I love to tell the story about my running into a wall of grace.
A wall with "grace-graffiti" written all over it.
Love. Acceptance. Favor. Delight. Salvation.Forgiveness...
I tell my story to anyone who will listen.
As I've shared this story over the last seven and a half years, I usually have heard one of three responses to my grace-story.
The first comes from those who have found the same grace. They listen patiently and smile. They know the joy. They have accepted the gift that can't be earned, bought, or bartered for. They've heard the same song, felt the same embrace, danced to the same music.
There's also those I've shared my grace story with that are glad I've found strength. They are glad I have peace. But to them, it's like finding a new diet, a new vitamin, or a new way to "psych" yourself into feeling better about yourself. They are happy for me, but it's not for them. They're okay just as they are.
And there's the people I call the "grace-erasers." They erase the meaning of grace... by adding to it.
Grace and Bible study.
Grace and church attendance.
Grace and service.
Grace and a quiet time every morning.
Grace and not drinking too much. And not fishing on Sunday, or going to the movies, or listening to secular music, or wearing shorts to church, or whatever one can think of at that particular moment.
Grace if you do this... and grace if you don't do that.
If left up to man, the add-ons are endless and can quickly become ridiculous.
However, many of the add-ons are good. The Grace-Giver Himself has called us into many of them so we can know Him more intimately and become more like Him. They bring His kingdom to earth.
But even the good add-ons are not ways to earn Grace.
God's Grace stands alone. It is sufficient.
Grace can't be earned. Grace isn't a reward. Grace isn't a merit badge for a job well done.
Grace is a gift from God.
To add-on to Grace is to take away its meaning.
"If you're a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don't call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it's something only God can do, and you trust him to do it - you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked - well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift."
Paul states that Grace can't be both. It can't be a payment and a gift. Grace must be one or the other.
Grace is a gift.
"Grace-erasers" depress me. They remind me of the wasted years I've spent trying to earn what can only be given. They remind me of the scars I've given myself, and others, trying to make myself good enough for His love. "Grace-erasers" remind me of the failure and frustrations that I've experienced by trusting in myself.
But lately God has been showing me that I've been doing some erasing of my own. Maybe I haven't been erasing Grace, but I've been erasing gratitude.
"Grace-erasers" erase Grace by using the word and.
I've been erasing gratitude by using the word but.
Thank you God for this, but I wish it had been that.
Thank you God for giving me this gift, but why did it have to come wrapped up like this?
Thank you for the 80% good, but why the 20% I didn't want? The 20% that is painful, disappointing, and unbelievably hard?
I caught myself a few weeks ago in the process of erasing gratitude.
We were down at the park on a Sunday afternoon. When our family is together, on just an ordinary uneventful day, I am reminded that every day we are together as a family of four is a miracle, and is anything other than ordinary or uneventful.
There's always that moment when I remember the days and months when we thought we would never have moments like these again. Those days and months we ached for one more Sunday afternoon together. We ached for one more day of doing nothing except being together.
As I watched my three guys out on the dock, I began to thank God. I thanked Him for that moment, a moment that didn't come from anywhere else but from His hands. I thanked Him for our family of four. I thanked Him for the love that Jim has for his sons, and the love they have for him, and for each other. I thanked God that Seth was living close enough for us to be able to enjoy a lazy, unhurried afternoon without trying to cram three months of experiencing each other into a three day visit.
I thanked God that He loves my sons, and that He gave up His for mine.
But then I began to erase my gratitude.
But God, it's so hard to see Ethan in that wheelchair.
But God, Seth and Ethan should be pushing each other off the dock and wrestling in the water.
But God, we really shouldn't be here at the park on the dock, we should be at the beach with our feet in the sand. Ethan should be in the water, riding the waves, with me standing on the beach yelling at him to be careful.
But God, why? Nothing is impossible with you. You've given Ethan back so much.
But why not everything?
My joy was gone. My heart was heavy.
Gratitude, like grace, must stand alone.
The gift must be enough.
His goodness, that provides the gift, must be enough.
I had erased my gratitude, and the peace and joy that comes from a grateful and trusting heart.
I had erased the intimacy that comes from trusting, that my God is good in all that He does, and in all that He gives.
I found myself questioning God's wisdom, His character, His power.
I was questioning Him.
Don't get me wrong. I am a big believer in pouring my heart out to God.
One of my life verses is Psalm 62:8 . . .
"Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart to Him.
He is a refuge for us."
I believe God wants to hear me express my disappointments. He wants me to trust Him enough to be honest with Him.
But gratitude, like grace, can have no add-ons.
Grace is a gift, or it isn't.
I am grateful, or I am not.
I'm slowly learning.
I'm beginning to recognize when I pick up the eraser and start to erase my gratitude.
I've stopped myself many times in the middle of a thought because it began with the word "but."
I want to be deliberate in my thanksgiving.
I want to honor God by letting what He gives be enough.
It isn't easy when the heart is hurting. When much has been lost.
But all that I have, all He's given me, is by His grace anyway.
It's all been unearned.
I wonder if God knew that we would all have the potential to walk around with an eraser in-hand. Maybe that's why the word "all" is in Ephesians 5:20.
". . . giving thanks always for ALL things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
And yes, Cheri. All really does mean all.
"Thank you God for days like this. When there's nothing to do except love. And no where to go except to each other. Thank you for the hot sun on our faces and for the sticky humid air. Thank you for wheelchairs, and the brokenness that you heal. Thank you for tears you dry up and for hope that you give. Thank you for parks with ramps and the clear waters of the bayou. Thank you that your heavens declare your majesty and that we are here to see it all. Thank you for this little spot of heaven on earth. You are good. No 'buts.' Just thank you."