Her name just happened to be Grace, but she was anything but gracious in appearance or graceful in action. Tall, exceedingly thin and awkward, even her smile was more crooked than straight. But, ungraceful Grace was a woman full of grace – true grace she lived and grace she gave to others. She was an amazing woman.
I came to know Grace while pastoring a local church many years ago. She introduced herself with her crooked smile and warm handshake, and in time I learned her remarkable story.
Born in Eastern Europe under communism, she suffered in extreme poverty. At 3 years of age she was abandoned by her mother (the father had left before her birth) to an orphanage, as the mother had no money to feed or cloth her. While in the orphanage, she suffered more deprivation and abuse until 11 years of age, when she was, as she stated many times, rescued by God, who used an American family for His purposes. Though a frightening change, she assumed that this would be the end of her suffering, but sadly no. In fact, she related that her adoptive mother was a lovely woman, but her marriage was unstable and home life unhappy. One bright spot, which she was always thankful for, was the fact that her new mom took her to church on a regular basis.
Within a year or so after the adoption, her adoptive father left the home, divorcing her mother, leaving mom and Grace to fend for themselves, but the mother was heartbroken and never really recovered from her loss, dying a short time later, leaving Grace alone again.
Hearing her story brought tears, and I expected her to be filled with anguish, bitterness and regret, but not Grace. In fact, she was more than philosophical. She was truly grateful, a key result of a life filled with grace. She was thankful to be alive, for she knew that, in spite of all that she had experienced, God and God’s people loved her. Yes, life was difficult and confusing at times, but she was convinced of God’s love and grace. She was genuinely grateful for the gifts of an orphanage, a father, a mother and an opportunity, but most importantly, her really and most personal encounter with Jesus Christ. She truly experienced grace, and exuded grace to all she encountered.
An Important Parable of Two
When I first read the parable of the workers in the vineyard, I was taken back a bit. It did seem somewhat unfair that all the workers no matter when they were hired (and thus how long they served or worked) were paid the same. This certainly did not seem to be the democratic thing to do. But of course, our sovereign God is not democratic but theocratic. In His kingdom He determines what is fair, and His grace is always lavish and seemingly unfair; but it is delightful, complete, and for His glory. Thus no matter when we come in or how much we serve, our rewards are the same. We obtain eternal presence with the Lord, eternal blessings from Him, and an eternal life flowing from His eternal well of love.
The story of the Father and the Prodigal is classic. In brief summary: a father, representing the Lord of course, a father of considerable wealth had two sons. The younger, against all protocol of the day, asked for his inheritance early. He then took off to a foreign country and squandered his wealth.
In time there was a famine, and no one was willing to help him. There was a lack of appropriate work, and as a Jewish boy he was obviously not prepared to work a pig farm. As a result of his own personal choices, he was in dire circumstances. He determined in his heart to return to his father, not as a son, but as a servant. Perhaps he felt unworthy because he had cared less for his father and more about the father’s provisions. When he does finally get home, he is welcomed unconditionally. He was protected by the father and loved for who he was, not for what he could do. What a picture of the grace of God.
The attitude of the elder brother was typical of many in the church today. Unlike his (seemingly) unworthy brother, he felt that he deserved the father’s wealth and a party as well. He had been both loyal and faithful. Didn’t that count for anything? Certainly it counted, but not in terms of our salvation. As we readily acknowledge, faith and grace are essential. Ephesians 2:8, 9 “for by grace we are saved through faith (which is also a gift), and it is not of works.” Works will no doubt follow our wonderful grace filled relationship with a Father who loves us, but no amount of works will save us or keep us saved.
Our salvation which is all by grace provides for us multiple benefits. Those include healing, restoration of loss, eternity, and a purpose to live. It also includes a life abundant in blessings, flowing from the throne of God to the heart of every man who will receive his grace. (John 10:10) His grace is immeasurable to all who believe. We should be forever grateful.
Shortly after the assassination of President John Kennedy my mom gave her heart to the Lord (in her normal, dramatic style…going to the “altar” before allowing the poor preacher to even give the invitation.) This began a change in everything in my family. My mom suffered many a malady in life, some brought on by her own Irish temper and some by multiple abuse situations. One thing was clear in regards to her experience with Christ. She loved Jesus, for he first loved her.
I think this must be a most important launching point for all believers, to really know, not intellectually, but to the depths of one’s soul, that Jesus loves us. We have the privilege to love him. Grace was a reality for my mother, complicated as she was at times. She received the Lord’s forgiveness for the past, the present and the future. It was the transforming substance of her life.
She, unlike many other believers of her time (and of today) never forgot where she came from, who saved her, and how undeserving she was. She was grateful on a daily basis that the God of the universe had chosen her to be a member of His family. I am convinced that as she pushes her way to the head of the line to see Jesus in heaven, she continues to rejoice a bit louder than most. Someday because of His grace, perhaps the whole family will join in the throng. Blessings again until next time. Dr. Stan