I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when parents still told their kids to go outside and play. My friends and I would spend all day in the yard and when we got hot and sweaty enough we’d run to the back patio, open the water spigot on the side of the house and get down on our hands and knees so we could get low enough to turn our mouths up for a drink of water that splashed all over our faces and down our necks. In the evenings I remember seeing my parents shaking their heads as they watched the oil crises in the 1970’s unfold on the nightly news. Gas prices skyrocketed to 73 cents a gallon! “Turn it off,” my mother would say to my dad. “Good grief! The wheel’s are coming off but they make it sound like the world’s ending.”
Like me, as a child you probably hoped for a life that would exceed your dreams but as those dreams collapsed along the way you’ve simply wished for a soft wing of hope but instead have gotten life in a culture of ungrace. That’s not a word but it should be. If you don’t know what ungrace is just listen to most people who didn’t vote for any sitting president, watch how fast Hollywood turns on a star who no longer sells at the box office or turn on the news anytime during the day. Ungrace pulsates in our workplaces, communities, and in the media and tells us that regardless of what has happened we must do better, look better, and make ourselves better. But to love and accept someone regardless of their flaws and failures is a breath of hope in a world that turns more upside down than right side up. That is the gift of grace. It’s being dirty and smelly and turning your face up under the spigot. Sometimes the wheels need to come off and you need to get pretty low before you appreciate grace.
The wheels are coming off for my friend Lisa. She’s the owner of a beautiful clothing store for women. She’s put her heart and soul into the store but then the economy tanked and people ran scared (even those who still had jobs and owned their homes). Trouble is, she did everything right: paid her mortgage, creditors and bills on time so she doesn’t qualify for help. The wheels are coming off for my friend Jacob. When he took his vows he never envisioned this animosity, anger or separation. The wheels are coming off for my friend Gerri. She finished chemotherapy and is beginning nine weeks of radiation for breast cancer. It wasn’t her dream but she’s added it to her daily schedule: go to work, get groceries, go to hospital for radiation, do laundry, make dinner.
When we plan our lives no one ever says, “When I grow up I want to get a divorce, maybe two!” Or, “When I grow up I want to lose my house, my business and my life savings!” Broken dreams are never part of anyone’s plan. We tie our plans up with ribbons and bows and aim for the mountain top but end up in the valley. In Finding Grace (St. Martin’s Press, March 2009) I relate a story of walking with my second grade class to the library when a sixth grader spit on me. He didn’t intend to spit on me but I was fortunate enough to be the one to pass at that exact moment. My teacher Mrs. Brewer cleaned me up but when I looked down at my maroon polyester blend turtleneck I could see the white tissue particles clinging to where the snot had been. “He blindsided you,” Mrs. Brewer said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”
At some point, life blindsides us with something far greater than a giant loogie. The diagnosis, abuse, foreclosure, broken marriage, death, or financial collapse brings us to our knees and though we try to clean ourselves up the best we know how we’re still left with the stain of it all. “That’s how it goes sometimes.” True. But isn’t there more? The beauty of grace says yes. There’s more love after the infidelity, more joy after the diagnosis and more life after the financial ruin. Chris Gardner, the bestselling author of The Pursuit of Happyness was once asked how he and his son were able to overcome the shame of homelessness. Gardner said, “We were homeless, not hopeless!” Chris knew he was living on the streets but he was still living. That’s grace. Grace is always present and always near but it’s easy to miss — things aren’t always as they appear. I just returned from Winnipeg where The Christmas Hope is being filmed in a house. In previous months the homeowner fell off a ladder and broke several ribs. During x-rays it was discovered that he had cancer. That break-up, closed door to a job, or fall from a ladder may not be as devastating as you think but an act of grace that will save your life and help you discover higher dreams.
In a country of excess we suffer from a deficit of grace. In the last few months I’ve watched two stories on the news of men losing their jobs then killing their entire families and themselves. In another story a man lost his job after twenty years. “It’s heart wrenching,” he said. “But I still have my family and we’re all together.” That’s the hope of grace speaking and it beats the alternative any day. Last week my friend Lisa liquidated merchandise and said, “It kills me to close this store but I know God still has a plan for me.” That’s grace at the end of a shattered dream. My friend Miriam’s husband was devastated over their loss of money in the stock market. “How much do we have left?” she asked. Embracing and recognizing what is left is grace at the end of an economically depressed rope. There is life-altering power in that.
I once attended several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for research. A man said, “I was a drunk for fifteen years. I lost my wife and son because she couldn’t take it anymore. One day I woke up and said, ‘What the hell am I doing? I need to live.’” For fifteen years the noise of his life drown out the voice that said he was worthy, needed and loved but then came the day that he finally heard it. That wake-up call to life is a gift from God. With what strength that man had left he turned his face up toward that spigot of grace and let it splash all over him.
Finding grace in a culture of ungrace seems an impossible task but it is present, it is real and it is an indomitable gift that has the power to change your life. It does come with one condition, though — like any gift you have to reach out and take it.