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A Deficiency of Grace

These past several weeks, I have been in the presence of a lot of different people caught in the grips of the same affliction. That affliction... the absence [or withholding] of grace from the very people they share their lives with in whatever capacity, whether that be an employer, a friend, a family member, a lover or a stranger. It didn't hit me until today as I was in my car driving to Bend on an errand and found myself reflecting back on a particular interaction that I had with someone that left my heart a little bit warbled. The word that bubbled to the surface in my mind was 'grace'. I know we currently find ourselves living in a world of 'Love More' and 'Kindness Matters' and 'Grateful, Thankful, Blessed'... but why does 'Grace' seem to get left in the shadows? Grace is a friggin' BIG deal and grace is one of the most loving of gifts that we have to offer someone that we like, that we love, someone that we care about, or someone that we simply want to acknowledge as being a valuable human.

For you WordNerds, 'Grace' as defined by Merriam-webster means 'approval; favor; mercy; pardon; disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful'. Biblically, grace is defined as 'undeserved love and favor'.

Put more simply, grace is getting love & favor you don't deserve, and mercy--well that's not getting what you do. What makes grace such a beautiful, undeserved gift is that it is the personification or embodiment of unconditional love. We all want to be loved like that. Each one of us, every single one of us, fails at being human. We can try to do the right things, say the right things, act the right ways, think good thoughts... we can twist ourselves up on the inside trying to be this perfect person only to find that no matter how hard we try, we still fail. Most often--we do fail. Without the gift of grace we would all want to shut ourselves away from the world and seek solace in a dark, cold, empty cave. Grace is what gives us the courage to allow ourselves to be human, to not fear being loved by others, and to be willing to open our hearts to the world around us. Without grace, or if we are struggling from a deficiency of grace, shame is given the advantage. Without unconditional love, shame takes root in our spirits and in our lives, and shame is much like a black cancer that attaches itself to our hearts, our thoughts, our self-esteem, and our hope. 'Shame', as defined by Wikipedia, is 'an unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with negative evaluation of the self; withdrawal motivations; and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness'. Wikipedia further shares that 'shame is a self-punishing acknowledgement of something gone wrong' [Niedenthal, P.M. Krauth-Gruber, S. & Ric, F. 2017; Psychology of Emotion]. 'Studies of shame showed that when ashamed people feel that their entire self is worthless, powerless, and small, they also feel exposed to an audience--real or imagined--that exists purely for the purpose of confirming that the self is worthless'. Synonyms of 'shame' that you might relate to are 'guilt, regret, remorse, self-reproach, chasten, degrade, demean, lower, sink, take down' [credit Merriam-webster]. What a painful way to live (hugs!).

I suffered from a deficiency of grace for most of my life unbeknownst to me. The only time I had ever heard the term 'grace' or had it explained to me in a way I could grasp was when we attended a little country church while I was in junior high. During Sunday school class, the lesson we were being taught was about Jesus and how he loves us with his whole heart, holding nothing back, and how we don't have to be perfect for him to love us. Mostly I related to the trying to be perfect, since I truly believed that once I could be, then everyone would love me like they were supposed to. Even then, I had no idea that trying [or rather fighting] to be perfect was an internal battle that would beat me to a pulp every time I felt like I was getting close (that's another day--another story). Now that Sunday, I felt it for the first time. I felt love seep over me, it filled all the holes I had inside with this warm, tender, healing salve. I felt loved from the inside out, and it didn't matter that I wasn't perfect. In that moment, in my young mind, I believed that nothing could rob me of how I felt right then. Boy was I wrong about that! As the years passed and life happened, shame ruthlessly battled for my soul. Bing told (repeatedly) that I was nothing but white gutter trash or a south town rat only managed to cement shame in my life, and being referred to as stocky, short, having thunder thighs, or being called Grace because I was clumsy and uncoordinated, only managed to seal the deal. I did not like myself, I could not stand my reflection, and my actions to treat myself as being truly worthless only intensified with time. I did not seek out healthy relationships, I had zero respect for myself, and I allowed myself to be used and abused repeatedly. My abusers walked Scott-free while I, in turn, heaped more shame upon myself. I got caught in a shame cycle, and spent far too many years of my life being ashamed of how I physically looked, what my voice sounded like, that I wasn't intelligent enough, that I was untalented and under skilled, that I was lousy at sex, that I didn't know how to kiss right, that I had a boring personality, that I was zero fun to be around, that I would never (ever) even come close to being the girl--lady--woman--friend--sister--daughter--lover--wife--mother that I was 'supposed' to be. I was 43 years old, sitting in a room with a mostly strangers, who were sharing stories about how they hated all of those same things about themselves and how they felt irredeemable... when I realized that I was not the only one who hated myself. As odd as it might sound, hearing that made me feel like I had finally found home. No one there called me white gutter trash, or a south town rat, or told me that I had thunder thighs, or that I was too short or stocky, or that I was unlovable. They loved me without even knowing me. And as time passed, and as my story began to unfold, their love for me only increased. They would tell me that I was filled with courage, that I was a beautiful story teller, that I had a huge heart, that I was a survivor, that I should write books, that I was somehow able to put their own pain into my words. Being a part of this group of women reminded me of how I felt way back when I was younger sitting that day in my Sunday school class when I learned about grace. Those women, even though the names and faces changed over time, filled me with a hope that life could indeed feel better even when it was painful. When I chose to commit to my very first 12-step study, I truly believed that I would work solely on my family of origin issues. I believed that you just dove right in and dealt with what others had done to you that had hurt your heart and spirit. Maybe if I had known or been told that my first 12-step study would focus solely on guilt, shame and unforgiveness of self, I probably would have ran the other direction back into denial and disassociation. But God knew where to start my healing and it just happened to be in my open wounds--not my scars. There were (more times than I can ever count) moments when I didn't think I would survive the process. During this season of my life I dealt with suicidal ideation on a very scary level. Facing your shame is like staring your killer in the face. You know they have held you captive, you know they have abused you beyond your own recognition, you know they have zero intent to let you live--and you have to face them with courage you did not know you possessed, with a bravery far beyond the violence you have endured from those you believed loved you, and with a vigilance to protect this person you don't yet know but are growing to love as you carve out the black cancer that has attached itself like creeping death to her heart, her mind, her spirit, and her soul. Guilt and shame had kept me prisoner for so many years and I couldn't even see it. Guilt over what I put my children through, shame over two divorces, guilt over failing at being perfect, shame over being a survivor of abuse, guilt over the choices I had made, shame over the loss of friendships that I walked away from, guilt over allowing the abuse, shame over staying even when I should have left. Forgiving myself was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. But with forgiveness, came grace. And with grace, came love. I was able to learn how to love myself, how to respect myself, and how to accept that striving to be perfect was subjecting myself to a deficiency of grace. Striving for perfection is nothing short of conditional love. No one is perfect short of Jesus, and we were never intended to be. We are human--which means we are flawed, imperfect, full of gaps, and will fail (a lot!). And that is exactly the point. We are all learning as we go, we are all a work in progress, and we are all worthy to be loved and shown grace (Amen... and Amen).

In sharing about grace--or deficiency of grace, I challenge you to open your eyes to where you choose to withhold grace or silently punish others for not being what you expect them to be. We would all like to think we are above that... but we're not. We all cast judgement, hold stigmas, withhold love and affection, and hurt those we are closest to. That is a byproduct of being human. Not long ago, a good friend of mine shared a post on Facebook (written by someone else) about how it is not our business how someone else looks, behaves, or presents themself to the world. After reading that post, God did a little work in me... and still is. I stand at the door of Walmart [of all places] as a greeter. Most, if not all of us, have seen the Walmart sighting shares on Facebook or Google. For whatever reason, I didn't think I had a problem with judging others. I stand corrected on that. Every single time a thought would pop into my mind such as 'why is he with her?' or 'do her friends not love her enough to tell her she looks awful in that?' or 'wow... just wow---did she not look in a mirror before going out in public?'-- God would (and does) cause this 'NOT YOUR BIZ' to pop up in my mind. And when I say every single time--I mean every single F'n time. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't feel good but it is not punishing... it is purging. And it feels good to face my humanness. I must have felt justified in my judging before this growing season of 'NOT YOUR BIZ' started. How sad is that?! But God loves me so much that his desire is for me to not remain the same. And truth be told, if I judge others so harshly, what makes me think that others don't judge me? This is just a small example of how I withhold grace or silently punish others for not being what I expect them to be--like I am lord over their life (how ugly is that?). While reading this, does a particular person or event come to your mind? Do you see areas where you are withholding grace, silently punishing others, holding stigmas, or withholding love and affection to hurt them or to protect yourself? If so, I challenge you to extend grace even if, or especially when, you don't agree with the life they are leading. Their life and their choices belong to them and to them alone. But just think what extending a little grace has the power to do. And not just in them--but in you.

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