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Monday, December 22, 2008

Glad for Grace

Just finished reading an amazing book by Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace? and as I ponder the year, I'm just so thankful for grace.

Temple of Forgiveness by David Best

Grace is not getting what you deserve. It is receiving forgiveness when you should be condemned.  It is about giving forgiveness when people don't deserve it.  And it is something we all need.

As I ponder the year, I could contemplate on that time I posted a blog post about a vendor that had done something terrible to me.  (I regretted it and unposted it but I still did it.)  Or the times I was only seeing the end of my own nose and not noticing when someone else was having a tough time.  Or the kid that was upset and I didn't catch it until later?  Or how about the (multiple) times I was crabby and fussed at my children a little too much?

All of these things upset me.

And then, I read stories like this one of a great man named Ambrose.  I've paraphrased the story below.

Ambrose lived from 339-397.  He is one of the most amazing stories of a GOOD clergyman that you can find.  Elected by the people before he had even been baptized, Ambrose fled to a friend's house and wrote a letter to the bishop to be excused from service.  But, when he finally accepted his calling, he sold all of his large estates and possessions and gave them to the poor.

He saw EVERYONE, I mean EVERYONE who asked to see him and poured his life into studying the Bible, writing letters far and wide, writing hymns, and speaking. In fact, Augustine was won over by this man because of his loving heart.  Augustine said, "That man welcomed me as a father.  I began to love him first not as a teacher of the truth, but simply as  a man who was kind and generous to me."  (Teachers take note, your attitude does more to open the mind of your students than your knowledge.)

But this story that hits home with me today is how Ambrose stood up to the emperor Theodosius.  Theodosius stayed in Milan and often attended Ambrose's church (he was an eloquent speaker who attracted many.)  There was a riot in Thessolinica and in a fit of rage Thedosius ordered the massacre of over 7,000 men, women and children.

Ambrose wrote to Theodosius that very week and received no response.  But, when Theodosius came to church that week, Ambrose was standing in his way and would not allow him to come in or take communion.   He confronted the emperor about what he had done.  Theodosius said, "David murdered and he was forgiven."  Ambrose said, "Well, you have imitated David in his sin.  Now imitate him in repentance."

Later, Theodosius confessed this sin to the whole church and instituted a 30 day cooling off period before sentencing death to anyone -- HOW MANY PEOPLE DID THIS ONE ACT SAVE?

Lest you think there was animosity between these two men, Theodosius said, "Ambrose is the first man who told me the truth.  He is the only man who is worthy to be a bishop."  When Theodosius died, he passed away in Ambrose's arms.

Story paraphrased from  Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History


So, why did I tell this story and does it relate to everyone, even non Christians?  Yes.  It surely does.

This is what is so beautiful about this story to me.  Ambrose's ability to love, be kind, open, inclusive, intelligent, loving, AND confrontational on the issues that matter while still retaining relationships with the people that he worked with.

What is so amazing about grace?  
The fact that all of us need it and so few of us give it.

We all have the things we hate that we do.  For me, I have so many weaknesses and these past few months as I spent time on my face, begging for God to heal my mother, (praise God, He did heal her) my weaknesses and faults seemed so HUGE.  My goodness, I mess up.

But you know what -- other people do too.  My students mess up.  You mess up.  We all do.

I think the thing I hate most about elections is the assassinations.

Character assassinations, that is.  I really don't know of any human being who is totally evil incarnate.  I'm sure they are there, but really, most people who are public servants, teachers, edubloggers, or whoever are just really trying to do their best and want to make a difference.

It is tough to stay at a school for longer than about 4 years, because by that time, you either have to decide if you're going to forgive the hurts and wrongs from the other administrators and teachers.  But you also have to decide if you're that you've done some wrong things too.

Character assassination hurts.  It is wrong to do.  To impune the motives of another when you do not know them. To demonize the wrong they have done and extend that to the person of who they are is just wrong.

This sort of thing causes many to leave the blogosphere -- you've got to have a thick skin to stick it out.

Because one thing I can guarantee, is that sometimes you'll phrase things the wrong way.
Sometimes you'll link to something and realize later that you shouldn't have.
Sometimes you'll hurt someone's feelings either intentionally or unintentionally and they'll never forgive you.
Sometimes you forget to thank someone.
Sometimes you'll sound or actually be arrogant.

Basically, your humanness will eventually emerge and you'll MESS UP!  You'll need your readers to forgive you, your colleagues, your admin, and your students.  You need some grace from others.

Give Grace for Christmas

So, this Christmas message from me to you is to give Grace this Christmas.

Unforgiveness is like strapping a dead body to your back.  You can never do or be what you really are meant to do - and you know what - usually the person you haven't forgiven doesn't know or doesn't care that you were hurt.  Unforgiveness doesn't hurt them at all - only you!!!

Forgiving people gives YOU freedom moreso than them.

Grace is delightful - it is my daughter's middle name and my deceased mother-in-law's first name.  I find it fascinating that when I do the "full name" verbal sleeper hold with my kids that my daughter's middle name jumps out at me like a spear.  GRACE!  GRACE!

Forgiving people is not something many want to talk about.  But I'm not one who believes that a person can make one mistake and forever lose their relevance.  Mistakes are what we do.

In a world that never forgives, never forgets, this is what Christmas means to me.  It means grace.

It means that I can be forgiven and live life without carrying that burden of pain.
It doesn't mean life is perfect but means that I can connect to perfect wisdom for my life.

The tough thing about Christmas is that many Christians do not show the grace we're intended to show.  I for one, cannot condemn them either, because certainly this is something I fault myself for.

Dwight L. Moody said,

"Of one hundred men, one will read the Bible; the ninety-nine will read the Christian."

Oh, how sad.  For in our society's desire to assassinate others so that we may feel better about ourselves - we assassinate whole religions, people, parents, students... and yes, teachers. 

And this, my friends, is wrong.

To me, the irony is shown in the US Congress right now.  A congress that has demonized the auto industry and the financial industry execs for their greed in tough times.  "How can you give yourself a bonus when your business is floundering?" said Congressmen as they cajoled execs into taking $1 in pay this year as a symbol of the austere times.

Those same Congressmen took the time to vote themselves a pay raise last week in a sign of utter hypocrisy that has people in both political parties with their stomachs turning sour.

Congress criticized others for the sin of greed, when they themselves are also greedy.

And that my friends is the point about needing grace-- NONE of us is perfect.  Sometimes arrogance most bothers those who are arrogant themselves.

Character assassinations only make you a hypocrite!  My Mom always said

"Beware of pointing fingers lest you have three fingers pointing back at yourself."

For those of us who are Christians, we must forgive so that we can be forgiven.  For those of us who are educators we know that we work in imperfect situations with imperfect curriculula, imperfect kids, and imperfect classrooms and that forgiveness and learning is part of what we do on a daily basis.

If I could wish one thing for the edublogosphere and America -

It would be that we would pursue the year in a spirit of attacking problems with hard work and not attacking people who are working hard.

We need to pick up, move on, work hard...and we need a healthy measure of grace.

Grace under pressure.
Grace under fire.
Grace in the classroom.
Grace in our words.
Grace in our demeanor.
Grace to move on after we've messed up.
And most of all grace in forgiving others when they mess up BEFORE demanding that others do the same for us.

As for me, I am thankful for a Christ who loved me enough to die for me and my sins when He was perfect and didn't have to. I am thankful for my friends, family, and husband who know my deepest faults and love me anyway.  And I'm thankful for Jesus Christ, my best friend, dearest confidant, and the one who will walk with me through the valley of the shadow of death and beyond - long past when these fingers cannot type the keyboard to you.

Grace is a glorious thing.  And with all the messing up I've done this year, I am thankful for the grace of God as well as the grace of the readers here.

You see, there are some people who read only people like themselves.  There are people who say,

"If you're not like me and don't agree with me in all ways I'm going to close my ears and say "na na na na na I can't hear you," like Johnny did in first grade."

And then, there are those who welcome Atheists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, male, female, white, asian, african american, hispanic, and all types of people diverse from their own upbringing into their reading and learning circle. 

Grace to know that you can disagree with a person on some things and yet, agree on others.  Grace to know that no person is wrong all of the time and that many beautiful things can be learned from all people.

Grace is a good thing.   And this Christmas, I am glad for Grace.

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