Grace, Love, and Joy: Remembering Michelle


posted by on Faith, Joy

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“So how then do we compel true, heart-centered change, both in ourselves and others? We tell the story of grace.” – J.D. Greear

My memories of high school have started to blur as I’ve grown older and my brain has had to make room for present realities (ahem, 4 children basically take up all of your brain space), but today my head and my heart are filled with the foggy memories I do still have. For many, those four angsty years are ones to try and forget – and believe me, I have my fair share of regrettable moments from those 8 semesters – but for me, those four years were pivotal and meaningful in my walk with Jesus.

In 1998, I entered my freshman year at University High School, barely 14, fairly insecure, with two good friends and a handful of acquaintances to my name. One of those two friends told me a woman named Michelle wanted to start a Bible study for freshman girls.  And I’m not sure if you remember, but at that age, a place to belong is really all you want, and I was immediately like YES.

Thus began four years of my eyes being opened to the story of grace through the sacrificial love of this beautiful woman, Michelle Beckman. I, like many who are raised in church-going, God-fearing homes, was beginning to recognize that my parents’ faith wouldn’t carry me into adulthood and my weak attempts at good behavior wouldn’t save me. Michelle entered into that and gently, lovingly, showed me grace.

I say “showed” and not “told me about” because that’s exactly what it was and that is what changed me. Of course Michelle talked about grace, but it was the fact that she KNEW it and loved it and reveled and delighted in it that warmed my heart to the reality of it and compelled me toward a different way to know God.

During those four years, we sat in living rooms and on benches at school and in cars late at night and talked about Jesus and talked about boys (of course, boys) and talked about worries and fears and hopes and dreams. She laid down her life and her time to make the gospel of grace real for a group of teenagers.

When you’re a teenager, you’re self-absorbed and haven’t figured out yet that there’s a world that exists outside your own (I mean maybe that was just me, so I shouldn’t say “you”). At the time I thought she was just super cool and loved staying up late and having sleepovers with teenagers. Now, close to the age she was then, I think OH MY GOSH I cannot believe she let us all crash in her apartment and watch Pride and Prejudice until 3:00 in the morning. I want to cry when my kids keep me up past 10.

She came to our homes for dinner and got to know our families. She prayed for us and with us and taught us how to love the Bible and read it to know Jesus and how to find satisfaction in Him. She let us screw up and showed us compassion when we were floundering. She gave us the space to be young and immature while also calling us to courage and growth. She did not call us to good behavior. She called us to grace.

See, the easy, but unfruitful road, is to hold ourselves far off from others and call them to godly living without getting involved. But there is no love in this. As Paul tells us, “If I…have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…I am nothing…I gain nothing.” Michelle loved. She loved without exception. She wasn’t afraid to enter into messiness and get her hands dirty – not unlike our Savior, who knelt and washed the filthy feet of those whom He loved.

But she did not just love. She loved with joy – not the fleeting kind of joy that you get when life goes your way or you got the thing you’ve been wanting – real, lasting, joy. Anyone who has known her will tell you about her smile and her laughter. She was able to “laugh at the days to come” because she was secure and happy with Jesus by her side. Of course I know she battled for joy, like we all do, but “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and if that is true, then the joy that emanated from her told you what was filling and flowing out of her heart.

And when, 5 years ago, Michelle was diagnosed with colon cancer, that joy, even in the midst of the ugly, terrible, painful battle, was real and felt by all who came in contact with her. If you’d doubted it was real, and I don’t think any of us did, we all knew how real that joy was then.

A few months ago the news came that Michelle’s cancer had spread yet again, that the treatment had not worked, and that she had decided it was time to go home. And yesterday, the news that she has entered into that eternal rest.

Yesterday, when I heard the news, I stood at my counter and wept for just a minute before the demands of life (ie the aforementioned children) pressed in and I had to set the grief and sadness aside. But I spent the rest of the day contemplating this remarkable woman, the impact she had on my life. A mere month ago, she and I exchanged a few messages, and I was able to tell her, I wouldn’t be who I am without you. The trajectory of my life changed because you were in it. My marriage, my children, our adoption, our ministry – it has its roots in your sacrificial love for me when my faith was forming and my future was a blank slate.

The stories like mine are countless. Hundreds who can point to her and say, my life was changed because of this woman. So many of us wanted to be just like her, but the truth is, if we are in Christ, the joy we all saw in her is for all of us. He is our treasure in this life, just as He was hers. I do not have a multitude of teenage girls to mentor right now, but I do have 4 little people who are watching and listening to everything I say. Will they say “love, grace, joy”? Will Jesus be real to them because of me? I pray that what has been true of Michelle will be true of me, a life lived to see others “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…filled with all the fullness of God.”

Today Michelle is with her dearest friend, her loving Father. Her pain has ended. Now she does not see in a mirror dimly, but face to face. The joy she had in this life was bright and far reaching…now it is blinding. As I said in a text to my mom and sister in law yesterday, her best days are yet to come.

And so are all of ours. Because of Jesus, our future is very bright, and this life is only the tiniest sliver of a beginning. To all who are missing Michelle, may you grieve with hope, and may you know the grace, the love and the joy that were so real and true for her.

Scan 16

1 comment

  1. Erin

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