story of grace

I was born to two evangelical Christian parents. My mom is Greek and my dad is Italian. Both are from Queens, New York. I lived in Queens when I was younger, then around age 8, we moved to Connecticut. I’m now 25. One year ago, I moved to Atlanta on my own.

God has guided me throughout my whole life, even when I wanted nothing to do with Him. As a young child, my parents would pray with me regularly and read the Bible to my brother and me. I believe I had an accurate understanding of God’s love for me from a young age. In fact, I chose to get baptized at age 12, right as I entered middle school. But that was also the age I began experimenting in some hidden sinful habits, as a manifestation of something that had happened to me when I was younger. I told no one. I dragged others into it with me. I began to believe that these hidden habits would always stay with me.

All through middle and high school, I was publically a Christian, but privately rebelling against God. I sang at my parent’s church, impressed the adults, and told my friends about Jesus, but I didn’t act like I knew him. Part of it was that I didn’t believe He would love me if He knew how dirty I was. But part of it was me willingly giving into my sinful desires.

Also, I lied excessively to my parents. Part of me was afraid that they wouldn’t love me if they know how dirty I was. But, part of me was okay with hurting them. And the more I lied and disobeyed, the easier it became. Furthermore, deeper disobedience resulted in deeper lust.

At 18, I began attending The King’s College in Manhattan. This was my first time living away from the home I’d known, (AKA the fear of my parents finding something out and yelling at me,) and my first time living with roommates. Faced with many temptations right off the bat, I gave into all of them. I became a reckless college party girl. I was proud of my demise, proud of my stories…until I did something really dirty, and my whole entire tiny Christian college found out. I will say, that time, shame knocked me down hard…but I chose to stay down.

Yet, I continued to call myself a Christian – even when I didn’t look, act, or feel like one. I would openly say that I planned to marry a Christian and raise my kids in church – but now? I’m 19. I can do what I want. I’ll just pick up that lifestyle later on.

After two years in Manhattan, my parents – who were paying for my education – told me it was time to come home. My grades had plummeted embarrassingly low. I was practically on probation. I worked at a restaurant while living in the city, but my check would get cashed and then was immediately spent on alcohol and cigarettes.

I needed to come home.

It hurt my pride pretty badly. I wanted to stay in the city with my friends, I didn’t want live under my parents’ roof again…I wanted to do what I wanted to do. Plus, in Connecticut, it’s super taboo to go to community college. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be known as the girl that got chewed up and spit out by New York.

Truthfully. That’s where my mind was.

Once I moved back home, I started taking classes at community college. Little by little, I would find myself in situations where I’d have to vocally declare my faith. I remembered hearing something about how Jesus would deny me if I denied him, so I would offer up a half-hearted defense and admission of faith.

I did have enough decency to tell my parents’ church’s worship pastor that I shouldn’t be singing up on stage because my life did not look like the lyrics of the songs I was singing. But as I continued to sleep around and put myself in recklessly dangerous situations, God’s favor covered me.

Eventually, I got tired of faking it. Also, my parents found my fake ID, so my whole façade came crashing down and they began to ask me specific questions about stuff I had done; very upset by it all. Little by little, I opened up to them. I remember one night specifically, sitting on my bed, admitting to them two very scary things: that sometimes I questioned my sexuality. And that lately, I had doubted God’s existence.

They responded with anger and grace.

Moving forward, I transferred colleges, but stayed at home. I was a commuter and a transfer student. I continued living recklessly, until God met me in a very real way and told me that I needed to stop living in sexual sin – I now saw that if I continued down this path, I would only be hurting myself more and more. In response, I began listening to more Tim Keller sermons and listening to worship music in the car.

One day, while driving to class listening to old school Hillsong Australia, the Holy Spirit came over me. I started clapping my hands and worshipping God behind the wheel…I lost control of the car. I was in the left lane going about 70 miles an hour on a windy parkway. My car did a total 180, swirling around from the left lane into the right lane, now facing the opposite direction. Along the side of the highway, there were big wooden logs attached by metal cords. My car tire got stuck in a metal cord, preventing me from driving over a cliff. My back windshield crashed in. My car was totaled.

I sat there in disbelief. Then, I got pissed.

“What the FUCK! I have a midterm today! And now I don’t have a car!”

I wrestled with God about this for some time. It was clear that He had ordained it; I barely had a scratch from the wreck. He was intervening. But I didn’t know why.

While I had no car, I took the train to work and school; and I read St. Augustine’s Confessions…who talks about lust pretty much throughout the entire book. This was the moment that I realized I could be open with God about my struggle with purity – that He understood it and had compassion on me.

I began doing just that – being honest with God and with my parents.

Over the couple years, I tried my best to live honestly; wherever I was. It took a lot of time for my parents to begin trusting me again, but it slowly started happening. I started to sing again in church. God gave me an insatiable appetite for His word, and I began reading the Bible every day. My spirit absorbed a lot. I started to be able to hear His voice more clearly; and trust Him with my day-to-day life.

I was still caving into sexual sin, mainly because I worked in restaurants and that environment fuels lust. So, after praying about it, I quit. This freed up my schedule to begin attending a different church, where I met more Christians my age. Those relationships humbled me, taught me wisdom, and gave me the confidence to share my faith.

After living at home for 3 and a half years, one of my best friends moved to Atlanta. She planted the idea in my mind for me to move here too. I prayed about it continuously and visited a few times to test it out. Each trip, I fell more in love with the city and the people. I wanted to move. God continued to confirm it through scripture, dreams, words of prophecy, and other divine ways.

Now, I’ve been in Atlanta just over one year. God is repairing me day by day from the aftermath of my years of rebellion. He has revealed to me the reality of Romans 1. He gave me over to my sexual desires, even while I believed in the reality of His holiness and the immense price He paid through Jesus. And because of that, its led to a whole bunch of other sin entering my heart. The root of it is shame; but its also prideful rebellion. Alas, thankfully, His grace covers me, and I believe that I am truly a new creation in Christ. My story of grace is a continuous process of conviction, repentance, freedom, blessing, sin….

….and, repeat.

Author: Gina Maria

28-years-old. Greek & Italian. Amy Winehouse's long lost Jesus-loving sister.

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