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What the Heck is Grace?

Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.

The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices.  End of story.  The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.

What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short?  What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.”  And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.

Important note:  Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices.  But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.

What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven?  More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love?  In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?

Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development.  I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest  was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents.  Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.”   By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.

We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood.  The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing.  Recognition is the beginning of the process.  Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response.  Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.

We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe.  Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability.   I personally am not into housekeeping.  Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there.  But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order.  And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie.  These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the  root of my particular pain at that time.

I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven.  Though there have been times I thought it might be hell.  I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life.  Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst.  With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.

When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best,  most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!”  But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.

We are all a work in progress.  Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within,  overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us.  We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life.   When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies.  But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there.  Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it.  I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes.  We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will.  Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.

All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both.  Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.

 

 

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The Blind Leading the Blind

I simply can’t help weeping as I watch Christians crucify Christ all over again. I feel like if I identify with Christianity as it is so loudly and cruelly being forced on people, I am joining in that crucifixion. Yet my very heart lives in the gift of unconditional love that is Jesus Christ. Getting to know Him as friend, companion, healer, source of forgiveness and grace has changed my life, continuing to free me from my fears and to challenge me to grow in love for all of creation, including wounded, frightened, hate filled Christians and Muslims. I can only pray, “Father, forgive us for we know not what we do.”

Does God Still Speak to Us?

My husband is a very good man. But he didn’t really “get” my kind of relationship with God. To him God was a judge, not a friend. Religion was about following the rules. As long as your “do right” list was longer than your “do wrong” list, you’d be okay.
But he sometimes envied me for my sense of God’s presence and the joy I experienced because of it.
So one day as he was driving to work, he decided to pray. He said, “God, Eileen says you talk to us if we listen. I’m listening. Say something.”
At that very moment he heard a siren and saw a blue light flashing in his rear view mirror. Then the policeman pulled him over for speeding. As the policeman took his license and went back to his car to write out the ticket, Julian thought, “Oh, boy. I can’t wait to tell Eileen about this answer.”
Then the policeman came back to him and said, “Mr. Norman, I am going to tear up your ticket. You were going forty-three in a thirty miles per hour zone, but while I was writing your ticket almost every car that went by here was going as fast or faster than you were. Try to be more careful from now on.” And with that he tore up the ticket.
Julian is a visual concrete thinker, not a words or theory person. What a perfect concrete visual illustration this was of the Scripture in Romans 3:23
“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But they are now being justified by his free grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.”
Thanks to Jesus Christ, God tears up our ticket.

However we came to God, we have each in our own way given our lives to him. But I’m afraid that when I told God to take my life and make me into the person he wanted me to be, I was sort of hoping it was going to be the kind of person I wished I could be. Like maybe, thin. Thin is good. And certainly confident, instead of a wus. But God seems to have his own priorities and so far thin and confident don’t seem to be on his agenda.
Because of my preconceived ideas, I think I often miss what he is trying to do in my life. But there are some experiences that even I recognize as answers to that prayer.
When our five children were still young, my father-in-law gave us a side of beef for Christmas each year. One year we had friends who were starting a new business. They had seven children and money was in short supply. So, we decided to share some of our beef with them. I loaded a basket with hamburger, pot roasts, short ribs and even a couple of round steaks. But every time I started to reach for the sirloins and rib-eyes and T bones. I drew my hand back. I dearly love steak and there were many years in my life when I couldn’t afford the good ones. I rationalized that with seven children steaks just weren’t practical. The other cuts would stretch further. So I didn’t share any of the expensive steaks.
The very next weekend we were getting a work related free stay in one of the cabins Julian had designed for a State Park. I left the garage door up about a foot, so the cat could come and go to get his food and get out of the rain. When we returned two days later, all seemed to be just as we had left it, until I went to the upright freezer in the garage to get some meat for dinner.
The bottom two shelves, where all the expensive steaks had been, were completely empty. Everything else was still there.
Believe me. I got the message: Share your best, not just the things you value least.
I asked God’s forgiveness, but also admitted that I would really, really like to know how He did it.
A couple of days later, a neighbor who lived a block downstream on the creek that ran through our back yard, told me excitedly about all the mysterious steaks her dogs were happily devouring in her yard. She exclaimed in dismay, “My dogs are eating sirloins that I can’t even afford.”
Later that same day my next door neighbor casually mentioned that Michelle, the three year old from across the street, had been playing in our yard and crawling in and out of the garage while we were gone.
Evidently frozen steaks make great boats to sail on a creek and only the expensive ones were in her reach.
I was so relieved that she hadn’t gotten trapped in the freezer, that I no longer begrudged anybody, even the dogs, the best steaks.
Some years later the nuns at the rural school where I taught protested that I needn’t have given them such nice steaks in their Christmas basket. Hamburger would have been fine. I assured them that I really did need to give them some steaks with their hamburger.
Sometimes it takes more than just Scripture for me to get the message.
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