Wheeewie. As my sister told me earlier this week: I’m twenty-whopping-six! Time for my yearly (at the moment) blog post.
I almost can’t believe that for the next year, the age associated with my name is 26. What does 26 even mean?! In some respects, I still feel like that same girl from my teen years who loved dancing in her room to her favorite songs; in others, I definitely have proudly achieved grandma-status: here’s looking at you, wild Friday nights with uberEATs. I’m glad that as the years go by, I become more and more content in the things that make me unique. But some things do change: usually on my birthday, I’ll explore thoughts or lessons I’ve learned or grown in over the past year, synonymous with the age I’m turning. It’s been such a valuable practice for me to reflect on my year at that age as a whole, and essentially, glean life advice to give to myself as I move on to new seasons of life. It’s also been such a fun way to look back at the many, many ways God’s been faithful over the year, and be thankful for who He is in my life and all He’s done. But now that one whole quarter-century is all wrapped up and squared away, I think I’m going to change that tradition into focusing on one overarching concept that I’ve been (or will be) mulling over in the months leading up to my birthday.
These past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot (and learning a lot, and praying a lot…) about the concept of grace: what is grace*? How do I show grace? In what practical ways can I be a gracious person? Last summer, I started watching this sermon series titled, “Grace Like A Flood.” (It’s absolutely phenomenal, and I highly recommend it.) In the ensuing months, the series has gotten me to honestly consider my current perceptions of grace, how I proffered grace to both myself and others in various interactions, and the power of God’s unlimited grace in my life.
Then recently, I came across an interesting article in the New York Times about this guy named Bruce Reilly who has gained a bit of prominence in his field as a lawyer fighting for the rights of those who’re incarcerated. He was a part of various states’ initiatives these past years in which over a million prisoners saw their voting rights reinstated… and he’s also a convicted murderer.
The article details how he basically became a student of the law while in prison, spending hours upon hours reading and learning as much as possible concerning case law, while also putting his knowledge to work by advocating for his fellow prison mates in relevant areas.
It also jarringly details the murder he committed back in the early 90s. No matter how many kind and justice-filled acts of reparation he’s done since then though, this act colors and informs the rest of his life up to now.
Uncomfortable interactions, awkward conversational pauses, and questions of trusting him with loved ones are all things that seem to arise in his daily interactions with people – however subtly or glaringly they occur – once they know his history. At first I thought, Wow, people can’t even see past their prejudices long enough to give him a chance. But then again, he did murder someone. So, would I act similarly? It’s true food for thought. I want my life and my interactions to be examples full of grace, but when the journalist himself chronicles his reservations prior to meeting Mr. Reilly, I had to really sit back and be honest with myself: would I have those same reservations? Or would I dispose of those and actually be able to approach someone like this with true grace?
So many times, grace is restricted to those deemed “worthy” of it according to society: people who used to steal candy from stores; people who might’ve been bullies; people who sold drugs; the list goes on. But what about the murderers? What about the sickening predators? What about those who force people into modern day slavery? Even though their actions make my skin crawl, that’s the crazy amazing thing about grace – well, I guess I should say specifically that that’s the crazy amazing thing about God’s grace. No one’s worthy of it, but the way God can look at every single one of us, from the “best” person to the worst of the worst, and still love each and every one, and extend grace? That honestly blows my mind, while quieting it as well. On one hand, it’s exciting for anyone who needs grace (which frankly, is everyone). On the other, it gives me pause, because that’s something I aspire to, but certainly can’t do on my own. Still, it gives me a push to pray daily: God, I want to be like You are with grace. I want to give grace unconditionally, no matter the situation, and I want to be more like You.
If I’m being honest, to me it seems easier to give grace to someone like Mr. Reilly, someone who’s done something so horribly wrong in the past, that all you can do is move forward and operate under the canopy of grace. I however find it more challenging to give grace constantly to those I’ve come to know as “sandpaper people.” People who are completely fine according to the law, but who, in day to day interactions, tend to grate on your nerves. This is that person at the store who cut you in line and didn’t even try to apologize. Or the person in your class who was a bit rude for no reason. Or the friends or family who shamelessly lie to you. It’s different for everyone. For me, these are the greatest times to exhibit grace: in the middle of the mundane and routine, at moments when I feel like I have every right to be frustrated or annoyed. But if I did give in to those feelings, what good would that do other than creating strife and stress? Luke 6:32, 35-36 says, If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Basically, as God’s child, I’ve got to practice what I say I believe. Sure, that person was rude to me for no reason. Well, I have some options: I could be rude right back, or I could extend grace, and maybe leave the person with an encouraging smile instead – the choice is mine.
Let me say this: choosing the counter-cultural option definitely seems difficult and less satisfying. But as I’ve seen time and time again, especially over the past few months, it’s so incredibly worth it to be gracious, especially in light of how much grace God’s shown towards me. There’s a huge difference between being a theoretical grace-giver and simply believing in the concept, and actually practicing it when the reality of it is staring one right in the face. I hope to be the latter!
Here’s to giving more grace in 2019, my 26th year, and beyond. And a very special thank you to my amazing family and beautiful friends both near and far for celebrating with me this year. 26 is going to be a good one.
*Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, unearned kindness and favor of God.