When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us?
~ Ann Voskamp
This year on my birthday, I had a rare opportunity to go out with a couple of friends for breakfast. We visited and talked about my hopes for the year, and as we do in our little community, they read loving words they had written about and for me. I wanted — needed — to keep this morning small; intimate, because when you know all the broken parts of your own story, all the darkness that lives within, when you focus on what’s wrong in you more than what’s right, it can be difficult to hear what others think and see. I felt like I was in the hot seat, but not one that burned. Rather that morning, as grace upon grace was poured on me, as my friends called out the best in me and called me toward who I was created to be, joy welled up within me and warmed my heart.
One of the gifts I received that day was perfume called Pure Grace. I looked at it and smelled it and like I do with all things, planned when I would wear that particular fragrance. Little did I know, Pure Grace would be so necessary in the coming days.
The following week, we were off to Texas and anyone who has taken a road trip of 1700 miles with four kids and a beagle (or any other interesting conglomeration of traveling fellows), knows that being stuck in a vehicle for that long with other people breathing and talking and
performing singing and snoring requires a good deal of grace. And yet I love a good road trip. For the planner and list maker I am, there are few things that make me come alive the way the unexpected adventures of a road trip do.
The last couple times we’ve made that drive, we’ve driven straight from Los Angeles to San Antonio, with a little sleep in our car in a Cracker Barrel parking lot just before reaching the Texas border. We have a white noise maker and coloring supplies and blankets and great snacks and toys, an eclectic play list and movies and a little training potty should it become necessary to stop on the side of the road in barren west Texas.
Traveling this way is not for the faint of heart. For all its excitement, it is also exhausting. After our evening in San Antonio there was nothing I wanted to do more than just get to the ranch, let the kids run around, take a walk around the wide open spaces, and just crash in the comfort of a home I’ve known for fifteen years, with family who loves and accepts me at my best and worst — to just be tired me.
I had known before the trip that part of our time in Texas would include meeting my brother-in-law’s fiancée and her daughter, and then attending their small wedding in the living room of the ranch house two weeks later.
At my birthday breakfast, I admitted to my friends that I was so nervous about this. My sister-in-law had passed away from cancer nine months earlier, and I still felt raw. The last time I had been to Texas was for her funeral. I had spent nearly two years praying for her healing, and if I’m really honest I felt like God had let me down. How is it possible that a 37 year old could die from Stage IV colon cancer? It was a nightmare. I shared with my friends that I was needing God to do a work in me, because I was feeling so ugly inside. How could I accept and embrace a new sister-in-law when I was still mourning the loss of one I never fully got to know? At the same time, I was entirely aware that this girl didn’t choose the circumstances in which she fell in love, and I did not want the questions and pain that still surrounded Tiffany’s loss to cast shadows on this new beginning.
When we pulled up to the ranch, I was startled to find that the two people I had been, and still was, so nervous about meeting were sitting on the porch swings. The moment had arrived and I wasn’t ready. My kids all tumbled out of the car and ran to greet Nonna, Papa Price, and Uncle Josh. I am not sure what all transpired as they met our new family. I was frozen in place. My memories of the minute that I waited, unready in the car are in slow motion. I reached for my purse, pulled out Pure Grace, and as I rolled it on my wrists prayed “God do in me what I can’t do on my own. Pour your grace through me.“
As I met Trakena, my soon to be sister-in-law, I knew that I wanted to welcome, accept and embrace. Fifteen years earlier I had been invited into this family, first as a girlfriend and then two years later, warmly espoused as a daughter when Matt and I married. I will never know if I was accepted with hesitation; whether there are things about me that gave my in-laws pause, because in the Price family — in our family — if you are loved by one, you are loved by all. And the grace and acceptance that was given to me fifteen years earlier was exactly what I wanted to give to Trakena.
Sometimes in life, you have to act your way into a feeling, but that evening a miracle happened. As I first hugged her in greeting and met Jasmine (before my kids completely enlisted her as their first cousin on the Price side of the family), I felt immediate love for her. It was, and continues to be, clear that she is a gift to Josh and to our whole family.
That night we got to know each other over dinner, and began talking about the small ceremony that Matt would lead them through later that month. As details came up, Josh mentioned that they wanted me to sing, but that Matt had told them I don’t do that anymore. Which is true. (The last time I sang in public, other than at my grandmother’s funeral, was the day my miscarriage began. Unknowingly, something that used to give me such joy, had become a source of pain.) And yet in that moment, as I looked at Josh and Trakena, I found myself saying “That’s true, but I’ll do it for you.”
In the following weeks I became involved in the details of the upcoming wedding. I was honored to learn two songs for the ceremony, invoke my hidden florist skills, decorate the living room, choose clothes for the boys to wear as ring bearers, go shopping for Josh’s suit, help my new niece do her hair, and then share sweet, holy moments while doing Trakena’s hair and make-up.
The wedding was intimately beautiful, with only family in attendance. The love and confidence displayed on the bride and groom’s faces was breathtaking. Never have I been more acutely aware of the limitations I place on God, than when I experienced the infinite joy that He has for us when we let Him enter in and take brokenness aside.
And that’s what grace does. Grace doesn’t let go. It knows all the broken bits and ugly parts that are hiding under the surface, and it covers them all. Grace will
… comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Sometimes when you least expect it, into the darkest of situations, grace sparks and ignites into this glorious flame of joy.
In Greek grace is charis and it means a gift or blessing; unmerited favor; leaning towards to share benefit.
Joy is chara, meaning gladness; extend favor, lean towards, be favorably disposed.
It is no coincidence that when grace is bestowed, joy follows. See, grace and joy are inextricably related. And in my experience, the grace that we give is often as much a blessing to the giver as the receiver. When I prayed for God’s grace to pour through my graceless self, He was quick to answer my prayer. I’m sure Trakena was as nervous as I was about meeting, but what God gave me and continues to give me because of that prayer is a gift of joy. A gift of sisterhood; the realization of a desire that I prayed as the only Price girl for years. That God would give Matt’s brothers wives and that we would be friends … sisters of the heart.
I think about this often. Anytime that God comes close and enters into the mess of our lives is miraculous, but I don’t want this to be a fleeting miracle.
There have been many times in the months since that wedding on a balmy, east Texas, June afternoon when I’m at the end of myself in whatever situation I’m in — whether with a child, my husband, family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, the person in front of me in line at the grocery store, or the guy that cut me off on the freeway, and I haven’t had grace to give. In those moments, I pull out Pure Grace and I pray “God do in me what I can’t do on my own. Pour your grace through me.”
And when I let Him have more of me … when I allow His Spirit to move through me, miracles happen. I see my kids or my husband as the people He created them to be, and not as the source of my irritation. I remember that everyone has a story that I don’t know, and I tread lightly. Sometimes, in this season where the majority of my attention goes to the concerns of my home and raising kids, I feel like I don’t have much to offer, but grace … I can always give grace.
This year, I want grace to be my first reaction, instead of a last resort.
Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Grace That Won’t Let Go, Mark Harris with Gateway Worship