I met Grace in 2005 when my husband Mike and I started the downtown community group for New Community Covenant Church. At the time, she was a new attorney for Legal Assistance Foundation and like us was also relatively new to our church and Chicago. Starting a new group was hard but thanks to the faithfulness of members like Grace, our newly formed group steadily grew into a tight-knit community.
For some reason, that group had a lot of lawyers in it. Not many people would think that having a bunch of lawyers together is a good thing. But not many people are as good as Grace. Just a couple months after our group had started, she was already asking for prayer requests about starting a legal clinic at the church. Grace could not take the statistics about low income Chicagoans not getting the legal help they needed without coupling it to the divine provision of a community group with a large number of attorneys. She had to become part of the solution herself and mobilized others to do their part as well. She and another member Suzy Choi worked hard to make this vision a reality. After 2 years of praying, planning, researching, networking, and meeting, Micah Legal Aid officially held its first clinic in February of 2007. Many great volunteers came and went, but Grace and Brant stuck with it for years. It wasn’t enough that she dedicated her full-time profession to serving those in need, but she also dedicated a huge portion of her personal time to provide the Logan Square community with free legal aid.
What I also remember of Grace from all those times in our community group was her intense pursuit of truth and how seriously she considered scripture and faith. There were no pat-answers in discussions because folks like Grace were constantly taking us deeper. She was a true philosopher. But she was also a well-rounded person. She could expound upon intense theology one minute and then sing and dance to 80’s music like the life of the party she was. We watched her grow into a strong leader simultaneously with the birth of Micah Legal Aid. She regularly facilitated for both our community group and the women’s group that met separately and endured years after the downtown group ended.
In 2012 my husband became very sick to the point that he had to take 3 months of medical leave. During this debilitating illness and constant family stress, Grace reached out to us on several occasions. She was part of the tangible caring that rallied to our side, praying for us and encouraging us. She shared her own very personal and very vulnerable stories of family sickness and hardship and connected us to resources like her good friend Peter for whom my husband and I are grateful. She was part of the loving community we hated leaving when better health meant moving across the country for a new job.
The last 18 months were my turn to reach out to her in a time of devastating illness and stress. She knew of my background as a hospice social worker and perhaps felt a freedom to pour out some heavy things that naturally come when facing cancer. Over the course of time, we reversed roles, and she became a spiritual mentor to me. She was fully human: struggling with God’s will, wondering where He was at times, and feeling the agony in the deepest parts of her soul at the mere thought of leaving Brant and Dylan. It’s what made her faith accessible to the rest of us; there was no pretense or loftiness. Only the strongest of faiths can question, doubt, wonder and struggle while steadily maintaining unwavering trust in His sovereignty. In her constant battle, physical torture, and mental anguish, she never let go of her belief that God was still good, that He was still faithful, that He was still carrying her through the storm. Just as she had 10 years ago, she doggedly pursued truth in scripture and earnestly sought him in her prayer closet.
Mike and I were able to visit with her and Brant in July. The first thing I noticed from the last time we had seen her at Christmas was the physical changes. That initial observation quickly faded because it was completely overshadowed by the greater spiritual change in her. I can’t quite describe it, but there was definitely a purity in her faith that I had never witnessed before. She was still speaking of the struggle: living with one foot in the world of the living and one foot in the world of death. She was still agonizing over what His will for her was. And even so she was also still showing her familiar sense of humor that had us smiling. But there was a greater presence of the Holy Spirit emanating from her. When we emailed later back and forth about it, she said that being sheltered from the world forced her to see God more clearly and hear his voice of comfort and love. I was floored when she said she did not regret getting cancer because in it he had brought her from what she considered a dark place to life changing repentance through his amazing grace. It showed how her sharpened spiritual eyes could see the blessings that far outweigh anything this world could offer. While weak, tired, and enduring unspeakable hardship, she was praising God in genuine gratitude.
By the time I saw her for the last time just a month ago, she had come even deeper in her faith. I didn’t think it was possible considering how focused she always was throughout everything, constantly giving testimony to her God, constantly relying on Him and attributing her unbelievable strength to Him. Gone though was any sign of spiritual struggle. Instead she had a peace given to her just a few days prior when He answered her earnest seeking of Him in all of this. We had talked before about how physical healing is the obvious miracle, but peace that passes understanding in the face of life’s harshest trials is a truly miraculous act of God. Grace displayed this miracle. With tears streaming down her face, she was wanting the world to know that there was real peace in her heart because she knew without a doubt God was with her. In the face of suffering, she focused not on her circumstances but in that her salvation was secure and that brought her sustaining joy. She never cursed God. She never forsake him. She always clung to him even when she was not fully sure he was there. She shared: “And then in cancer, in potentially losing everything, I gained everything. I stand and sit by the grace of the Lord…And I am so glad that God never lets us go…My hope is that others learn something from my hardship without having to experience it themselves, to fix our eyes on Christ and his incredible love, no matter what the circumstances.”
Let’s honor her memory and amazing life by doing just that. Let’s meet the needs of those around us with passion and servants’ hearts. Let’s serve the underserved. Let’s be a supportive community to those facing trials. And above all, let’s fix our eyes on Christ, stand in faith, and find joy in all circumstances. If we can live half the life she lived in her short 36 years, we would accomplish so much in making the world a better place and allowing His love to lead us beyond ourselves to His divine purposes and everlasting peace. Grace has left an irreplaceable hole in our hearts, but we can let her incredible spirit live on in us by emulating her and the truly incomparable life she lived.