Before you begin reading this blog it should be noted: I did not turn it in on time. I had packed my bags and was ready to leave my host home and head to my family in Chattanooga. As I was driving my car, Tiger, out of my driveway I received an email kindly reminded me that I needed to turn in my blog post. Normally, I’m really good with deadlines. But sometimes, I forget.

The astounding thing about this story and the Fellows Program in general is that we live in a Kingdom where it is okay to forget. It is okay to be imperfect. It is okay to yell and be angry and dialogue at the state of our nation. It is okay to be upset with one another. We live in a Kingdom of grace.

I frantically pulled Tiger to a stop and opened my email. I responded to the email I'd received with a gushing apology. I received an immediate response of “No worries!” and the email ended with the closing "Grace." My eyes brimmed with tears even as they do now when I think of the abundant grace I’ve received over the past three months. These eight new friends of mine have welcomed me, all of me, with open arms.

There are also so many non-fellows who accept my flaws. I have a host family who loves me so much they got me a Christmas stocking. My little host sister Lovie looks at me after I accidentally burp and says, “You’re weird.” Then she gives me the most gigantic and wonderful bear hug in the world. Harper, my other host sister, is the most encouraging person I know. She’s eight years old. The way my host parents Katie and Troy love me and their own girls with understanding and grace is amazing.

I also have a new church family and staff at Christ Presbyterian who accept all of me in God’s grace. If I’m late, I’m greeted with a big hug from Mallory. If I’m hurting, Hillary is there to talk. CPC has truly embraced me in love and grace. I am accepted as an imperfect person, but loved by my friends at CPC with a Christ-like and near perfect love.  

My story is anything but perfect. It’s full of forgetfulness, shame, a longing to belong, stumbling on sidewalks in New York City, and a complete loss of sight for what is important. These eight new friends have accepted that. All of that. Not only have they accepted it, but they’ve loved me for my insecurities, screw-ups, and flaws. They’ve held me as I’ve cried. They’ve listened to me spill my heart out. They’ve shared meals, stories, and laughs with me.

Last night at our weekly Fellows' Roundtable, we sat around a table and looked at the person on our right and said what we are thankful for about that person. After we were done, we kept affirming one another. I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace. We serve a God who takes broken people like me and gives them something they don’t deserve: a community full of grace and love.

Last night, I tasted true community. After four years of striving to be loved in a city that loves what our God despises, I have been accepted. Fully accepted in grace by eight new incredible friends. So, Charlie, Emily, Lauren, Ali, Andy, Mary, Sara, and Jill: in this season of thanks, I thank you for your grace. I thank you for accepting and loving all of me. And I thank you for being my friends.