We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25

The first time I had to share my “testimony,” I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Liza, my peppy summer Life Group leader, explained that this was how we would all be getting to know each other, sharing our struggles and celebrating our victories. But, me, I knew better. “Testimonies” were for courtroom trials, disapproving jurors gasping in shock as the gory details were revealed. And, looking around the room at the perfectly-coiffed, doe-eyed-innocent girls of Campus Crusade for Christ, imminent judgment seemed probable. Frankly, I would have rather confessed to your garden-variety axe murder than to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about who I really was and how much gospel I needed.

But, so-helped-me-God, peer pressure was strong and pizza was provided. I was relieved once I heard the first few: it turned out that “sharing your testimony” actually meant giving a generally embellished, highly-dramatized version of your life, adding a few jokes and backdoor brags along the way, and then nodding solemnly and thanking God that you were now a more whole and perfect version of yourself. A dramatic pause, perhaps a little tremble in your voice, and you were done. This? I thought. This, I can do.

But, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my one-liners, I was jolted back to reality by a girl named Kelsey. Kelsey was going wayyy beyond the token tear-down-the-cheek—the girl was full on sobbing. Kelsey was vulnerable. Kelsey was real. Kind of a lot for a group of strangers…I thought at first. But, as I looked around the room, faces filled with love, heartbreak, and affection, I realized that it wasn’t Kelsey who should have been ashamed—it was me. I was ready to trade the messy, complicated, beautiful, redemptive story God gave me for some cheap Hollywood blockbuster. Why? Because I didn’t really careabout the people around me. I didn’t wantto share my life with them—certainly not the real one, anyways.

But, Jesus? He lays down his life. He puts it all on the table; he spills all the tea. (Thanks, teens, for this effortlessly hip expression.) He doesn’t hold himself back—he lets himself be seen. And, as he hangs there, naked and exposed, we can feel how much he cares for us. How he shares not only the Gospel, but also his own life!

For us, then, our lives and stories are no longer our own—they belong to the One who writes them, the One who redeems them. And, yep, he asks us to share them, to lay them down. To be honest with each other about all the gory details. Because, we’re not on trial here. That stuff is over with. Thanks to Jesus, judgment is nowhere to be found.

With Stories of Grace, then, we’re going to be sharing our stories—the real ones. Because it’s silly to hide behind nice narratives when Jesus hangs naked on a cross. It’s silly to rewrite the stories penned by God, the best author of all time. It’s only God’s grace that allows us to tell these stories, with their awkward beginnings and their messy middles. But, without the pressure of those cheesy Hollywood ends. Because, here on Earth, God’s just not done with any of us yet! So, we can tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Scary as it is, so-helps-us-God!