My name is Stacey.
I heard about The Grace Mask from girlfriends at James River Church.
My first encounter with God’s amazing grace on my life came through my parents. I will forever be grateful for the gift of a loving mom and dad. My parents married and brought me into the world as teenagers. My Dad served in the Army so we moved often but my parents were faithful to each other and to me and my younger brother. My parents taught me to be honest, to work hard, to value life, to love God and to love others. The rules were easy for me to keep. As a kid I simply blended in to whatever situation we moved in to.
Constant moving made it hard for us to settle into a church home. We always attended services on holidays and for special occasions wherever we lived. We moved back to my parents’ home town when I was a freshman in high school where we attended a small Baptist church regularly. It was in that little Baptist church, during a revival service that I began to believe Jesus was real. I remember sitting with my friends during that service and peeking to see if anyone else raised her hand in response to the pastor’s offer to accept Jesus as savior. A few of my friends responded so I did too. The decision I made that day was not about accepting a savior, it was about me wanting to be accepted by my friends. They were good girls — pretty girls, and I wanted to be like them. But I wanted a savior too, I just didn’t know what having a savior truly meant. I was water baptized and attended my first church camp later that year.
But then my attention turned to a boy. A boy who didn’t know Jesus. A boy who didn’t love me. I thought I would always be with that boy… but we broke up.
Breaking up is no simple matter. He broke my heart. He broke my spirit. And when he left I found another boy, and then another, and another. I just wanted to be loved and accepted by a “savior”. I did whatever the boy wanted me to do hoping to receive that love but time after time I was left broken again. I spent my late teens drinking alcohol, doing drugs, and hanging out with a very destructive crowd. I moved in with one of my boyfriends after graduating from high school. He did not love me – he physically abused me, abused alcohol and drugs with me, and kept me a broken mess.
One day in 1998, everything changed. I was 20 years old, sitting alone in a little deli on my lunch break that day. The atmosphere at that deli always felt safe, I ate my lunch there often. But on this day the couple that owned the deli came to my table and asked me if I was “okay”. I wasn’t, but I said I was. The Holy Spirit was guiding that couple that day and they knew I was not “okay”. They had no idea what my life was like, but God did and He met me there in that deli on my lunch break through that sweet, faithful couple. They asked if they could pray for me… I said yes.
What followed that moment was a prayer unlike any I had ever heard before. It was so powerful. I felt God’s love pouring over me through the words of that precious man and his wife. They introduced me to Jesus again that day, the same Jesus whom I had invited into my heart at 15 so my friends would like me. He had been there all along, more faithful to my half-hearted request than any boy I had ever chased with all my heart since then. As they prayed over me in that deli I didn’t just let Him in, I let Him take my hand and lead me. In that moment I was finished looking for a boy to use me. In that moment I was rescued by God’s Son, who became the only man who could fully accept me and love me as I had always dreamed of being loved — the Savior who conquered death on the cross for me was alive in me and His Spirit overwhelmed me.
Later that evening I was making dinner for my boyfriend. I remember feeling my heart hurt when he spoke. His cursing and ugly language literally took my breath away when it had never bothered me before. I left. I left him. I left alcohol. I left the drugs. God simply took the desire for all of those things away from me and I started down a new path.
Life has not been perfect since that day at the deli in 1998, I struggled to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus for years. But He stayed with me through it all. He has faithfully walked with me through a failed marriage. He helped me as a single mom. He never left me even though boyfriends came and went. He even “church-hopped” with me. I eventually married again in 2008, and our little family found a church home at the James River west campus. We love serving The Lord as a family and our church family loves us right back. Our 4-year-old son, Luke had open heart surgery in October of 2013. During that scary time last year God revealed Himself through our James River family as a Father who has always loved us and provided for us. The Church, this Bride… is so beautiful to me. I will forever be thankful that she was not afraid to unveil herself in that deli in 1998, and invite me to be a part of this amazing community that prays for and believes in miracles.
To be the Bride of Christ is an overwhelming thought. For me to be called holy and without fault is so amazing and gives me such comfort to know that He loves me so much. My past tells me that His love is truly unconditional. I am not perfect but I know Jesus is making me more like Himself every day. He has already freed me from drug and alcohol addiction, self-image issues, weight obsession, and from others. I don’t look to others to tell me I’m accepted and good enough based on how I live and what I do. Jesus accepted me long ago and that is all I need to know.
My past is redeemed in His hands. My heart longs to serve girls who are now in or who have been through the same dark places I’ve been through. He has given me a boldness and bravery to go back into those places with Him not to be bound again, but to rescue and speak life and freedom to girls who are trapped as I was in my late teens. I am free and I want that freedom for others… those girls are a cause worth fighting for.
My anchor verses: