Awkward Grace

So I had an awkward moment today, not that that’s especially rare for me. After dinner I finished helping my grandma with something and she commented, “you’re very nice.” Her smile was so genuinely sincere that I felt awkward because I’m really not.

I know that sounds bad like I’m fishing for a compliment or have low self esteem but in truth I’m really not a nice person. I had a moment a few years ago that was a profound turning point for me where I saw who I was without God’s grace. And it was ugly. It came at the end of a series of lows both personally and professionally that had taxed me to my absolute limit and that’s what I saw before my eyes that day: limits. I saw a proud young woman who had rejected God thinking she would do things her way and didn’t need the suffering He was giving. And at the end of that ill-fated rebellion came the realization that every gift I had ever been given came directly from God and on my own I had nothing. All the accomplishments I had attributed to my various talents, even the personal things I liked about myself like being kind and having a sense of humor, were beautiful gifts that came as a result of the love that had flowed so freely from God to me and I felt the absence of it, the absence of that union with God the life of love and grace I had been living without realizing it, down to the absolute depths of my soul.

I was tempted to complete despair in my misery and wretchedness and the pride that had been so blind to it, but I was blessed by two wonderful things that saved me by completely turning it around. The first was a consecration to the Blessed Mother who gently guided me like a mother back into life. The second was the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the wellspring of merciful love I found within it which made that life worth living.

I’ve heard it said, regrettably I forget by whom, that “mercy is where love meets misery.” I’ve experienced that to be true and never before had I known a love so selfless and so completely forgiving, but what astounded me the most was how completely unchangeable it was. Jesus loved me as much at my best as He did when I was at my worst and I understood for the first time a little more of what real love was.

So now as you can judge for yourself I’m really not very nice. I’m genuinely nothing at all. But God loves me. And from that love I have life, the abundant life God promised in Scripture. And that life is what my grandma noticed when she told me that “I’m very nice.” I am very nice because God’s grace is stronger than my many many weaknesses and has been so transformative that I feel like a living miracle. I am very nice because the faithful love of God gives me great joy which circumstances cannot take away. I am very nice because the fountain of mercy from the pierced side of Christ on His cross has saved me and I look forward to eternal life in Heaven. I am nice not because of anything I am on my own but because God’s love is so perfect that it’s making me into His image which is not just “nice”, it’s perfect holiness which is an immersion in the perfect Love of the Trinity.

As a result of all this, what I am not good at anymore is accepting compliments because I always feel like the compliment belongs to God and to the love which He reveals by turning sinners into saints.

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Limitless

I recently read a really interesting article by R.R. Reno over at First Things talking about “What Mary Teaches” Mary in this instance referring to the Blessed Mother. If I ever endeavored to write an article about the things that Mary taught me I imagine it would quickly cease to be an article and instead become a colossal book. One that I would love to write…

All dreamy tangents aside, R.R. Reno’s essential point is that Mary is a realistic hope of what can be accomplished by God’s love, mercy, and grace. Born without original sin in a dogma Catholics refer to as the Immaculate Conception, Mary is a true masterpiece of God: a creature who perfectly responded to and cooperated perfectly with God’s grace while remaining completely human (not at all divine). She is now in Heaven body and soul as God promises we will one day also be.

This is a wonderful promise one that the author rightly points out gets dimmed in the skepticism and self-centeredness of modernity. However, the thing that struck me most about it was the horrible question that rose in my soul.

Yes, as I was reminded by the author of the universal call to holiness and remembering that a desire for holiness and expectation of God’s abundant graces are not unrealistic nor delusions of grandeur but the fulfillment of the promise of God and His design for humanity, the horrible question rose and it lingered:

What sort of limits do you place on that love? What sort of limits do you place on that grace?

Because here is the horrible truth I was forced to confront. God places no limits on His love for me, but I place many limits on the love I’ll accept. Whereas God is love and longs to lavish His mercy in my own pride and timidity I insist on accepting instead only small graces, more in line with what I feel I deserve which, to be honest, most days isn’t very much. Whereas God calls me to greatness and remarkable feats of holiness, I think of my many weaknesses and the shame of who I’ve been and accept only an ordinary destiny afraid not only to be great but afraid to even think that sort of greatness is possible.

Yet, believe it or not, I’m glad I read the article and even recommend you do too because had I not read it I might still be imagining the limits I was accepting as coming from God instead of coming from me. And what a tragedy it would have been to accept my own forgetfulness, to conform to the image of our material world, to believe that fallen things stay fallen and never rise again, when the limitless love of God stands ready and waiting in every moment to make me new, to make me something great. Because with God greatness is not marked by achievement or fame or fortune but by the thing I’ve always wanted: a complete oneness with perfect Love, an everlasting union with God Himself.

The Incredibles

Hi all!

May I just say I have missed all of you readers terribly.  I started a new job and while I’m happy to say that I’m loving every minute of it I am busier than ever. Fortunately, my lovely and now Seattle based sister A.C. Wilson has written an amazing guest post that I invite you to read below. Please enjoy as our (mostly her) gift to you on the Feast of the Assumption:

One of my favorite movies ever is a Pixar movie called “The Incredibles.” It’s got everything- action, adventure, family values, coming of age…it’s a great movie (and I hear there’s a sequel coming soon! Yes!). And when reading the gospel, I found myself reminded of one of the last scenes in the movie.

The Incredibles family had just returned from their great adventure, and all is well, until they arrive home. Their youngest son Jack Jack, believed to be with a babysitter, had been kidnapped by the story’s villain, Syndrome. Just as they arrive, Syndrome takes off on his rocket boots with the baby in his arms, and the family is panicking. Suddenly, Mrs. Incredibleturns to her husband and says “Throw something!” and he replies, “I can’t, I might hit Jack Jack!”

But then an awesome revelation occurs, and Mrs. Incredible suggests “Bob, throw me!” and he does. It’s a perfect shot, and the baby, now tumbling from the sky, lands safely in his mother’s arms, and gets to the ground safely. Then Mr.Incredible, after hearing another threat to his son’s life, hurls his *new* car at Syndrome’s plane, and effectively destroys him.

And this whole turn of events reminded me of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, where Jack Jack is the wheat, an innocent baby who is nothing but loved by his Father, and Syndrome is the weed, which represents a person with evil planted deep in his heart by Satan. If Mr. Incredible had hurled his car at the retreating Syndrome too soon, it would have destroyed evil, but also his child. So immediately it was out of the question.

So it is with God and the problem of evil. He could toss his divine “car” and destroy Satan whenever he likes, but if it isn’t a well timed throw, he would, with his crushing blow, destroy our freedom to choose Him, making us little more than spiritual ants, with no say for our own souls. So immediately it is out of the question. Because God made us to be more than ants. And He can and will destroy evil, but not until the proper time.

But people don’t get this, myself included at times. We see sin in it’s ugliest, most base form, and naturally we are repulsed. As we should be. We have all grown up among the wheat and the weeds. But then we ask God “Why?” Why would a loving God make the world this way, with so much suffering and evil?  And that is a question we cannot ask.

Because the real question we should be asking is “Why not?” In a world tainted by original sin, why do we not expect sin and evil to manifest itself? And this is not meant to be callous or unfeeling toward the suffering in the world. It is truly shameful that we allow certain sufferings to persist, heartbreaking when we can’t predict or mitigate it, and all around contrary to how God originally designed us to live. But the question remains, why should we expect the world to work in harmony and goodness, while the worldly, respected powers that be tried and convicted the true source of harmony and goodness (see: Christ’s Passion and death) for the crimes of mankind?

And that is the most extreme case, but I think it has real bearing in our lives today. How often do we blame our problems on God? How often do we neglect our prayers, and then blame God for being the cold and unfeeling one? How often to we distract ourselves every which way, and blame God when our lives have no direction? I know I do. Often.

But that acknowledgment is exactly why God holds back his judgment. Because we are sinful and sorrowful, weak and in need of a savior. He knows that, and He is our loving Father. When we truly believe that we are weak but God loves us, and rely on him, then the world becomes a less dark, sinful place. Plus, when we choose Him over all the temptations and delights of the world, a love that you know is true and unselfish is able to form.

Going back to our metaphor, when Mr. Incredible couldn’t throw the car, he sent his wife. So God sent His son, to save us from the seemingly insurmountable plot against us. It’s our job to resist evil, to allow Jesus to rescue us, and live the mission in gratitude. God will take care of the rest.