This story is shared by Kristine K. Lowder
Hands clenched white, he gripped the drooping paper plate for dear life. My four year-old tracked me down between sips of orange juice and a double Dutch chocolate donut bearing his latest Sunday school creation: a slightly squashed green plastic planter sheltering what may be charitably dubbed a struggling tulip bud.
“Just water it good,” Josiah instructed, “and it’ll grow into a beautiful flower” he chirped, arms outstretched, “a big yellow one.” Smiling like a sunbeam, my cherubic towhead thrust the muddy plate with planter into my hands. “It’s yours, Mommy. Just say the secret password and take it!” I hesitated as I considered my sparkling white dress. Maybe Josiah had similar reservations.
“Mommy, I get cruddy every day” my loquacious preschooler declared later.
“What do you mean?”
“Every day I go outside and play with Eve and we get dirty.”
“Then I come inside and take a bath and clean up” Josiah explained.
Eve is our dog, Josiah’s best buddy. Which got me thinking. About my son, a yellow Labrador retriever, baths and Grace.
Ask a theologian to define “Grace” and chances are you’ll hear something like “unmerited favor”; “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Maybe you’ll hear that “grace” comes from an old Hebrew term meaning “to stoop, to bend.” But what does that mean to the rest of us mere mortals? I recall an illustration that goes something like this:
Suppose you’re visiting England. Buckingham Palace, to be exact. A crowd gathers outside the palace gates. You join the expectant throng, eagerly anticipating a fleeting look at the Queen on parade. The gates finally open. Here she comes astride her noble steed. You stretch, craning your neck in hopes of getting a glimpse of her. Suddenly the monarch halts. She reins in her horse, dismounts, walks over to the crowd right where you’re standing. Her Majesty, the Queen, regally reaches over the cordon, stoops, smiles, and touches… you! A commoner. A foreigner. A nobody. You haven’t done a thing to merit the Queen’s attention, let alone her blessing. Royalty simply chose to stoop down and bless you.
What else does “Grace” mean? Specifically, what does grace look like? Well, when I think of “grace,” I think not only of royalty and palaces, but of pooches and puddles, too. Let me explain.
When it comes to our dog, I’m convinced that a more grace-filled creature never roamed God’s green earth. Our yellow Lab is lavish acceptance in a fur coat. Take this morning. The moment I open the back door Eve bounds out of her dog house, tail wagging like a windmill in a hurricane. She dances a canine jig as I chug toward her gate. I open it and brace myself for the palomino tornado of extravagant delight that bowls over me. Talk about a warm reception. That dog’s a virtual scirocco! She’s 75 pounds of faithfulness on four feet. In a word, Eve is gracious.
Our gentle, tawny canine has perhaps taught me more about grace than a hundred sermons. (Which may say something about either the sermons or me, but that’s another story.) For example, I’ve never seen Eve nurse a grudge when someone corrects her or forgets to freshen her water. Does she harbor resentment when we administer a flea treatment? Does Eve look down her licorice black nose with an accusatory stare when I take her to the vet for her shots?
Yesterday I accidentally stepped on her front paw. I didn’t mean to. I just wasn’t watching where I set my clodhoppers. She dashed in front of me and we collided, feet to fur. Eve yelped. I apologized. Do you think she licked her wounds or nursed a grudge over my offense?
Are you kidding?
Embracing all comers with warm amber eyes, that dog “stoops down” and “forgives” every trespass immediately and unconditionally the moment I ask–if a dog does such things. “Come,” I say, slapping my leg, and she’s greased lightning with a tail, grinning ear to ear.
Now, if a dog is that gracious, then how much better and bigger is the living God?
Then there’s Josiah and mud. That boy has puddle radar. He can find every soggy, dirty mess within 10 miles and manage to park himself smack-dab in the middle of it, usually with both feet. Eve joins him with the exuberance of Santa sliding down a chimney. Today both dog and boy resemble walking rain puddles, dripping mud from head to toe. They’re dirty on the outside. But a little soap and water and voila! Clean as a whistle.
That’s “grace” on the outside. But what about the inside, the part we can hide from everyone but the One who knows?
Did God really hear those unkind accusations flung in anger? The juicy tidbit of gossip we just couldn’t resist passing along? Did He notice the smug satisfaction we felt over the sudden downfall of a rival? Hear us call in to work “sick” when our only real malady was last night’s late, late-night movie? We may look immaculate on the outside, but on the inside?
Josiah and Eve get dirty every day. So does their Mom. Oh, I may look spit-and-polish on the outside, but inside? Well, thank goodness for Grace.
That’s when God stoops down and scours off the dirt and debris of your soul and mine. And what does His cleansing reveal? An untreated wound that’s turned septic? Oozing resentment? Splinters of despair, frothing frustration? I may squirm and struggle, but somehow I think the antiseptic hurts Him more than it does me. After all, it cost Him a Son.
Yet one splash of grace and I’m restored. Clean. Like my white dress. It morphed into a muddy mess by the time I got home with Josiah’s tulip planter. But a spin through the Wash ‘n Wear cycle with plenty of Oxyclean and voila! Clean as a whistle. Or, as the late Bible scholar Donald Barnhouse put it: “Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace.”
Grace is swapping rags for rubies. Laughing in the dark. Unfading smiles. The window sign that’s never reads “Closed.” Grace is condescending favor. Undeserved privilege. And while grace isn’t a license for wanton recklessness or sloppy living, it is a clarion call to freedom in the Gracious One. Or, in terms I can better relate to: all the free chocolate I can eat without gaining an ounce (think Olympic-sized pool).
Yes, grace is a divine tub of extravagant acceptance where I’m learning to follow Josiah’s instructions: “It’s yours Mommy, take it.” And dive right in. Because when it comes to entering the Heavenly Palace, the password is no secret: GRACE!