Friday Feature: Charis Odell

Editor’s Note: Today we’re closing out our incredible study of Malachi with the testimony of Charis Odell, who reminds us that Jesus chose, loves, and calls each one of us. May the story of God’s faithfulness in her life encourage you to share your own story of faith with others.

In Malachi 3:17, the Lord says, “They will be Mine… on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” I don’t think there is another truth more beautiful to me than this: that Jesus chose me, loves me, and calls me His. Throughout my life, I have struggled with seeking my worthiness apart from Christ. I have held myself to an impossible standard of perfection and sought validation from others. But no matter how many times I have rejected God and tried to gain righteousness and worthiness on my own, He has continued to graciously remind me of my identity in Him.

My walk with Christ started when I was very young. I was blessed to have parents who loved God and took me to church every Sunday. There I learned about Jesus and began to love Him when I was about 6 or 7. I obviously didn’t understand much theology at that point, but I knew Jesus loved me and I wanted a relationship with Him. But even at that young age, I was a textbook people pleaser. I loved attention and praise, something that would not fade away as I grew older.

Charis Odell is a worship intern for UFC and a Fight Club leader in the Good Fight. She is in her third year at the University of Oregon studying political science and Mandarin.

When I was in the fourth grade, I went to a week-long Christian summer camp that deeply impacted me. For the first time, I really wanted to read my Bible and take my faith more seriously; however, it was also at this camp that I learned a lot of really poor theology. The preaching was guilt-based and moralistic, and I got it into my head that when I sinned I needed to be saved all over again. I was taught that I needed to work for God to be pleased with me, and my earning-driven personality internalized and believed this. I wanted to please God and live my life for Him, but I didn’t understand that I couldn’t do this perfectly. I didn’t understand His grace. It would take many years to unpack this false theology, but through all of this, Jesus patiently pursued me.

Like they do for many, my middle school years brought intense insecurity and anxiety. I began to put my hope and value in what others thought of me, and more than anything, I craved validation from others. I wanted to be the best at whatever I was doing, whether it was school or choir, but even when I did well, I wasn’t satisfied. I quit the things I felt I wasn’t good enough at, like sports, which I later really regretted. Although I had Jesus, I did not understand that my value lay in what He thought about me, and I felt worthless.

When I finally got to high school and my hormones stopped raging so much, thank the Lord, I started to feel a bit more confident in myself. I got involved in my church’s high school ministry, which I absolutely fell in love with. I gained a beautiful community and had leaders who truly cared about me and who were willing to invest in me. It was there that I was taught the true gospel and started to deconstruct some of the false theology I had internalized when I was younger. 

I started getting involved in worship ministry, and it was there that I not only had the opportunity to serve God and my church community, but I also saw how Jesus used worship to bring my pride to the surface. I was forced to contemplate whether I was singing for my glory or for the Lord’s, whether I was serving to please others or to please God, and by extension, if I was living for God’s glory or for my own. Through God’s grace, I grew to better understand His love for me. I saw that I didn’t have to do anything to earn this gift, which was freely given to me through the sacrifice of Jesus. His work upon the cross was sufficient to cover my sin, and because Jesus called me His, I no longer had to look for validation from others.  

Then, when I came to the university, I knew I needed to be in community. God was so faithful and clearly led me to the Good Fight, UFC’s college ministry. I remember the feeling I had when I heard Brad preach that first Tuesday night. Amid all my first-week-of-college fears and anxieties about being liked and finding my place, I was reminded of the truth of the gospel that night. I felt certain that the Good Fight was where God wanted me to be. Three years later, that community and all of UFC feels like family to me. I am so thankful for where God has brought me. Now, as a leader in the Good Fight, it is cool to see how God is able to use my story of finding worth in Him to encourage other women who may be going through the same thing. The gospel is offensive, for to accept the gospel is to accept that you are a sinner who needs saving, who is not righteous on your own. I feel that my journey to grapple with this in my own life has helped me share the gospel with others.

Especially in the past year as I have struggled with the shift to online school and living up to my own standards to be a “good student”, God has reminded me that my worth isn’t in school, or anything else, but in Him alone. He has also helped me to be more forgiving of myself and of others. He has gently coaxed me to confess my sin more easily and more often and move from shame to worship and gratitude. He has led me to trust Him with His plan for my life, giving me wisdom and sustaining my faith. He is growing me, helping to tear down my pride and self-righteousness, and with the power of His Word, to remind me that I need Him everyday. I have hope, for although I still sin, my salvation is secure in Him. He will “continue His work in me until the day of completion” (Philippians 1:6). I don’t have to be perfect, for He loves me in my imperfection. His blood is sufficient for my salvation. I don’t have to do anything to earn it, and although it is still a battle to accept His grace, I can rejoice in the truth that my God is enough.