"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound."
It's one of my favorite songs. My grandmother used to sing this song to me before I could understand the words. I have a feeling my mom probably sang it to me in the womb, or hummed it like she so often does with her favorite songs. It was one of the first hymns I could sing by memory, and not just the first verse, but all four of them. I had no idea what the words meant, but, oh how sweet the sound. And just a few years ago, it was sung at my brother's funeral leaving few dry eyes from the hundreds of people that graced the church for his farewell service.
How do we begin to understand something like "grace?" Well, for me, I don't begin to understand anything until I've experienced it for myself.
For many years, I was more like Aunt Bethany from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when it came to understanding grace. "Grace? She passed away 30 years ago." At most, I thought it was a few words we said before dinner to give thanks for the food we were about to eat. And then it blew up as a popular name for little girls around the time all my friends started having babies. But I didn't understand grace for what it truly is--God's perfect love and mercy that was there for the taking that saved a wretch like me. Just like the song said.
When I was early in recovery from alcoholism, I would hear people speak of this "grace" thing and how it saved them and I had no clue of what they were talking about. I thought I had saved myself. I was sure God sure had made me an alcoholic and taken my brother from me, but I by no means gave him the power or credit for anything good in my life.
I didn't see the God in me or even God's part in my life until I got sober and even then, it took some time. Apparently other people could see God working in my life long before my eyes and heart were privy to it. I thought because I had shut God out of my life...because I had called Him every ugly name in the book and blamed Him for every bad thing in my life--Well, I was sure He hadn't thought of me in years--probably since I was a little girl singing "This Little Light of Mine" at Sunday School.
But today, I understand what it's like to be saved by God's grace, because that's my story. God's grace doesn't care about your past or what you've done. That's the beauty of it. You see, before I got sober, I lived by a code of karma--what goes around, comes around. Thank God grace trumps karma (in my experience) because if I got what I deserved, I'd be paying for my bad karma for the rest of my life.
I have no doubt it was God's grace that lead me to my parents' house to ask for help to go to rehab and deal with my alcoholism. It was God's grace that protected me the many nights I put myself in situations that could have easily ended very badly for me. It was God's grace that kept me safe when I was within seconds or inches of my life on many occasions. There is no reason or logic as to why I am alive today. By all accounts, I shouldn't be. Then again, there is no reason or logic to grace.
I was having coffee with two dear friends the other day and my friend, Joanne says, "I give grace because I need grace and I have been given grace."
She went on to joke about the grace her husband extended to her when she was going through menopause and we laughed, but her words stayed with me and I reflected on them as I drove home.
Grace has been defined as "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it."
And what Joanne was talking about was applying that definition to our daily life with everyone we meet. What if we extended God's love to our friends and family and strangers at the many opportunities we are provided with throughout the day? Could you imagine?
I think about the many times that people have extended grace to me and the many times I have not returned the favor. When I am close to God and seeking His presence, asking Him to stay close to me, inviting Him into my daily life; it is easy for me to give grace to those around me. But when I start to drift away from Him, when the material world around me starts influencing my thoughts and driving my actions and becoming more important that my spiritual world; I am less likely to extend God's love within me to others.
So, how do we become more gracious?
We stay close to God. We pause. We pray. We practice patience. And tolerance. And acceptance. And gratitude. And humility. We choose love. We engage. We listen. We slow down. We keep an open mind and an open heart. We build people up; we never bring them down. We treat others how we want to be treated or better yet, how you want your mother or your father or your brother or your sister to be treated. We admit when we are wrong and we make amends. We take pride in our work, no matter how small the job. We bring dignity to any situation. We forgive. We are kind. We appreciate. We smile. We are genuine. And we are sincere. We are intentional. And we are mindful. We are conscious. We recognize and celebrate the good in others. We simply make our self a blessing to everyone we meet.
We have opportunities every day to be gracious with our thoughts, with our words and with our actions. And what a beautiful world it would be if we could all see the light in ourselves and share that light--that love--that amazing grace with the unexpected and undeserving just as God does with us every single day.