Into the Free
by Julie Cantrell
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:8 (NIV)
What does it mean to be Christian? Are we here to judge one another? To criticize mistakes? To wage war in the name of our savior? What message did Jesus deliver to us, when he walked among men?
Indeed, Jesus taught many things during his time here on Earth, but the one message that seems to resonate above all others is that we should love one another. Not hurt one another. Not condemn one another. He said, simply, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 (NIV).
What do we gain, then, from loving one another, without judgment, without hatred, without condemnation? What if we truly, wholly, without hesitation, open our hearts to all of God’s children? The good, the bad, and the ugly. What if we offer everyone a pure and simple grace? As we do our own children? What if we commit to full-heartedly loving our neighbor as ourselves and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us?
Life on Earth is difficult, on a good day. Every sunrise draws us from our beds to greet a world of hunger, greed, corruption, adultery, abuse, and hypocrisy, to list the least ferocious struggles. There isn’t a day lived here on this planet when one of us does not do something awful to inflict pain and misery onto another. Yet, this world is so beautifully miraculous, it stirs us into trying again. To cling to hope.
Each and every day millions of Christians rise and seek the warmth of the sun, climbing out into this wonderfully warped world with handfuls of hope. Believing, or trying to believe, that our choices matter. That the way we behave, the way we treat one another, the way we represent our faith matters. Matters more than anything else. And yet, regardless of how “good” we try to be, how kind-hearted or selfless or generous or compassionate we are, we are sure to be hurt. Bad things happen, no matter how much faith we have. No matter how much we “love one another.”
How then, do we come to terms with a God who allows such inhumane, unjust, unforgiveable acts to occur? To innocent children, to the elderly, to the handicapped, to the humble, to the faithful, to us? How can we go on, day after day, clinging to hope in a world that seems to have lost it all?
This is the journey of Millie Reynolds, a young girl surviving one day at a time. Steeped in the madness of her Mississippi childhood, Millie overcomes one destructive obstacle after another. Domestic violence, parental substance abuse, poverty, her mother’s battle with depression, the tragic deaths of loved ones, hypocrisy from those who preach the loudest, and a deep betrayal by those she tries to trust. Yet, through it all, Millie learns about true faith. Not from those who preach to her or judge her. Not from those who dress her up and bring her to church and try to get her to dive below the water’s edge in the baptismal pool. No. That is not Millie’s path to God. Instead, she finds God through those who simply love Millie. They don’t want to change her, fix her, or save her. They see her value, exactly as she is, as one of God’s children. As someone who is worthy of being loved.
In the end, Millie finds her own way to God, developing a beautiful, loving, trusting relationship with a power greater than herself. She also discovers a lesson in Jesus’ teachings: that the answers to her prayers can only be found by forgiving those who have hurt her.
This book has earned rave reviews as a coming-of-age tale with classic literary themes, but ultimately it is a tale of hope and forgiveness as Millie comes to terms with her own faith and finds her way Into the Free.