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In 2012 I found myself becoming a shell of myself. Buried deep within the confines of a quarter life crisis, I retreated inward and inward. My heart ached for a life I had dreamt of while sitting in lecture halls and driving on highways. Now the time had come, and my life looked nothing like the blueprint concocted by my adolescent self.

I was spending my nights alone watching Bravo and crying.

I was eating a handful of peanuts and calling it lunch.

I was broken.

Then I met Allie.

For nine months we spent every Wednesday evening huddled in the back corner of Panera conversing in an awkward volume of voice that hovered between a whisper and being audible over the ice machine one booth over. Dining over lettuce drenched in Greek dressing, Allie and I began stitching back together all the broken parts of me. And as the dank and heavy summer nights slid into fall and then winter, one word continued rolling off Allie’s tongue over and over again: Grace.

Grace. A word filed in the catalogs of my mind as a churchy word like repentance or sanctified. A word that had a vague meaning at best, pieced together from childhood memories of sitting in crowded pews every week trying to decode the fervid words of a man in suit with a Bible.

Allie taught me that Grace meant I could cut myself some slack, that I didn’t have to try so hard, that I could stop attempting to control absolutely everything in my life. God’s Grace made it all possible, and Grace wasn’t an ambiguous notion only reserved for the insanely devout, it was for me too.

Allie will be the first to tell you that she didn’t do anything for me. That it was God speaking though her and blah blah blah. And whatever, I’ll buy that. But if Allie did not have the radiant heart and the steadfast sense of patience that she has, I might still be stuck where I was three years ago, numbly sobbing to the soundtrack of the latest installment of Real Housewives of Wherever and oscillating between eating nothing and eating all the things.

Last weekend, I had the honor of giving a little something back to Allie. On a blazing Saturday evening riddled with the proverbial kind of ominous clouds and brief rainstorms that are signature to a Georgia summer, I found myself behind a gaggle of bridesmaids at the altar, trying my best to be covert and reverent simultaneously. As I fiddled with dials and Inverse Square Law math and composition, I heard the pastor begin to talk about the brokenness of people and of Grace. There that word was again.

Tears flowed from anonymous faces in the crowd, and as I looked through my tiny viewfinder, taking it all in one frame at a time, I couldn’t help but feel that we had come full circle. What a difference three years makes when you live your life with your eyes fully open, when your heart is wholly exposed. Once two strangers, I was now here, sharing and documenting one of the most important days of Allie’s life. Once two strangers, but now two people bound as we all should be, and I hope that one day we all can be, by a true understanding of Grace.

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