, and then moving four times in the span of a year and a half with Dad and his new wife (a saint she is, I tell you), I eventually graduated high school (without the presence of my mother, who I would only see twice in the next twenty or so years), enjoyed a wild two years of college and ended up pregnant with my first child at twenty years old.

I was now bringing another soul into the world when I had yet to deal with my own issues. 

Suitcases full of trauma. 


Few things have tripped up Christians more than the following thoughts:

  • That God is exclusive–meaning some are in and some are out. 
  • That not everyone gets to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
  • That God does not, in fact, give the rich and satisfying life Jesus promises, and if He does, it’s sure not to everyone.

When my oldest child was little, I pretended I had a pretty good grip on life. I was chugging along in my random marriage, working, attending Church, even teaching Sunday School. I was connected to my husband’s family and a few people of my own. I kept in touch with my old friends and had a few new surface ones.

I felt safe and secure, at least, on the outside. 

On the inside? I was a hot mess.

I was ashamed of my past, dissatisfied in the present and terrified of the future. I had this gut-sinking fear that my life was going to be spent perpetually feeling lonely, bitter and angry. 

I was mad at God, but trying not to be because being mad at God was a sin. 

I didn’t dare question Him and His reasons for why my life had turned out the way it had. After all, hadn’t I chosen this? Wasn’t everything that had happened my fault and my fault only? Wasn’t I to blame?

To quell all my awful feelings, I yelled at my husband and kids. I refused to engage with family members who had seemingly perfect lives. I gorged my feelings on fast food. 

I drank. A lot. 

And then I’d feel massively guilty, pile on loads of self-condemnation, run to the Church, needing to be “saved,” live a few months as a “good” girl, then start the process all over again. 

What do they say the definition of insanity is again? 

Every once in a while, I would decide I needed a complete overhaul. I’d long understood how to run. I was taught how to do it at a very young age. I changed my hair, changed my clothing style, changed my bedroom, changed my boyfriends or friend groups. 

As I got older, I changed my city, my college, my job. I bought new clothes, new furniture. I even had more children, thinking that would satisfy me. (Like I said–insanity!)

What it really all came down to was being mentally stuck. 

I didn’t know that at the time because I thought that all the changes meant I wasn’t stuck. But I was as frozen as a hamster on a wheel (and as tired, too),  paralyzed by fear, anxiety, self-condemnation and a lack of self-control. I was constantly confused and would morph into whatever person I needed to be at any given time so I could get what I wanted.  

I was terrified that I was going to be unloved, unprotected and unseen for the rest of my life. 

I now know that this is a super-common feeling for people who have endured childhood trauma. It’s like your mind can’t go forward because you’re stuck reliving the past over and over again, and you see zero good hope for the future.

I became an expert runner and chameleon, except I wasn’t actually going anywhere: my “track” was that hamster wheel, and I was spinning circles while changing cities, jobs, houses, friendships; having more children, acquiring more clothes and more personalities, but never really healing my soul. 

Year after year, from twenty until midlife, I lived the exact same life but with different surroundings. 

There was a point between thirty-two and thirty-three when I really thought my life was going to change for the better. After having my last child, and (surprise!) still not feeling satisfied, I forced my husband to move us to a new town, far away from my past. (This is the fun/slightly depressing part where I tell you that you never–you never ever ever–outrun your past. You have to face it, and yes, I know: It sucks.)

The first year we lived in our new city was fantastic. I felt like my family was reconnecting and my relationship with my husband was rekindling.

In reality, however, we were simply surviving because we had nothing and no one to turn to at the time. 

Slowly, as we began to acclimate ourselves to the area, old habits resurfaced and once again, I felt lonely, bitter and afraid. I would repeat old patterns of yelling, disengaging, eating and drinking, well into my late thirties. The only difference from before was that I no longer ran to God. Instead, I’d fully embraced the belief that I was nothing more than a “vessel of wrath, fit for destruction.” 

There’s a core memory I have tucked away inside my soul from this time period. I was driving down the highway and the song Dancing Nancies, by The Dave Matthews Band, started playing on the radio. 

Dave sang, Twenty-three and so tired of life / such a shame to throw it all away… 

And I remember just bursting into tears because I had listened to those same lyrics at twenty-three and had sworn to Yeshua Above that I would be damned if I felt the same way at thirty-three, but there I was, thirty-three, feeling exactly the same and worse. 

And again at thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six…

All the way to forty. 


What does Paul say about Grace, Faith and Work?

[Romans 7] 14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Paul’s letter to the Romans


It’s more than clear that Paul wants to behave. It’s also more than clear that, for whatever reason he chooses not to mention, Paul cannot behave. 

Maybe it’s an anger problem. Maybe he’s prideful or arrogant. Maybe he’s racist or misogynistic. Maybe he’s a sex addict. Who knows? What’s obvious is that Paul recognizes our human inability to stop sinning. 

So why doesn’t the Church?

Why do Church leaders place yokes around Christians that they themselves can’t seem to bear?

Take, for instance, an article I read just the other day on The Gospel Coalition’s website. Titled, “Yes, Actually, God Does Demand Perfection,” the writer begins to reason with her audience that the command of God is indeed to “be perfect.” 

From author Kristen Wetherell’s article:

“…But when we lower God’s expectations for his people, and de-emphasize the seriousness of his command for holiness, we actually cheapen his grace and lose sight of his spectacular promise…God actually does demand perfection. There is no room in these commands for snapping at your kids during the Monday-morning rush. There is no exception for grumbling about the weather. There is no loophole for a moment’s lustful glance. There is no leeway for failing to worship. We can’t get around God’s requirement; the command is serious…” (bold mine)


We hear about this cheapening of grace quite often from the Evangelical community, especially those of the Reformed faith. But is that phrase ever found literally or even alluded to in the Bible? Does it even make sense? 

How can we cheapen what is given freely? 

The simple fact of the matter is that either grace is free, or it’s not grace at all. Grace with strings attached is no such thing. 

What’s even scarier is that young, impressionable teens who read the article will most likely assume that the author either spends her day living perfectly or spends her day attempting to, which–come on!–would make for an exhausting day! This mandate to “live perfectly” in today’s Church translation fails to line up with Jesus’ command: 

[Matthew 11] 28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Jesus in Matthew

It  also doesn’t match Paul’s story of God’s graciousness towards his “thorn in the flesh”: 

[2 Corinthians 12} 7…to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s letter to Corinthians

It’s funny to me that some people believe accepting the reality of humanity somehow cheapens what Christ did, walking in flesh among us, dying and resurrecting to destroy death. How does my sin cheapen anything Christ did for me? 

It doesn’t. I am human, and I will sin. But you know what? A weird thing happens when I accept this reality. 

When I accept my humanity, love myself and show gratitude to God, I miss the mark less

It’s true. And it’s because I’m no longer attempting to “be good” but instead, I’m living from an authentic place within my soul that honors myself, my Creator and others. 

It’s grace that allows us to see ourselves in a better light, not fear and self-condemnation. Not shame, as the Church would like you to have, even as they claim they want you to be free. 

See you soon,


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