By Tindell Baldwin: I spent years ruining the only relationships that really mattered.  My bad decisions left me in shackles and my family in the dust.  I walked away from them – and God – to live a life of “freedom,” convinced they were the ones holding me back from true happiness.  I had parties when they were out of town, I refused to tell them I loved them, and was too drunk to help when they needed me.  I was 17, and I just wanted to stay out all night and drink.

I put myself first in every decision I made. One Tuesday, when my mom was sick and asked me to pick up my little brother, I got drunk instead and forgot.  So my mom, with her 102 fever and migraine, got out of bed and got him herself.

That was who I was.  That was “freedom.”   And all the while I told myself that they were the problem.

They never gave up though. They never stopped believing that I would come back around. My brother always told me that God was going to use me for great things. My dad took me on dates, even when I was grounded for months on end. My mom would meet me for lunch when I was having bad days.  Out of three brothers and two loving parents, not one of them gave up on me.

God never gave up on me either.  Even as I pushed, he kept showing up in my heart.  And finally, one day at a Passion Conference during my freshman year of college, I stopped pushing.  For the first time in years, my soul felt true freedom.

But it felt incomplete because of the wrongs I’d done. I knew I had some apologies to make, and I didn’t know if my family could find the strength to forgive me. There was so much to forgive.

When Christmas rolled around, I saw clearly, for the first time, what we most often forget about family.  As we shared things we were thankful for, with tears in my eyes, I said, “I’m thankful for our family’s unconditional love.”  My dad stood first and gave me a bear hug as I cried.  He answered, “you were easy to love.”

Looking back, it’s amazing to realize the second chance I’ve been given.  My family lived by the unconditional love that God displays for us,  and even though I didn’t deserve one ounce of their forgiveness, they let it flow freely.   They embraced me as part of the family that I had always tried to run from.  Because of their grace, I was given a second chance at the greatest relationships of my life.