Grace in Detail

(Chatter letter from the editor, May 2010)

I would like to talk about grace for a moment. Not cosmic-eternal-salvation grace; but the specific, detailed little (or huge) graces we experience in space and time despite an awful attitude. This kind of grace feels warmest because we receive it in the dirty moments of tracked-in mud, breathless chasing down of naked toddlers, and terrible prolonged waiting for overdue good news, as was my case last month. My husband and I were waiting for news, and I had all my hopes and dreams riding on it.

If you are not pregnant right at this very moment, this may be hard for you to understand. After all, you’re a reasonable person who is probably concerned with things like the new healthcare bill or the crisis in Darfur. You recycle, you read blogs, you give to help feed the hungry. You realize this world isn’t all about houses and cars and three-piece sectionals from Pottery Barn. Lucky you. It must be nice to be you. But I am pregnant. And because of that my world now revolves around one thing: nesting; i.e., acquiring stuff for the nest as well as acquiring the nest itself, and my ugly selfish selfishness rears its warty head in the biggest way right about now at this gestational fork in the road. I yank the steering wheel away and Jesus slips into the backseat because this is life and death. (Isn’t it?) Jesus didn’t know how to drive in first-century Palestine anyway.

My trial by fire came in the form of (count ‘em) TWO bidding wars over my dream house during my sixth month of pregnancy.

The short version: we had sold our house. We were closing in three weeks. We had nowhere to go. But there was a glimmer, a brief glimmer, of getting the house THAT WOULD BE JUST PERFECT. I had been dating this house online for about three months as our current house languished in a stagnant market, and by the time we finally had a solid contract in place in April, two other vultures had descended to swoop it up. We put in an offer — full price plus $1,000 — and still lost. Gordon came home from work, stepped out onto the back porch where I was throwing basketballs with our toddler and gave me a Look. I knew. It was gone. It was like having your boyfriend stolen at prom. I threw a fit and cried the whole afternoon and drove around the neighborhood looking for houses for rent where we could set up a temporary homestead. And then I baked the most wonderful ziti. Angry Cooking, I call it.

And suddenly, through a series of other uber-dramatic events, we had another shot at the house. This came the Thursday before Easter. We knew we were in a bidding war yet again and held fast to our original bid. And then we waited. We waited all day. We waited all day Good Friday, all day Holy Saturday and all day Easter Sunday.

We were at IBC on Sunday for Easter and celebrated the Truest True Thing — that Jesus is alive, and because Jesus is alive, everything else will ultimately be OK. My heart burst into fairy dust as we rejoiced together; and a part of me, a very small part, laid the house down somewhere in the IBC sanctuary.

But I didn’t give it time to settle. It wasn’t long before I went back and found it and uprooted the piers and beams and threw it over my shoulders again like an 80-ton orangutan. (As if Pregnancy Bloat wasn’t enough of a burden.) I fretted and wrung my hands all Sunday night. Gordon came into the living room and announced he had “given it over to the Lord” and I said that yes I had too but couldn’t we worry aloud together one last time?

When we got the good news on Monday, I fell to my knees. We would not be homeless. We would not be discharged from Harris Methodist with a new baby to go live under I-35 out of the hatchback of my Murano. I rejoiced, but was quickly disturbed: this wasn’t supposed to happen to someone with my kind of attitude. I had had no faith, no trust, and no surrender. I had my moments of them, but they were never very long-lived. And if anyone should be able to trust Jesus consistently, it was me. I’ve known him all my life. I’m on staff at a church. I’m a preacher’s kid for Saint Pete’s sake.

No, I didn’t deserve to win the bidding war. It was grace. I told my mother this over the phone that day and she said, “Yes, but the wonderful thing is that even if your attitude had been perfect and you had trusted Jesus totally and were able to rest 100% in his long term plan of love for you, you STILL wouldn’t have deserved that house.”

Dang. She’s a ton of bricks, that lady. You mean I can never be good enough to earn God’s blessings fair and square? I was suddenly crippled by the gentleness of Jesus’ words in Matthew, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Even the most surrendered and well mannered of us don’t deserve homes or cars or pregnancies or naked toddlers, and that just makes me want to run home and bake some cookies out of sheer joy. (I bake when I’m happy. It’s called Happy Baking.) That kind of specific, detailed grace releases me to humble thankfulness — sometimes in a way that’s (dare I say it) more poignant than cosmic-eternal-salvation grace because it is so homemade to my particular small-time obsessions.

So my hope for you is that you experience some undeserved grace today — especially if you happen to be on your best behavior.

Julie

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