Applying Grace to Fear

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. (Psalm 81:10)

I snap the brown hair tie around my pony tail the third time. I tie the neon pink tipped black laces and start the GPS on my phone

Saturday morning runs are a gift Kagan gives me. No stroller, no kids on bikes, no time limits. Just the pavement and my feet.

The back door creaks and the chilly air feels like a splash of water. Deep breath, through the nose. The air smells crisp. Late summer in Montana. Perfection.

Slow jog. My calves are tight and the right side of my neck and upper traps, stiff. I roll my shoulder and stretch my neck from side to side.


I have been feeling like life is on the precipice of a final exam.

I have no idea how to prepare, but I am responsible to ace it. And Life is hiding behind a bush, with a black handlebar mustache, rubbing its hands together in gleeful anticipation. Eager to deliver a cosmic spanking at my certain failure.

Another breath. Two more steps, feet and calves warming up now.

As I move, I realize that this ominous story has me paralyzed, thoughts stuck. Freezing as I sense danger.

Arms pumping, with my next exhale I imagine oil lubricating my knotted neck. It’s as if these thoughts get snag in my chronically stiff neck.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance, Peter said to the church.

Another translation says, grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.

These thoughts and feelings are not peaceful. They aren’t gracious, either. They are strife and condemnation. I realize, subconsciously, that’s what I’ve been feeling in abundance and pretty full measure recently.

I try wiggling my jaw as I continue to warm up with a slow jog. My eyes tear with the effort in the brisk morning air. I blink several times. Warmth pools in my right eye and catches on my lower lashes.

When I quit BSF last year to do a Bible study with then 99-year-old Gramma Jean, I chose Ephesians.

I ordered the Kay Arthur Precepts study, I bought two sets of pens in green, light blue, pink and purple. I carefully explained to Gramma what you have to do.

I couldn’t tell if she actually forgot — or if she was just being passive-aggressive about participating in the study — but she never did her “homework.” Two or three weeks in a row, I explained the idea to her. All she has is time on her hands, after all. She never got that 3-ring binder out herself to “study.”

So, we read Ephesians 1 and 2 aloud once a week for 6 months.

Every week, Gramma Jean would stop in chapter 1 verse 6 or verse 7. If we got to chapter 2 we would pause over verse 7.

To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph. 1:6). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Eph. 1:7). “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6-7).

She would say, “now, people rush over those words. Words like grace. I don’t remember what grace is, Becky. Nobody has ever explained it.”

Although certain that, in her 99 years she has heard many a sermon on “grace,” I would try to explain. And, not the years of dissecting, not the decades of reading the Bible like a lawyer — searching for how to define words, testing and arguing over reformed or Armenian theology — no, not these things, but one of the kids’ Veggie Tales CD came to my aid. In one song Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Junior Asparagus sing the word “grace” repeatedly. Larry the Cucumber gets through the entire song thinking they’re singing about his Kindergarten teacher “Grace Smith.” Bob corrects him and Larry says, in his cucumber lisp: “oh, that grace. Unmerited favor of God.”

Every week, Larry’s voice in my head, I would explain to Gramma Jean: “Grace is unmerited favor. Getting what you don’t deserve.” She would nod, we’d read the verse again, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” She would ask: “what’s grace again? Oh, yes. Unmerited favor.” And, we would read again: “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

Basically every time we pulled out that binder, her eyes would snag on the word “grace.”

Only because God’s built up a little bit of patience in me, would I manage to explain without rolling my eyes.

I jog slightly faster now. The wind lightly touches my face. I blink, and the tear trickles down my cheek. I can taste its saltyness.

She’s right, I realize. Even though I can rattle off the words, the concept of grace is trapped in my head. Maybe it’s been trying to work its way down into my heart and my bones but it’s stuck in my fibrous, ropy, knotted, neck.

I think I’ve lived all my life understanding grace and mercy to be the same thing. Grace is actually a little different, I think. It has an additional component.

Mercy is not getting what you deserve. It has to do with the fancy theological term “propitiation.” God’s anger appeased.

Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

Overflowing, abundant, fullest measure of what you don’t deserve.

My arms and legs are alternating. I’ve quickened my steps as the blood moves through my body. I can feel it circulating. My neck and shoulder have loosened.

It seems too much. Foolish to think that grace is boundless, unending, lavish blessing.

Nobody is out this morning. The tree-lined street echos no human sounds. The silence gives way to the leaves that rustle in another breeze.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. His blood was offered as the sacrifice for sins, the atonement, the propitiation. His body was offered as the bread of life. No ready theological terms come readily to mind when I think of Jesus’ body.

Just a full tummy for a few hours.

I approach the stoplight. It changes to yellow and as I reach the corner it blinks red. Thank goodness. I am glad for the forced mini-break.

As I stop, the Spirit brings the verse fragment to me again, “In accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” I understand that Greek is this crazy language where it’s easy to come up with exactly the right words to use: you take a bit of this word, a bit of that one, smash them together, make sure they’re in the right “tense” and go. You’ve said exactly what you meant.

Well, English isn’t like that, but I love that the Spirit led Paul to tell us that God has riches of grace that are lavished on us not by mistake or naivete, but with all wisdom and understanding.

Lavished. It’s a generous word. God’s rich grace is heaped up on us.

I reach my arm over my head, grab my wrist and lean to the right. Exhale audibly.

A car’s coming. It’s far enough down the road that I could cross, despite the red light. I want to wait. Now I reach the other arm overhead.

Why this feeling that a misstep will be cackled at with glee?

I can’t do it perfectly. The story of my life has been, “tries hard, some talent, but not exceptional.” Really, I tell myself. Top 80% of most things. What if I am destined to be mediocre in all things?

Blood drumming a steady rhythm just under my jaw, the long sleeve shirt is no long necessary. I tie it around my waste.

Mediocre mom. Mediocre lawyer. Mediocre wife. Mediocre Christian..Mediocre human?

The light turns green.

Imperceptibly the road climbs. The little rest did me good. I welcome the small challenge. My breath is steady. Filling my lungs, infusing that blood with energy for my muscles.

What if, compared to the best humans, I am merely adequate? When I try my absolute, messy best, it’s “meh?” Am I courageous enough to show up and just be pretty ok?

Verse 1:7, 2:7 aren’t the only places the Spirit expounds on God’s richness. While Gramma paused at “grace,” the Spirit caused my eyes to pause at “riches.” There in 1:18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Verse 19 finishes off the thought, “and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

It’s compared to others that my abilities — my powers, if you will — are solidly in the middle of the pack. Serviceable.

But God’s power? It’s incomparably great. In.Comp.Arably. Literally: No. Comparison.

And that incomparably great power? It’s for us who believe. Me who believes.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. Even though I can’t think of any fancy theological words for that, I can think of what bread does.

Metabolized, it gives energy. Power to move.

I smile. The gathered sweat at my temples trickles down my cheek. At the middle mark of my run, and I can feel the energy in my muscles.

Jesus breaks open the way for God’s great power in me. Flowing through me. Grace is more than just not getting what I deserve. It’s being heaped with blessing. It’s overflowing as I move.

Peter’s benediction — grace and peace being ours in abundance, overflowing, to the fullest measure — is followed in his second letter by the remarkable statement: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

I think I can swallow my pride to show up just hit the middle mark.

Something may be waiting behind a bush to pounce on my mediocre performance on the “life final,” but it’s not Life. It’s not God.

No, God’s grace is that of a mother, smiling with open arms to the chubby twelve month old who is getting ready to let go of the sofa and take those first few tentative steps.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. To the fullest measure, friend.

If you find yourself stuck in your thoughts, friend, remind yourself: Jesus came to give us grace and peace in abundance. It’s ours for the taking now. If you need a reminder, I created a free download just for you, click here to get it.

His Grace

But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect through weakness.  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  1 Corinthians 12:9-10.
 ‘Not by might nor by powerbut by my Spirit,‘ Zechariah 4:6

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”  Ephesians 6:10

I was not, nor will I ever be, ready to be a parent.  Whenever I feel as though I am starting to get the hang of it, my heart and mouth spew out impatient anger or ignore that little foolishness and defiance one time too many and I fail myself, my kids — and the Lord.  

I’ve been particularly concerned about my oldest these days.  She’s shifted out of her preschool years and into her young childhood imperceptibly this last year or so.  I am so proud of her, but I see within her a reflection of myself sometimes … My self-righteousness.  Inclination to judge others while completely ignoring my own wrongdoing.  Vanity.  Exclusion of others.  The world is this child’s to conquer and she has all the right stuff to do it — but I desperately don’t want her to conquer and achieve in the world’s economy while utterly failing to understand, appreciate and welcome her place in God’s economy.

So, as we approached registration for kindergarten, I panicked.  What had I been doing this entire 5 years she has been with me nearly every minute of her life?  Had I trained her to make wise decisions choosing her friends?  Had I impressed upon her that the heart of her actions is what really counts, not merely the level of outward obedience?  Is she kind and loving?  

I thought that, perhaps, the best thing to do would be to keep her home for another year.  Or, at least only send her to half-day kindergarten — so that I could have more control over her circumstances than full-day kindergarten.  Particularly in light of the fact that our smallest baby boy is due in August.  How could I possibly keep track of what was going on with Jubilee in school in a sleep-deprived zombie state?

I still haven’t — Kagan and I still haven’t — decided which schooling option is the best for her.  But I see now, how some of my concerns were utterly foolish.  I cannot know everything that is going on in my child’s heart.  I cannot shield her from making wrong decisions — I cannot even shield myself from that!  God can use my weakness.  Me being weak is what He needs to do His best work in me, because then I am out of the way and He can truly be my power and strength.  That I am so arrogant to feel that my best mothering is done in times I feel good and am making wise decisions shows how little I tend to trust Him day to day.

What if my best mothering occurs by God’s grace?  Sampson was the strongest man on earth — but it wasn’t ever because of anything He did — it was because God caused his strength to grow as his hair grew!  What if my best moments as a mom are those which occur by ‘dumb luck’ (aka, God’s engineering and nothing of my own).  

I think this might just be so; so, give me Jesus.

Resolved for 2011

Holy moly, is it already twenty-eleven?!?

Some people are big into New Year’s Resolutions, and some people scoff at them. I am not ‘big’ into New Year’s resolutions, but I do like the concept of taking time every year to reflect on how the past year went, what I think I did well, what I want to do better and then make a conscious effort to do a certain number of things better than I did the year before.

One way I’ve done this in the past is to categorize my life and evaluate, like this:

1. How did I do as a Christian this year? What was my overall attitude like? What struggles did I encounter? What did I do well? — Why do I think I had these struggles/successes?
2. How did I do as a wife this year? What struggles did I have? What did I do well? — Why do I think I had these struggles/successes?
3. How did I do as a mom this year? What struggles did I have? What did I do well? — Why do I think I had these struggles/successes?

This year I’ve had a particularly good chance to reflect because I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. And, maybe the Lord was working me up to big reflection, because as I thought about a lot of the Bible verses that had been standing out to me in the last several months, they were all along similar lines:

You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted with its deceitful desires; to be made new by the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23-24.)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for the building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29).

Be careful then, how you live, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is…Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-17, 19-20).

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (Ephesians 4:7-10).

For this very reason make every effort to add to your faith, goodness and to goodness, knowledge and to knowledge, self control and to self control perseverance and to perseverance godliness and to godliness, brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:4-8).

Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to him. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2).

I have been a Christian for all of my adult life. I grew up in the Church, going to Sunday School, listening to sermons. I have made it my business to really study the Bible. I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies.

I did well in school, top of my class. High school. College. Law school.

Not only that, but law school teaches, not the law, but how to think. How to analyze a ‘text’, what questions to ask, how to draw logical conclusions … It’s nerdy to say, but I found that the ‘thinking’ tools taught in law school, in many ways, mirrored the way I had been studying the Bible since high school. I attended a Bible study full of law students in law school and LOVED IT because we were all on the same page about analyzing the scripture.

Where I’m going with this is that, for all my education and study, I have trouble where the rubber meets the road. As in, acting on all this head-knowledge and pretty good theology I’ve got going on.

I get busy with my life. I hurry. I have a family to take care of, a mortgage to help pay, student loans, career goals. Impatience issues. A critical nature … Well. If you’d like a more exhaustive list, let me know and I can oblige.

Most years my past New Year’s resolutions have been along the lines of: “I’ve been too busy to spend time reading the Bible and praying, so I’m resolving to adhere to this Bible reading guide and praying.” Where I’m at right now, though, I think my resolutions need to be more about action and less about study and self-reflection. Not that study and self-reflection are not worthy New Year’s resolutions – I am finding that they are probably not what I need to resolve for this year.

And herein lies a dilemma. How do I ‘make the most of every opportunity,’ ‘use the gift/s the Lord has given me to administer his grace,’ ‘add to my faith, goodness … etc’, ‘offer my body as a living sacrifice’?

More practically, how do I do these things when I’m expecting my second baby soon and I just KNOW things are going to get really sleep-deprived and hairy?

That’s what I’ve been mulling over. And last week I read this book my friend Ruhiyyih sent me recently called Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. Mark asks some good questions and poses some good challenges in this book and says, in one of his opening chapters (further convincing me that my resolutions need physical action outside my own personal quiet time) that we American Christians needs to step out of our pews and DO something.

I know that when I resolve to do something this year, I can’t resolve to do anything herculean. Realistically, I’m going to have a bleary, busy year. BUT, I can resolve a few small things that will help me, hopefully, put feet to my faith. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Consciously try to take time with people.
2. Encourage at least 1 person per week – person and encouragement means t.b.d. on a weekly basis.

So … are you a New Year’s resolution person? Are you making any for 2011?