An old hymn is bouncing around my head, but I can't remember the exact title....
"Grace, grace. God's Grace.
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, Grace. God's Grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin."
I want so desperately to pick up the phone and call my dad. Ask him what the name of it is, and listen to him sing it to me over the phone. Though he probably wouldn't have sung it, but grabbed mom, whom he deemed the real musician in the family, and have her sing it to me. I don't care. I'd take either one. I just want to hear their voices again.
I saved a couple of messages on my answering machine that daddy left me while I was overseas. I just listened to them again. Just to hear his voice. I wish I had something like that of mom....
Romans 8 seems to be where I'm parked Scripturally right now. For one thing, I'm trying to learn, soul-learn and experience-learn the truth of verse 1:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"
I think I'm harder on myself than anyone dares to even think of being on me. I somehow learned as I grew up to condemn myself for anything and everything that went wrong. And certainly not to take credit for anything that went right. UNlearning that habit is hard. I'm working on it, but it's hard.
Lately, however, I've been drawn to a section later in the chapter. Especially the way it's written in The Message:
So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it--yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us--an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him! That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
I confess, I'm not there right now. Oh, I've been there before. And I'm pretty sure I'll be there again. But right now, right now I'm not "adventurously expectant" and greeting God with a childlike "what's next, papa?" My "what's next?" is much more haggard and perhaps even a little cynical right now. A more "now what?" delivery.
I read this passage and I see hope. Yet I still feel rather hopeless. Or at the least, sad or melancholy or discouraged... or perhaps all three rolled into one big globby mess. Yet I SEE hope.
Perhaps that's why I'm so drawn to it right now. I read it over and over, letting the words swirling around in my soul as if they were a glass of vintage wine to be savored, all the while pondering the deepening "joyful anticipation" Paul talks about.
Is this pain I feel, this longing for a place I've never seen but that I am convinced is where my parents now reside, is this joyful anticipation? Is this frustration with life, this aching to see Jesus face to face, to finally feel with my body what only my spirit and soul have felt all these years -- the caress of His hand, the sweet warmth of His breath on my face as He whispers my name, the special one HE's given me, and His soft lips kiss my cheek before breaking into a smile, and hear with my ears His roaring laughter as we dance our first dance in heaven... is this aching "joyful anticipation"? Whatever it is, Paul is right about one thing. It's deepening. Nearly to the point of madness.
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Oh, thank GOD!! Someone finally acknowledges that we DO get tired in the waiting. Thank GOD He made a provision for this! Because THIS is where I am. As much as I'd like to say I'm charging forward like a Rhino -- or should that be crashing forward -- and living life on the Barbarian edge, the truth is much less glamourous or "spiritual". The truth is, I'm just hanging on for dear life right now. I'm not just tired in the waiting, I'm exhausted and beat up from the journey. I'm John the Baptist in prison awaiting a beheading and sending disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one or should we look for another?" No, I'm not doubting Jesus. Just wondering why He's going about healing everyone else and leaving me in this prison of depression. I'm Anna, widowed and bereft of a family of my own, serving out my days in the temple and awaiting the promised Messiah.... and waiting... and waiting.... and waiting....
God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us--who was raised to life for us!-is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing--nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable--absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Hope. So much hope. I can SEE it. Why can't I touch it? Why can't I FEEL it?
And then I come back to Grace. I am not who I want to be. I am not all I think I "should" be. Yet every morning God's laughter awakens me and He greets me as if I am perfect. Absolutely scratch-resistantly perfect. I am showered with Grace upon Grace upon Grace. And, finally, I FEEL a little hope.....