Living Out God’s Story

I love stories. That is one of the many reasons that I chose to become a teacher! My favorite stories are stories that display how God works through the Holy Spirit and how important His timing is; something that might not seem right at one time of life becomes a blessing and an answer to prayer at another time of life. In 2013, I learned that God can use anyone’s life to write a good story.

Growing up, I knew about God. But I was not in church every Sunday because my family moved around a lot. This made it difficult to put down roots. As I became more independent, I went through cycles of attending different churches here and there but never settling into one. I knew what I was looking for and knew that it was out there, but I couldn’t seem to find it. Eventually, in my late twenties, I decided that I would stop “church shopping” for three months, however it ended up being much longer than that. It was during this time I realized it was certainly not all a “church” issue that kept me from settling down. I realized that some of it was also a “Tessa” issue. I wanted to change, and I asked God to help me with that. I also asked Him to lead me to the church that I believed was out there but couldn’t seem to find on my own.

Looking back, I believe God began writing this particular story when I was a sophomore in college. One of my friends asked me if I would like to go to a bible study at Grace Church. I was doing the work-study program at my college at the time and was working at a local elementary school for a teacher who also attended Grace Church. I loved spending time with her. I saw a lot of things in her that I wanted to cultivate in myself, and she often talked about how she loved her church. So when my friend asked me to come, I said, “Of course!” We went, and honestly, I was overwhelmed. It was such a long drive on I-85. It was a late night and…all of the people! There were a lot of people. I didn’t go back to that study, but spiritually, I kept something special from that night.

Nine years later, in April of 2012, I was still struggling to plant roots anywhere in my life. Honestly, roots and community were two things that I was really scared of but wanted deeply. I knew that God was calling me to change. It was around this time that I decided I needed to stop looking for “the right church.” Though my plan was to wait three months before I tried another church, it ended up being a year before I felt like it was time to start looking…again. In April of 2013, I attended a church that I thought would align with what I was looking for. But when I left, yet again, I felt like I was in a spiritual desert. I had a conversation with God on the way home asking Him what I should do. I really believed He was calling me to start searching, but I also quickly began feeling like it was going to be the same cycle all over again. At that point, I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to consider when the last time was that I had walked into a church and it felt alive. Immediately, I thought of that evening nine years ago at Grace Church. I decided that if that was where God was calling me, I would handle the commute.

“I now know how important community is for refining character, for support, and for a sense of purpose and belonging.”

When I arrived home, I pulled up the website to get more information about services. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that Grace Church decided to come to me instead! As I looked up the website that morning, Grace Church Spartanburg was meeting for the second time right down the road from me. I knew that God was leading me there. I wish I could say that I tried it right away, but I didn’t. I took my time, using the website to learn more about Grace Church. I listened to several of the podcasts, and by doing this, I was introduced to the language and the culture of the church before I even started attending. Everything sounded wonderful in theory. But it spoke volumes when the environment that I entered that first Sunday matched the teaching that had prepared my heart. This gave the church credibility in my eyes. This was no spiritual desert! When I walked in, enthusiastic, joyful people were there to greet me. One lady took the time to ask me questions about myself and tell me a little bit about herself. She did this the next week, and even the next! By that time, there were several ladies I would talk to each week. The friendly, energetic environment encouraged me to begin putting myself out there a little bit more, and I began to introduce myself to others who looked a little unsure.

Since I began attending Grace Church Spartanburg in July 2013, my life has changed in many ways. The gender studies have changed the way I see myself as a woman of God. My community group is like a family to me. Being single, this is especially meaningful. Serving in the children’s ministry and working on the facilities team are just a couple more ways God has used the church to challenge me and change me. I’m thankful for each of these opportunities.

“God used the local church as a catalyst to change my life. I’m living out the story He has written for me.”

When I started attending church regularly, I avoided being a part of community— not only at church, but also at work and other aspects of my life. Now I am thankful for the blessing of knowing others and being known. I now know how important community is for refining character, for support, and for a sense of purpose and belonging. I am able to glorify God with my life as I reach out to others and even when I allow them to reach out to me.

Before coming to Grace I felt like I had to hold on to my resources. I was struggling financially, and I never seemed to have enough time. I held back in fear rather than feeling free to give of these resources in love. Now, I trust God with my resources. Since God challenged me to trust Him, my resources have grown. And I know that I have a responsibility to honor God with that growth.

God used the local church as a catalyst to change my life. I’m living out the story He has written for me. I’m living in the freedom of His grace and under the authority of His Scriptures. I know it will take a lifetime for me to get where He’s leading me, but that’s okay. I’m just thankful for the journey.

-Tessa Whitson, Spartanburg Campus