On Guilt and Grace…

I’m not a theologian and this isn’t exactly a deep theological post. I am merely a bearer of guilt and a recipient of grace more often times than I can recount. And I’m a firm believer that God uses simple, tangible things to teach our simple minds.


guilt
/ɡilt/
noun
verb
grace
/ɡrās/
noun
2. the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
verb

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the hard decision my family had to make about choosing life or death for our old dog. While ultimately everyone said it was the merciful decision, it still caused me to wrestle with guilt and all the “buts and what-ifs.” Was I betraying my dog? Was I being irresponsible or taking the “easy way out”? Was she really ready to go, as many people suggested?

Guilt is heavy. It makes you question, judge, and condemn thoughts, motives, and actions. Sometimes guilt is appropriate and helpful to convict, correct, and even clarify beliefs, patterns, and purposes. It can be saving and transformative…providing you use it as a stepping stone to get safely to the other side of the raging sea and not a millstone tied around your neck, dragging you down to drown with it.

But grace. If you believe there’s a God and He is really concerned and deeply involved in people’s lives, you see things differently. Not perfectly, not always 20/20, but differently.

Now to the totally non-theological part. Two days after the difficult decision, I received a text from a friend who knew I had struggled with the loss of my dog.img_1822 Good news! A friend of a friend had six week old puppies she needed homes for. Free puppies! I would like to say I wrestled with the decision. I prayed about it. I sought all the veterinary or psychiatric advice about trying to fill old paw prints too soon. But I didn’t. With a resounding “yes!”, we committed to a little bundle of puppy joy. We contacted the owner and she confirmed she had a little black and white, blue-eyed puppy she would save for us until I returned from a trip the following week.

img_1821While on the trip I wrestled again. Was it too soon? We hadn’t even seen or met this puppy. What if the owner gave her away before next week? It’s so easy to rehearse unnecessary worries and fears. And this was just a puppy! How often and easily can we get consumed by day to day whys and what ifs! Was it coincidence or a God-inspired reassurance that everything was going to be okay when I found a little token of reassurance in gift shop 200 miles away from home?

Welcome, Maggie Grace…img_1823

My daughter calls it “Jesus-juking” when someone overspiritualizes or credits everything to divine intervention. Let me Jesus-juke for a moment:

  • My friend’s nephew’s friend (complicated) had puppies available at just the right time. Free!
  • We were first told they were all taken (tragedy) but someone wasn’t fully committed and backed out.
  • I went in a store in Gatlinburg to find a small garden flag and found one with the close likeness of the pup’s pic on it. (In the colors and flag theme we were wanting!) It even said “Welcome” on it.  🙂
  • While we were waiting to meet the pup, we visited an old antique store that had an old red truck like the one on the flag.
  • She was even more beautiful and cuddly in img_1824person than in the pic.
  • She snuggled in and fit perfectly in our home and hearts right away.
  • She gets along great with the cat and all the other dogs that come and go.

So ultimately…it’s just a puppy. But healing and happiness can be found in small gifts of the ordinary and everyday sights, sounds, and presences in your life. It’s grace.

There’s a song I really like by Matthew West, “Grace Wins”

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

Maybe that seems like a stretch when I’m just talking about a puppy. But it’s really all grace. All a gift. All unearned.

img_1839
My friend, Sharon, who found Maggie for me.

Today is Maggie’s birthday. She is three months old. Since we brought her home, she has been lavished with love and attention. She has been taken for walks on the Greenway. to PetSmart, to Petco, to Dunkin, to Sonic. She has received treats and toys, beds and blankets, snacks and snuggles. What has she done to deserve it? Nothing. We love and accept her…chewed blankets, house accidents and all.

img_1840
She brought new life and hope to my son.

Loving a puppy isn’t difficult. Training, disciplining, watching, protecting, going outside in the rain and early morning hours… Well, it’s grace. We all stumble, mess up, and need a little extra care now and then.

She is growing so fast…not as fluffy; long, lanky legs, a little awkward… She’s still growing and learning to trust and to become her real self. But aren’t we all: awkward, changing, imperfect. But hopefully we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved, we are learning, and we are growing in grace. Happy birthday, Maggie Grace.  🙂

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Phil 1:2-3

 

 

I Didn’t Go To The Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves.Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and tracks left behind. Are there tracks that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day, words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

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