Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grace in a bottle

I messed up. I failed. I had worked so hard and with one stupid act I threw it away. Or so I thought. For over a year I worked through mental and emotional struggles. I let my guards down and became vulnerable. I submitted to ordered requirements with no complaints. I submitted to God and everything He wanted. With flying colors I succeeded. As a result I am now a leader. And yet the guilt of failing the other night weighed on me like nothing I hadn't felt in a long time.

I've made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in my life. Couple my hardheadedness with my bipolar and you've got a perfect recipe for uncertainty.

For the last few months issues had been mounting up. Relationship problems. Problems in the home. Questionable career options. A number of people seemingly find their way to verbally dump their problems on to me only to disappear until their next crisis. My body is telling me I must physically work less, but my lenders for my student loans are silently remind me I need to work more. As do my financial obligations to my ex-wife.

To top it all off, for weeks now I often find old thoughts from my eating disorder finding their way into my mind. Life is out of control and when it is, that's when "Ana" (anorexia) shows up. Like an old friend that gets you in trouble that you hadn't seen in years she came back to town and looked me up.

"GRACE" It's a little word with an unfathomable number of personal meanings. We all have set opinions and beliefs about grace. Two of the most profound realities I have learned about grace is that it's easier for people sing "Amazing Grace" than it is to give amazing grace. It's easier for people to want to receive grace than it is to give grace.

Two profound men remind me of grace and how amazing God's grace is. They put in perceptive why I should never doubt His grace and why I have no reason not to extend it. One of the pasts most notorious slave traders, John Newton and one of the mass murderers in Rwanda's genocide, Emmanuel.

John Newton was introduced to the slave trade as a young child and by 17 he was already on the open sea. He purposely sought rebellion and wickedness. Being a fan of writing he wrote these words of his, "delight and habitual practice was wickedness and neither feared God nor regarded man."

John Newton ran. He ran from everything. He even skipped out on the Navy and was beaten. He coped by running. For years he traded slaves and regarded them as less than human. Many died at his hands with no regards.

In 1754 at the age of twenty, Newton wrote in a letter stating he purposely attempted to corrupt the character of any persons in his company. He was quoted of himself, "My daily life was a course of the most terrible blasphemy and profaneness. I don't believe that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer as myself. Not content with common profanities and cursing, I daily invented new ones..."

He later authored the words, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found; Was blind, but now I see..."

In 1994, in Rwanda, in less than 100 days 850,000+ men, women and children were genocide. One of the guilty murderers, Emmanuel,  tells his story of events. He tells of his remorse and his debt that he will never be able to pay. He tells of God's grace he was given. Though many will not ever give it, he publically asks for forgiveness after admitting his guilt.

A soon to be fatherless mother finds the grace to forgive him while he struggles to forgive himself.

I have struggled with grace for these past few months. With giving it. Letting go of what is and what isn't. I struggle with forgiving myself. I am the last person to forgive. Yet, one of the most incredible things that I am personally discovering is that grace is greater than I can ever imagine. If it wasn't for grace I wouldn't have the freedom I do today.

That evening I screwed up, it caused a fight. A big fight. The screw up was the response to being fed up, feeling helpless, feeling controlled. All those things I had worked past during the last year or so. By this I wasn't willing to give grace. I had done everything that was asked and it still didn't change things. It wasn't enough. So I became bitter.

After the voices were silenced and the heat cooled down, eyes were opened and realities were revealed about the both of us. Through one mistake grace was given. Then again, grace can only come by mistakes. And by grace growth began.

There is something about giving grace. It shows that love is more powerful than hate or bitterness. It shows that forgiveness is a better way than bitterness. it shows that hope is stronger than despair. Each time we dispense grace, I remember truths.

Giving grace is hard. It's also biased. Most people know the song "Amazing Grace" before they know who the author is and what his crimes were. But what if you knew his crimes first before hearing of him receiving God's grace as with Emmanuel? Would we sing "Amazing Grace" today?

Grace is so unbelievable that it is undeniable. When we experience its richness we find ourselves torn. Do we tell revealing our faults and weaknesses or do we keep it a secret?

Yet, most of us don't want to learn how to cultivate and give grace. It costs us too much and takes too much of our time and energy. We want fast healing so we can be the ones that have the last word.

The truth is that there are no short cuts. It's prepared only one way. You have to fight to cultivate a heart of grace. You mesh it with love and mercy. The hard part is that we have neither the patience to wait nor the innate desire to do so. Jesus tells us to, "Love your neighbor as yourself." One way or another we do treat them the same.

We are damaged people. To forgive others means we need to forgive ourselves. Many of us are too wounded and paralyzed to know how. When we don’t begin by looking at our own lives and the work of God in it, we cannot venture out into the lives of others.  If God sent His only Son to die for my sins, then He must have thought I was important enough.  This love and grace of God begins and is affirmed in my own life.  It is then that I move out to those around me and let the overflow of that grace and love extend to others.

Grace is such a striking word. The idea that our faults and short-comings can be stricken from God's memory is beyond our understanding. If only it was humanly possible. I can think of quite a few I would like forgotten. Even in my own weakness and humanity, grace is what I need to inspire and provoke the inner most parts of me that get lost in my depressions, anger and doubts to survive until hope arrives.

But so many times I am gracefully selfish. When confronted with a graceful action I can get lost in counting the cost. “How will this make me look?” seems to be the first place I start. “Will I look more spiritual”, will this action of grace make me feel important, or healed, am I really just showing grace just for me? "Will this make me look weak? Like I'm giving in and giving up?" Or, "Will I just come off as fake?"

If that's reality, then I must've put God in His place all these years and had the last word! After all, He's extended me more grace and second (third, fourth, fifth....) chances that I can count. All of which I don't deserve.

We all will have chance after chance before the day is done to show grace to someone, it may take effort, it may feel awkward, but it is a very real choice. Whether it's grace extended towards the renewal of a relationship, a marriage, a life. Or whether it's extending grace for the "umpteenth" annoyance, grace doesn't always clean a person up...sometimes it's just loving them while they are still dirty. And that happens by choice, not accident.

Grace is not something that should be hoarded or hidden, but rather the very presence of grace in our lives requires us to show grace to others. Why? Because that grace is there in response to the cause we first exhibited – a cause we all share.
Grace sees past the faults, the struggles, the pains and the failures that threaten to define us, and cuts to the heart of the individual, their circumstances, and their timing. It saturates the cause so the vision can manifest.
We’ve all needed a second chance, whether it’s with our career, our family, our dreams, or our entire lives. And the vision of grace is to see the amount we have for others. Grace only sees the need and moves towards it.

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Where my inspiration comes from

A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

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Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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