January 8, 2014
Two days ago was the first Monday of the new year, and very little went according to plan. (That’s a euphemistic way of saying I had a really hard time focusing on my studies and allowed myself to get distracted by many things.) One of the gifts I counted in my gratitude journal was “Extra grace on an extra-grace-required Monday.” I was surprised to see those words come from my pen as I’ve never liked that phrase.
“Extra grace required” (EGR) is code in some circles for a person who is difficult to deal with, and/or who doesn’t have a lot of life skills, and/or who tends to not understand boundaries; in other words, someone who is needy in a moment when you or I either shouldn’t, can’t, or don’t want to meet that need. We’ve all been there, on both sides of that coin.
But which side of the coin is in need of the “extra” grace? Seem to me if my feathers are ruffled by someone’s lack of courtesy (or whatever), it is I who need an extra measure of grace to extend love and good will to that person, even while perhaps delivering a hard word. It’s pretty arrogant for anyone to label someone else as EGR, as if on any given moment of any given day we’re not in need of all the grace God has to offer.
Which leads me to a deeper pondering — is there really such a thing as “extra grace?” I mean, doesn’t He say, “My grace is sufficient….”? Sufficient means “enough” which is “as good as a feast” according to Mary Poppins. So if His grace is truly enough then why would I need extra? Of course, God is in the lavishing business, so perhaps it’s one more way He showers us with abundance?
I know I can be a picker of nits sometimes, so maybe none of the above really matters. Except it does to me…because if this is my year of pressing into “always we begin again” then I need to know that I know that I know that there truly is enough grace for me in any given moment on any given day, especially in the moments of beginning AGAIN for the tenth, hundredth, thousandth time. I need to know that God’s not hurriedly stashing away a reserve supply for a “hard case” like me. Nope. There is always enough. ALWAYS. Perhaps in God’s dictionary “sufficient” is defined as “more than enough.”
I’d like to encourage us to stop using EGR as a phrase to describe anyone or anything, including Mondays. How about Sufficient Grace Received instead?
January 2, 2014
I spent most of yesterday creating a “Grace Plan” for the new year. (Thanks again to Ann Voskamp for inspiring me!)
(Click on the image to enlarge it and see it more clearly.)
This plan is not about striving for perfection for that has nothing to do with grace! It IS about wanting to move FORWARD, even in the smallest of ways — baby steps! — toward living a life that is more connected to God, more aware of His presence, more be-still-and-know. Can you believe that this expressive, emotional, sometimes-extrovert is on a journey toward more solitude, silence, and contemplation? (Did you just do a spit-take?) Apparently God’s sense of humor is alive and well.
Even before I made the plan, I sensed a couple of themes for 2014:
• Psalm 139 — I’m going to memorize this verse by verse, meditate on it, and let its message soak into my being, deeper than ever before.
• Beginning again — I’m done with feeling shame and guilt for needing to “start over” in my life (especially re: weight). St. Benedict was right; we are always beginning again. It’s an invitation to grace and to renewal. Hard work is ahead but so is restoration. YES!
As important as these themes are, today I realized they are still subcategories of a larger theme that has been emerging over the past few years:
Trust in the slow work of God.
That line comes from this poem which I hope to memorize after I conquer Psalm 139. I love the poem and I love the theme, but I lose sight of it far too easily. I pondered getting a tattoo, but instead THIS caught my eye so I don’t have to deal with needles and pain and ink (oh my!). Very soon I’ll be wearing “TRUST in the SLOW work of GOD” on my wrist. I also added it to the bottom of the Grace Plan. (Originally it ended with “All is grace” which is a lovely truth, but that theme really belongs to Ms. Voskamp.)
It’s now 45 minutes past when I’m supposed to be off the computer for the evening, so in the midst of the imperfect I’ll sign off by saying I look forward to sharing more about all of the above as we journey into 2014 together!
One of my Christmas gifts this year was the book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light. I have always loved the song but didn’t know much about its origins. There are so many versions! Cohen’s original which started it all, but is my least favorite because it’s the least melodic; Jeff Buckley’s which is gorgeous, albeit more sexual (he does some different verses that Cohen had chosen not to include); the one in “Shrek” by Rufus Wainwright that brought the song to national attention; a recent power-ballad performance by Jeff Gutt on “X-Factor,” and many more.
Some interesting facts about the song can be found here. Have to mention the wikipedia article, of course. And the seven recorded verses are written here. Rumor has it Cohen wrote at least 15 verses, though one account said 15 PAGES of verses; it’s the stuff of legends.
There’s even a Christmas version that is a Christian rewrite with good intentions; I appreciate the heart behind it, but aside from the lines about the cross, it misses the point. What makes “Hallelujah” a powerful song is that it’s not about perfect-tidy but all about imperfect-gritty which ends in the most beautiful way:
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
Jesus attached Himself to the uterine walls of a peasant teenage girl and spent His first night on earth in a not-sanitized animal feed trough. As a man, He wore sandals and walked around on roads covered with animal dung. He died a violent, bloody death. Born, lived, and died in mess. I can rattle off those facts but the mind still boggles, especially with the additional truth that He wants to make a home in my very messy heart.
As I begin this new year with a fresh calendar of fresh possibilities that will soon become spattered with the messiness of life, I want to sing out my broken Hallelujah in praise to God; He’s the reason I breathe, write, and sing…laugh, cry, and scream…desire, hope, and wait.
December 31, 2013
“Always we begin again,” said my spiritual director after I poured out a litany of ways I keep having to start over in my life. Margi had chosen a quote from St. Benedict to encourage me and it worked; I have since used that quote to encourage others!
With that in mind, I am starting this new blog. The old one served me well for a season but, for various reasons, it’s been dormant for over a year. Though I am ever on the upward/outward/inward journey, that path is taking me in some new directions. I’m sensing 2014 is going to be a pivotal year and I’m gearing up for some fairly deep work both emotionally and spiritually. Accompanying that will be a need to write, and not just in a private journal. It will do me good to put myself “out there” in a way that is vulnerable; refusing to hide has been one of my life’s themes, and I sense this is going to be even more crucial in the coming season.
OK, but what’s the title about? (I hear you ask.)
One of my favorite songs is “Better Than a Hallelujah” by Amy Grant which says:
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody.
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a hallelujah
This blog should prove to be a beautiful, messy, broken, heartfelt hallelujah.
I hope you’ll join me in the chorus.