Grace upon grace

In her commentary on the Gospel of John, Dr. Karoline Lewis uses a phrase that has become a mantra of hope and encouragement to me:

“Grace upon grace…”

What does grace upon grace sound like? It sounds like when you are deader than dead and you hear your name being called, by the shepherd who knows you and loves you, and you are then able to walk out of that tomb, unbound to rest at the bosom of Jesus. Dr. Karoline M. Lewis, John: (Fortress Preaching Biblical Commentaries.) © 2014 Fortress Press. Minneapolis. p. 160.

These last few weeks I have needed extra touches of God’s Grace. With our church, Twinbrook Baptist, making the decision to sell our building, and gift out the proceeds rather than spend down our resources, there’s been a mixed bag of feelings. At times, my joy has been “deader than dead” but then God’s grace appears and restores me.

I’ve watched my friend and pastor, Jill, and our church leadership respond with honest, heartfelt feelings – but also serve with open-hearted kindness and grace. We have embraced hope. We’ve laughed. We have worshiped with joy. We have reminded ourselves that we are Resurrection people. We have hugged and reassured. We’ve bitched (a little — just human!) And we’ve cried. When I took the last boxes home from my church office on Sunday after worship, the tears flowed down my cheeks.

But grace… Grace has never been far away. God has shown up in a number of grace-filled ways.

I found this photo this morning, snapped unintentionally by my smartphone as I headed home from working out last night. I totally missed it at the time. I was intent on getting a shower and doing some charting. This vista, this contrast of light and dark brought hope and encouragement. The beauty is there, ready to proclaim God’s glory. Do I notice?

“Grace upon grace…”

To provide a backdrop for a sermon on hospitality by Pastor Jill McCrory, I brought this quilt, a family heirloom, to use for the communion table. Its presence on the altar immediately provoked stories and sweet memories by congregants. Who knew this “grandmother’s flower garden” would provide joy and comfort for our last regular worship service? I just pulled it out as a whim. God knew.

“Grace upon grace…”

 I tried to have a healthy snack and boost to my lunch today, so I stopped to get a protein smoothie. Banana-strawberry. Mmmmm… Except the lid was not on tightly and it decorated my white pants! The employee who served my smoothie was embarrassed because she saw what had happened. I frantically tried to clean up the splotches with napkins. She ran to the back of the store and came out with a stain remover pen. “Here! Take this!” I went to my car, mopped up the stain, and brought it back, profusely thankful. She wouldn’t take a tip. So I told her manager how grateful I was and that she needed a bonus.

“Grace upon grace…”

I’m sure there will be more examples. Now I’m more aware of what the Grace of God can do in my boring, everyday, grumpy life. Maybe yours, too?

I’m being intentional. Mindful. Looking for grace every moment. Focusing on the things that show love and joy and faithfulness. Taking a short, private cussing break when the feelings overflow. (Like I said… just being real!) Looking up to see… God. There. Always.

Lauren Daigle wrote a song that is on my “repeat” playlist right now. It’s keeping me going… a love song from God reminding me to Look Up Child.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

So may it be.

sdg

Forgiveness and Alligator Shoes

shoes
EPhoto Credit: “Alligator Shoes”, © 2014 Robert Sheie, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

It was quite a shock to run into this man. I was getting some charting done with an eye on the clock, hoping to squeeze in one last patient for the day. I did not expect to see a nemesis from my past in a nursing home’s administrative suite!

At first I didn’t know for sure… for he always was a person who had a bit of swagger and bravado. He was a  man of high-priced, tailored suits and fancy alligator shoes.

And this man? He was looking desperate, slightly shabby, and selling photocopiers…

Really?

I blinked. Glanced over at him again…

Nope. That was the guy, all right. Could I leave without him seeing me? Maybe if I kept my head down and my focus on the charts…

Our eyes met. Crap. I smiled and went into my “public face” mode. (I confess. I acted polite, all the while dying inside.) We exchanged pleasantries. I managed to escape moments later, bemused by the emotional journey I traveled in just a few seconds. I was shaken at how all those feelings came boiling back up…

It was not a good memory. The feelings were slightly raw. Still.

He had lied about me to our superiors. Lied about me to our peers. Made every veiled, misogynistic remark he could about women in ministry. Put me into tears on more than one occasion with his snide remarks about my weight. Or judging me because I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom. Or smirked at my age. I felt self-righteous anger begin to rise…

And God said, “Forgive him.”

Lord, are you kidding me? After all I went through? And people were fired… And…

“Forgive him.”

I stewed about it the rest of the day. And then… I began my studies for an upcoming sermon, and read through the verses for Holy Week, including the Crucifixion. The passages on demonstrating forgiveness, from the heart, hit me… hard.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25. NIV

Yikes.

I prayed for this man, asking God to bless him (and knowing that he will never know). I prayed for my attitude. I prayed for my anger. And, true to the promises of God, I felt my burden of hurt lifted from me.

I have a focus and purpose in the Work of God in this world… and I am moving on to do it. God is merciful.

Blessed be.

A Well-Examined Life?

That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive
us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue
us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives
according to thy holy Word,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Book of Common Prayer 

 

Today is Yom Kippur, one of the holiest of days for my Jewish friends and co-workers. Yom Kippur has a two-fold theme: atonement (kapparah) and cleansing (taharah). Self-examination and fasting is part of the day’s religious observances. Many of my co-workers and friends are spending time today reflecting and repenting, and remembering that sin always deserves punishment.

Even non-Jews can participate, to take time to reflect. At work, we were challenged to do this by our boss. To make time to consider how we could be better people, better friends, better family members. It was a good reminder. Reflection, confession and receiving forgiveness are acts that take time. They are not rote. They need intentional awareness.

IMG_6499I went about my morning doing some chores like laundry and dishes, using the time to pray. The house was quiet, and I tackled one of my least favorite chores: cleaning the bathroom. (It’s not that I don’t clean my shower. I do. I just don’t give it a good scrubbing. More like a lick and a promise.)

There’s nothing like really doing a deep clean to find all of the bumps and imperfections. Where you need to do a quick fix or a careful repair. Where you find dirt that you didn’t expect to find dirt. (And are left to wonder, why were there spiders living UNDER the seat in our shower?)

For many of us in Christendom, we participate in services each week that include an element of confession. The words are familiar, we can almost say them from memory. Sometimes, we say them on autopilot.

My intention this week is to pray with more attention to my words. To make them heartfelt, honest and real. I want my prayers to be a “deep clean” — not just a lick and a promise.

 

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.