Grace and Practice
For as long as I have blogged, I’ve followed the rule of posting at predictable intervals, writing every two weeks. The irony is not lost on me that the last post was entitled “Embracing Messiness”and was about learning to accept, even welcome, the complex and crowded and chaotic parts of my own life, embracing things as they are and offering them back to God.
That blog post was a month ago!
Even as I prayed The Welcome Prayer that I’d written about and tried to let go of desire for control or the desire to change situations, I found myself struggling with expectations of myself and pressuring myself with self-imposed deadlines. I tried (sometimes successfully) not to grade myself, to talk to myself as I would any friend who was within the month window of before and after her daughter’s wedding. To my friends in that spot, I’d give them a ton of grace. Your brain is slam full of details and your sleep is erratic, a big deadline looms and you want it to be as perfect as possible. When it is over, you are completely exhausted.
But I secretly thought I should be different.
Somehow I should be able to write in spite of the seven bridesmaids sleeping under my roof on Wednesday before the wedding or my sick German Shepherd whom I was spoon-feeding two days before the wedding because he felt too bad to stand up and eat. Yes, I see the pride. I used to tell my students, “You are special; but you are not the exception.” I need to listen to myself! I also see the judgement. Isn’t that the other side of pride? I wouldn’t measure anyone else by the standards I impose on myself.
But there is grace and there is practice. And that’s what embracing messiness looks like. Receiving the grace to live in the moment - whether it is beautiful or excruciating - and remembering that it’s all practice.
I’m learning to talk to myself with kindness. As I have processed my trauma with a professional counselor this past couple of months, it’s become apparent that I ‘should’ myself often, taking blame and responsibility where there really isn’t any need to place either. There’s much more room for grace in our lives if we allow it.
The week of the wedding was no different than the six months prior to it - a mixture of beauty and pain, celebration and work, exhilaration and exhaustion. While I dealt with trauma and fear from January to June, I kept on making preparations and planning. I got a pistol permit and a beautiful ‘mother-of-the-bride’ dress. I walked in my neighborhood with a big dog and I walked down the aisle of our church on my son’s arm. I let friends drive me places and bring food and flowers and throw parties for my daughter and her beloved, and I changed sheets and broke down cardboard boxes and talked to the police two days before the wedding because they’ve found the driver of the car.
Five days before the wedding, battling anxiety, I wrote this prayer in my journal: Oh Lord, help me surrender, lay it all down, and embrace whatever comes. Give me faith to trust you in this moment. Send grace to me. I feel the weight of it all —even what is not mine- mostly what is not mine! Have mercy on me this day. Fill me with your Spirit. Don’t let me hurt others: let me love them. Help me see beyond the material to the real world.
The day was perfect, but not in the sense of flawless. Everything has an underbelly.
It was perfect in its wholeness. Biblically speaking. Teleios. Complete in all its parts. Full grown. There was perfection in the army of friends who helped us: hanging fresh flowers on the front door of our home, delivering the canned organic dog food to Grizzly, driving the newlyweds off after the reception, changing sheets at my house after the seven bridesmaids and before the family all arrived, putting water bottles and tissues on my pew at church, hauling the wedding party on our ‘not-always-trusty’ old firetruck.
Sheets still get dirty and old firetrucks overheat when they idle and dogs get sick at inconvenient times in spite of lovely dresses and exquisite flower arrangements and organ music that sounds like heaven.
In the same way, the marriage ceremony was perfect. Though it happened to be in the sanctuary where our daughter has worshipped her whole life, it was complete because it was in the context of community. It wasn’t the building that made it perfect; rather the army of faithful friends surrounding them and participating with them, praying the Lord’s Prayer, confessing the ancient creed, and singing “How Firm a Foundation.” It was complete and whole.
Years ago, a friend whose marriage was failing at a time mine was limping said to me, “Yours has to make it for people like my son who need to see what it can and should be.” It was the first time I realized my marriage was larger than my own family, that it mattered to the whole community, that something is born out of the union greater than either of us. It’s embodied in our children, but they are not the point either. Couples without children bear this powerful, beautiful mystery to the world.
The prayer of this young couple, our children, was that Christ would be present and experienced, in their wedding, that the mystery of the gospel would be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched in the practices of worship and celebration.
The whole weekend was that for me - practicing worship and celebration -experiencing the mysterious beauty of Christ, the bridegroom and the sunrise, coming to us in our darkness and brokenness and making us a radiant bride.
As much as I still default to that old pattern of thinking I’m the exception, of allowing pride to convince me I can do it all alone and judgment to condemn me when I fail, Grace still floods in. Every time I open my palms in surrender to God, the armies of heaven unleash the army of community on earth to come and help me. We worship and celebrate together and I embrace my messy life with a little more kindness and begin again.
FYI: Grizzly is back to eating like a bear and protecting me with all his might!