I really believe I have never truly understood grace until recently, maybe the past few years, these years that I would classify as "hard".
I knew I didn't get the concept of grace because I didn't have a gut reaction to the word, I didn't have a sense of recognition in my spirit towards the word. It was one of those words that I had heard all of my life, that I understood maybe in the simple definition but not in how it applied to me, how it affected me. I am not sure that I prayed specifically that God would show me more what grace was or help me to understand it, I might have, but He has slowly taken me through a process of revealing to me in great depth the meaning of it, the layers of it, the intense beauty of it.
Even reiterated yesterday in our church service from our pastor, what need is there of grace if we are "pretty good people". Even though, again, I knew practically that my sin was no different than anyone else, it was still mostly classified as "good sin" by most people, or so I think I told myself. I didn't have this attitude in my heart that made me want to drop to my knees in utter worship because anything good in me or about me was all God, as gross as it sounds, I think I thought of myself as "pretty good".
I became a Christian when I was 6 and by that time I had not stolen any cars, done any drugs, or been involved in anything I would have considered "testimony worthy". Being the eldest child I had strong urges in me to obey, be good, follow rules, and heaven forbid get into trouble, so even after I knew the Lord these things about me kept me pretty close to the straight and narrow. I remember having the thought that I simply didn't get involved with many things high school kids might because I was never presented with the opportunity, when I think I had thought it had been my great decision making all along. Maybe had I not been a "dork" I would have made more bad choices, and I may have done or tried those things as well. God's grace was present in my life even then, keeping me just a bit different from the cool kids.
And in these last weeks I feel so thankful, so thankful that He kept me from those things and many hard choices I could have easily made and yet has still been so faithful to reveal to me His grace anyways. Perhaps there is an element of understanding that can only come in the "valley of the shadow of death", the days that are dark, hard, lonely and our smallness and insignificance become so apparent. That our ability to do for ourselves or even control anything is all an illusion, there is nothing strong or capable about us when we have come to the end of ourselves. When we are face to face with our weakness, our depravity, our deep pain, and all we can do is brush all the pieces into a pile and take it to Him, where He waits. I am thankful for these valleys because we see Him and understand in a deeper way.
I know He has been there, so near all along, before I grasped a deeper understanding of this amazing concept, and even this is His grace. I remember being maybe 10 and getting a karaoke machine from my grandma for Christmas and laying on the floor of my office room with the mic and making up songs to the Lord. (Yea see, as I wrote back then in my diary "being a dork is hard" ha ha). For so long I think I despised this precocious and deeply feeling little girl because I always felt so misunderstood or like I didn't fit in. I knew I was not as cool and think I always had this heart for the Lord, but I certainly didn't know how to express it in a way that wasn't a bit odd. It is almost like I hated that girl, the one who never brushed her hair, never wore the right clothes, a little too chubby, who boys never liked. I think this concept of myself has been the one I have let rule my self for many years since.
God revealed this to me, and this was some sort of root to part of my depression. I was so hard on myself because at some point I had clung to the fact that I wasn't really loveable, that I was too much, too emotional, too feeling, to intense and no one can handle that. Most of my life has been played by this play book. Being paralyzed by the depression as I was, I believe, was my psyche not being able to take much more of this abuse I was giving to myself. And so much of this abuse, came down to "being good". It wasn't so much about not doing this or that bad thing, no it was more this inner abuse of knowing what I "should be thinking or feeling" because I was a "good Christian" yet not being able to reconcile my need to be real and authentic about how I didn't feel those things and I felt trapped in my own self hatred. This inner battle between how I should be and how I felt, the truth I should believe and the lack of strength to believe it. This is the crossroads God brought me to.
When I was in Northern Ireland I feel God spoke to me that Isaiah 61 was a part of my calling as it was Jesus'. To help bind up the brokenhearted, to call those that sit into darkness into light, etc. I saw them as "those people" that I was called to, that I was going to help. As God met me in my brokenness and that "goodness" that was no where near being good enough,
He spoke to me about how
That being saved wasn't only about my 6 year old experience sitting on my mom's bed at bedtime.
I still needed a Savior to save me every single day of my existence. I think somewhere along the way I had come to believe that God graced me salvation but it was my job to get me through the rest, all on my shoulders, on my shoulders to get it right, to figure it out, to stay right with God. But I felt desperate and broken and my strength had totally left me so long ago, all that was left was this broken mess of what I thought I had done right or learned all these years about how life worked. I needed Him to save me,
through every struggle,
through every sin,
through every insecurity
that I let lead me.
One of the greatest things I heard was about how grace is for salvation but it's also to change us, we can't change ourselves!
All the things that I loathed about myself, the things that I saw in myself that I hated and presumed all others hated me for as well, I couldn't change them. All this time I had put the weight on my shoulders to change myself, if I just tried harder, just had a better attitude, just chose to be more involved, more service minded, more devoted to my devotions, and I just couldn't, it was so heavy, I just gave up.
You hear the cliche's about God waiting for you to stop trying, like, "finally". But it was so true and real for me. When I understood that as I saw things in my life that weren't what God wanted,
I just had to agree with Him,
and then ask Him to change me.
A freedom started washing over me.
My job was from that point forward was to do whatever action he was asking of me for that day, not get overwhelmed by how it was all going to work out, when it would change, or even when I would feel better. He was going to take care of all of that, it was not my job.
He gave me an analogy of this through my training for my second marathon.
As most of you know I had dislocated my knee on the first and second days of the year, so really, training for a marathon wasn't on my agenda. When the idea presented itself I had no idea how my knee would react to this much running, but I wanted to try. He showed me that I didn't know if I would be able to run 26.2 miles 4 months from then, but that day I could run three and I finished that three, and the next time I would do five or whatever it was next. That faith was activated in stepping out for that next task, and then four months later, I ran those 26.2 miles. He showed me how His grace is poured out in extravagance and carries you through as you do the small things he has asked of you in obedience one moment at a time, if it must be. This is obviously how I am working through every next issue, moment, step that I continually encounter, even when He has to remind me continually.
He started showing me how He loved that girl in me that I had chosen to despise. How he created me to be intense and passionate and a deep thinker and feeler. Even that 10 year old girl with the horrible teeth, the heart glasses and the chubby waist, that even this girl He loved immensely, even in her mistakes and even when she didn't feel worthy of love. He taught me to love this girl, not the girl she turned into, not the girl she was still trying to become, this girl. That for everything that I picked apart about why who I was was unacceptable, He began to show me that there was a good aspect to that as well. That who I was, was not an accident, and as He (not I) redeemed those rough qualities, I could rest in His love for me despite them.
It is in all this, all this understanding that I never knew I needed and never knew I lacked, I began to learn about grace. How His grace had been there with me all along, and now it was grace that opened my eyes.
That I was never good enough,
and I never would be.
That I didn't have to be,
because it was never me to begin with.
The freedom in this knowledge is something that I am not sure I can really describe. This acceptance of God's pure love for me puts everything in its place, gives everything perspective. I feel grace now, I grasp it deep in my soul, it is something I could never have studied to know. It is only by God revealing it to me. It's a sense of thankfulness I have never understood, a sense of love that doesn't require to take my question of value to anyone else, it's a confidence in Him and His shoulders to get me to sanctification, to more Christ likeness.