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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Playing the Part 

I remember back when I lived in Virginia I used to go to Blackfriar’s Playhouse pretty frequently because of the amazingly talented actors and authentic rendition of Shakespeare’s many plays. (If that makes me hopelessly nerdy in your eyes so be it!)

One night during a production of the comedy “The Merchant of Venice” I remember being struck by one specific actor. He was not the lead of the play. In fact, he was the opposite. He drew my attention because I realized during the course of the show that he played at least 6 different minor roles each with a different costume and having only a few sentences of lines.

I was especially impressed with his ability to keep up with that many characters because I knew that in his shoes I would have made colossal mistakes. Being a very dramatic adolescent with a lot of insignificant child acting under my belt, I imagine I would have walked on stage in the wrong costume or forgotten when I needed to be on stage or said the wrong line…  In short, I realized that a mistake in that role could have dramatically influenced the flow of the play and the overall quality of the show itself, even though the parts he played we’re deemed so insignificant that they only cast one actor to play them all.

Yet in a moment of theater magic, I was touched by the realization that without every single role in that show, without each minor character to offer a line of transition or deliver a message or provide a moment of comic relief the show would not have been everything it was that night.

We live in a world that has the terrible habit of trying to elevate the best of humanity to Divine heights. We “worship” leading men and leading ladies, the most athletic, the smartest, the richest, most influential, or the best looking. We place them on pedestals and endeavor to be like them, holding them as our models of achievement with our purpose in life tied to the degree of what we attain of that “glory.”

Yet, as often as the pride of humanity is flaunted as the satisfaction of our desires and a vindication of our existence I can’t help but stumble once more over my minor character actor and the nagging truth he pointed me towards. A truth that convicts me that this towering pride blinds to the humble reality of life, that in the quest to exalt the individual self we are blinded to our part in the whole story. Just like the minor characters each had a part to play in order for the show to go on, so too do we.

You and I are absolutely unique. Not only were we made by God we we’re made for a purpose and a glory that we cannot yet know as the story is still unfolding in time.  And I think a lot of joy gets lost in a quest for mere worldly glory for two reasons. First, because worldly glory does not satisfy and leaves one ever restless. Second, because it steals the dignity we inherently have from being made in the image and likeness of God by making that dignity conditional.

But I propose that this set of actors are wiser than our media pundits, celebrities, athletes and other influencers because when the show was over they each came out and took their bow with a smile on their face. While I’m sure they were content in their hard work and dedication to their craft which made the overall performance excellent, I think their true joy was not in being perfect but in knowing that they had been part of something amazing together, something that would not have been possible without each and every person on that stage playing their part exactly as they were meant to.

I think the joy of heaven, and the joy of life on earth, is not in finding ourselves but in finding God and realizing that not only is He perfect love, but He makes each and every one of us a part of that love. That our glory will be not a monument like a towering tombstone but a reflection like a mirror of the love we’ve chased after and at last embraced, the love we became by being loved first by God.

And I’m sure that whether we were a lead or held the door for them, whether we were noted for our poetic musings or for sheepishly cracking a joke, we will be perfectly content with our part once we see it in the light of that final vision and behold the majesty of Heaven, because “eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

The Middle

Does anyone ever get the feeling that they are at an important crossroads in their life yet continue to feel desperately unprepared to move forward?

Asking for a friend…

Lately, I’m getting that special feeling that only introverted over-thinkers can truly sympathize with, that feeling of needing a vacation from yourself because you are driving yourself insane.  It’s a feeling that often follows or even accompanies a struggle.

Fortunately, it is also a feeling once shared by St. Paul which makes me feel better since I like him a lot:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:15-19) 

I am actually not blogging to write about the particular struggle because I already have.

Rather I’m writing to vent my particular frustration with my own limits. I know I can’t do holiness, certainly not the level that I want and strive for. I know that may sound odd considering the attitudes I’ve expressed in the past regarding holiness, so for the sake of explaining away any perceived inconsistency I’ll briefly add:

I believe that the end for which every person is born is eternal life with God in Heaven and that all are called to be holy even now in time because we have to be holy in order to be in Heaven (good and evil can’t coexist so to be with perfect good all my imperfections have to be left at the door). However, I also believe that this transformation is brought about primarily by the gift of God’s merciful love and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which forgives sin rather than our own efforts. I think even wanting to make the effort is a grace.

I know that’s pretty lofty but that’s what makes religion fun and much less confining than a purely material world view.

However lately in spiritual life I’m moving away from things that are difficult for me to things which I already know are impossible to do on my own. I’m having a Carrie Underwood moment where I really need Jesus to take the wheel if I want to keep going (I do) but I’m very afraid to let go. And that fear comes from a sincere lack of trust in God which makes me feel ungrateful. In spite of all that God has done for me my faith feels very small and inadequate compared to the faith I know I need to move ahead. 

Yet I’m past the zone where I can do anything about it. If I want greater faith I have to ask God for it and then wait patiently for Him to answer my prayer, which includes me saying yes to the graces He offers in the moment rather than respond how I would on a natural level. This is hard to do especially when the natural response is so close at hand and so much easier for me.

It’s an important part of the middle of the journey, but I think it’s far from my favorite because I am very undisciplined in sticking with the middle. I look back to the exciting beginning of my life in Christ, I look forward to a future in Heaven, but I struggle to want what I’m getting in the middle which is a steady stream of trials with no immediate end in sight. Yet these trials are so important because they make me the person God is calling me to be, they make me more like Jesus. And I hope it goes without saying why I’d like to be more like Jesus… I’m sure anyone who has a relationship with Him understands what I mean, and if you don’t I’d highly recommend beginning.

Because even though from this post it may sound difficult it is so incredibly worth it. Even though I whine every step of the way in my soul and resist with the stubbornness that is my hallmark, I already know I am going to keep walking….chalk it up to the mystery of love. I also know that the only way I am going to part from these trials is to stop bristling against them and embrace them as the things that are going to rid me of what I’d very much like to be rid of: my pride, my fears, my temper, and my impatience to name a few.

Though I confess it is funny that even though I sometimes tend to hate my weaknesses and lose patience with them as they manifest themselves in myriad surprising ways. However it almost seems like God, rather than wanting me to overcome them with my own strength (my default response) wants me to trust Him to the impossible for me. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all. In order to do it I have to rely not only on God’s grace but I have to remember what I all to often forget the very simple truth that God loves me very much.

And I wrote this post to help me remember that truth as I’m in the middle of the middle, in the hopes that someone else in the middle would remember it too.