Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Receiving Your Own Life This Thanksgiving

We welcome "easy gratitude" into our hearts like easy friends, the ones who stride effortlessly through our front doors, tossing their coats on the sofa, sliding the metal cars and Legos to the side so they can prop up their feet. They help themselves to coffee, fold the basket of laundry while they visit, make honest conversation so that it's not like conversation at all; it's just breathing with words.

Most of our gratitude is like that easy friend. It's a no-brainer. It's so obvious, it often eludes acknowledgement. Except for during weeks like this, seasons set apart to give thanks for what is good and true and beautiful in our lives.

We give easy thanks for family, food, time with those we love, early sunsets that blaze like fire, the earthy, simmering, smoldering scents of the season, all that we have, that if we're honest, we know we don't really deserve. 

If even at a subconscious level, we are thankful for grace, for all things undeserved but often under-appreciated.

We toss around "grace" to describe the lovely and the unmerited and the fantastically unexpected.

And we should. Grace is everywhere, lowly and loving even when we don't acknowledge its existence, its movement in our everyday, its inexhaustible ability to never tire of giving and giving and giving with nothing in return, its utter inability to be anything other than its character.

We love this side of grace, even if we fail to comprehend how counter it is compared to how we are.

But what about the "flip side" of grace? This "side" isn't actually an alter ego but is instead so blended into grace's wholeness that we can't tell where the blazing-beauty-of-the-sunset-grace ends and the unwelcome-mess-of-our-real-lives-grace begins.

What about the grace that we don't acknowledge as grace at all but as gross imperfection and discouraging failure and ends that don't meet and seemingly hopeless relationships? And how is this even grace?

When we take turns around the Thanksgiving table this week, when we say what we're thankful for with teary eyes and bursting hearts, I doubt we'll offer gratitude for the hard roads. And that's okay. We don't have to. We can say we're thankful for our health and our children and roofs over our heads and we should. We should.

But might I offer the possibility of another Thanksgiving table, one that's equal parts table and altar? It's okay not to invite anyone else. It's okay for this conversation to be private and unspoken and simply between you and the Giver of Grace, the One who is Grace incarnate. 

This is the Thanksgiving Table of Imperfection and Failure and Hardship. It's the place where we sling our everyday heaping platters of all that we wish was different and we give thanks anyway.

Ann Voskamp calls this the "hard eucharisteo" in her book, One Thousand Gifts. It's a Greek word in which thanksgiving and joy and grace are all bound together. Eucharisteo is what Jesus did in the upper room with the disciples when He broke the bread and gave thanks even as He was preparing to die. 

This is not an easy thanksgiving. It's a humble and determined submission that only Grace can provide.

I call it what I've begun to call the many verses that seem to comprise the song of my story: Receiving My Own Life. 

What does that mean? 

It means not looking at what I think I want or what I feel I deserve or what someone else has or who I want myself to be or who I want others to be

It means unwrapping my own life, every part of it, as a sacred gift

It means receiving my inability and imperfections as purposeful graces because they show me that I am not, nor will I ever be, my own savior. 

It means receiving real life.

It means receiving the harsh reality that I will keep on disappointing my husband and he will keep on disappointing me because we are human and we are sinners and this is marriage. Grace enables us to keep on loving anyway. 

We are frail and finite, faulty and forgetful. And because we are one, our sin is constantly scraping up against one another.

But disappointment brings us to repentance and repentance brings us to forgiveness and forgiveness brings us to restoration. Restoration over and over again until our days on this earth are over. 

This very real relationship is hard precisely because it is real. We're not roommates. We're not Prince Charming and Cinderella. We have never ridden off into the sunset on our trusty steed. Unless our banged-up Toyota Sienna is a trusty steed and in that case, okay. There may be an element of fairy-tale-ness to the adventure that is our life together after all. 

But receiving the disappointment also means receiving the opportunity to acknowledge my humble state, his humble state, our humble state. We can offer grace to one another only because we've first received it from the only One who can save us.

This is hard grace. And we need it.

It means receiving the obvious reality that I am woefully selfish and not the mom I'd like to be on most days. 

I can be harsh. I can be distant and distracted and preoccupied. I can wield cutting words like a world-class fencer. I can speak before I think and what's worse? I can speak even after I think and the words don't always come out any differently because I do. I can want and wish for different every day and no amount of might can change the condition of my heart. Ask me how I know.

But receiving the harsh reality of imperfect motherhood means receiving the opportunity to fall on my knees in sheer and utter need. It means being broken when I see their hurt that I've caused. Sometimes it means running after a crying boy in the backyard and falling on my knees before him, both of us in tears and me, the grown-up who has acted like a spoiled child, apologizing over and over and him forgiving in an instant because that's what children do more readily than grown-ups: forgive

This is hard grace. And we need it.

It means receiving the embarrassing realization that I am just bad at stuff that comes easily to so many others. And it means living loved anyway. 

Not talent-type stuff like singing or ballet or being able to paint. I don't want to be a contestant on The Voice. I'd just like to be a contestant on The Competent. I'm talking about basic stuff like staying within my budget and getting laundry done and managing my time well and getting up early so I can stride into the kitchen and fix oatmeal without wanting to slay someone for no reason other than the fact that I am half-asleep and grumpy and they are awake and needing a lunch to take to school. 

I often lack discipline and diligence when left to myself. And I definitely lack determination in the wake of failure and this would be fine-ish if my lack didn't affect others, which it often does. Bring on the guilt. 

But receiving the harsh reality of imperfect character and questionable competence means receiving the opportunity to live loved anyway. It means ravenous, desperate listening to the word of God that says to me, Child, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You are loved. You are mine. Nothing can take you away from me, not even your own everyday failure. Especially not that. 

I was needfully reminded by my friend Ellen last week that fear only motivates temporarily but love motivates in a way that lasts. She encouraged me to "live loved" {that's her line, by the way} and now I want to turn those two words into a billboard to mount on the roof of my house. 

Living loved makes all the difference. 

I can look at my failure and turn from it in my own strength, making lists and reading books and resolving to just get it right from here on out. Or I can look at my Savior who came because we are all lacking. I can still seek change but instead of seeking it through my own strength, I ask for the change that only He can manufacture. Change that is lasting not because I never fail but because it's fueled by the Grace and Love to get back up and keep going anyway.

This is hard grace. And I need it.

It means receiving my own story even though it is not the one I would have asked for. 

Though I am honest here, I am also private about some hard things.

I don't want to provoke interest or curiosity. Quite the opposite, actually. Though I'm purposefully veiled, I write about the reality of painful things only to tell you this: Just when I think I've gratefully received that which is past and that which I cannot change, I'm often blindsided by remorse and self-pity, anger and shame, a desire to deny and a compulsion to hide.

But receiving our own stories invites us to come out of hiding. It invites us to step into a story that is greater and not all about us. It invites us to accept raw, beautiful, and sobering realities: 

Triumph would seem normal without tragedy

Redemption wouldn't exist without failure

Real change would be under-appreciated without season after season of real disappointment. 

The joy of new mercies would be everyday no-big-deal-ness without the dark night of weeping.

A new start can only be celebrated in the context of something else that came to an end, often painfully.

The Thanksgiving Table is a feast of paradox because The Thanksgiving Table is a feast of Grace and that's the upside-down-ness and inside-out-ness of what Grace is and Who Grace is. 

Grace is paradoxical, non-sensical even.

Grace welcomes the bride in her beauty and the beggar in his rags.

Grace soothes our scars and lifts our downcast faces so that we can see the beauty in the brokenness.

Grace leads us away from what we think we're missing, prompts us to acknowledge our actual bounty, and then takes our hand and dances around it with us. 

Grace knows we need to apologize because we can be idiots and she accompanies us to do what we ought, pride-swallowing and all. She shows us the greatness of humility.

Grace keeps running after us even though we push her away like an unruly toddler, wanting to do all this business of living all by our big selves.

Grace gives us days that are so rich with obvious goodness, we can't contain the fullness. And Grace gives us days that rain such heavy buckets of sorrow, we can't contain the sadness. 

We can't separate easy Grace and hard Grace because it is all grace.

I cannot write those words or read those words or deeply acknowledge those words without getting weepy. I am not that old yet but I've lived long enough to know this Truth with all that I am:

Life is all grace.

Today and this week and throughout the coming days, think about what it means to receive your own life as a gift. To receive the moments of wide-eyed wonder and the moments of teary-eyed disappointment. To bask in the bounty and make peace with the pain.

Wherever you feast, whatever your story, whoever you are, gather 'round the Table of Grace. And give thanks.


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  1. Yes, Scooper. You got it right. It is all grace. So many people miss the true meaning because they think of grace only as being forgiveness of sins. It's so much more than that. Dallas Willard used to say that grace is God acting with us to accomplish what we cannot do for ourselves. That pretty much includes everything, doesn't it?

    God bless you as learn to live loved. I need some lessons in that department, too!

  2. Yes. I too am learning to live loved. Last week was a tough one for me. There were plenty of opportunities to barrage myself with "why can't you just..." And grace swoops in and removes the feelings of failure in the midst of hard times. (Dudley Hall, a big reason we are living down in TX has a book "Orphans No More Learning to Live Loved" you might like it)

  3. Yes. I too am learning to live loved. Last week was a tough one for me. There were plenty of opportunities to barrage myself with "why can't you just..." And grace swoops in and removes the feelings of failure in the midst of hard times. (Dudley Hall, a big reason we are living down in TX has a book "Orphans No More Learning to Live Loved" you might like it)

  4. Can't even begin to form the words to respond adequately, dear daughter!

    Just thank you.


  5. Thanks so much for this, my dear sister. I've been thinking about Ann's words a lot today and your words help me, too, as I try to look for the grace I've thus far failed to recognize. We're doing a communion service at church tonight, and I've been excited all day to weave together "eucharisteo" and the holiday we call Thanksgiving. Thanks again for your beautiful words...I find myself in so many of them. Love you and see you soon!

  6. Every. Word. So. Much. What. I. Needed. Just. Today. Thank you once again for so beautifully putting words to the truth. Thankful for you!


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