Friday, June 21, 2013

Grace and Gratitude

Sierra and I are sitting at a table in Panera Bread next to a window, sipping our sweet smoothies slowly. On the other side of the glass, sitting under the blazing sun just feet away from us, there are two women with giant salad bowls talking animatedly to each other. They look so carefree, their pearl white teeth practically glinting as they smile broadly at each other. Sierra and I have just been having a long conversation about some of the biggest things we struggle with in our lives. Sierra stares down at the table gravely and says,

“We are just so far from having it all together aren’t we?”

I nod and grunt a wordless agreement. Sierra pauses thoughtfully, then lifts her head and looks at me straight on.

“But isn’t it great how God can use us anyway?”

Since the moment I stepped foot on that red Swaziland soil last July, I knew I wanted to return to that country again. I knew I wanted to go back and walk those walks through thorns and cow droppings to visit the homesteads of my new friends. I knew I wanted to go back and squeeze little Tanele against my chest and hear her squeaky voice mutter, “I love you!” I knew I wanted to go back to sing and pray and laugh and cry and love the people who I knew for such a short time yet so easily came to feel like family.

For months I said the same prayer, asking for guidance on if I should go to Swaziland and how I should make that happen. And call me crazy, but for months I heard the same answer:

“What are you willing to let go of?”

I started going through everything. Was it money I was supposed to give up? Time? Possessions? I tried doing all of that, but nothing seemed to click.

And then all at once, when I was sitting at home the night after meeting with Sierra and a person I would never have suspected in a million years asked how to donate to my trip, and then a few minutes later another person asked, and then another, I realized that what I was supposed to give up was something much simpler, but much scarier, than I had imagined.

Pride. I had to let go of pride.

I had to let go of that nasty little voice that kept leaning in to whisper and sometimes even to yell, “You’ve got to figure out how to make this happen. You’ve got to get this taken care of! You’ve got to do this on your own!”

I had to let go of the idea that I could make a trip to Swaziland happen. I had to let go of the idea that I was going to do it all myself. I had to let go of the idea that I was even remotely close to having it all together because I didn’t at all and I still don’t. But I think that there’s something beautiful in knowing that, something beautiful in letting go of the idea that my small little self is somehow so mighty and all-powerful.

When I let go of my pride and washed off the paint of pretending to be totally independent and capable, I found out that just because I can’t make a trip to Swaziland happen all by myself, doesn’t mean that a trip to Swaziland can’t happen at all. Because it turns out that people exist in this world who will spend countless hours helping you bake pies and cookies and brownies. And even more people exist who will order those treats and will tell their friends about them. And still even more people exist, who barely even know you but scrape a few dollars out of their pockets to give you and then sit down to hear your story and decide to scrape out just a few more. People exist in the world who manage to embody the meaning of grace in the simplest ways. And that grace is what will be carrying me to Swaziland when I cannot do it on my own.

I have yet to reach my goal to get me on that plane and through the journey, but every day, purely and simply because of the blessings other people have so generously poured out onto me, I am getting closer. And when I get back there, and stand with that blaring African sun beating down on my head and the red dirt blowing off the ground and into my face, I will not be alone.

I will be clinging to that grace that showed up in the form of flour, sugar, and fruit, in a shared photo on Facebook, and in all of those five dollar bills that added up to make a sum that seemed impossible just days before. I will not be alone because I will be carrying with me all of the people who helped me get there.

I may not have it all together, but I am so thankful that I don’t have to. I have cried so many tears of gratitude for the grace that people have shown me in the most unexpected ways.

Last year, I watched as a shirt was picked out of nearly 1,000 and I won a trip to Swaziland. I called that a miracle. But this year, I watched as $5 turned to $15, then  $50, then $150, then $1500. And I continue to watch as treats are baked and sold and eaten and as donations show up every day in the mail or online, and how a neighbor knocks on the door with a check in hand even as I am writing this and how each part of this alone seems small or insignificant but when added together forms a miracle even more spectacular than winning a trip.

All I can really do at this point is say thank you. Thank you for showing me the meaning of grace. Thank you for being a part of building this miracle. Thank you for doing this with me, because I definitely do not have it all together and I most certainly cannot do this alone.

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