As I was growing up in St. Joseph, I would look forward to our yearly treks across the country to my mother's childhood home in Niagara Falls, New York. It was a long two-day drive in our family mini-van. My sister and I each had our own bench seat complete with pillow, first generation Nintendo gameboy and blanket. Our English Cockerspaniel, Mousse, sat panting on the carpeted van floor. My mom and dad always promised we would begin our trek at the break of dawn. But, as my perfectionistic parents worked to strategically pack our suitcases and our crowded van, we undoubtedly always waved goodbye to our home on Felix street in the mid-afternoon humid heat of Missouri.
The drive was long, but I can still remember the sights my little eyes anticipated at the end of the journey - the lights that illuminated the cables of the Grand Island bridge signaled our approach to "the Falls." We would drive on to my grandparents' neighborhood island in the Niagara River. I loved running up to their teal green door, knocking, and seeing the huge smiles cross their faces as we entered their kitchen for our traditional late-night meal of pizza and Buffalo wings.
There are so many things that I keep hidden inside of me from those visits. The gifts waiting for us on our twin bed pillows. The trips to Toronto for top-notch theater. Eating fudge in Niagara-on-the Lake. Riding boats under the great Niagara Falls, our little bodies completely swallowed up in yellow rain coats that had soured from experiencing too much mist.
Nearly every year, I remember asking my Grandma Grace and Grandpa Roger to reenact their wedding day. My sister and I would sit giggling on the living room floor as my grandma would descend the staircase to my waiting grandfather. They would kiss and dance as we peeked through covered eyes at their unabashed love.
I also always remember my Grandma Grace's ring. Every year she would show it to me and allow me to try it on. It was a huge one-carat solitaire diamond on a platinum band. She would proudly say it was purchased at Tiffany & Co. in New York City. This was a special ring from a special, iconic store. I soon came to realize that this Tiffany ring was unique and I loved it.
Ten days ago, I was walking the dark streets of Tallinn to my gym. I recently was given an awesome opportunity - something that could allow me to do something I've dreamed of and practiced for since I was a little girl. But, as I was thinking and praying during that walk, I told myself I could not do it.
Why? It's simple. I felt completely undeserving. I felt like I needed to be punished. I had recently become aware of the struggles and darkness in my heart. Most of my life, I've been good - real good. But, the last 12 months have revealed to me just how desolate I truly am. I have needed a savior.
So, as I began the process of tossing this opportunity away, I felt God's clear voice deep within me.
"Do it! I have created you for this. My grace will cover you."
I still don't know if I can believe those words. I am completely undeserving. And yet, that is the definition of grace. That is what today, Christmas, is about. God having grace on us by sending his son, Jesus Christ, to become one of us. (This
we used recently at Focus Church shares it simply and well).
Today I sat smiling amidst piles of boxes and torn wrapping paper - all left over from my children's wild attempt to open their gifts as quickly as possible.
Nick brought over a small box. I read the card, and the words he wrote were beautiful. I unwrapped the paper and saw a little teal Tiffany & Co. blue box, covered in white ribbon. As I opened the box, I was shocked to find the perfect ring.
This ring joined my past and present. This ring had a symbol that reminds me of my life purpose (detailed in this poem
). After all I've struggled with this past year, this ring EXUDED Nick's undeserving grace to me. It was expensive grace. It was grace lavished on me - there was nothing I could have done to deserve it. I never get emotional over gifts. But, I sat there is a room full of my family, with tears running down my cheeks.
I just don't get grace. I don't think I ever truly have. Although as a Christian, I could quote a lot about grace, I think in reality I have always believed that we get what we deserve. And then...something like this happens, and it can remind us all that even when we deserve the worst, God's grace is shown to us through his constant forgiveness, a love that stays with us even in the prisons of our wrong choices, and through people that he places in our lives. Those people see us at our best, even when we are at our worst.
Now I have my own Tiffany& Co. ring to share with my grandchildren someday. Perhaps Nick and I will walk down a staircase, hand-in-hand, to the music of giggles. But this ring is not about the famous New York City store. It's not about making other women jealous. This ring will serve as a daily reminder to me, year after year, of how extravagant grace was shown to me and how I need to continue to illuminate that grace to everyone in my path.
And the most wonderful thing of all – grace is always waiting for you too.
We were never meant to be perfect. That's an impossibility. We only get into real trouble when we finish our lives without ever realizing the need for God's grace.
I will finish with a quote from one of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith - Paul.
Excerpt from the Bible- Romans 7
"What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. [...]
I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t
it. I decide to do good, but I don’t
do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different."
May your holidays be filled with grace- undeserved and unexpected love shown!
Merry Christmas from my parents' home in Raleigh, North Carolina!