The Gospel is the only safe place for identity.
Emma Grace had an, “all American childhood.” You could almost smell apple pie as she rattled off all her childhood activities: Girl Scouts, cheerleading, cross country, violin lessons, church with her parents, and time with friends. She was spick and span, on the outside. She entered middle school a confident young girl. This is where her story starts.
“I was angsty,” Emma Grace said. She reflected on middle school, that bastion of awkward body changes, smells, and friends, with sarcasm and sincerity. She had the garden variety dilemmas of any middle schooler, but began dealing with more than playground drama. The façade of Americana faded into deep confusion. Serious doubts about who she was, why she was alive, and why it mattered enveloped her. As she entered high school, her doubts became chaotic as her identity unhinged from anything stable. She became utterly insecure. Friends became obstacles; food was an enemy; any hobby or sport was a way to fail. When all of life is a problem, who do you blame?
“I got really mad at God.” Questions became pointed accusations at her Maker. Emma Grace believed if she had made herself, she would have done a better job. So she gave it a shot.
She began to try on different beliefs. A self-proclaimed agnostic, the only thing she was sure about was being unsure. Emma Grace dealt with her deistic dilemma the only way she knew how: keep-it-together. On the outside, she embodied a Normal Rockwell painting. Internally, she was a Jackson Pollock. “I was crawling in my skin.” She didn’t feel at home anywhere, even in her own body. In the midst of this, a moment of potential stability emerged in the form of a two week apologetics intensive called, Summit. Her youth pastor recommended it. It was the last place she wanted to be. She found out later her angst-riddled application was exactly the kind they wanted. She returned home knowing a god was there, still unsure about Jesus, but glad Summit was forever behind her.
It wasn’t long before instability ensued- again. Despite the “big guy up there,” her senior year became the year of “forget it.” She was done. She was tired and started living for her flesh. Despite finally living how she felt, there was no safe place for her identity. Perhaps college would allow her a fresh start.
She started at Miami University (Oxford) with one more attempt to keep it together. After only one month, her freshman year became, “the worst year of my life.” Parties, unhealthy relationships, and a continued battle with food were the norm. All of it: unstable. The only thing consistent in her life was work.
The campus print center wasn’t exciting, but the “ho hum” environment was a welcomed semblance of calm. Emma Grace helped a client, Julie, with some flyers. She learned Julie was with Campus Crusade (now ‘Cru’). Emma Grace knew what it was, but didn’t want much to do with it. But something intrigued her about Julie. So, she did what anyone does when you’re curious about a person: Facebook stalk them. Emma Grace messaged Julie.
The message turned into coffee, which became a regular get together. Julie was sociable, listened well, and spoke truth sweetly. She was exactly what Emma Grace needed. She began to revisit the things of God. Emma Grace could taste security. She knew if she was going to find more, it wasn’t where she was. She’d find it in the last place she’d expect.
Emma Grace applied to serve at Summit that summer. “I knew I needed a safe place …I would be surrounded by truth, even though I didn’t have any business being there.” Confident she’d be overlooked, Summit responded. This time, she wanted it. Surrounded by people who cared, space to wrestle with questions, and a regular diet of truth- and food- Emma Grace saw her heart change. “I finally realized why I was created. I realized Jesus and His cross had everything to do with who I was, and why I’m here.” The stability Summit provided became the catalyst Jesus used to call Emma Grace. What began as a journey of the chaotic and confused became a story of grace, assurance and change.
Following Summit, Emma Grace transferred colleges, devoted a year to intentional singleness, joined Gospel community, and began to invest in other ladies’ lives. Don’t be mistaken: it was a process. It required hard decisions, but these changes weren’t to try and be someone she wasn’t. Now, she could look at who she was- in Christ- and was safe, stable, loved, and cherished.
“You have to get to a point where you realize God is good and sovereign,” said Emma Grace, her voice free and confident. Today, Emma Grace loves to share her story and speak into others about how the Gospel is the only safe place for identity. “Grace…means being who you’re meant to be.”
Author: Ben Riggs
Photographer: Molly Bellanco