Grace in the Tumult (Election Day)


Today is the day. The day we have been anticipating-slash-dreading for months. Today is Election Day here in these United States. No other election in my lifetime has been so fraught, so loud, so tumultuous, so divisive. There have been so many times that I wanted to stop the world and get off, just to escape from all of it, even if just for a little while. However, here we are. Regardless of who you choose to vote for today, I would ask one thing of you. Please.

Go about your day kindly and gently. Go about it with grace.

There are people out there today, on both sides of the party line, who are scared, worried, and unsure. They could use your smile, a door held, a direction kindly given. Leave the candidates out of it. Don’t be a party member today; be a human being. Keep your pieces of mind; give your grace. Today is a day that could change our future forever, and that is incredibly scary. Let’s give a little grace today, soothe a heart, reassure a quaking spirit.b We are in this together, for better or for worse. We never how far the ripples go. Ripples grow into waves, waves carry more water with them and become great, roaring things that splash and spray and spread.

Can we do that with grace today? Can we let it help us see the person in front of us in line, the person behind us, as people, not party members. People who are doing what they can in the best way they know how. Can we, will we offer grace, let it ripple out, let it grow and splash and spray and spread? Because this country could desperately use some grace today.

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BloPoMo Day 7: “Giving Wings to Grace”


Did you know that grace can be sent?

It is as simple as a stamp on an envelope,

A name on a package, or an address in the To: field.

Grace is given in the remembering.

Grace is given in letting someone know that you remember.

Grace is given in the “Hello, how are you?”

Grace is spoken in the “I’ve been thinking about you”.

When we assure another that they are not forgotten in the crush and swell of this world,

That is grace.

We can twine our words round with kindness, compassion, and love, like wrapping paper and ribbon.

We can give grace in a “hello”,

Extend it in an “I love you”,

Gift it with a “you matter”.

We give grace a face when we listen in silence.

We give it wings when we acknowledge another’s pain.

We give it hands when we reach out.

Sometimes, our grace is small, childish, as simple as a shared cookie or bag of caramels.

Sometimes our grace is broken as we work through our own pain, but we make the attempt.

Sometimes our grace is beautiful, opalescent, forgiving, and extravagant.

Sometimes our grace is just blue ink on lined paper and starts out, “I just wanted to say hello”.

BloPoMo Day 6: “Grace in Extravagance”


When I was in high school, I had a conversation with a classmate that I still remember almost 20 years later. We were discussing a popular female musician. My classmate insisted that the young woman had a big nose, far too big to be pretty. I replied that, even if that were so, her voice was still very lovely.

My classmate looked at me and stated, “You always find something good to say about someone. I need to learn to do that.”

I didn’t think much about it at the time because I was merely stating the truth: her voice was (and is) lovely. It didn’t think that I was doing anything extravagant, despite my classmate’s implication. But it has stuck with me all these years, always floating in the back of my mind somewhere. I have come to believe that it has influenced the way I think about and speak of others, whether I notice it or not. There is a grace in being willing to find what is good in someone, in choosing to build them up rather than tear them down. I also believe that there is grace in being willing to see what is real in someone.

What is real will not always be pretty, it will not always be easy. It may be messy, it may be difficult to fathom or handle, but grace involves seeing people as they are, where they are, and extending compassion and loving-kindness to them in that moment. I will admit that I have not always stuck it out through the real in people. There have been times when I have backed up or slipped away, when I have chosen silence over the difficult and homeostasis over the challenging, or let relationships fall silent, wither, and die because I just didn’t know what to do and was too scared or hurt or weary to try, to reach out, or to forgive. I admit this with regret and repent of it now, though, in some cases, I know the deep truth of Dickens’ words:

“[There is] no space of regret [that] can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” (A Christmas Carol, Stave 1, brackets mine)

 I know that letting go is a thing that sometimes needs to happen, that it is sometimes necessary for emotional and mental health on both sides. But I like to think that I might be intelligent enough (even if just) to tell the difference between needing to let go after having tried and moving away from the real. I have been shown the gentlest and strongest grace by those in my life, in those times when I know I was difficult, frustrating, and confusing in my realness. I want to emulate their example and sit with them and others in their real, to understand when they are speaking out of pain, and reach out in love.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

Extravagant grace is not an easy thing, but those who have internalized it, practice it, live it, make it look easy. They make grace look natural, even though it isn’t. Grace is a choice and sometimes a hard one, but the good it can do is immeasurable. Be brave, dear ones. Let’s stick through the hard; let’s sit with people through the real. Let’s shut down our propensity to take things personally and reach out softly in love that might be unexpected but so deeply and desperately needed.

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BloPoMo Day 5: “Momentary Grace”


What was your worst moment?

When were those few seconds that you so desperately wish you could snatch back?

What were the words that you just wish you had swallowed?

What were those emotions that you wish you had kept in check?

What if your worst moment actually wasn’t the worst? What if, to someone else, that moment ended up being good, great, transformative? What if your worst, wrapped up in grace, became a best for someone else? Now, it’s true: we may never ever know if this is the case. We rarely get to see just how far the ripples go. But what if it were true? What might that possibility do for your soul?

I’m not saying that every worst moment is a best but we never know what our humanity, our vulnerability, and, yes, even our fallibility can do for others. It may remind them that perfection is not necessary to be good, that emotions are not four-letter words, that we all have breakdown moments, and that we all need someone to extend a little grace every now and again.

Not every worst moment is a best moment but every worst moment has the potential to be, even if all we or someone else learns is to just keep moving forward.

BloPoMo Day 4: “Choosing Grace in the Hard Places”


Grace is not some beatific blessing borne down to us on angel’s wings. No. Grace is and will always be a choice, just as love is a choice. Every. Single. Day. We have to choose grace over bitterness, and sometimes that is hard. Very hard. Some days, grace, forgiveness, love…these are all hard. Sometimes they really are choices: grit-your-teeth, determination-over-motivation, lace-up-your-gloves-and-punch-above-your-weight choices.

When we are hurting, when something has bumped into our happy (or outright shattered it), that choice can be the hardest to make. We want to feel angry, we want to sit and stew in our hurt and bitterness, but choosing to give grace requires us to act outside of our feelings. As Lysa TerKeurst so wisely put it, “Our feelings are indicators not dictators, child.” We can definitely feel a particular way and do no wrong in the feeling of it but that in no way means that we have to act out of those feelings.

I was once in a situation where it would have been ridiculously easy for me to allow myself to be cold, unkind, and resentful towards some people who (had I allowed my view to skew this far) I could have looked at as “furtherers” of my misery. However, I stopped and thought about them, about the reality of those feelings and ideas. Those poor people would have had no idea as to the cause behind my attitude change towards them. They would have been confused and most likely hurt. The truth was that they had not wronged me in any way; they just happened to stumble into a difficult situation that I was experiencing at the time. These people had never been anything but kind to me and I knew, in my heart’s core, that treating them in any other way would have been wrong. They had not wronged me and so I would not treat them though they had. I would not come unglued and let irrational emotions boss me out of grace. I made a choice. In thinking through and choosing my actions, I then found it a little easier to extend grace to the actual people with whom I was in conflict.

Grace can be hard. Grace can go against every tenet of self-preservation that is built into our cells. That’s why it is a choice. And choices are not made for the easy moments. Choices are made for the challenging times. For the times when we ground ourselves in what we believe and act out of that belief, whatever it may be. Choices are made for those times when situations are difficult, people are stubborn or just downright nasty, and when our hearts are breaking and anger swells. That is when choices are the most important. When we determine to look past what we feel and decide how we will act. When we choose to consider the probability of another’s pain out of which they may have acted. So often, pain is inflicted by those who are in the midst of it rather than it really having anything to do with the person on the receiving end. This is where grace comes in. Grace for the hard times. Grace for the hard people. Grace is ever the better choice than bitterness. We can choose loving grace, even when anger makes us want to lash out in cruelty or when fear makes us want to cower. But it will not be done for us. We must make the choice.

Take it from a courageous woman who ran off with a crotchety Scotsman in a blazing blue police box:

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BloPoMo Day 3: “Grace in the Empty”


I spent most of the last week feeling like death warmed over, in the grips of a horrible seasonal head-cold. I blundered and slogged through the school day as best I could and would then collapse at home. We subsisted on take out and fast food, the laundry, dishes, and tidying went undone, and I was the most lackluster of playmates and confined to indoors, much to my daughter’s chagrin.

I felt awful but, even more, I felt guilty. Guilty for not cooking healthy meals for my family. Guilty for not cleaning my home. Guilty that we were running out of clean hand towels for the bathroom because I had not done the laundry. So, on top of being sick, I was also loaded up with guilt over something that I really could not control.

Then, as it often does, a quote floated to the front of my mind. Something I have read many times before about being unable to pour from an empty cup. And, boy, was I surely empty. Empty of strength, empty of health, empty of patience, empty of energy. I was a walking, coughing, sore, empty cup. I had nothing to pour out right then so I pulled myself together enough to decided that, for the nonce, I needed to sit in my emptiness. I needed to lean into the nothing and just take care of myself. So, as I arrived home from school each day, after making sure my people were fed and settled, I plunked myself down on the couch, pulled up the hood of my wonderfully voluminous robe (thank you for that perfect Christmas gift, dear husband) and tried to rest. I even went so far as to take a sick day from work, something virtually unheard of for me. I needed to take care of myself; moreover, I needed to allow myself to take care of myself.

Until a few short years ago, I didn’t realize that allowing myself to rest and let all the things I thought I “should” be doing go for a while actually had a name, that it actually was grace. I had no idea that not berating myself for what wasn’t done was giving myself grace. I knew that grace is unmerited favor or mercy, that it can be demonstrated when we make allowances for others’ shortcomings, or when we tell them that it’s okay when things aren’t perfect. However, I really didn’t know that there was such a thing as giving grace to yourself. The truth is that we, you and I, need grace as much as the next person. This is often the argument for extending it outward, because we know badly we need it ourselves. However, I strongly believe that it also serves as a valid argument for extending it inward to our own hearts and souls, too. We need to give ourselves permission to simply be, even when we are imperfect in our being (which is, honestly, all the time).

Perfection is not only unattainable, it is unnecessary. We do not need to be the perfect wife, the perfect husband, the perfect parent. We do not need to be the perfect host, the perfect volunteer, or the perfect anything, really. We are human, we are flawed, our stores are finite, and there is no shame in admitting such. No shame is stepping back, admitting our emptiness, and doing what we can to care for ourselves and refill.

The past two days, I have been hit by the post-illness industriousness that comes with returning health. I have cleaned, cooked, washed, tidied, and vacuumed, scrabbling my little world to rights. Apparently, the mood was so infections that my four-year-old daughter took it upon herself to join in the fray by cleaning her room, all by herself and with no request from me! (Miracle!) With this, I have experience the satisfaction and joy of a job well done, rather than lamenting the letdown of a job attempted while I was way too tired to do it well. By giving myself grace, I managed to give myself the gift

There is no shame in giving ourselves grace. In allowing for our own personal shortcomings and giving ourselves permission for things to be imperfect, for our steps forward in progress to perhaps be small for the nonce. There is no shame in allowing ourselves to lean into our emptiness, sit in our nothing for a while, take care of ourselves, and refill our cup.

{“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” – Jeremiah 31:25}

Be softer on yourself, dear friend. Give yourself a little grace in your empty moments. Have a sit. Eat something yummy and drink something warm. Read a book that you enjoy. Nestle and watch a movie with your people. Refill, refresh, and be. Trust me. The dishes will still be there tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. They will wait for you. So should you.

 

BloPoMo Day 2: “Seasoned with Grace”


This morning, I woke in tears from the throes of a heartbreaking dream. No tragedy, no death, just words that robbed my soul of joy and stabbed my heart like darts.

I dreamed that I was performing a song for big event. Friends, family, everyone was there to celebrate this event. It was a song I was used to and usually sang beautifully. For the event, though, the musical director/pianist added strings to the arrangement. I wasn’t aware this would be happening and it threw me off so I missed my cue for the first verse and the first chorus was rough, too. I caught up, though, and ended the song beautifully and triumphantly with two high school choir and trio friends joining me at the end of it, just as we used to be. Everyone loved it. The joy was palpable, the applause thunderous. Afterward, though, the musical director (who looked and sounded suspiciously like Benedict Wong) had nothing but harsh words and disappointment for me over my mistakes. Someone came up to tell me how lovely it all was and how people would remember it. He replied that all they’d remember were my lazy mistakes and launched into a tirade of all I had done wrong. I walked away down the platform steps while he ranted to this person, trying not to cry as I passed my friends. I physically felt my shoulders hunch, though, as I broke down, even though I didn’t stop walking. All the joy was gone; the triumph was gone. I had just failed miserably. I woke up crying. I was still crying fifteen minutes later when I posted about it on this blog’s Facebook page with a message near and dear to my heart.

In this experience, I am reminded starkly of the immense and vast power of words. Gone are the days of the lie “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Complete and utter drivel. We are studying, researching, and realizing more and more the last effect of those words spoken over, about, and to us, both negative and positive.

Words have stopped passions in their tracks. Careless words meant as jests, “constructive criticism”, or even “brutal honesty” have strangled gifts, talents, and joys before they ever had a chance to develop and shine. Art has gone unmade, music unsung or unplayed, challenges unmet, all because of words spoken to these souls that attached there and called them less than. Words have also reached into lonely hearts and sparked hope and life again. Words have spoken love to the friendless, gentle comfort to the grieving, and strength to our weakened parts. Words are Powerful! Words can be wielded for good or for ill. They can be weapons to destroy or bandages to bind and heal. They can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone. What makes the difference is grace.

Grace allows us to taste our words before we speak them. Grace encourages us to temper emotion in our listener’s heart and soul’s best interest. Even if what we have to say is hard or difficult to express, grace tempers the words with love and compassion and keeps us from being cruel. Grace allow us to speak from a place of help and care and can keep us from inadvertently treading on dreams.

In the book of Colossians, the Bible says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, season with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Chapter 4, verse 7, NIV)” In this chapter, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Colossian Church and encouraging them in the sharing of their faith. However, I think this verse stands well on its own and is massively relevant to the everyday, secular as well as spiritual.

Salt is a preservative, not just a seasoning. It keeps meat from corrupting and allows it to be stored up. If we season our words with grace, we keep them from–as best we can–corrupting and destroying the souls and hearts of those to whom we speak them. If we but take a moment to taste our words before we let them loose upon others and the world, who knows what good can come of it? What hurt we might avoid?

So today, dear friends. Let us use our words well, to give life and hope rather than destroy it. One of my life mottos comes from Jennifer Dukes Lee. She wrote, “Our words always fold into the souls of other human beings. And that is no small thing.” Let us leave a legacy of kind and graceful words. Let’s keep seasoning our conversation so that we may give answers that build up hearts instead of tearing them down.

BloPoMo 2016 Day 1: “A Study in Grace”


Today marks the beginning of BloPoMo (blog posting month) and, last night, I found myself at somewhat of a loss. This year, I decided that I wanted a structure to write to, lean into, and learn from in the act. I have other individual ideas for other BloPoMo writings that I will do as secondary pieces but I wanted to tie the bulk of them together somehow. But I was having no lightning strikes, no ideas, and today was fast approaching. However, as I mused over it, one word kept floating to the front of my mind, almost like a passing thought, but it kept coming back. That particular word just happens to be my watchword for this year.

Grace.

I began 2016 with determining to look for, notice, acknowledge, and extend grace this year. To extend it to those around, to my precocious daughter, to my hard-working husband, to my imperfect self. To see grace in the actions of those around me and with whom I interact every day. To acknowledge the grace that is extended to me each day amidst my multitude of faults and imperfections. Last year I wrote about longing for grace, longing for the sort of grace that I want to cultivate so deeply in my life that my daughter will see it written on my skin like fingerprints and extended from me as naturally as breathing. I don’t want to teach her to be a doormat, no. But I do want to teach her to have a heart for others. That through the grace I show, she will come to know God’s grace and love for her, a love so much deeper and broader and higher and wider than even mine and her father’s for her.

Right now, my students and I are reading through A Christmas Carol before their field trip to see the play at a local theatre right before Thanksgiving. Today, as we read through Scrooge’s visit from Marley, I took great pains to explain to the students the points that Marley was making about his condemnation and how it came about. At Scrooge’s attempt at compliment in mentioning Marley’s adroitness in business matter, Marley laments:

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said “I suffer most.  Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!  Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!” [1]

Marley is tortured with the regret that he spent his life with his eyes turned inward, with no kind words for anyone, committing no actions to benefit anyone but himself. That he offered no comfort, no help, no grace, no love to anyone else. I reminded the students that we, as a species, are interdependent. We are built for fellowship, for friendship, relationship, community. We are built to go through and do life together. We do not do well on our own as a species; we need each other and, therefore, we need to support each other. None of us are getting out of this alive, as the quote says, so we need to be in this together, doing for each other, loving and supporting each other, and doing life together.

I don’t just want to be a Noticer of grace. I want to be a Giver. So part of this project will be not to only record where I find grace and where I think it is important, necessary, and loving. It is also to get me thinking about perhaps the different ways we can show grace that don’t fall under the obvious answers. That is my hope anyway, and I am glad that you are on this journey with me.

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[1] A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, http://www.stormfax.com/1dickens.htm

Weighted on the Side of Grace


There’s a war between guilt and grace

And they’re fighting for a sacred space.

“Grace Wins Every Time” — Matthew West

My soul laid in broken pieces at my feet, cracked and smashed, shattered and bleeding. The pieces never seemed to stop falling, like the late fall leaves outside that seemed to flutter endlessly to the ground. My poor soul was in so many pieces that, if it were a vase, I would despair of it ever being put back together again. Even if it were, would it ever be strong and stalwart again? Would it ever be able to stand upright without fear of collapsing inward? Would my soul, so battered and broken by my own failures and actions, by rejection and judgement from others, ever again stand a chance at wholeness? I didn’t think so.

I could hide it. I did hide it and well. I swathed it in velvet, let it appear whole and soft when really it was trembling and fractured beneath. The pretty-on-the-outside covering was to hide the sensitive, nerve-baring cracks as much as it was to pretend at wholeness. It fooled everyone but me, everyone but those who dared to look painfully closely, and especially everyone but the One who formed my fingers and toes, my heart, lungs, and innermost being.

The One I don’t fool is God. I can’t fool God. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, that’s what I said: wonderful! No matter who I think I might be fooling, I cannot fool the God of the universe. An artist knows their handiwork. So does God. He Knows me and Sees me.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV)

God sees my soul for what it is: fractured, scarred, and scared. He sees those broken pieces of self, sees the guilt that wars with grace, and weights the scales. Gathering those pieces of me, He puts His finger on the side of grace, tipping the odds in my favor, in His mercy and love.

I am messy. I have made mistakes and had to make amends. I have gotten it horribly wrong before. Yet God still calls me wonderful.

You, dear friend, are messy. You have made mistakes. You have gotten it horribly wrong before. You have been crushed by your actions and those of others. But God still calls you wonderful. He still loves you as is. Guilt and grace war for the sacred space in your soul, too, and God still gathers up your pieces and puts His finger on grace’s side of the scale.

Do not fear your broken soul; God doesn’t. Sometimes that which has been broken and repaired is even stronger than when it first started out. Let God pick up your pieces. Watch how tenderly He handles those jagged and painful parts of you, coaxing and bringing about healing, clarity, and growth from their ragged edges.

Listen to His tender whisper: “I love you. I love your brokenness. I love your soul. I am here. You are not in this fight alone.”

Our brokenness doesn’t frighten God. Not one bit. In fact, He only draws us closer. Here, take my hand, and let’s lean into our brokenness today, you and me. Then we can see what grace has in store for us.

 

A Greatness I Never Expected


Now that I have had a few minutes to sit and breathe, I think I am ready to talk about this. This past Friday, I did something completely new. This past Friday, I did something terrifying. This past Friday, I did something I felt wholly unqualified to do. But I did it anyway.

This past Friday, I stood up in the church and community that I grew up in and spoke to the 2016 graduating class of my old private school. I stood up almost on the same spot where, sixteen years ago, I had given the valedictorian address for the graduating class of 2000. At thirty-three years old, I stood up to give these graduates whatever guidance, admonishment, and encouragement I could.

Yep. I felt totally unqualified to perform this task, but I did it anyway. Let me start at the beginning.

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