Earlier this month I went on vacation to a particular part of Wisconsin that my family and I have been going up to off and on for a long time. This part of Wisconsin was where I spent many summers with my family, a place known to us as “the farm”. The farm is where we got away from our Illinois lives for a while, to have fun, go swimming in Lake Michigan, and enjoy time apart from our very busy lives.
The farm is where R* and P* and their daughter and granddaughter also lived. We occupied the upstairs area while they lived in the lower area, and my memories of them aren’t many apart from R* seeming very grouchy at times, smoking heavily and drinking a bit. I also recall Baron their 3-legged dog, and he was scary and fast…for a 3-legged dog. There were times when they had animals on the farm and it was amusing and smelly, but it was for 2 weeks so most of it was bearable.
Having gone back to this part of Wisconsin my mother informed me that P* had passed away a few years ago and R* was living on another farm not too far away from where we were camping. I don’t know how it got coordinated, but we were able to spend time with R* one day.
I am very glad we did, because R* welcomed us to his place with open arms, and if I had not been the driver for my mother and myself I would have had the beer he offered me. R* offered us Diet Mountain Dew, which upon him talking about his wife who had passed away, I realized that he was probably serving us the soda she herself liked to drink. As he shared of what his wife had gone through leading up to her passing, the man before me appeared to be full of grace. Maybe it’s the years that have passed, maybe my perception of him was wrong all along, but even my mother grasped that age had made him into a softer and graceful man.
R* told us about how one of his regrets was that he didn’t vocalize I love you’s to P* more than he did. They loved each other dearly, but he didn’t always communicate it by words or by hugs or by kisses, and that is something he wished he did. He said all this sadly, but his gracious demeanor never waned. He shared with us with great pride what his kids and grandkids were doing, he talked as a man who embodied love- both in the giving as well as the receiving. When our time with him was coming to an end he told my mother and I where P* was buried and invited us to go visit her. That was endearing to me as well as to my mother. And as we were driving away he told us to text him and come visit him next year and the year after that, and God willing we do the latter.
Grace is…well, what can I say about grace? Personally, grace has set me free, it has enabled me to love and care more for others. It has unlocked the part of me that always was but unfortunately was tucked away because legalism bound my mind as well as my heart for a while. This binding was self-imposed as well the Christian culture I was a part of; both paired together led me to live out of fear and the law rather than love. Without giving too much away, grace given and received and extended out of love and even more grace reminds me of Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, whereas grace dismissed and not extended reminds me of Javert from the same play. I have been Jean Valjean my entire life, and yet the extending love and more grace has been but a fraction of my mortal coil…but still I press on with love and grace as my banner, I intend to wave it and extend it for the remainder of my life so help me God.
R* stirred the part of me that wants to be present to life, all of it, both good and bad, but to also be present to grace and to love. I realize so much of the the time…actually, all of the time, my demonstration for how much I love God is demonstrated in whom I love the least. When I am not loving, when I am not graceful, my love for God is not present or at the very least I mar the face of Christ with my actions.
I can’t wait to see R* again, to share life with him but to also extend the grace and love he extended to me. And that is what love does time and time again, that is what grace does time and time again; it gives more and more of itself with no shortage ever.
All is grace,