We’ve all heard this quote before. I’ve thought of it often as a high school teacher in the public school system. There’s a lot of darkness in school; kids dealing with mental health issues, thoughts of suicide, broken relationships and desperation. As a teacher, I’ve got two options: light a candle or curse the darkness.
It makes me think of Russell Wilson, the prolific quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Drafted in 2012, he made an immediate impact with his teammates, his adopted city and the league. At five foot eleven he’s considered too small for the position as most quarterbacks are six foot three or taller. What Russell Wilson lacks in size he makes up in speed, athletic intelligence and character.
Speaking of character, Russell Wilson oozes with it and for that he’s adored by his fans, including yours truly. You may not know this, but Russell is married to Ciara Princess Harris, a famous pop star whose stage name is Ciara. When Russell and Ciara were dating Russell was speaking at a church and let them know he was saving himself for marriage. This led to a Twitter storm and even an open feud between two ESPN employees. He was mocked and ridiculed for making a godly decision.
Known for faithfully going to the Children’s Hospital in Seattle every Tuesday, Russell Wilson is not cursing the darkness. Instead he’s living a noble life in arguably one of the most secular cities in America and their response is to love and adore him. Like Grácia Davis he’s blooming where he’s planted. What about you? Are you seeing the opportunity to minister where you are? Whether it’s on a construction crew with crude co-workers, or at school with classmates that don’t understand your faith and mock you, or in a youth group with kids who don’t take their faith seriously. I’m praying you light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.
Because of Gracia is a film that makes me laugh and cry. That effect never diminishes though I’ve watched it multiple times. I think it’s because I relate to the characters in so many ways. Like Gracia, I’ve been pulled into debate. Like Chase, I’ve kept silent and regretted it. Like Bobbi, I’ve been ready to give up. Like all of them, God is the only one who can give me hope.
Let me take you back in time a year, behind the closed door of my professor’s office.
“Valerie, I need you to tell me that you will set your Christian identity aside,” my professor said. Fear and shock battled for precedence in my mind. This kind of thing only happened in movies like God’s Not Dead. Yet there I was, faced with a choice: deny my God, or deny my professor.
I was in a competitive entry teacher education program at the University of the Fraser Valley. Failing one course meant failing the entire thing. The fear and shock diminished, replaced by confidence and peace. Denying God wasn’t an option. I explained to my professor that God is more important to me than anything else. The first commandment says that we can’t have anything else above him. So I can’t set my Christian identity aside.
I hoped my professor would understand, but she didn’t. She was angry. I started to cry because the whole situation was so bizarre. In an email to my professor, I assured her my Christian identity would not hinder me from being a good and caring teacher for all students. I asked her to explain what I’d done that was “too Christian” and what she expected of my in her class in the future. She did not specify what she meant, nor what she expected. She was sure I could figure it out on my own. That lack of specific directions left me feeling like I was walking on eggshells for the rest of the program.
Later, my professor said “Christianity needs to get brought down, and if it ends up below other religions for a while that’s okay.” The fear was strong. I said nothing. Sitting in class for hours every day hearing things that didn’t make sense, and things that shot arrows at the religion that was the foundation of my life, was almost unbearable at times. God heard my prayers and answered.
I realized how powerful and effective prayer is. I can’t remember what I said at the Show and Tell assignment when I brought a Bible, but I know the words were definitely the right ones. They were much better than whatever I had planned to say the night before. To me, it was a miracle. A week later another miracle happened. In spite of everything I actually passed the course!
The program wasn’t over though. A few months later I was summoned to another meeting with a different professor. It was regarding me using a medical statistic that my professor said created a toxic environment in the classroom. I felt like Bobbi Ryan, I didn’t know where to turn. Life seemed to be an option between bad and worse. I shared almost nothing in class for the rest of the year. My professors congratulated me for my excellent participation. By the time I graduated I was nothing like the eager, inquisitive girl I was going into the program. It took time, but God is good, and He is the ultimate healer.
This September, an acquaintance of mine wanted me to share some of my experiences that were covered by several news sites, and even the National Post. There were hundreds of supportive comments. The first time I watched Because of Gracia, I loved every moment of it. There was a bittersweet feeling at the end though. Gracia in the movie got a victory. Everything worked out for her. There was a happily ever after, a chance to shine a big light. I didn’t really have that- just memories of a scary university program.
The second time I watched it I marvelled at how God can change things, how He can change me, how He can turn something dark into an opportunity to shine a light.
I was inspired during a dark time because of Gracia. I think I’ll laugh and cry while I watch it no matter what my life looks like in the moment. It’s a film I recommend to all my friends because it’s amazing. Film is a powerful tool for showing stories, and I am so glad that films like Because of Gracia are out there to be a lesson, an encouragement, and a light.
(By Valerie Flokstra)
“Although I believe the intention of this film was to be geared towards the younger generation, it has affected me profoundly. I was fortunate to rent Because of Grácia on pay per view about a week after my father passed away. I grew up in a Jewish household but I never had a connection to judaism. I never had a bat mitzvah or any celebration of faith to even recognize it. I did however have a feeling that Jesus was real and had become curious about it as I got older. There’s a lot of information in this film. One part being that there is no actual scientific proof about where we all came from. I did not know it took faith to believe in the science. There was also a beautiful spoken word that the character Chase tells and it speaks to feeling a connection between himself and Jesus. It’s something I wanted and it made me really look at myself and what I believe.
About a week after seeing this movie (for the 8th time maybe!) I was on my way to work and listening to the soundtrack of the movie (I downloaded some songs and made a playlist). Something felt like it was breaking free from within me and it was as if I had no control over the emotions. The words of the film and that spoken word were ringing in my head and suddenly I felt my own personal connection to Jesus. As if he were sitting up in the stars looking down at me letting me know he’s there and real and that I would be okay. I believe if I hadn’t seen this film and heard these words these actors said that I might still be wondering around questioning everything. I’m thankful for everyone involved in allowing someone like myself to see this movie and help create my relationship with Jesus Christ."