This Gracious Life

grace, mercy, forgiveness, africa, missions

[originally posted at, 06.19.08]

Over the past couple of years, I have realized how dangerous it is for me to be in seminary. I know, and am learning, an awful lot about the church, the Bible, and God, but none of that means anything if I do not know God Himself. My greatest temptation is to fool myself into thinking that my knowledge about God is the same thing as intimacy with God. It is not. Because of this, my constant prayer is that God will help me to know Him more, and Psalm 25:4-5 has become my daily prayer:

“Make Your ways known to me, LORD; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; I wait for You all day long.”

There is so far to go, but little by little, God is teaching me lessons about Himself. Knowing God will be a lifetime endeavor, but the more He reveals Himself to me, through His Word, the more humbled I am by my humanity.

Lately, God has been teaching me that He is merciful and gracious. The first, and hardest lesson, I have had to learn about grace is that it is completely undeserved. If I deserved it, it would not be grace. I was born in Natchez, Mississippi, at 7:30 a.m. on August 7, 1982 to Stan and Mary Shoemake because God decided that it should be that way. There is no other reason. I don’t deserve to live in a nice house with plenty of groceries. I don’t deserve to get my master’s degree. There are people all over the world starving and hungry for an education. You can’t tell me that I am here, in America, the land of opportunity, because somehow I deserved it more than they did. No. By the grace of God, I am where I am. My life depends entirely upon His grace.

It took me a really long time to learn this lesson. I went to Ghana in January with a group from school. We spent 17 days traveling around the country, worshiping in churches, talking with theologians and visiting ministries. If there is anything I learned from that trip, it is that I don’t deserve this life. Most of the people in Ghana live on less than $1 a day. The cities are stuffed to overflowing, and in many rural villages, people walk for miles just to fill up a jug with contaminated water. They are the poorest of the poor. In those villages, where there is no water, no electricity, no source of good food, entire families live in mud huts. They string a clothesline from one end of the hut to the other, and they hang all of their possessions on it. Everything they own hangs from that string.

As we walked through one of those villages, I was overwhelmed by the poverty that surrounded me. I remembered the months that my husband and I spent looking for a house. We passed over some because we didn’t like the way they looked, and others we discarded because they would take too much work to make them “livable.” We turned our noses up at houses because we didn’t like the color of the carpet or the paint on the walls, but the Ghanaians I met are doing well just to have a home.

I’ve had the hardest time reconciling the life I live with the lives they live. When we first got there, one of the missionaries that talked to us shared that most Ghanaian people assume that all Americans they meet are rich. And then he said something that surprised me. He said, “You are.” His comment really got to me. Here in America, we are not rich at all. We’re far from it. We all know how quickly money slips away after payday. Sometimes we all wonder how we will pay our bills. But that doesn’t excuse us from giving freely from what we have.

As the beneficiary of God’s grace, I have a responsibility to share that grace with others. When God called Abram from his father’s house, He told him that He would pour out blessings upon him SO THAT he would be a blessing to other people. We are not blessed for our own well-being, but for the benefit of others, with the ultimate goal of bringing glory to God.

Everything I have is by the grace of God. It’s not mine to keep. This has led me to two responses. First, I thank God for His infinite mercy and grace. Second, I look for ways to be an agent of His grace in this world. Because God has proven Himself gracious and merciful, I will be gracious and merciful. That’s what it’s all about.

Until next time, grace and peace.