Learning Grace: An Act of Change

Nine years ago, on November 13th, 2004, I wrote a letter to my future self to be opened on November 13th, 2013. Imagine my humor when I found that letter this past summer and tucked it away to be opened this week.

After being introduced to the concept of writing letters to the future by my sixth grade history teacher, I have always loved the idea. I expected that this note, including song lyrics and a list of my favorite songs (I guess I had just gotten my first iPod at the time), would provide me with an insightful and encouraging glance back and provoke a positive gaze forward.

I was sorely disappointed.

The bulk of my letter from 2009 was me complaining about the seemingly giant issues I was dealing with as a twelve year old. While I remember those difficulties, I don’t consider them important. Interestingly, even though they are not important to me anymore, the ramifications of those issues have shaped who I am today, in some way or another. This led me to wonder what role the past plays in who we are today, and how, if possible, we can change the trajectory of our lives.


Learning Grace (on chalkboard)

Let me just tell you: my preteen (and many of my teen) years were marked by an absurd amount of legalism. In fact, when I arrived at the conservative Christian college I am currently attending, I felt a bit of culture shock learning that Christians in other places didn’t require abiding by the same rules. My freshman year roommate, a girl with whom I have gladly become roommates again, shocked me with her “rebellion.” Freshman year was marked by a strange sense of “testing the waters” and letting go.

I changed when I learned that God does not want rule-keepers or religion-promoters. I was changed from the inside out when I faced my crap and realized I could never please God apart from his Son’s blood covering me and making me righteous and whole.

And I am still changing. It’s a process that is taking it’s own sweet time. My current struggle is learning how to give myself grace – it’s been my OneWord for 2013.

Grace is something I didn’t give myself when I was twelve.


Recently, I wasn’t able to complete the memorization of my middle English passages for recitations for class in their entirety. When I went to my professor’s office to recite the passages, I told him I would go as far as I could, but I disappointed myself with the number of lines I was able to recite. He told me my grades and I accepted them. As I was leaving, I said, “I want to give everything, but I don’t have everything to give.” He nodded and said, “That’s life.”

Thinking about it later, I realize that was a very gracious thing for him to say. He could have given me a zero on that recitation and lectured me about not working on my assignments. Instead, he gave me the minimum passing grade and expressed understanding. What a blessing.

Later that week,  a friend and I in that same class were completing homework together. We were doing research, so we divided the material in half and each researched our halves so we could present our findings to each other and turn it in together. It turned out to be a great system until I realized that we had not, in fact, divided the material equally, and my friend was confused as to what each person was to complete. I grew frustrated and a little huffy while still trying to whisper, since we were on the library’s “quiet” floor.

It hit me in the face, while I was peering over reference books beside her, that I had lost all sense of grace towards her. Her mistake was common, simple, and excusable, and here I was, extending little to no grace, when I had just been given grace earlier that week by a patient professor. Why did I find it so hard to give her grace and time?

It’s like the man in Matthew chapter 18 who is forgiven by the king for his huge debt, but demands instant payment from a fellow friend who owes a much smaller amount. When the man has his friend put in prison,

Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

This is a parable relating the story of salvation and the Kingdom of God. God has forgiven our great debt that we could never repay, and we are ordered to forgive the debts our friends owe us. Thus, to show them grace and mercy. What a great gift grace is, both to give and to receive!


It is a slow process, but I am changing and developing into a new creation. The fact is that learning grace is a process of change. It does not happen overnight and it is not easy. I share my failings with you because I learn more from them than from my successes, but much more failings and successes are to come. Stay tuned.

Photo credit: karindalziel / Foter.com / CC BY (Adapted)

86 Degrees in October

2013 has been a year of learning about grace.  I’ve blogged about it often, and I even made it my OneWord for the year.  It shows up everywhere and appears in the most random places. It permeates my thoughts and threatens my theology. Grace is my thing.

Hannah's piece: Grace Upon Grace

We had a speaker in chapel yesterday who pursued the concept of creativity. [Chapel video forthcoming.] “People say that they are not creative,” Carl Dylan said, “But think about the person you really hate. We are creative in the ways that we hate people.”

I felt so convicted.

Thankfully, he didn’t stop there. He suggested that we should be creative in finding healing, especially in relation to people who have hurt us. He also suggested that we should be creative in the ways that we love people. We put energy into what we find beautiful, he argued, so we should pursue what God defines as beautiful and put energy into those things. We are called to love, and to be creative in our love, because love is something God calls beautiful.

I reflected on these concepts all day yesterday, and it hit me during worship at SMF last night that God is creative in his love towards us. I mean, I love sunsets, butterflies are symbols to me that everything is going to be okay, grace is my thing… And God shows me sunsets, butterflies, and examples of grace all the time. He is like a mindful, patient, gentle lover, wooing his bride. God is also creative in that he did something unprecedented to show us his love 2,000 years ago.

He sent a sacrifice in the form of his only Son.

That’s kindof a big deal. Imagine Aslan, coming forward as a substitute for Edmund. We are the guilty Edmund, awaiting our fate, and God is Aslan, choosing to enact a long-dormant provision in the law for our benefit. Edmund and the other children didn’t know that Aslan would be resurrected, but he was. God is alive.

There is something intimately creative in the Father’s ways. I guess that’s why we also call him the Creator.


In case you haven’t noticed, it’s October. We’ve got a lovely high of 86 here in the Southeast, but October still rolls in, whether or not the weather wants to admit it. God paints leaves changing as well as sunsets and sunrises, and with new days come new chances.

Unfortunately, October is not my favorite month. Without going into too much detail, the past three autumns have not been enjoyable times of my life. And I wish I could say that I have fully moved past everything and that I’m in a totally new place, which I am in a sense, but I’m definitely not at the same time. I wish I could say, to echo Switchfoot’s song, that October “found me on my knees again… to blur the lines that mark where I begin and you end,” but I can’t. I wish, for the life of me, that I could. I wish that October rolled in and found me literally on my knees before the Father. But it is not so. I am not where I want to be with God.

I am disillusioned.

I am disappointed with God, for keeping me in the dark about so many things. I am disappointed in myself for being impatient about my future, about God’s plans that are both right now and too far away. Believe me, I am both incredibly thankful that I’ve come this far and incredibly excited about where I’m going. But I am also at a weird place. I think some of this weird feeling is grief, at losing certain potentialities and certain places (like the little chapel on campus that is scheduled to be torn down). I also think some of this is conviction about love.


There is a realization that even the people who have caused us hurt deserve to be loved, simply because they are people, too. God’s grace does not stop (in fact, it shows up more) when we sin. Am I not called to love my brother or sister as myself? To love through and despite hurt and/or disappointment, whatever the case may be? God gives me exactly what I don’t deserve. Am I not also commanded to give my brother or sister what they don’t deserve?

I not talking about a lack of boundaries. Let’s just get that clear.  But I am talking about creativity of love for our brothers and sisters. At the end of the day, we are still one big family of believers.

It may be 86 degrees in October, but it is still October, my not-so-favorite month, and I am going to make the best of it. I am going to pursue graciousness. I learned earlier this year that grace relaxes perfectionism and doesn’t demand her own way. I learned that grace is what lets us struggle like buildings that can shake in an earthquake. I learned that grace means second chances. Grace keeps no record of wrongs. Grace is undeserved privilege. Grace is freedom that we don’t deserve.

Grace is forgiveness, again and again and again, over and over and over.

butterfly
Butterfly Photo credit: Paulo Brandão / Foter / CC BY-SA

Perfection

I have long been a fan of the People of the Second Chance movement, especially of their encouraging blog posts and thought-provoking instagram photos. I found that when I was struggling with the realization of my shame, there were people who knew what that felt like. I know now that there are people who also know shame, and there are people who also know grace. They may not have it entirely figured out, but they know how to pick themselves up and keep trying. This is very encouraging to me. Inspired by POTSC, I began writing posts on second chances.

POTSC Grace

I still follow POTSC and read some of their material, and I was pleasantly surprised to see another encouraging photo from them today. It says, “I will hold myself to a standard of grace. Not perfection.”

Apparently this is not a new saying, either. I Googled the sentence and multiple sites showed up, mostly blog posts from women who had been impacted by the quote. For example, Emily Ley writes about balancing family and work and a lady named Natalie discusses perfectionism, but I especially enjoyed Bailey Jean’s post on her blog Anchored in Love.

Bailey quotes Philip Yancey as saying:

[Grace] contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun. The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize… Trace the roots of grace, or charis in Greek, and you will find a verb that means ‘I rejoice, I am glad.’

Sidenote: I just might have to read Yancey’s book.

But back to the post, Bailey presents the idea that much of our stress and anxiety comes from the unneeded expectations of perfection that we place on ourselves.

We are not called to perfection, because that’s not what Matthew 5:48 means. We are called to maturity and wholeness. We are called to grace. Just as we have received grace, we ought to treat those around us with grace. In my initial post for my OneWord365 project on intentional grace, I wrote:

I believe this is the time for me to move. To be adventurous. To act on what he’s shown me. And what has he shown me? That He is good. All the time. That He is just and merciful. That He is forgiving.
That He is full of grace.
And if God Himself is not angry with me, who do I have to fear? If God Himself is not upset with me, what can anyone or anything else do to me? If I know that God is forgiving and accepting and gracious towards me, how will I then treat others?
With intentional grace.

That is all well and good, but it means that it is currently the middle of August and I am literally back where I started, back to the very first page. Like, the third-of-January page.

The difference this time around is that I now have a better sense of what grace could look like in the real world. For example, grace means not holding myself to impossible standards. It means giving myself freedom to mess up, back up, and try again. It means paying what my grandma calls “the stupid tax” when I may overspend financially or theoretically. It means not getting upset with myself over my performance or my outfit or my lack of planning ahead or my forgetfulness. It means that even though my new purse has quickly begun to resemble Mary Poppins’ bag, I will not speak negatively towards or about myself if and when I forget something I need.

I will be patient with myself. And I will be patient with others. I will be kind. I will realize that I have been set free from the requirement to be “perfect enough,” and I will seek out ways to show others that they don’t have to be perfect, that I will accept them for who they are and for who God says they are and for who they will become in His timing. And in His grace.

Because it all goes back to that, doesn’t it? I cannot live in grace or show grace unless I have been saturated with the grace of my Father God.

So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

– Romans 5:21, NLT