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Wading further into grace

Wading further into grace

Wading further into grace

22 September 2015

Moments of beauty and celebration are woven into the messiness of our lives to infuse God's light. Photo by Andy Wang.

By Rachel Ann Smolen

There are some pieces of earth, at certain moments under certain circumstances that feel more sacred than common. I had that feeling earlier this spring as I practically skipped across a parking lot under the canopy of a breezy, cloudy sky.

This wasn’t just any parking lot. This was the parking lot at my oncologist’s office and after 10 heavy, long years, I was being released from his care, from the testing, from the yearly appointments that always had their way of conjuring up worst-case scenarios in my mind.

But today was not about the darkness or fear or grief that pancreatic cancer had brought to my life all those years before. It was the end of a journey that had brought me to the end of myself far too many times. Today, beautiful today, was about tears of thankfulness.

I felt the gratitude deep down to my bones and it birthed in me a longing to live a life that was deep and soulful, graceful and compassionate. After wrestling with all the questions and doubts cancer had stirred up over 10 years, my soul was committed to pursuing grace in tangible ways.

As I pulled my car into the garage and walked into our home to share the news with our four teenage kiddos, I could tell something was brewing on the home front. Home, of course, is where we do our everyday lives and bump up next to each other with our strengths and weaknesses and unmasked selves. And as soon as the congratulatory words and hugs were passed out, a familiar tension began to rise.

Two of our girls became cross with one another the way only teenage daughters can do. It started with silent glares and exaggerated sighs, which soon paved the way for sarcastic words and ugly shouting. Finally it ended in two pairs of feet stomping in opposite directions and the sound of slamming doors. And that was just round one in their sparring that stretched until the sun had set.

My husband and I had watched this progression play out many times over the past year and saw the graceless pattern they had fallen into. This was beyond the typical sibling quarrelling. These were two girls who had quit seeing one another’s souls. They had settled into only having vision for their own layers of hurt. I felt like a struggling peacemaker, recruited by both sides as an ally in their conflict. Our home was becoming a whistling pressure cooker rather than a safe refuge.

By the time I hit the bed that night, all the beauty of the morning had evaporated like a mist. Nothing removes the joy of a relationship or a community like brokenness or conflict. All I could do was lay back on my pillow and release the hot tears to stream down my cheeks.

Tears, because a beautiful celebration was consumed by brokenness.
Tears, because mothering sometimes feels anything but a holy pursuit.
Tears, because doing life in any community can plunge you from the heights to the depths quickly.
Tears, because my soul was so tired from watching conflicts unfold.
This was not the deep, soulful, graceful and compassionate existence I longed for.

The next morning, I made my way downstairs in a house that I thought was only at peace because everyone else was still asleep. But I spied a letter lying next to our home computer, written from one daughter, placed in just the right spot to be read by the other when she awoke. I picked up the pieces of paper and read words of reconciliation and peacemaking at their best.

I am so sorry.
You never deserved that.
To be honest, I need you.
I do not have an excuse as to why I treated you the way I did.
It was 100% wrong of me.
I want to work on this relationship.
Please forgive me.
I will pursue a relationship with you.

There it was, unfolding before my eyes in teenage scrawlings: a vulnerable heart ready to dig deeper, ready to grab a hand to wade out farther into grace. It felt like I was once again standing back on the sacred ground where God’s kingdom is being built.

We really don’t learn to love well until we learn to reconcile well. Nothing makes a place feel like its holiness is lost the way that conflict does, but nothing reflects the heart of our holy God more than through words and actions of peacemaking. Moments of beauty and celebration are not separate entities to be placed on a pedestal and gazed upon from a distance. These gifts get woven into our stories where brokenness and ugliness get played out, too. Our lives experience milestones and celebrations, but they have also been ordained for the purpose of walking into the messiness and gracelessness to infuse God’s light.

My daughters are learning this pursuit of peace, of refusing to believe brokenness needs to rule over the day, our home, or our hearts. I’m still learning it in my hard places too, because this pursuit is not learned easily or without cost. God not only shows his redemption by reconciling our own souls to himself, but he also tells his story of redemption to the world by how our relationships and communities can be reconciled to one another.

We are living the deep, soulful, graceful, compassionate life, not when there is the absence of broken pieces, but rather when we are peacemakers in the midst of aching conflict. When we are merciful to those who have not asked for it. When we demonstrate a new kingdom to those who are experiencing poverty in their spirit. That is the sacred ground, the sacred piece of earth where light pushes back the darkness.

This article first appeared in She Loves magazine

Rachel also blogs at

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