And God is able to make all grace abound to you.
2 CORINTHIANS 9:8
One of the most enlightening and freeing times in my personal spiritual journey was when I began discovering the gift of God’s grace. I knew that God had extended His grace to the whole human race by sending His Son, Jesus, to die as payment for our sins and to rise again so that we could have eternal life with God. But deep inside I still operated in the belief that God’s love for me had everything to with how well I performed. So when I accepted Jesus as my Savior, God’s name was added to the top of a long list of people I felt that I needed to please – people whose love I had to earn. God let me operate under my misguided belief for a time, and then decided to give Tim and I an object lesson in His grace.
Five years ago we were parents to three small boys, two of which were just shy of a year apart. We felt blessed and while we wanted to add a daughter to our family, we just didn’t feel ready. We tried to convince ourselves that God would understand our willingness to accept more children on our time schedule and not His if we contributed more to the activities of our church. We also tried to convince ourselves that it was in the best interest of our sons to wait to have more children so we could do the important work of raising them in a Godly home and spending lots of quality time with each one of them.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
not by works, so that no one can boast.
And then of course a funny thing happened as we tried to tread down God’s path on our own power. God used a painful plane flight, a book I was reading for Bible Study, and a U2 song to wake me up to the fact I was not surrendering everything to God. Tim and I were trying to control things that only God could have control over. In April 2007, Tim and I were traveling from Phoenix to Houston and back to Iowa when both of us experienced horrible pain and pressure in our ears from the cabin pressure in the plane. Tim’s head was pounding and my ears were so plugged I couldn’t hear a word he said. Not being able to communicate with each other, I settled into a book I was reading and the words jumped off the page at me. The proverbial light went off in my head moment. The first part of the lesson God had for me was that I was not being completely obedient to Him. How could I ever learn the fullness of God’s grace in my life if I wasn’t being obedient to His plan for my life.
I knew we had to leave our family planning up to God, but I was less than thrilled with the prospect of discussing it with Tim. I waited things out through the long night at the hotel in Omaha and through an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Tim knew I had something on my mind, because over that hot coffee and blueberry pancake breakfast, he kept asking me if I was alright. Finally, after slipping away to the ladies room to pray about it (Yes, God hears prayers even in the ladies room at the Cracker Barrel), I decided I would tell him on the trip back to Iowa.
I turned down the radio, and I think I broached the subject by saying something like “Tim, I know you don’t want to hear this, but…” After some time talking, he agreed that we needed to turn things over to God and be more obedient so we could learn more about His grace in our lives. We both felt peaceful about our decision and settled in to listen to some radio ministry Tim had turned the dial to. To our surprise, the minister was speaking about God’s Grace. We both knew it was not a coincidence. There are no coincidences with God. After the station started fading out of range as we drove further east, he tuned it to another Christian radio program that was just ending but whose topic was also Grace from God. We both firmly belief that God communicates with us in a variety of ways to convict us, reassure us, comfort us, etc. and so by the time Tim had tuned the dial to a music station and the U2 song, Grace came on the radio, we were both certain we were headed in the right direction. We decided to open our heart immediately to any more children God was willing to bless us with.
Where is the lesson about Grace you ask? Well five years ago during Mother’s day weekend we were at the Dairy Queen when Tim realized God wasn’t quite done with our object lesson in obedience and grace just yet. God was going to show us was going to get us to ‘put our money where our mouths’ were. You see I was exhibiting very strange behavior – I was snatching some of the boys’ French fries and dipping them into my dish of vanilla soft serve and eating them. I didn’t find it strange at the time. It is definitely something I would never normally do and to Tim it screamed that we needed to pick up a pregnancy test while we were out. In that moment we both knew God had granted us another child.
Sure enough, God blessed us with the girl we were longing for. We found out early at an initial ultrasound used to determine gestation age. To say I was over the moon with excitement would be an understatement. I treasure all of our now five sons, but I did long for a daughter and knew a daughter could teach me things about God only a little girl could. God knew I needed more than a revelation about His grace and our daughter became that lesson.
At a routine ultrasound at 20 weeks, we discovered Tessa had a bilateral cleft lip and palate. The first few months after her birth were difficult. People would stare and point and whisper about her appearance, especially when she was wearing her NAM device. People would comment on how difficult it must be to have a daughter who looked so different from everyone else. I remember one woman (and I have kept this story tucked in my mom heart until now) in the checkout line at the grocery store ask me why I chose to have her after I found out she was deformed. She thought we were being selfish because her life would be so difficult on her and others around her.
Years ago, without God in my heart, I probably would have verbally assaulted her with my gifts of Irish verbosity and hot temper, but I stepped back a moment and reminded myself to act with God’s grace. I simply responded that Tessa was a gift from God and you don’t return gifts to Him. It was God’s lesson to us. Through Tessa’s imperfect, beautiful wide smile, God showed us that to learn about His grace we need to exhibit to others – no matter how selfish, uncaring, or hurtful they might be because God always treats us with His favor in spite of our weaknesses and faults. For the first time, I began to fully understand God’s grace. Because I was fiercely protective of my daughter (cue the Mamma Grizzly references here),I was finally able to understand God’s love for me as His child in spite of my weaknesses and faults – not because of her birth defect but because of how others responded to it and how I needed to respond with love to them no matter what they said. We all need someone to reach out to us with God’s gift of grace. Grace lifts us up and gives us hope.
Even though Tessa’s wide smile is now just a memory and her palate is repaired, we keep a beautiful black and white portrait of her taken when she three months old and days before her first surgery. It is a reminder for me to treat everyone with God’s grace because His grace is always extended to us.
Incidentally or not so much if you know how God operates, we chose to name our daughter, Tessa Grace Marie long before we knew she would teach us so much about God’s grace.
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace, she’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
lyrics by Bono