Dr. Bill Gillham passed last week, joining his wife, Anabel. I worked for the couple during summers and breaks thoughout college and they had a profound influence on my life. In honor of Bill, I'm repeating the post about the most important thing they ever taught me.
I think if you had asked me if I believed in grace before I'd met them, I would have said, "yes." After all, grace is sort of a cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, in the Southern Baptist tradition I grew up in, grace was mostly just a word. People said they believed in grace, but they judged their own lives and the lives on others based on works. In other words, if you drank, smoke, swore, divorced, had sex outside of marriage, or the unforgivable--confessed you were attracted to the same sex...then they had to be able to fix you or you were out.
Though I learned about grace in working with the Gillhams, I didn't actually experience it for myself until my senior year of college when I got pregnant with Chase. Being a young girl with a rushed wedding at a small Southern Baptist University was possibly one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I was young. I was scared. And I had already seen how the people in the university had treated others in my situation. In many ways, I knew what to expect. In others, I wasn't prepared at all.
My friends began to stratify into heartbreaking camps. One that I loved like a brother called me a slut. (He didn't say it to my face. Another helpful friend relayed that information.) Others spread the gossip. Still others simply dropped out of my life completely. But a precious few, like Lynette, the Cowgirl, Rhonda of the Comic Strip Pantyhose, and my college roommate Marti, proved themselves to be the most grace-filled people on the planet. They never once told me I'd messed up. (As if it would have escaped my notice.) They were simply happy for me and celebrated my new marriage and baby. (A baby who grew up to be one of the great joys of my life and is now an incredible young man.)
My advisor, Dr. Steve Erickson, moved mountains to ensure I could finish most of my credits early before moving to Denver to be with John. (If you ever run across this while googling yourself, Steve, I need you to know your care and efforts greatly impacted my life.)
But more than any of that, God was right there through the whole thing. And as my plastic Christianity got burned away in the fire, grace is what remained.
Calvin Miller has an interesting introduction to the beginning of Chapter 18 of his book, The Singer. It's a pair of definitions actually.
Vengeance. noun. Eye for eye and tooth for tooth; a fair, satisfying and rapid way to a sightless, toothless world.
Mercy. noun. The infrequent art of turning thumbs up on an old antagonist at the end of one's rapier.
The thing is that people screw up. Badly. Sometimes raining pain on all of those around them. The thing about mercy and grace is that they are offered anyway. It doesn't require adjustment. You just ask for it and it comes. It doesn't eradicate consequences. It doesn't erase our mistakes. But it does offer forgiveness. Not that kind of suck-it-up- and-pretend-all-is-okay -because-i'm-stuffing -down-my-emotions forgiveness, but the actual dropping of stones without throwing them at the guilty.
Maybe grace is rare because it is hard. But for those of us who have received it, it is quite possibly not only the most important thing, but the only thing.