Freddy didn’t really understand the concept of grace. How could he? The major influences in his life up to that point had not shared or demonstrated that grace. Instead, they told cautionary tales of a harsh world. They warned him to work hard and do well or he would quickly end up in a box under the interstate. Freddy did not even have grace for himself, but instead held himself to high standards and did not trust others. All this made Freddy very pessimistic, believing that he had to prepare for the worst because it would probably happen. And with the world out to get him, he believed that people, even friends, were only kind to you when you had something they wanted.
So, his freshman year, when Tyler Stibrich invited him to Damascus Road at University of Arizona, Freddy was skeptical. He had grown up in church, but saw neither God, nor people, as particularly kind or loving. For whatever reason, he went to a few events and then started meeting with Tyler one-on-one.
Many of their conversations went the same way. Tyler said, “This can be a bit tiring, trying to encourage someone who is always so negative and expects the worst to happen. He could counter anything positive I tried to say with how it could go horribly off the rails. He had been told story after story about someone who made one mistake, and then were fired, abandoned, out on the streets, or even murdered.”
As you can imagine, these conversations grew wearisome for Tyler. But as tiring as this was for Tyler, it was even more so for Freddy. His entire life was full of this negative self-talk. Freddy felt like he had no margin for error in his life. Tyler explained it, “[Freddy] was so afraid of the worst-case scenario, because for him, there was nothing to save him from his own mistakes.” He felt like he was always just one step away from falling off the tightrope.
For years this went on. Tyler and Freddy would meet, Tyler would encourage Freddy, and Freddy would bat away any semblance of encouragement, reassurance or hope.
Years passed, and Freddy began opening up to Tyler. He admitted that even though he grew up in church his perception of God was “very skewed from the negative and shaming environment” he grew up in. Freddy said, “Instead of an all-loving heavenly father, I just saw a grumpy, spiteful old man,” admitting also, “I rarely prayed because I thought any prayer remotely benefiting me would be shut down and turned back on me.”
It was then that Tyler realized, Freddy’s outlook on life was based on shame, not grace. Tyler knew that Freddy’s beliefs were deeply entrenched and that he could not control or change them. He would have to rely on God to reveal His truth to Freddy in His time.
It was about that time that Damascus Road began a series on the book The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin McManus. The book encourages readers to remember that they are molded after the ultimate creator, God, and that creativity and artistry is in our DNA.
Freddy, who writes, dabbles in art and creates entire worlds in his fiction writing, is very creative. Through this series, he began to see a characteristic of God, not a stern harsh god, but a loving Father, in himself. This likeness demonstrated his sonship through Christ.
After that, Freddy became more involved, joining the outreach team, becoming a team leader, even writing a story that’s segments tied into the weekly themes and discussions of their next series.
Freddy graduated in December of 2018. He continues to work with Damascus road on campus while looking for employment. Freddy’s story does not end here. God willing, his understanding and experience of grace will continue to grow from relationships with people like Tyler, groups like Damascus Road, and the true fingerprint of God in Freddy’s life. In his own words, Freddy said, “There’s still plenty of road to travel but it’s a road I’m happy to travel.”
In his September prayer letter, Tyler shared about his ongoing relationship with Freddy and the work he has seen God do in his life. He ended his letter by sharing a note he had received from Freddy at Christmastime. It read, “My parents always told me if I kept sharing my fears and worries, people wouldn’t want to be my friend. Thank you for proving us both wrong.”