Grace upon grace (upon grace…)

That company Life is Good is really on to something. Their tagline is “Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.” And their clothes are awesome and spread bursts of optimism around the world. It’s not a Christian company, but this tagline speaks to what my faith means to me: that being a person on this earth with a purpose doesn’t mean life will be easy, and it definitely won’t be perfect. But it will be good. And what I’ve been reminded of over and over again this week is that life is good even when it doesn’t feel good. We don’t always have the ingredients to objectively say we had a “good” day; in fact, there are days when it feels like everyone has it better than me. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t good. I’ve been absolutely floored the past two weeks by how good life really is and by how much the presence and influence of other people in my life impacts my life for the better, even in the midst of challenging circumstances. Like being out of town during the solar eclipse when my city of residence was in the path of totality, working a lot of hours, having very little introvert time, and just being away from home. What’s really gotten to me in navigating stressful moments and late nights working and having about 110% more social time in a day than I normally do is how much grace people have to give one another and how that can absolutely make the difference in loving where you are and who you are.

Grace is free and undeserved favor. It’s forgiving someone when they haven’t even apologized. It’s being offered a free sno cone just because it’s your birthday. I mean, that’s enough right there to make me stop and think. Why would we show one another favor when we don’t deserve it? Why should we get anything that we haven’t earned? And why do I so often feel that knot in my stomach when someone does me a favor and I feel like I owe them something- can’t I just accept that it was freely given and be grateful? But there’s also so much more to grace. Christians believe it’s because of the grace God showed us by sending His son to die for the forgiveness of our brokenness that we are to go out into the world and show grace to others. And as we go about our lives we are shown grace by God over and over in the ways He pours out favor – by having a presentation you didn’t prepare for go well, by giving you that extra three ounces of gas you needed to make it to the gas station, by healing broken relationships when there was no logical way they could have been fixed. We can’t earn this favor. It is given to us as a free gift. Which is pretty much impossible for me to believe most of the time, because I want to be able to point to the things I did to deserve a good job, a place to live, and wonderful people around me, and yet I can’t. There’s nothing I can do to earn grace because it’s this thing that is given by One way greater and more forgiving and more loving than I can ever be. And the implication of grace coming from a source that has no limitations is that I am not supposed to be limiting how much grace I show others.

As I’ve been wrecked by grace the past two weeks, I was reminded of this documentary I watched a couple of months ago. It was about tiny houses, which are awesome. The great thing about this documentary is how it shows people’s lives and motivations around deciding to build their own tiny houses (like with their own hands), and the community that they find themselves in as they join the tiny house movement. My favorite part of the film is when one guy who is building his own tiny house with a lot of help from his friend says he likes the feeling of knowing he’ll never really be able to repay his friend for all he’s doing to help. I actually hit the rewind button to listen to what he said again, because I’d never heard someone say something like that. How many times have I enjoyed the feeling of owing someone? Probably almost zero. I think what he shared is a beautiful image of how depending on others can be a gift to us. In a society where every debt needs to be paid, from a loan with interest to a crime with often disproportionate sentences, it’s nice to be reminded that there are good debts and that owing one another doesn’t always mean paying things back cent for cent. I had a debate with a friend recently about buying friends meals or coffee from time to time and trusting that it will work itself out and all play out fair in the end. But even if it doesn’t come out to be equal, should that matter? We all have finite resources and feel like when we do someone a favor it should be paid back, especially when that favor cost us money and/or time. But I’m starting to feel like there’s actually more to be gained in serving one another without wanting to be paid back.

Where I struggle with this whole grace thing is when it’s wrapped up in people- how we show one another grace and how we show ourselves grace (is that a thing?). It makes sense to me that God gives grace because He’s perfect and good, but humans, not so much. We all mess up and hurt one another and fall short of expectations sometimes. We all over-commit and under-deliver sometimes, because we’re limited and there are often not enough hours in the day for all we’d like to or need to get done. This can cause frustration and misunderstanding between people because I think for those of us who can struggle to trust and depend on others, when they don’t follow through we feel like we’ve been proven right and we should stop depending on others. But there’s no grace there. I wouldn’t want people to stop depending on me and expecting good from me just because I mess up once, so I shouldn’t have that attitude toward others. Luckily, people usually don’t give up on each other after one chance. However, in my experience I notice and analyze my own failures and shortcomings way more than I do for others. I often have a lack of grace for myself. In this world we are judged at our jobs by our performance, our ability to produce results efficiently. In relationships we are sized up by others based on our accomplishments, the good and bad they’ve witnessed us do. And we are present for every single time we fall short in any area- when we miss a deadline, forget a birthday, answer wrong, and get caught in a lie, and it can really distort our self-concept. It’s like how on social media we see everyone else’s best and rarely their lows- we see the picture that turned out with the most flattering angle, has likely been edited, and shows the most smiling moment of the day. After all, that’s what we choose to put out there ourselves, so it contributes to a pattern of unrealistic representation on social media.

When we’re in our dark places and scroll through social media and see everyone else in their happy places, we get convinced that their lives are so much better than ours, flawless even. And I think this reflects how we often fail to show ourselves grace- it might be easier sometimes to forgive someone else than to forgive ourselves, because we can see the other person’s positive traits that outweigh the mistake they made or bad thing they did. But with ourselves we not only see that one instance we messed up, we can also connect it to the last three times we made that same mistake and we start to believe we didn’t just do a bad thing, we are bad people. That’s shame, and it can lead to a lot of pain. I think if I worked on extending myself more grace and showing the people around me more grace I might feel less shame and be able to move toward positive things.

Grace has played a huge part in my current business trip. To give you some context, coming into the trip I didn’t know what to expect, but didn’t really have time to be nervous beforehand. If you talked to me before the trip you know I was pretty salty about not being in Nashville for the total solar eclipse. One of those petty things that’s actually not petty because it was really cool, but in the scheme of life it wasn’t a big deal to miss. I had been warned over and over it would be a pretty busy and tiring trip but honestly hadn’t let that sink in, which probably contributed to the aforementioned lack of nerves. Fast forward to day one of the trip and it was already hitting me what the next 15 days would hold. There wouldn’t be enough hours to do everything. There wouldn’t always be much sleep or space for intentional and healthy eating and non-work activities. But not one moment did I feel panic or helplessness, and that was all because of grace. God totally took this trip which on paper had a lot of elements beyond my comfort zone and skill level and outside of what I thought my strengths were, and turned it into an adventure full of pizza and $2 Walmart sunglasses and semi-blistered fingertips from the mouse and keys on my computer and sleep-deprived laughter and so much beautiful vulnerability. I got over the fact that I missed out on the total eclipse because I was having a clearly on-purpose journey in a different place. I still had FOMO about things going on at home and wished I’d had more time for reading or sleeping or Netflix, but those sad things were way outweighed by the good going on on the trip.

I can’t express how grateful I am for my team at work and how lucky I know I am to get to have coworkers like this. We’ve all been knocked down at various times the past two weeks, whether by others or by the mountain of work or by our own thoughts of discouragement and defeat. We don’t always have the perfect words to make the situation feel better. But I’ve seen everyone pick each other up and pick themselves up throughout this busy time where we feel pulled a bunch of different directions and just don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything we feel we need to. It’s so humbling to be in a place where my energy reserves are totally gone and I need to rely on others for help and support, and it’s really special to be truly served by those around me and to be totally accepted for my weaknesses. That’s where I’ve been this week, and a place that could be really discouraging and a season I wanted to skip over has actually been a huge blessing, and a time filled with grace and favor. In the midst of and largely because of our busiest time of year, we’ve been able to find joy and get to know one another better and form connections of balance and trust. I think part of that is the shared experience of being in the trenches together and another part is that in the challenging, tiring times you get to see people’s true character come out and you get to see strengths really shine. Each of my team members has extended grace to me during this trip and that’s contributed to my attachment to them as colleagues and as friends. I make attachments quickly and it’s going to be so hard to go back to my normal routine where I don’t get to see these people as much or be up late messaging and calling each other about what’s going on on the message board.

During these weeks it’s become more and more clear to me that God is pouring His favor on my life whether I recognize it daily or not. I used to have a very set concept of what favor looked like- I thought it was a huge salary or a promotion every month or falling in love at first sight or having the perfect body and being joyful all the time or other monumental things like that. But favor in real life is in the details, and though it may be hard to notice at some times, that doesn’t minimize the magnitude of where it comes from and what it makes possible for you. And no matter how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am now, I just don’t see a logical reason without God for how and why I’m here, in this place, at this job, with these people, and growing into myself at such a rapid pace. Ever have a moment where you hear yourself saying something and realize the you from <insert number of years ago> wouldn’t have said that or wouldn’t have thought that way? Well, I have, quite a few times during this trip and generally in this job, and the only way I can describe it is it feels like I’m growing into myself. With my attitude at work, with the way I spend time with and speak to friends, it feels like I’m in this space that isn’t what I expected but it’s exactly what I need. Instead of being in an in-between stage of life, where I’m still single and getting my footing professionally and kind of waiting around until the next season when I hope I’ll be married and start a family, I’m in a stage that stands on its own- it’s not just a placeholder between other stages. I still have so much to learn about what life is about and where I’m called to go be me and share grace, and I can now see in a way that requires perspective that I didn’t have before that this growth is continuous for the rest of life. I won’t reach a point where I’m perfect at resting or perfect at working or perfect at having patience or perfect at not gossiping or judging. And that is actually so freeing, because I’m really enjoying the lessons and the people that teach them along the way in the most unexpected places. I can’t wait to see what the next lesson is.

Thankful for: Hotel living except for the living out of a suitcase part

Advice for the week: Eat more sno cones. Add gummy bears.

Songs of the week:

Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons, because banjo and also I think we all have moments/days where we’d like someone to sing that chorus to us

The Beat by Ben Rector because it’s so dang catchy and the perfect windows-rolled-down song. And it makes me want to dance, and now that I’m 22 I’m supposed to dance differently or something according to Taylor Swift.

Show of the week: Golden Girls because it’s on TV when I get ready in the morning

Goal for the week: Take time to express gratitude to someone each day

 

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