Living in GRACE

We leave for a trip to Africa on July 7. Dave and I will go with 12 girls from his soccer team, our oldest child (Emily), one of his assistant coaches, and two soccer moms to Kenya and Uganda.

Dave gave each girl going on the trip a copy of Kisses from Katie, and he asked me to write devotions for each day of the trip using Scripture and sections from the book.

“I would love to,” I told him.

Well, I still “will love to,” and I probably will post many of them here on the blog, but I have to admit that the book sent me into a spiritual funk for about a week—sorry for the silence.

Kisses from Katie is the story of a young suburban-raised girl who decided to visit Uganda during Christmas break of her senior year in high school. Then she just had to go back after graduation for a gap year before college. (I know, this sounds eerily like the story of Jody—who rescued our PJ). Katie’s “job” for the year was to teach kindergarten, but she soon felt led by God to rent a house, and abandoned children began showing up on her doorstep. She is now in the process of adopting 13 Ugandan girls and lives full-time in Uganda, coming back to the States only for visits and fundraising purposes. Her life is filled with sharing Christ—through words and actions—with the poorest of the poor.

I’m not doing enough. I’m not doing enough. This nasty chorus ran rampant through my mind as I read the book—though I knew that was not Katie’s reason for writing it and I also knew it wasn’t good theology.

What dug my spiritual funk deeper was the fact that I had bought a rug for the living room the day before beginning the book. Like we needed a rug, I thought as I read about Katie raising money to pay school fees for the children in her village. I should have sent the money to World Vision!

(BTW, I felt quite a bit better about the new rug when we spread the old rug out on our grass for the yard sale we had last weekend. Sunlight exposed a LOT more than my living room lamps did. The all-ivory rug may have worked for the empty-nesters we bought the house from, but with our six kids, their friends, our dog—yeesh!)

As I read further, I defaulted to guilt wallowing, and God felt very, very far away.

I know now—and knew then—this kind of guilt is not from God, but I was stuck and digging in deeper. Saturday morning, I woke tired, glum, discouraged already. But this was yard-sale-for-Africa day, filled with opportunities to meet neighbors, make new friends, share life.

Oh God, I prayed, I don’t have the strength for this, and I am so spiritually bankrupt right now. I can’t do this. But rather than drawing me closer to God, my prayer made me more convinced of my failure.

But a beautiful thing happened as the day went on. One of the soccer moms came and helped, and we had genuine fellowship. I met a lovely little woman from Syria who asked me to pray for persecuted believers in her native country. Before she left, she pronounced Christ’s blessings on us and our trip. I met another neighbor, large with her third child, who had moved in just that day down the street. I liked her; Dave hit it off with her husband; Em was ready to babysit. Dave had fun conversation with our next-door neighbor when he asked, “So why are you going to Africa?”

As soon as the yard sale was over, though, the cloud descended again.

All week Dave gave me funny looks when I answered, “Fine,” in response to his, “How are you?” Finally, on our early Sunday morning run (yes, we’re running again, and, oh, I am so sore!), he didn’t let my “Fine” slide by. “No, you’re not,” he pressed. “What’s up?”

“I’m missing God,” I cried. “I just feel like I’m not pleasing Him, that I’m so filled up with self I’m missing Him. I’m trying and trying, but all I can think of is what I’m NOT doing, and then I feel guilty and farther away than ever.”

Dave didn’t let that answer slide by, either. He pushed quite a bit on my faulty theology—and I said, “I know, I know! My head sees it, but what do I do with my heart?”

What ultimately led to a breakthrough was this question he asked: “If you’re so far away from God, then what was going on yesterday at the yard sale?”

That stopped me. I’d gone into the yard sale with dread, with a lack of strength and purpose—with guilt at my attitude.

But somewhere during the day, I’d forgotten ME. I’d forgotten to try so, so hard. I’d let go of guilt and let others minister to me (oh, how Christ works through His body!), and in the process I was able to share myself with them and others. I’d felt joy and peace—and I know where those come from. (Galatians 5:22)

Later on Sunday morning, when I had a few quiet minutes to be still, I wrote in my journal: “If MY doing never truly accomplishes anything—for myself or anyone else, then why do I try so hard? If I really believe that my ‘righteousness is as filthy rags,’ then doing more in my own strength, out of my own guilt, accomplishes no good.”

Not long ago, I listened to a sermon by Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Portland, about the importance of the Gospel in our lives AFTER salvation. He said something like this: We Christians have little problem seeing our need for complete grace for salvation, but then we act as if we have to accomplish the Christian life on our own. We need the Gospel just as much after salvation as we did before.

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabus are speaking to people who have just trusted Christ. The two missionaries “urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God.” (emphasis mine)

It’s so, so easy to abandon grace in our daily lives. My tendency is to forget that I have no ability to please God on my own; I feel I must do more, do more, do more to make Him like me. What heresy! And it has such terrible results: guilt, broken sleep, fatigue, a broken spirit.

I wasn’t relying on God to work in me and through me last week. I put far more responsibility on myself than He ever wants me to have. HE guides; HE convicts; HE leads and directs.

I must live in the Gospel:

I need rescuing, every day, often from myself.

And my God is a God who saves.