GRACE (Not Eight) IS ENOUGH

grace_thumbnail_edited.jpgHe knows what it profits to gain the world but lose his soul; Willie Aames  was  on the top of the Hollywood world as teen star. Maylo Upton-Aames absorbed the pains and pleasures of this Present Evil Age; then she learned that the Greek word for “saved” is the same as the word for “healed” Willie and Maylo let God have their lives and, in return, He gave them one another. Grace is Enough is the story of how God’s unrelenting grace turned two dramatic arcs from tragedy to joy.

Maylo tells of how, even as a young girl, the name “God” resonated within her:

“While we all sat on the floor, a young man stood in front of us and talked, funny and passionate, and he made sense. He was clean—, all these kids were clean—and happy. He talked about God. He talked about sin. He talked about forgiveness and love.

“Stacy sat next to me on the floor. I was beginning . . . just a little … to understand. She had it. She had what this guy was talking about. And she loved me. She wanted me to find it. This realization was a new one. A different kind of softening began to happen in my heart. I felt really cared for by my friend. Her friendship was open, somehow bigger than before. I was very moved.

“The youth pastor talked about Jesus Christ. Then he gave us an assignment—he wanted us all to leave the building, to go off by ourselves and find a tree to sit under or another quiet spot where we could focus and really meditate on God. He wanted us to call out to God and ask him to forgive us of our sins.

“No one said a word, but all of us quietly got up and spread out. Stacy left my side. I wandered outside to a heavily wooded place—more of a hiding place, really—behind a fir tree. I wasn’t sure how to do it. I saw the shadows of other campers here and there, praying, sitting, rocking, murmuring, or writing. They all knew how to do it, I felt awkward, totally exposed, and at the same time, expectant.
“I sat down and leaned against a tree. At first I just looked around. The air was crisp, dear, and cold. But so beautiful. I was just still. I waited. And I finally said, “God?”

“The name did not feel right on my tongue. Um. What now? ‘God?’ Silence.

“I could not hear any of the other kids.

“’God?’ And something in the core, the very middle of me, spilled out. Like someone had cracked an egg inside my chest and let it pour out, thick and full of aching.

“’God? God. God. God. God.’ I said his name over and over, and I cried and cried. I let it go. Dropped my head, my chin on my chest, and let it come all the way out. With no audible words I cried, ‘My God, why? Why? Why? It’s so bad, it’s so awful, it’s so unfair, it hurts, God. . . . God . . . I’m sorry I don’t know who you are. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. … I don’t know who you are. … I don’t know if you’re real. . . . It’s so … bad.’

‘By the time I was cried out, calmed down, and out of clumsy words, I was alone in the woods. Everyone else had finished long ago and had gone off to their cabins — a fact I figured out after I went back to the meeting room and found it completely empty with the lights turned off.

“I got mildly lost, one small cabin being identical to another, but eventually found my bunk and went to sleep, having no certainty at all if God had heard me and if we were OK with each other now.”

It would be many years before Maylo would know that God did hear her. But for now and for many years to come, the Enemy kept Maylo, and her destined soul mate Willie, his prisoners.

When she faced surgery for cervical cancer, the result of childhood sexual abuse,  God spoke again:
“When I was wheeled into that room at the end of the hall, if anything went wrong, I belonged … where? What would happen to me if I died? Would I rest? Would I cease to exist? My heart, my thoughts. What would happen to them?….

“I was submitting my body to the surgery, dehumanizing it. But in my mind f kept hearing a small voice. ‘Whom do you belong to, Maylo?’ It wouldn’t go away. ‘Whom do you belong to? Who is Maylo? Maylo without the body?…’

“Again. ‘Who loves you?’

I don’t know. Willie. Willie loves me. I think. Willie says he loves me. Does he love me? Does he really know me? I don’t know.

“‘Who loves you, Maylo? Whom do you belong to? Where would you go? Who are you? Who loves you? Whom do you belong to? Who are you? Who loves you?’

“Geez! I don’t know. Let’s just hurry up. Do they even know I’m still here in the hallway? I am cold and uncomfortable and haven’t eaten and …

“Then my doctor came in. He leaned in dose to me and spoke quietly. ‘Maylo, you are going to go to sleep, and while you are sleeping, I am going to do more than a conization, OK? I am going to go inside and cut out every part of you that was used and violated. I will go everywhere that man was, and I will take out all that he touched. When you wake up, there will be no part of you that belongs to him. There won’t be anywhere inside of you left that he has touched, OK?

“I nodded. The impact of what he said settled on me. The last thought I had as the mask was being put over my face was of a clean body. A dean, pure body. The past would be cut out and thrown in the trash.
I did not know Jesus Christ. I had no God, but I woke up feeling clean, and I knew something very special had happened. Some sort of healing had taken place, healing that began with words that were spoken to me. A promise was given to me by a doctor: I would be dean and new.”

God led Maylo and Willie to build a life together and eventually to Southside Church.

In church they found a cloud of witnesses more powerful than those at AA:

“AA is awesome; don’t get me wrong. It was part of what led me to God. But these people pointed to Jesus Christ alone. And they weren’t all on the other side of their troubles with a lollipop and a banner with “God Loves Me” printed on it. They were in the middle of their storms. They were clinging, and they weren’t bitter. They weren’t angry. Their humor was not jaded or mean.

“Somehow, they were getting through it all with Jesus Christ. Without giving up. They had hope for their future. Hope. Hope. Willie said it best: ‘I didn’t even realize I needed hope until someone presented it to me!’

“That was it. I needed hope. Hope beyond Willie. Willie can’t be everything. He isn’t the answer. How do you get hope? Why is Jesus the hope for these people? Was Jesus really real? More than a picture in Grandma McCaslin’s bedroom? How could she have sung those songs about him and believed in him? How does a person believe? How do you get to be like these people? I don’t know about the Bible, but it seems stupid to believe in someone who is just a historical figure. I believe that George Washington lived, but I know for sure he isn’t going to do anything at all about my current situation, whatever that may be. What is all this?

‘When we got into the car after the service, Willie said, ‘That was really good.’

“Yeah. It was. We were quiet on the drive home. I remember feeling lifted inside for the rest of the evening. Another gift. An almost imperceptible change was beginning.

“We went back to church week after week, and each week I came home feeling soft. I felt like I wanted to be nicer to people. Corny? Yes. But it was true. That was a small part of our hope. There was hope that I could become a better person.”

William and Maylo continued their fascinating walk toward and in The Kingdom of God. Read Grace is Enough. But be warned: it is hard to put the book down once you start.

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