I must admit that I never understood what people were talking about with the term “Grace.” Sure, sure — I learned “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense” like every other good little indy-fundy Baptist girl. And I was a good girl too. I “asked Jesus into my Heart” at 4 after listening to Little Marcy singing “Jesus Knocks, Knocks, Knocks,” and I had my “second blessing” or “dedication” at nearly-9 at Camp Good News after hearing the story about the American Indian and the circle. I attended Christian Day Schools from first grade through twelfth. And I attended Bob Jones University — receiving only 11 demerits total my whole four years. I married my college sweetheart, the man I met in my Freshman English tutorial, the only man I have ever loved. There we are in that picture in 1990 which graced that year’s Calendar of Events, Bulletins, etc. Please don’t laugh too hard at us. We were young and thin. And it was 17 years ago! That blush was the style at the time. Two BJU degrees later and four years of teaching under our belts, we headed off to Indiana University and received our doctorates. We then returned to BJU to be “lifers” as we all called ourselves.
That was the year 2000. And after 32 years in fundamentalism, I still didn’t get Grace. I had lived a squeaky-clean life. Everything had gone pretty smoothly. Just few months after returning to BJU’s faculty, I discovered we were expecting. We had already lost one little one to a miscarriage just 7 months earlier. But this little person felt “sticky,” and stick she did. I wrote my dissertation while feeling her dance in my tummy to the Big Band music I played in my home office.
She was due on July 3, 2001. But on the 6th — our eleventh wedding anniversary — she wasn’t moving, and an ultrasound proved the worst had happened. Her heart had already stopped, and on the 7th our little Elise was born to Heaven.
It was while sitting in that hospital bed just before, during, and after her birth that I started to understand God’s Grace. God surrounded us with dear friends and hospital staff and carried us through that time. Even as I wept through 9/11 (feeling like the nation was crying with me rather than me crying with the nation), that first Christmas, that first dreaded Mother’s Day and her first birthday in Heaven, God was so near. He cried with us and held us close through all those hard times. I was starting to get a glimpse of Grace.
People commented that we must be doing something right because it was clear that they could see God through us. I always looked at them quizzically when they said that. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything. I felt so feeble. I regularly begged God to tell me what it was I was doing because I wanted to keep doing it so I didn’t tick Him off and lose more children. I didn’t want to endure all that again!
But we lost two more babies to miscarriage after Elise’s still birth. When God finally blessed us with our Isaac in December 2003, I literally laughed for joy when I heard him cry that first time. He was, in fact, so eager to breathe that he breathed in too quickly and had to stay in the NICU for ten days to clear up that fluid. Our nursing relationship, then, got off to a very rough start. And I had to nurse him. After having my body prepare to nurture Elise when Elise was not there to nurture, I knew that to heal I needed to nurse this little “screamer.” But it was so rocky. None of the nursing advice I received was working. I finally chucked that whole series in the trash and went the exact opposite direction. I nursed him on cue which ended up being a lot of nursing and a lot of sitting! So in those quiet times, I read all the Scripture passages I could find on nursing, and I realized how often God describes Himself as a nursing mother. I learned that God loves me as much as I love that little child. God aches for me just like I ached for my Isaac.
When you feel God’s love on such a cellular level, everything changes. I admit, I was raised in what I now know was a historically recent view of the Christian walk. Some call it a dispensationalist view of sanctification, some label it Semi-Pelagian or Chaferian. Previously, I’ve called it just another sort of Keswick camp sermon. But the rhetorician in me sees this dispie story of sanctification to be a relationship between employer and employee. I think J. I. Packer says as much. You give a little, and God gives a little. Back and forth. “God gives grace to the humble,” after all, so you have to work hard to get a lot of grace. Like a bonus check or Fuji apples in the office vending machine. That’s why I begged God to be clear with me as to what I was doing to gain His blessing. The message came back loud and clear, “Nothing!”
In processing Isaac’s birth and my growth in Grace, I realized God was my Father, not my boss. He didn’t taunt me with threats; He picked me up and carried me. He didn’t deliver vague ultimatums; He lovingly (and sometimes firmly) showed me the next step. He didn’t withhold blessings until I earned them; He lavishly showered them on me when I didn’t deserve them. He hadn’t hired me; He pursued me and loved me. He didn’t toss me out alone to grope my way to His best; He took me by the hand and led me all the way.
So then I needed to minister that same Grace to those around me — especially my Isaac and now my Gavin. So often the children are forgotten in our one-anothering — sometimes considered “vipers in diapers” and other times treated as disturbing God’s work. But Christ cherishes the little ones. The ancient Hebrews were unique among their contemporaries for including even the unborn in their Covenant with God!
I now hear my little preschooler minister grace to me. “Mommy. You are having big feelings. You need to go sit in your comfort chair. Here. I’ll bring you a book to help you feel better. Do you need a hug?” Kindness I don’t deserve, but that comes so easily from him.
Sometimes I wonder if Satan was trying to throw herbicide on my growth in grace as we lost all those children. Knowing that mothering a child would teach me God’s Grace anew, I wonder if Satan was doing his best to stomp out that seedling. But I relish the fact that God took those tragedies and didn’t just give them a happy ending; He rewrote them entirely. He turned my ashes into His Beauty and my mourning into the joy of His Grace. God’s like that. After all, He took dust and made life and took a sin-sick sinner dead in her trespasses and sins and made her His child. Every last bit of it was by His Grace alone.