December 21, 2014

It's All About the Grace

Like a child having a tantrum, I slammed the front door on my way out of my house, the house that suddenly seemed two sizes too small.  I could not stand to be in there one more second.  The noise, the arguing, the clutter, the incessant demands that never allow me a moment of peace.  I knew when I became a foster mother that it would not be easy, but sometimes it just gets so overwhelming that I have to step outside and get away, even if only for a minute.

I stormed down the driveway towards the sidewalk of my little suburban neighborhood, tears streaming down my face, my thoughts raging, my silent prayers practically incoherent.  God, please do something!  I can’t do this any more!  You brought these children into my home, and I have trusted you to help me love them.  You have got to help me!

I hadn’t gone even ten steps, when I ran into my neighbor, who happened to be walking down the sidewalk at the same time.  Oh, great!  Is there nowhere that I can even cry in private?!  Of course on any other day, I would have been happy to see her.  I would have enjoyed a brief chat with her.  But not today.  I looked around in a panic, trying to find an escape route, but it was too late.  She had already spotted me.  She had already noticed my tears.

What’s wrong, she asked with genuine concern.  I tried to laugh it off as nothing, as just a momentary display of weakness in an otherwise perfect world.  Oh, you know, I answered, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, I’m just having one of those days.  There was no way I was going to tell her how much I hated my life at that moment.  How I found it almost impossible to show love and patience towards the difficult child I had recently welcomed into my home, how I felt belittled by the social worker who spoke so condescendingly to me, how I felt unappreciated and misunderstood by my family, and maybe even how I felt a little resentful towards the Lord for asking me do something so impossibly hard.  I’ll be fine, I insisted with a dismissing wave of my hand.

I had hoped that would be the end of our conversation, but she was clearly settling in for a nice long chat.  Oh, I know just how you feel, she assured me, all sympathetic and sincere.  I mean, just yesterday . . . and as she went on and on about something to do with ordering trophies for her son’s soccer team and coordinating a fund-raiser for the school, my anger simmered.  I could barely contain my fury at this self-centered woman who was so oblivious to my pain.

How dare she presume to know just how I feel?  How could she, with her one child whom she had known since the womb, possibly understand what it’s like to have a houseful of someone else’s children?  Someone else’s children who had been so traumatized and hurt, that their unpredictable and challenging behavior was almost impossible to understand, much less control. 

I remained polite as humanly possible, and then excused myself to get back to my responsibilities inside.  My shoulders drooped just a little bit more as I entered the house even more frustrated, more defeated than I had been when I left.

It’s never a good idea to take kids to the grocery store.  The older ones ask incessantly for everything they see, somehow convinced that they are just one meal away from certain starvation.  The younger ones touch everything that goes into the cart.  If all of the food makes it home intact, it’s a miracle indeed.  And the medically-fragile ones are simply a lot of work without even trying, with all of the equipment and emergency supplies that they require.  I end up pushing the wheelchair or adaptive stroller with one hand while pulling the grocery cart with the other, with one or more bags draped over my shoulders.  Once upon a time I would enjoy clipping coupons and challenging myself to see how much money I could save.  Now, I challenge myself to get everything my family needs and see how much of my sanity can remain intact.

But empty cupboards don’t fill themselves, and so, in spite of the rough, emotional morning I had just endured, I loaded the kids into the minivan, and we set out on our shopping adventure.

I hadn’t even made it through the first aisle when I noticed a woman staring at me and my entourage.  Oh, great!  Can’t I just make it through the supermarket in peace?!   Of course on most days I would have been friendly and would have easily engaged in conversation.  But not today.   I looked around in a panic, trying to find an escape route, but it was too late.  She was already approaching.

Are these all your kids, she asked with genuine interest.  Yes, I answered, trying not to sound impatient, as if this wasn’t the same question I answered on countless occasions to countless other strangers.  Some of them were adopted and some of them are our foster children.  There was no way I was going to use my precious time to give a detailed explanation.  The kids were all behaving well at that moment, and I really wanted to finish my shopping before someone (maybe me?) had a meltdown.

I had hoped that would be the end of our conversation, but she was clearly settling in for a nice long chat.  Oh, that is so wonderful, she gushed, to take all those kids and care for them like you do!  And as she went on and on about something to do with being a saint and having a special place reserved for me in heaven, I cringed.  No, no, no!  I wanted to cry.  If you only knew the truth.  It’s not about me at all.  It’s all about the grace!

Obviously she hadn’t seen me earlier in the day when I had stormed out of my house.  Very few people (except, apparently, my neighbor) see the tears and the exhaustion and the frustration.  I’m not a saint, not at all!  I’m selfish and impatient and so easily prone to anger and pride.  I am so lacking in wisdom! 

God loves these children so fiercely and passionately, and for some reason that I cannot fathom, He chose inadequate me to care for them.  It’s not because I’m such a good person or have such a big heart; it’s only because God, in His infinite grace, has allowed me to be a part of His plan.  His work.  His story.  He didn’t ask me to do this impossible task; He allows me the great honor of watching as He, miraculously, in unexpected ways, does the impossible task.

And when I stop to consider the great privilege, the amazing grace that He has demonstrated towards me, I can’t help but think, shouldn’t I be showing that same grace to my neighbor?  So what if her life, her burdens, her story is different than mine?  How dare I compare myself to her and for one second allow pride to deceive me into thinking that my sacrifice, my service to the Lord, is more worthy than hers?  Perhaps I am the self-centered woman who is so wrapped up in my own struggles that I am oblivious to her pain.

But again . . . it’s all about the grace!

Even in my imperfections, in my failures, in the sinful pride that I harbor in my heart – even then He stands ready to forgive me.  Even then His grace is sufficient for me.1

He didn’t choose me for this task because I am the most capable.  By grace He qualifies me to participate in His story.2

When I fail, when my thoughts rage and my frustrations cause my silent prayers to be practically incoherent . . . He doesn’t condemn me.  By grace He saved me.3 

When my house, the house that sometimes seems two sizes too small closes in on me and I cannot take it one more second . . . by grace I stand.4

Oh, that I may understand that beautiful grace – how to receive it and how to extend it!

It’s not about me or about my difficulties or about my “success” as a parent or about what my neighbor is doing or about what the woman at the store thinks of me.   It’s all about Him.  It’s all about the grace!

1.            And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
2.            Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. – Colossians 1:12
3.            For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. – John 3:17

4.            Through [Christ] whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. – Romans 5:2

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