Grace. This unfathomable, undeserved gift of God’s favor has been the thread that He has used to weave together every bit of my life. It is, quite literally, my middle name, so it is no surprise that it comes up time and again when I share pieces of my story. From my very first breath, it was obvious to everyone around me that Jesus was pursuing me; He was working to heal physical damage that doctors deemed “irreparable”. I was born three months early weighing only two and a half pounds. It was projected that I may never see, speak, hear, or be able to do much of anything at all, but Jesus had other plans. To this day, the only repercussion I face due to being born prematurely is having underdeveloped ankle muscles. Granted, this is certainly not an easy thing to deal with day in and day out; it makes walking long distances painful and driving impossible. The great thing about grace, though, is that it takes what the world sees as our biggest weakness and transforms it into our most powerful tool to strengthen the Kingdom and glorify God. For as many times as I have been made fun of for the way I walk, I have had even more opportunities to use my physical struggles as an opening to talk about Jesus and the miracles He has worked and continues to perform in my life.
The outpouring of Jesus’ grace didn’t stop there. He handpicked me to be a part of the most loving, Christ-centered family imaginable by way of adoption. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. They are quick to point out gifts that Jesus has given me, and they are constantly partnering with me in finding ways for me to use them. In fact, if it weren’t for their incessant encouragement, I may not have fully realized one of my greatest passions: singing. I have always loved to sing, even singing myself to sleep before I could talk, but I will never forget the moment that I knew that singing was something that I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life: At age 9, I was riding around town with my mom, belting along with her Kathy Troccoli CD as loudly as my little lungs could manage, when suddenly, I was acutely aware of her eyes on me. Not only that, but she was beaming. Instantly, I stopped mid-sentence. I was confused as to why something as simple as my singing would have so completely captured her attention. “Keep going”, she urged. “I was just enjoying hearing you do what you love! Please, don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.” Her words, laced with grace, opened my eyes to see a hobby that felt so ordinary as an extraordinary gift from Jesus that He would one day use to change hearts, including my own.
In a perfect world, I would have retained that childlike innocence and humility concerning that gift of song, but after years of choir solos, I began to focus more on the gift than the Giver. I bought into the lie that my voice was my ticket to fame and forgot that Jesus had given me my voice in order to make Him famous. Luckily, His grace was still chasing me even when I had turned my back on Him. The summer following my freshman year of high school, I went on a retreat with my church. At the end of the week, we were encouraged to take a MOVE card. If we took one, the rules were simple: Once you open it, do whatever the card says. Don’t question it. Don’t back out of it. Just take the plunge and be willing to go wherever Jesus takes you. Although I had gone on the retreat the year prior, something was different that time around. I felt a tug on my heart (which I now know was the Holy Spirit), so I stepped out in faith and tentatively pulled the card out of the envelope. Little did I know that good things really do come in small packages (or small envelopes, in this case). My card read, “At least once a week for the next year, intern with or assist someone who works at your church.” Despite the fact that both of my parents worked at my church and had many friends who did as well, I couldn’t seem to think of anyone to ask. I bowed my head for a quick prayer, telling Jesus that He would have to send me someone if He really wanted me to go through with the challenge. Not surprisingly, He was already one step ahead of me in the process of lining up that job. The next day, my worship pastor, Ryan, came up to me and told me that he had been praying for someone with organizational skills that could serve as his office manager, and Jesus kept bringing me to his mind. Before he could even ask if I was interested in the job, I had pulled out my MOVE card with shaking hands and a fair amount of shock. “Wow, Jesus”, I thought. “You must really want me in this position…” I had no idea at the time just how true that was.
Because of working with Ryan and the rest of the Awaken Worship team, I saw a new way of doing music for the first time. They were some of the most talented musicians I had ever worked with, but to my surprise, they were also the most humble. Whether they were on or off the stage, everything that they said and did pointed back to Jesus. They weren’t caught up in perfectionism or performance, and I was desperate for the kind of freedom and authenticity that they had. I knew that that kind of attitude had to come from a heart that was fully surrendered to Jesus, so I did the only things that I knew to do to get closer to Him – read His Word and pray. One night in particular, I was reading in Matthew 6 where Jesus was talking about tithing, but He used the verses to speak to me about another matter entirely. In the passage, He told the Pharisees that God wasn’t interested in the offerings of those whose only intention was to put on a show for others to see; He was eager to bless the ones whose hearts were in the right place – those who did things for the Lord without expecting any sort of recognition. In that moment, time seemed to stand still as my pride collided with the relentless grace of Jesus. He reassured me that He was in love with my voice because He was the one who had handcrafted it, but He was even more insistent on sending another bit of truth to the deepest places of my soul: “You could never sing another note again, and I would still love you more than My own life.” My response to Him came effortlessly, joyfully, resolutely: “The kind of music I’ve been pursuing over the past few years will never satisfy me because You aren’t at the center of it. I want to use my voice to lead worship so that every song I sing unquestionably points back to You. I never want to give myself or anyone else room to doubt who gave me my voice or why I’m singing.”
In the years following that life-changing encounter with Jesus, He has shaped my calling into something much larger than I could have ever imagined: being a voice for the voiceless. I’ve had the honor of using my voice to sing truth and healing over people in worship services, write worship songs that shed light on the refugee crisis, and even to get pieces published about different lessons that Jesus has taught me. While I am humbled by and grateful for all of these things, I never want to forget that I am still growing, especially in the form of failure and struggle. I am constantly being reshaped and renewed to look more like Jesus. I am a recovering perfectionist who is figuring out how to receive the love of Jesus for myself so that I can pour it out to others. I am learning how to live into my middle name.