Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why Grace?

So I've been tossing around the idea of doing a blog for a while. In my typical approach to a new project, I began the research process by ordering a few books on the topic.  I ended up with 2 great books - Blogging for Dummies by Gardner & Birley and the beautiful Blogging for Bliss by Tara Frey.

But how to choose a title for my blog? It needs to be catchy, and it needs to say what the blog is about. Reading my new books and talking to a few bloggers I knew left me feeling a little overwhelmed and I stalled there for several months. I considered doing a joint blog with my dear hubby Ryan, who is an insurance guy by profession but has a passion for photography. I thought of "Love in Black & White" which could be a play on words about photography or our interracial marriage, but that wasn't really what I wanted to blog about. Yes, we are different races and have gorgeous brown children, but how much can you really blog about that?  What I really wanted to talk about was the beauty in the every day, the healing power of  connection, and the ways God moves in our lives when we pay attention. Somehow I kept coming back to grace. Why grace? Maybe because my 44 year old brain is more unreliable than ever.  Maybe because as a working mother of two kids I never even come close to crossing everything off my To-do list each day. Maybe because the older I get the more I believe that we're all doing the best we can. 

According to the NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible: "grace is defined as good will, loving-kindness, or mercy. Grace has come to signify the kindness of God to humans. In addition the word grace is also used to express the concept of kindness given to someone who doesn't deserve it. Grace, therefore, is that unmerited favor of God toward God's children." I recently heard a U2 song called "Grace." The lyric that stood out for me was "grace makes beauty out of ugly things."

How thankful I am to be the recipient of God's grace over and over again. When I am absent-minded and wrapped up in my own busy life, God is right there waiting for me - not with a frown of disappointment, but with joy, delight and open arms. When I seek forgiveness from my husband, my child or my friend and they offer it, I am blessed. In response, when my first reaction to a harsh word is to give that person the benefit of the doubt, considering what they might be feeling, that is a response of grace. When I choose to keep my mouth shut, rather than chew out my 12 year old all the way to school, that is miraculous grace! When I'm having a bad-mom day and a friend sends me a text telling me about a sweet thing my child did for her, that is grace. Maybe I'm preoccupied with grace because some days it feels like it's the only thing keeping me going. Or maybe it's not about practicing what I preach, but preaching what I need to practice. Always...Grace.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why Can't I Be Like That?

This morning as I stepped outside to get the paper, I did my usual check in with the flowering plants in our front garden. Have any new Gerber daisies appeared? How about the Easter lilies? Hello, beautiful and fragrant roses! I marvel at the roses most of all – all four varieties we have. First, let me confess that I do not claim gardening as one of my gifts. I don’t know the names of common flowers, don’t know which plants do well in sun and which don’t. And honestly, I’ve always had a bit of a prejudice against roses. It seems silly, I know. Roses? What’s not to love about roses? Well, I considered them a high-maintenance type of plant, requiring lots of extra care and pruning – a primadonna in the flower bed, if you will. My husband, the gardener in the family, had been wanting to plant a rose garden in memory of his mom, who loved roses and drew beautiful roses. So last summer my final resistance gave way and we planted four different colored rose bushes. I can’t remember all the names, but I remember the deep red rose bush was called “Mr. Lincoln”! Imagine my surprise to see the bushes flourish in our garden, with very little help or intervention from us. We enjoyed the fragrant blooms (these roses actually have a strong scent, unlike grocery store roses) for several months. When fall turned to winter, I worried about the roses – surely we’d have to protect them when we had a frost, but hubby said no they would be fine. 

Since we live in the subtropical South and are prone to planting vulnerable tropical plants, each spring, as our garden experiences the miracle of resurrection and new life, we are anxious to see what plants we’ve lost and what comes back.  I just knew those roses would be affected by our particularly harsh winter, but they came back strong in spite of my disbelief. We missed our opportunity to prune them, so rather than being bushy, they are getting taller and lankier.
So that brings me back to my morning greetings in the garden today. As I stepped on to the porch, I noticed an interesting sight. Next to the pink rose bush appeared a lone, white vinca plant, ten feet from the vincas in another flower bed. I imagined for a moment if these plants could talk…
 Rose: Oh, what a beautiful morning! The sun is shining! Look at the beautiful bloom I created! Will my family come out and smell the new bloom today? Oh, there she is! Does she see the rose? Yes, she is smiling. She loves the scent – I hoped she would! Oh, look at that little vinca plant down there. I wonder what it feels like being so close to the earth. I’ll bet her life is simpler than mine - I long for that.
Vinca: What a great day! I’m so happy to be alive and stretch out my leaves and show off my white flower bloom. Oh no, the clouds are coming. Wait a minute, that’s not a cloud, that’s a shadow. It’s a beautiful rose bush towering over me! Look at the size of her bloom. I can even smell it all the way down here. I wish my flower had a fragrance. Why can’t I be a tall majestic rose bush like her?
It’s silly of course. No amount of wishing, or exercising or dieting or promising or plain sheer will are going to turn that little vinca into a rose. How often am I like this little plant? As much as I hate to admit it, when someone shares a celebration with me, how often is my first mental response in the form of a comparison? How many                                                                      times have I thought,
                “If only I could be as ___________ (fill in the blank) as ____________.”(fill in the blank)
Yet wishing I could sing as well as Julanne or be as creative as Paige or be as great a mom as Karen is as fruitless, and frankly silly, as that little vinca wishing she was a rose.
Paul says in his first letter to the church at Corinth : “I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, "I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body," would that make it so? If Ear said, "I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head," would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. “ 1 Corinthians 12:14-18 (MSG)

What a joy and a comfort to know that God has me right where He wants me. He isn’t disappointed that I left teaching to run my family business; he knows that I can be me, fully “me” right where I am. If I have eyes to see and ears to hear, He gives me all the resources and opportunities to reflect Him in all I say and do. Right here.  Right now. What amazing love. What limitless grace!
PS:  I am also blessed with a new appreciation for my rose bushes. How beautiful, self-sufficient and hearty they are! Given enough water, they grow very well. With a little extra attention, like feeding them coffee grounds or eggshells and pruning, they grow even better – not unlike all of us! Yes, my prejudice against roses was unfounded. I’m thankful that my persistent husband stuck to his garden dream and proved me wrong. Now, each morning as I say hello to the roses, I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for Juliet, my precious mother-in-law, and her beautiful roses.

Update: Today the rose bush with the peach colored roses surprised me with 28 fragrant blooms!