Monday, March 31, 2014

Grace and Hope

My first spring in Illinois has been nice.

When I lived in Minnesota, March was a winter month.

When I lived in New York,  March was a winter month.

But here in Illinois, March seems to be a spring month.  Granted, the pale green haze of new leaves has not begun to spread through the bare tree branches.  But... the snow is all gone.  This blows my mind.  There is no snow.  Yesterday, Shawn and I spent part of the afternoon picking up sticks in our backyard.  Spring clean up.  It's here, really.  Today is 64 degrees of windy wildness, and I walked for an hour with a friend.

The kitchen is not done.  I am half hoping that it will be done by Easter, but I probably shouldn't even write that down, for fear of jinxing it, although I am not a superstitious person.  God is in control, but I think somebody messed some stuff up here, probably me being gullibly trusting, for one.  Handymen who are certainly not gifted at drywall work, for another.

Yes the kitchen.  I started out chronicling the renovation with high hopes that it would be quick, easy and satisfying.  It has been none of those things.

I've been through a roller-coaster of emotions: sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, remorse, guilt.  I've wondered if God is punishing me for taking on the challenge and expense of the renovation.  I've vented and wept and laid restlessly awake at night, unable to turn off my mind.  I've feared that God is angry with me.  Shawn finally told me one day, "You should never try to measure how much God loves you by how easy your life is."  God gave me Shawn for a reason.

Right now we are in a season of calm.  The sink and counters are in, so I can function (I've made quinoa spaghetti twice).  The drywall needs to be redone, however, so I'm not going to move things into my new cabinets until after that mess is over and we have cleaned again (and again and again).  No work is happening this week, and although it stretches the project even longer, at least I have a break.  A break is nice, perhaps even necessary.  God knows what I need.  God knows what I need.  Jesus says that our Father in heaven knows what we need even before we ask Him.

Apparently I did not need an easy and stress-free experience, because if I had needed that, God would have provided it.

God brings stresses into our lives to teach us things we need to know.  He brings experiences we had never imagined, certainly never hoped, to test us and refine us and help us grow.  Growth is painful.

Growth is painful.  I remember comforting one of my sons in the middle of the night, during a growth spurt.  His growing legs hurt so much, they woke him from sound sleep.  I gave him milk (for calcium), bananas (for potassium), and Tylenol (just because).  This usually seemed to work, and he would be back to sleep within the hour.  Spiritual and emotional growth pains are not often cured that quickly.

Growing pains.  Lessons learned.  Struggles undergone.  Conflicts handled.  Disappointments faced.

We all need grace.  We need to give it, and we need to receive it.  When it feels as though nobody else in the world has any grace for you, you can go to God, because He has infinite grace.

Grace sounds really good: love, hope, forgiveness, benevolence poured out on the undeserving.  It's not all daisies and pinwheels, though.  Flannery O'Connor said, "Grace changes us, and change is painful."  Grace, like water flowing over a cliff, is breathtakingly beautiful and frighteningly powerful.

There is copious pain in life.  Grace sometimes mitigates pain, but it sometimes intensifies it.  If you apprehend the source of the grace and the sacrifice that occurred in order to protect you, the undeserving one, from your rightful consequences, there is an excruciating pang that accompanies grace.  Grace is never free, it only means that the person who paid isn't the one who should have.  This is true whether you are the receiver of grace, or the giver.  To give grace is to sacrifice, to pay for someone else's mistake, to be the one thrown under the bus.

We do not like to give grace, but we certainly like to receive it.

Dear Lord Jesus, please help me to understand how You want me to live graciously as the recipient of Your great grace.  When should I stand firm against something I believe is unjust, and when should I gracefully give in?  Give me wisdom to discern Your heart, and give me courage to follow Your will when I understand it.  Also, thank you for spring, for hope.  In You there is always hope.

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