In September 2011, medical symptoms that I had experienced only intermittently for many years returned, stayed, and worsened. I became very ill and found it increasingly difficult to balance all of my responsibilities as both a mother and attorney. After months of visits to specialist after specialist, my then treating physician was still unable to diagnose my condition. Finally, in February 2012, my employer gave me a disability packet and sent me home. I was afraid to stop working because my children and I were still financially vulnerable. Unfortunately, it took seven months for my employer to approve my request for disability leave. During this time period, I was not receiving any child support and had no other source of income. Eventually, I exhausted all of my paid leave and had no money to support me and my children as I continued to recover. Since I did not have supplemental disability insurance or any emergency savings, it did not take long for our already unstable financial foundation to completely disintegrate. We soon lost everything including our housing and only car. Against the advice of my physician, I returned to work because we were literally on the verge of having to move into the Y family homeless shelter.
The situation was further compounded by the fact that my son was in his senior year of high school. I had no money to pay for graduation announcements, senior pictures, prom, and other related fees. I spent hours working the telephone in an effort to confirm my son’s space at the college he wanted to attend and reserve dormitory housing without any money. It was in the midst of this seemingly insurmountable and stressful situation, that grace intervened. A woman at the college who I had spoken to frequently found some discretionary funding that could be used to reserve my son’s space and cover a few other fees that had to be paid immediately. She did not have to go the extra mile to help my son. Because of her assistance, my son was able to enroll in college. In the months that followed, grace repeatedly intervened to pave my son’s way to college. He subsequently applied for and was awarded an academic scholarship that covered all of his tuition and provided a stipend for books. Thus far, my son’s college experience has been nothing short of phenomenal.
I do not want to leave the impression that grace is a talisman against hardship and suffering. In my case, grace did not magically force my life back into place. Instead grace has softened the hard places and strengthened my resolve to stay on the journey. I now live with chronic medical conditions that are the proverbial thorn in my flesh and serve as a constant reminder of my own physical weaknesses. Although it was quite tough, I found housing and secured transportation. Today, I am still digging my way out of the financial volcano that erupted as the result of that seven month period in 2012. Yet, because of grace, I know that my circumstances will not overwhelm or defeat me. I will not merely survive but thrive in the face of my circumstances.
Grace cannot be earned or bought. It is freely poured out and lavished upon me. I need only accept what grace offers. Grace heals and refreshes my whole self. It helps me forgive every transgression and to see my transgressors through the lens of mercy. The outpouring of grace will never run dry. Grace has sustained, grown, and healed me in so many of life’s hard places. It will continue to be my strength and shield of protection that will cover me no matter the circumstance. Indeed, I can confidentially testify that I know something about grace.
Stephanie Mitchell Hughes