Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Growing Up, Grief and Grace: Part 3, Grace

There's one last post to be written in this series about how growing upgrief and grace have changed me as a person, and as a missionary.

I've had a hard time wrapping my head around how to write about grace. It's not like God suddenly invented a new grace that has made this leg of my missionary journey easier. It's also not like I've suddenly become a saint and I don't want to write in such a way that anyone would ever think that. In fact, I've stalled on writing this post, because I've been struggling to keep up the discipline of the very practices I want to write about.

It comes down to this. I have always known that living the life of grace, both the sacramental grace offered by the Church and the grace of turning our daily walk into something sacred, was the both battleground and the victor's circle of the spiritual life. It is where we fight to stay strong and to persevere, it is where we get up again when the knock-out punch rings loud in our ears, it is where we dance with joy in our victorious moments and where we wipe away the tears of our failures. It is where we learn to walk in the light and where we learn to keep walking when there is no light.

But in my young faith life, this was all pretty much theory. I got the grace thing. But whatever the ups and downs of life were at the time, my hopes and dreams and boot straps were still enough to pull me and keep me going day to day. Then there was all that growing up and grieving. And those little bits of self weren't enough any more. I wasn't enough for me any more. I was really utterly dependent on God to sustain me for the first time in my life. And I learned what grace really was. 

I think back to the days after Bryce's death, of the cloud of grace that carried me through to the other side of the darkest days of my life, and I am humbled to the point of tears. I think of coming home from a D & C to a cleared out house and mound of suit cases and departure for the mission field looming four days ahead, and the grace that carried me forward to the hospitality of waiting friends, the love of people who wrapped my babies in their arms and held them for me so I could grieve once again, and the grace that made my feet go when my head could not think straight.

These memories, when I think back on them, feel like a dream. I know they are real experiences, but the memories is not sharp and painful like some memories. They are soft and wispy. Bittersweet. But sweet. They are surrounded in a cloudiness. It is grace.

And that cloud has surrounded this whole first year here in this mission post. It has not been easy. Neither were those things I just described above. It has not been without its ugliness, mistakes, and failures. I have battled self long and hard here. I have been disappointed and hurt. My husband lost his mother. My brother fights a terrible disease daily and I am not there. And yet, the walk through all of that has been made possible each and every day. And I have found peace and consolation in being where I am each and every day. This is grace.

I can point to three things that have kept me living in that cloud of grace over the last year. Habits that have been formed in the years of growing up and grief and learning to live dependent on grace. Habits that have become a focus and cornerstone of our life over the last year because of the strong leadership of my husband and the faithful spiritual direction of a holy priest. Habits that dear sisters mentored me to form. All gifts. Gifts given to me by someone else's love, sacrifice, sharing.

Because isn't that the essence of grace? It is the redemptive work of mercy in action. Sacramental grace is won for us by Christ's ultimate sacrifice and administered to us by the shared faith of our Church. And the actual grace that comes into our lives too most often comes my the love and service and sharing of another.

The first gift is the gift of speaking grace. I am user of words. Lots of words. Verbally. Written. Read. I like words.  I have learned from some of the loveliest women the power that encouraging, building-up words have to transform those around us. And to transform our own perspective. When we make a commitment to speak of our daily walk in a way that highlights the beauty and the grace we find in it, the world is made better by it. So I have worked hard to cultivate the habit of using my love of words to communicate all that I see as good and lovely and noble and true about the journey we have been on for the last year. And it has transformed the way I look at the journey. Shrouded it all in that cloud of grace that makes both the hard and the bitter sweet. Progress on the verbal end of this habit is still faulty and flawed. I have that punched in the gut feeling when I relive my own words in my head way more than I would like. But imperfect progress is still progress and I am going to keep honing this habit of speaking grace.

The second is gift if finding grace. I used to think that grace was something that appeared miraculously in over lives, happy moments that were sure signs that God loved us and was with us. And then there were the days of little wooden coffins and still ultrasound screens and miracles that flitted into our lives and faded out before they were real. And if I was going to continue to call myself a believer, grace needed redefining. And there was this voice in my life. This melodious gift of words that told me that grace is found where we look for it. That we can count the ways He loves in the lovely but we can count it in the ugly dark too. This voice that told me that to walk in grace is to realize that eucharisteo is about brokenness, not the warm smell of fresh bread, that the fragrance of the hurting and wounded heart who seeks His presence right there in the hard places is a perfume for the spirit. A voice that said, " Don't just look casual. Don't stumble upon grace accidentally. Don't hurry through the hurt and the chaos and the confusion. Live it. Look it in the face. See that He is there. Over and over again. In myriad ways. And count them. One by one. Count them. Until there are a hundred then a thousand, then more. Until you are forever changed." And I did. And I have been.

The third gift is the gift of the greatest grace. When my husband told me that our spiritual director was suggesting that we make an hour of prayer in front of the Eucharist a daily habit for our family in mission, I chuckled. A cynical chuckle. A chuckle that said, " Clearly, he's a good guy and a smart guy and holy guy and doesn't have a clue." Because getting myself to holy hour once a week for silence I relished and savored was already a bewildering conundrum and getting my boys through 15 or 20 minutes every now and then was enough to rob me of the grace earned in that hour.

But they were stalwart these two men. Stalwart in the face of my I-know-so-much-better-than-you pride and stubborn will. And we arrived in this mission post and we put feet to dusty road and we went. Every morning we went. Just us. Sometimes silent, sometimes begging repentance and conversion, sometimes singing praise. Some days boys slept and some days they sneaked outside and climbed high in the limbs of trees before we noticed. It was not perfect. But there before Christ, there was more than enough grace for all those imperfections. Grace to cover loneliness and loss and worry and fear and pain. Grace to keep us near to Him and remind us to stay out of His way. Grace to remind me that the miracle is not in the big Hollywood action scene life but in the daily walk on the dusty roads that says to others, "I am still here", just like His quiet presence in the silence of our Churches says to us.

These last few weeks have been a bit off kilter for us. Our schedule has been flipped on its side and spilled into chaos by sickness and surprise runs to immigration office and a million other things. I have failed to live the greatest grace--the going to Him there fully present, divine and real, and drinking of the fullness that fills and drowns out all that is broken and ugly in me. And in the midst of it, I feel myself creeping in, getting in the way, wanting it my way, seeing the ugly and not counting the grace, speaking the ugly and not the lovely.

But the good news? I recognize the way out. I know where to find the cork that will plug my grace leak. It's in heading back to the greatest grace, breathing in the fullness of Christ present in the Eucharist, breathing in the air of perfection, the light of hope, listening to quiet whisper of His voice that says, "Don't run so fast next time, and maybe you won't fall as hard." That says, "You know, breathing is good. When was the last time you checked to see if you were still breathing. Be quiet. Breathe with purpose. Breathe grace. That is where you will find strength. I am the Breath of Life."

And in a great mercy, I see it now. When I start to feel the shoulders tighten and the jaw clench. When the thoughts flow ugly and mean long before the words ever do. When there is so much me I am too heavy to carry, I want to run to Him. Sit under the protection of grace. Be called back into a life of grace by forgiveness of my sins, wiped clean by the grace of confession, my emptiness filled by the bread broken and blessed, the Eucharistic body of Christ.

Sometimes, I'll feel the weight of brokenness heavy in my heart and think, "Wait. I'm getting all in the way again. How long has it been since we went to adoration? To Mass?" And to my surprise I will realize it has been a day. And when I see how much of mess I can make of His lovely work in just one day without Him, I wonder how I ever lived, breathed, survived before this. I count the blessing of the greatest gift -- the fullness of His love and mercy made present to me every day so that it is not my boot straps that pull me back up when ugliness and brokenness and hurt knock me down but the river of mercy that flows from Him. 

And so I receive the greatest grace. And I seek it. And I count it. And I speak it. And I walk out of the brokenness and the darkness and into the light once again.

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