I’m frazzled in San Diego. I have quite a bit of bandwidth, but I had spent the past four days taking care of six darling, energetic grandbabies all under the age of six!
Two of our adult children had flown with their spouses to the other side of the world to play and relax for a week, and I had swooped in from Utah to be with their kids. It was so great to play and bond with our babies, and of course I was happy to see their moms and dads get a break. But now I needed one. Badly!
It’s a pleasure to do any favor for my daughter-in-law. Missy is an amazing mom and such a dear person. She’s kind. She can’t say a bad word about anyone. Something about criticism or gossip hurts her soul, like she can feel it in her body. She’s a healer. She is beautiful and strong and graceful.
Graceful…I love that word! The first time I saw Missy she was dancing the lead in a university ballet performance. She was 19, but seemed endowed with otherworldly poise and grace. Not long after that, she gave her life over to starting a family with our son Taylor. The years since have been full of both beauty and deep sadness, yet her reservoir of grace has somehow never been depleted.
A babysitter arrives to relieve me for a couple of hours. I’m ecstatic to have some free time! Time to get a big Diet Coke and do something for me! I need to relax and recharge. Shopping? There’s a bookstore close-by—maybe I can chill and find a new book. Maybe I could go down to the beach for a quick run.
As my mind is racing through the possibilities, suddenly a simple, familiar bible verse rose in my mind. Walking with his earliest disciples at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus paused, turned around and asked a probing question:
“What seek ye”?
Now I feel like the question was being addressed directly to me. I mull the challenge over a bit. Somehow, my concern has shifted from “Where should I go to escape?” to “What do I really, deeply desire right now?”
As that thought took root in my mind, a desire welled up from my heart that soon became a prayer: “What do I really desire? I really want to love as Jesus loved. Please help me love more deeply and completely, and drop all judgements!”
As I offered that plea to God, I swear it felt like my heart grew 50 sizes—just by opening it. I marinated in that “opening” for a while and longed to stay in it. Could I remain radically open like this? I felt a sense of deep trust that the desire of my heart would be granted.
I knew I had to jot this experience down while the feeling was so fresh and real, so I picked up my journal and started writing. As I wrote, some ideas came to mind—ways I could reach out to people in my life. I put down my journal and reached for my little planning notebook. As I opened it, a folded piece of paper dropped out into my lap. As I unfolded the sheet, I recognized it as something my brother-in-law David had attached to his annual Christmas letter. It had a great title, so I had tucked it into my notebook thinking I might read it some day if I ever got a few minutes. It had remained hidden there for two months.
I re-read the title at the top of the page, “The Uncommon Power of Grace.” It had been posted in the opinion section of the New York Times on December 23—just a couple of days before Christmas. David had come across it just as he was sending out his letter (he was a little late this year) and probably figured he might redeem his hilarious, if somewhat sarcastic, annual holiday message with a little “grace.”
It worked. The words washed over me and then through me. I think it’s worth anyone’s time to read and contemplate the article, but here are a couple of excerpts to savor.
“If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, stay connected to us through our struggles, always holding out the hope of redemption. When relationships are broken…it’s grace that causes people not to give up, to extend the invitation to reconnect, to work through misunderstandings with sensitivity and transparency.
You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people. There’s a tenderness about them that opens doors that had previously been bolted shut. People who have been transformed by grace have a special place in their hearts for those living in the shadows of society. They’re easily moved by stories of suffering and step into the breach to heal. And grace properly understood always produces gratitude.”
It’s a shame we don’t talk about grace much in our faith. I’m not sure why, since it is abundantly present among us.
But this gracious gift—published in the most secular of media outlets, attached almost as an afterthought to a family Christmas letter, and held between the pages of a notebook until I was ready to receive it—was literally an answer to my plea to God. A prayer which came from a deep yearning for wholeness.
It was an answer as beautiful and generous and healing as my dear Missy. In that moment, I felt whole and generous and open to everything and everyone. Full of grace… graceful. And grateful.
“Yes!” I cried and bowed my head. “Thank you!”