It's a snowy Monday morning in my town -- perfect for a cozy little coffee date chat. Join me?
Life lately has seemed like one big lesson in learning grace. Not just as a pretty little church word, but as the big, gutsy, life-changing, transformative gift.
Grace is changing everything about me.
I'm a perfectionist. My parents raised me with high standards and expected me to be my very best, and I took that very seriously. I've realized there's a lot more people pleaser in me than I ever cared to admit. I'm an all-star at getting things done. Responsibility is my number one strength according to Strengths Finder, and I love leadership positions and having a clearly defined role to play. I'm impossibly hard on myself and ridiculously critical too.
But grace is changing everything about me.
A dear, dear friend this week saw me break down completely as I realized how this standard of perfection and the consequent feelings of failure and frustration have been eroding all areas of my life.
I rambled as I realized I expect too much out of myself, and when I fail or fall short, I quit and give up. I lock my heart up from people when relationships don't progress like I should in the time I think they should. I give up on projects when I can't figure things out in the time I think it should take. I pull away from God when I don't feel like I'm living well or I don't think He's responding. It's always been how I handle things-- I'm impulsive and spiteful and excellent at giving up when things get hard.
He looked right at me and told me gently, "that's not who you are, though." I laughed while still crying and was baffled-- it's what I do, though. It's what I do in every area of my life. How can it not be who I am? Isn't what I do also who I am?
He smiled at me and I avoided eye contact and he told me none of that is who I am. None of the guardedness, the pushing people away, the stress and the anxiety, the feelings of failure and desire to just quit, none of the critiques and the shortcomings, none of the roles I play or the positions I hold or the work I do... none of them are me.
I am Rachel.
Rachel. At my core, that's who I am.
This friend told me: "It's like trying to describe God. You can say God is love and God is justice and God is mercy and hope and all of these things, but it doesn't get to the core of who He is. God is GOD."
I'm a perfectionist and I've failed at projects on my plate and I've let people down and I've damaged relationships and I've struggled and I'm stressed and overwhelmed...but none of those things are who I am.
I am RACHEL.
Grace is changing me from who I was to who the Lord has planned for me to be.
When I accept the massive gift of grace that's right in front of me, it changes me. It puts broken pieces back together again. It transforms me. It makes me new.
There is grace for me in my work when I can't accomplish the tasks on my plate. A coworker stepped in and helped with the part I couldn't figure out and the project got done and looked great. Grace like that is changing me.
There is grace for me when I shut people out and close myself off from friendships. A friend came to town and told me over Chinese food that it was a phone call several years ago that I had forgotten ever making that made it clear to her that our friendship would last. She told me it was because I called and wanted to figure out if something was wrong that she realized we would stay close. I realized I've since become a friend that doesn't put much effort in, and I saw that she was now the friend fighting to stay close despite my lack of trying. That friend is the one who texts me when I feel like a mess and reminds me that I'm okay, that I'm loved, that I'm strong, that feeling how I'm feeling "IS NORMAL!" Grace like that is changing me.
There is grace for me when I've run far away and squandered everything good I was given and am the perfect picture of the prodigal son.
There is grace for me when I return, head hung low, ashamed that I couldn't have just stayed where I was loved and wanted.
There is grace for me when I put other things in the Lord's place in my life.
There is grace for me when I fail to love well, fail to extend a helping hand, fail to fight for justice, fail to be the hands and feet of Jesus, fail to show mercy, fail to be present.
There is grace for me even when I struggle to have grace for myself.
Grace is changing everything about me.
The sin, the shortcomings, the struggles, the stress...they aren't me. I am Rachel. God is GOD. I am beloved and chosen and covered in His amazing, amazing grace.
Thankful: feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.
I'm thankful for freedom. For the kind that comes from living in a country where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are protected and defended daily. For the kind that comes from being washed in the blood of a sinless Savior who died to release my chains and draw me close to His side forever. For the kind that lets me worship, lets me write and speak and publish, lets me love, lets me live as I do.
I'm thankful for grace. For the undeserved gift of extravagant, amazing grace that washes over me and floods me and changes everything about me.
I'm thankful for family. For all the people that have known me from my first breath and support me unconditionally. For the memories, the traits and the traditions we all share. For the times we can all be close even though we all live far.
I'm thankful for community. For a church that is vibrant, alive, welcoming, growing. For my small group and how we've grown as believers, people and friends over the past year. For my circle of friends who laugh with me, eat with me, adventure with me, do life with me. For the Rethink guys and The Rising team and all of their persistence and dedication to changing the world through their words and their art. For the #fireworkpeople who light up every day with beautiful encouragement and passion and fire.
I'm thankful for change. For a different life and different goals and different dreams today than I had last year, because that means I'm growing. For new circumstances and new challenges, because they mean that life is moving onward and I'm not stuck.
I'm thankful for technology. For being able to make friends all over the world through Facebook and Twitter and blogs. For a platform I can use to share my heart through my writing with anyone.
I'm thankful for creativity. For museums full of art from centuries past to remind us where we came from, what we saw, what we found beautiful and meaningful. For websites full of words that challenge and inspire and connect us. For crafts and for dance and for murals and for music.
I'm thankful for joy. For giggles from children discovering new things in this world. For laughter shared with friends that brings tears to our eyes and aches to our stomachs. For a deeply rooted freedom that bubbles over in trusting faith and lasting happiness and unwavering belief.
I'm thankful for forgiveness. for redemption. for healing.
I'm thankful for unity. for shared meals. for solitude.
I'm thankful for the unexpected. for provision. for protection.
I'm thankful for Jesus. for the resurrection. for salvation.
I'm thankful for life.
I'm thankful for love.
It was a rainy summer night and I was at my parents' house while they were on vacation. The screened-in porch out back is perfectly cozy on nights like that one, the best kind of spot to sit and read and write while the rain falls and the crickets chirp and darkness blankets the sky. Something about being by myself in that big house and that weather made me more introspective and reflective than usual, and my pen was pouring out words onto paper in a way that hadn't happened in a while.
The chorus of Amazing Grace was stuck in my head for some reason, and I pulled up an instrumental version of it next to the lyrics on my phone. As an acoustic guitar played this song that's so familiar and I read through the words, I was struck by the power and immensity of grace. I sat still, put down my pen, closed my eyes, and let it all sink in.
We say it all the time, casually...amazing grace. The two words have become joined over time, we say it as one thing, and I think we've lost some of the awe of how amazing grace really is.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Wretch: an unfortunate or unhappy person. That feels like the most appropriate description of who I have been lately. In the midst of so much ambiguity and uncertainty throughout all aspects of my life, I've been sinking into myself, shrinking away from truth and the Word, questioning everything and trusting little. It is unfortunate. I have been unhappy. I've been a wretch.
I once was lost-- I feel that. Right now. In a season of overwhelming changes, I absolutely feel lost. I feel blind. I don't know what's next, I don't know what's around the bend. Wretch, lost, blind...yep. How easy it is to convince ourselves that we can't change these things, to give these things power over us to keep us down and out and hiding on the sidelines in fear.
But I'm not stuck there. I'm not out of the race. Oh, amazing grace. I'm saved. Grace saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.
Neon signs didn't light the road ahead of me with flashing directions, the long list of questions in my head weren't automatically answered, the concerns didn't disappear...but amazing grace flooded over me. I may feel like a wretch, feel lost, feel blind, but I've been saved, I'm found, I can see. I can see grace redeeming and feel love restoring. The questions and the fear and the anxiety pale in comparison to the tsunami of grace washing over my starving soul.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
That grace appeared when I believed. I could run, I could hide, I could shrink back and lash out, but when I stopped fighting and started believing, grace appeared. How precious, that grace.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; its grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
There have been circumstances more challenging than these. There have been doubts bigger than these. There have been dangers, toils and snares. I have come through them all. Grace has brought me through each one. Grace isn't done with me yet, grace isn't tired of me and all my antics, grace isn't intimidated by my questions or turned off by my doubts. Grace grabs my hand and leads me home one step at a time. Grace picks me up when my legs are too tired to keep going. Grace wraps me up in a big bear hug when I make it over a hurdle. Grace cheers me on and celebrates every victory and chants my name and believes in me when I'm out of breath and struggling and ready to quit. Grace leads me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, as long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess, within the veil, a life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine; but God who called me here below will be forever mine.
When we've been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun.
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.
It is a beautiful day in Richmond and there's a magic in the air that comes with spring around here. Sunshine, warm weather, flowers blooming...YES. This past week has been a good one. I don't have words on my heart to write today, and I'm giving myself a little extra grace and saying that's okay. Instead, I just have pictures of things that brought me joy this week.
Go on an adventure this weekend. Go somewhere new and find wonder in the world around you. Happy weekend, friends!
I recently graduated from JMU. (Yes, a year early. No, I don't know what I'm doing with my life yet.) It was such a bittersweet celebration of my time at such an incredible university, of the past three years and all the memories and moments that made them so special, of friends and family, of reminiscing on the past and looking excitedly and expectantly forward to the future.
My grandparents came to my graduation since they live only a few hours away, and at lunch after the ceremony, they handed me an envelope. I opened it, found a sweet card, and then a folded up piece of paper inside. I opened it, and my grandpa instructed me to read it aloud.
I began reading a funny poem in the form of a dialogue between my grandpa and my grandma. As I read, I realized what the poem was for. Here's the background story.
Last summer, I studied abroad in London. I had been saving up, but my grandparents graciously offered to pay for my plane ticket so I could use the money I had saved while I was in London. My grandpa also surprised me (the famous gift-giver that he is) with a credit card with $1,000 on it for me to spend while I was there. And yes, I spent almost all of it. The plan was always for me to pay back the plane ticket, and to pay half of the credit card back while the other half was a gift. So, all in all, I owed them about $1,800. For a broke college kid, this wasn't fun or easy to pay back, but over the past year, I had started to make a dent in it.
Back to the poem. The closing lines (in rhyme, of course) told me that my debt was erased. And not only that, but that they would give me back the money I had already paid them toward it.
As you might imagine, I was floored and humbled and speechless and in awe. This huge weight that had been on my mind for almost a year, nagging at me and looming over me, was all of a sudden gone. I had no more debt to pay.
The whole rest of the day, all I could think about was grace. What a perfect picture of grace this gift was. I had been working so hard to pay them back, trying to save (and failing), taking extra shifts at work when I could, trying to budget and be smart about how I was spending my money. I was working so, so hard to pay it back and make the debt go away, but I wasn't even coming close. And then, in an act of such selfless and undeserved love, it was erased. I know it wasn't easy of them to do it-- $1,800 isn't pocket change. There was a cost to the gift, but they gave it because they loved me and they knew I couldn't work hard enough or long enough to pay it back. And not only did they erase the debt, but they took it a step further, returning what I had already paid back to me. They gave me more than I deserved, more than was necessary, more than I could have imagined. They knew I didn't have much money saved up, and they gave me a way to make that happen, too.
I'm still so humbled by their generosity and graciousness. I'm humbled by the picture that this gift was to me of the abundant grace and love my Savior poured out for me on the cross. I'm humbled by how undeserving I was, but how selfless their love for me was, how perfect and how merciful. I'm humbled by how my Savior not only died for me to pay for the debt I owed in my sin and my shame, but how He took it one step further to bring me into eternal life with him, what He knew I needed but would never have been able to make happen on my own. I'm humbled. I'm thankful. I'm overwhelmed and full of gratitude.
I'm in awe of my God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10), and forever thankful for my grandparents and this gift so full of grace.