Walking humbly

I knew I had to do it- even last night as twilight gave way to darkness. But the frustration was still close to the surface. The feelings. And I found a myriad of reasons to explain my behavior, to ease the sting of my wrong done. Somehow, peace just would not come and so it was, I found myself wrapping my arms around her this morning, hugging her tight. I apologized then- for the way I handled my frustration last night. For what I did unkindly, in the heat of a moment. I asked her for forgiveness. And she offered it, freely. The ones we love the most are the ones we hurt the most frequently. And sometimes we forget that in offering those two little words ‘I’m sorry’ backed by heartfelt meaning we find the perfect way- the only peace-filled way in which to live, love and practice the art of forgiveness (that ancient art of letting go and loving wholly).

Forgiveness is a well-worn path leading to love.

Recently, I was ‘somewhere’ with our family. I am going to try to keep this vague so as to protect anonymity. Namely mine. I happened to be walking away from the washroom when I came across a person from my past whom I have not been able to speak to nor face up to for years due to a history of hurt between that person and my immediate family. There is a history here that goes back far with turbulent waters that run deep. There have been wrongs done, words spoken, vengeance taken. On both sides of the fence, perhaps- depending on whom you talk to. And over the years, I have believed that I had released the burden of offense that this person (and the persons who stand with them) had brought me. But yet, I still lived in fear of facing this person. What would I say? What would that person do? How would I react? What if I started to crack up under the pressure?

The binding of this offense from years ago still has a choke-hold on me.

It is not that this person makes me feel angry. It is fear mostly that I feel. Fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, fear of humiliation. Fear of facing this person. I am reminded of that verse which states that perfect love casts out fear. To be exact, the words of this verse say this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man (or woman) who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4: 18, NIV) I wonder- what if I practiced loving this person instead of channeling my energy into fearing them. What might transpire were that to happen?

I can tout myself as being a loving person but if I cannot love my enemies, the love I offer is shallow. Who wouldn’t find it easy to love those who treat us well, those who build us up, edify our character? It is easy to love when love feels good. So much harder to love when the price is our pride, our image. We shouldn’t love solely when it is easy- we must love when it is hard. For in loving, we are free. But this is hard work- it require discipline.

I have found in recent years a yearning in my soul to exemplify love in my life. This love is not my own- it is God’s love channelled through me. It is supernatural love of a divine nature. And because I feel the power and presence of love in my life, I am free to love others in the very same ways I too experience love. Unconditionally, liberally, wholly.

In thinking about the offence I have felt over the years, one of which I make mention of above, I am humbly reminded of the offences at times that I have caused. At times, unknowingly and at other times, purposefully. If I am in any way offended by those who have hurt me, how much more then are those whom I have hurt injured by my offence to them? In being human, we are prone to hurt one another by our very nature- one does not have to look far in the news to find evidence of this. We are a hurting people. We live in pain. The freedom from which comes through forgiveness.

I wonder how much of our pain would be eased if we could only take the initiative to bear the weight of any offence committed against us through arms of love. What a humbling exercise- accepting responsibility to start the reconciliation process even when we haven’t been the one who wronged. This is not to say we must accept responsibility for wrongs done which we have not committed- it is just to say that in love and through grace, we can make the first move. This is biblical principle. For we see through scriptures over and over again that love is the antidote to the pain which breeds fear. Not that love can eradicate pain- but it can help us cope with our response to pain. True, there will always be those in our lives that inflict on us the brutality of injustice- but it is the reaction to such that determines the load we end up carrying. My response to the offender is what determines the pain I carry in my shoulders, in my body. In my heart. The release is found in forgiveness.

We must let go and in love move forward.

Recently, a very special woman shared with me her decision to go to someone who had deeply hurt her and how she found grace to offer a hand in love to this person. Just today, I read of a woman whose former husband murdered her three baby boys before turning the gun on himself. And yet, this hurting woman found strength in time to forgive this man, thus releasing her own burden of despair. I think of a man in our own community who offered forgiveness to another during his own family’s darkest hour. And in my own life, I have found the greatest peace has come through laying down my own agenda and rights so as to walk in peace with another human being. So as to walk in peace with my God. I am daily reminded through these and other stories- that it is in releasing our fear, our pain and choosing love in spite of the tremendous odds that we find supernatural strength to forgive.

It is there in the peaceful still that we find quiet, humble grace.

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On Being Gentle…

Truth be told, we are all often with people who express deeply felt emotions- strong feelings, irritation. About stuff that bothers them.

Actually, I am that person at times- the person that feels strongly about the way things are going. About what is happening around me. Of course, this is life. We live, we love, we get annoyed. That’s just the way it goes. Take for instance, when I am driving into a parking lot full of occupied spaces. And I am just about to pull into the ONE EMPTY SPOT left in the entire block… when someone sees it at the same time and zooms in ahead of me, taking a spot clearly earmarked for Your’sTruly. That’s just…annoying. Worthy of blowing off a little steam.

Am I right?

Or, how about this. You are attending your child’s concert. You arrive predictable late. You are sitting at the back of the auditorium because the only other spot to sit in is the lobby. In front of you, mothers and fathers hold up cameras a mile high to capture their youngster’s five minutes of fame, thus blocking your view of your own child’s five minutes. Isn’t that just enough to make your nervous system want to blow a blood vessel?

What about this scenario? Little Junior is sitting with his family there in front of you/beside you/directly behind you, and all you can hear in said performance is Junior screeching for COOKIES/CRACKERS/TOYS/WHAAAAAAAATEVER. It’s all so frustrating. Maddening. Irritating. You just want to take Junior and…well, you just want to pull your eardrums out and sit on them.

And then some.

Even as I type out these words, my two youngest are fighting about whose seat should be the closest to the screen. Youngest was there first, so she feels it is her chosen birthright. And she is not going to go down gently (no matter how many times she’s thrown up today with her little stomach virus). Next in Line is reminding her repeatedly that she is being unfair. And she is bellowing about it. Loudly.

It’s all enough to make a mother flush her brain down the toilet and call it a night.

Life is aggravating sometimes. And since life includes PEOPLE, well then: people are exasperating some times.

They try our patience, test our nerves, ruffle our feathers. They step on our toes, infringe our rights, rain on our parade.

People can take your Very Last Nerve and make a number of it. Wringing the life out of that poor little fellow. (The nerve, that is.) Believe me I know. I lost that last nerve a year ago. Bless His Little Heart.

But now that I am forty, I have decided: getting in a dither about everything that happens to me or against me (or even about me) is just not worth it. It is not worth wasting my time on, nor is it even necessary. It’s just not that big of a deal.

Here’s the thing.

Now that I am forty, I have decided there must be a few tricks of the trade to be learned. And I have come to realize that there is always another way around everything that irritates, annoys and bothers me. There is always another way to re-direct our attention so that what we feel is less influenced by our emotions and irritants and more swayed by our heart.

So what I’ve decided to do at forty is this: gradually begin to give myself permission to be gentle. Gentle to myself and those around me. Gentle in my responses. And less inclined to make a mountain out of every molehill. Because life is just too short to fight everything as if it were a raging battle. Life is just too short.

So. The next time I am at a yard sale, and I am JUST ABOUT TO PICK UP THE FIND OF MY LIFE: but someone else reaches out and yanks it away first. I am just going to smile sweetly, breathe slowly and count to ten (envisioning cotton candy and pink roses); and then I will think to myself, “That person needed that ____ more than I did.” End of story. Or, if I am at my daughter’ Grade 6 graduation in a month’s time, and someone holds up their camera/ I-pad/cell phone in front of my view, effectively blocking me from seeing my daughter as she beams with pride, I think I just might try getting up and walking to a better vantage point. Or craning my neck/adjusting my position, whichever works better. Just to be a peacemaker. Just to be creative. Just to save my stomach from developing an ulcer. Just to save my sanity.

Or if my kids start fighting in the van, at the table, in the family room, outside, inside, upside-down. You get the picture. So, when they DO fight…I am going to try to model for them through the events I am involved with in my own little life: to try not to sweat the small stuff.

I know what you are thinking. Haha. But I mean it. I am going to really try this (…just after the movie night is over in my family room where my children are defiantly eating chips on the couch…, I promise…). This is going to take practice, but I plan on starting small. Small steps eventually add up to much ground covered.

So, now that I am forty, I am more interested in attempting:
*Creative solutions than I am in pursuing my own personal rights
*Using my imagination than I am in making a case of everything
*Calming my nervous system rather than jacking it up
*Influencing my children to be peaceful rather than swaying them to be confrontational
*Thinking outside the box rather than staying inside that small box and festering.
*Being aware of my reactions. Which is certainly an all- important first step in the right direction. Even for a forty-year old.

And I want to always keep at the forefront, so that I never fail to remember this fundamental,crucial fact: others find me quite annoying too, by times. So what would I want from them?

Gracious, gentle understanding. The balm that soothes a thousand irritations.

Thin emotions and rich grace

It’s been a thin week. A week of emotions rising quickly to the surface. A week of highs and lows. A week of frustrations, disappointments and in-betweens. And I find myself walking thin ice. Holding fragile feelings in shaky hands. Stepping on eggshells. Living life holding on, two hands grasping for something secure while always searching for steady ground on which to stand.

And I wonder sometimes, is it really grace which is needed? And does that rich grace come wrapped up in a cloak of forgiveness? In garments of compassion? Is it veiled or is it starkly visible? Elusive graces are so hard to hold in shaky hands.  But I am grateful tonight that mercy comes in so many different forms.  Both tender and tough. It’s face surprises each time it is encountered.  And yet. It’s always just what I need, showing up at the very hour I need it to come.

Tender mercy, tough love.

He reached for me last night. It was the smallest of gestures, a hand on the shoulder. But I came undone. And all the pent up stress, all the anger- came flowing out of me like a surge of water through a broken dam. I felt like I could finally breathe again. Felt tension release through tightened shoulders. I felt release. And although it was just the smallest of offerings, it was enough.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.  A gesture.

We spend our whole lives waiting for justice, for the balance to level. When what we really need to do is come undone. To find ourselves emptied. Off kilter a bit. So that we can be brought back to fragile equilibrium.  Emptied. Of all pride and anger and egotism and fear. So that we can then be filled again: with Love. Filled to overflowing. Allowing ourselves the sacred mystery that is the laying down- of one’s own desires and sense of fairness.  Emptied, so as to experience the fullness of grace that is offered in bountiful compassion. We can only share in this sweet offering by laying down our armaments. Setting aside our armor. Stripped of all that is covering that which is authentic to our true selves. So that we can finally be seen for the rare beauty that is the wild and messy underneath it all.

We are stripped bare and covered back up again with a garment of gorgeous grace.

It’s never easy to receive, that kind of rich grace that is so desired. So sought after. We covet it- and want to earn it.  At times, we wish to make someone else earn it. We want it to cost something- it is dear. So precious. And yet, grace that costs is never truly grace. It is corrupted in its price. Grace must be offered without conditions.  Freely.  Undeserved, it is liberally given. And then, accepted in love.

He reached for me last night- across the chasm, and I felt the ice begin to thaw. The ground beneath my feet gave way yet again. And I fell into the arms of love.

Unfettered. Broken. Yet wholly complete. Undone, but still intact.

Grace has that kind of way with me.

Grace or criticism?

Grace or criticism?

I have contemplated grace and its place in my life for many years now. I have wondered at its significance, its practical purpose. I have tried to make sense of it. Tried to understand it. And the only way I know how is to put it into the context of my own lived experience. To make sense of it through the circumstances I find myself in on a daily basis.

For me, grace is a strand of love. For love is everything that is good in this world. And since grace is good, it is a strand of love. How I describe grace is in this way: doing willingly for others what wouldn’t come natural. Or put another way, offering love even when I don’t feel like offering it.

Grace is second and third chances.

Grace is endless, actually. I cannot even fathom it. It’s depths and heights. When I think of the grace I have been offered, I am compelled to consider offering such to those I interact with. When I feel like being gracious and even when I don’t.

Criticism, on the other hand, is something which comes quite easily. I have also contemplated its significance in my life and come to discover that criticism, unlike grace, is quite quick to be offered. It is something I could offer without putting too much thought into how I might frame it or place it in context. I can criticize without any premeditated deliberation or contemplation. It easy. And quite natural, I’m afraid. Critiquing, as a branch of criticism, is not so severe a practice. Critiquing requires deliberation and restraint. And it is a discipline. I have learned through many years of watching and listening that careful critique, unlike criticism, can shape us and mold us through it’s wise counsel and influence. One who has learned to critique has also learned to listen and to see. To understand the many angles of a situation.

When to use grace? Criticism? Critique?

If love is in all and through all, and grace is a strand of love, then I believe that grace must be exercised liberally in all of life’s various circumstances and situations. Grace is the open door to reconciliation. It is the pathway toward forgiveness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the salve for the open wound. And so then: love is both the beginning and the end of everything. It is the Healer’s gentle touch. The Hands that hold.

Growing up in a very fundamentalist environment, I didn’t always see grace. I felt the sting of criticism and the pain of disapproval. But rarely did I feel the freedom of grace. The liberty of love expressed in compassion. But it was there just the same, although often hidden. Not seen in the obvious but through the obscure.

True, there was much criticism, and that is what I remember. But in time, I came to realize that grace had greater influence than the spirit of criticism. Grace had farther fields of influence. And grace could do what critical could not. It could soothe. Heal. Relate. Love. Affect. Grace had powers and strength that critical did not. And grace could do all this in and through the abiding constancy of love. Criticism often worked under the influence of hate. It was only when criticism came under the spell of love that it changed. No longer criticism, it became critique. And as long as critique stayed within the realm of love, it was pure and true. It had the steady influence of a constant to guide it.

My constant is love. The tool to project that love is grace. And I can thus critique under the watchful eye of these two powerful forces.
I no longer wish to have my life marked by criticism. I was checked on such today, offhandedly, when a colleague shared a story and added this detail: “You know, I had preformed an opinion about so-and-so based on what everybody else was saying, but that wasn’t really a true picture of what ____ was like with me when I had a chance to talk one on one.” Which gave me pause to reflect on how too often I judge and criticize others based on an opinion I’ve already heard from someone else. Based on second and third hand information. How incredibly unfair.

Where criticism really stings is when it is directed at destruction. Again, criticism is not evil. But when it originates in hate, it has the power to destroy. To cut down and to damage. To ruin and defeat. To expose and annihilate. To devastate those at whom it is directed. Criticism is powerful. And one has only to listen to one human being tell their story to understand the power of criticism to shape a life.
I am still receiving letters from readers who read the essay “What Students Remember Most About Teachers.” I want to include a link to my most recent letter. There are parts of it that break my heart, for it speaks of the power of criticism to hurt and wound. I am still considering how I will respond to this letter.  I am saddened that teachers have wreaked such havoc on a life.  And that an adult is still captive to the memories of that influence.

I wish this writer to know: I care.  I cannot fix or mend.  But I can care.

I haven’t yet formulated what words I will write to this dear one, but this I will seek to do, through the grace that I have first received and experienced in my own life.  And that is to write that response in love. With a heart overflowing.

In a wash of grace extended outward.

It’s Where Grace Finds Me

Grace.
The very word speaks of something sacred. Something holy. Something undeserved.

My children are my loves. My joy. At times, my source of great frustration.

Last night, I was home alone with the two youngest while Husband had the older two siblings at piano lessons. I was trying to clean up a huge meal which I had prepared for the family whilst doing a number of other things at the same time. Typical mother stuff. So, in between peeling carrots, parsnips and preparing potatoes, I had carved out a little time to submit an essay to an online essay contest of sorts.

Realizing that time was of essence, I came back downstairs to find Husband had finished off the remainder of the meal prep and things were ready to go. We ate, and with no time to spare, Husband and the two piano players ran out the door.
Leaving Yours Truly to the meal clean-up.

I had asked the two remaining home with me, to practice piano together- while I attended to the mess in the kitchen. Things did not go well from the start. Youngest was protesting to the snickers of her older sister. I was trying to wash pots and call out (yell) directives from the kitchen. To no avail. So after three meltdowns, I sent youngest wailing to her bedroom. With no short loss of temper on my part either, I might confess.

Peace at last. Relatively speaking. As long as I ignored the far-off wails and calls for help coming from the nether-regions of our farthest upstairs bedroom, I’d have thought I was home alone. You cannot imagine the bliss.
Nevertheless, peace was short-lived, as the calls from up the stairs came loudly, frequently and persistently. I continued to reinforce to the Young Offender that she was there for a reason and that’s where she’d stay.

How long? she asked.
A long time, came the reply.

In my mind, I had almost decided to leave it for as long as it would take: in the hopes that she might exhaust herself and fall limply into a deep and soundless sleep while settled safely on her bed. Clothes and all. Leaving me one less step in my endless to do list.

Alas. This was not to be. She never forgot her situation long enough to fall asleep.

After a while, I calmed down. I had to take a bit of a breather for this to happen, but it did happen. I calmed down. And when I did, I started to think about my daughter’s situation. Her refusal to do what I asked. He complete breakdown in accepting responsibility. Her insistence on doing it her way. And yet, my love for her in spite of it all. For love’s enduring faithfulness still remained. As strong as ever.

Could she ever be deserving of grace, even in something so small as this? Something so insignificant as a meltdown after supper, all while she sat struggling me in a battle of the wills, fought out on a scratched and faded piano bench?

I called her down to the piano. And I told her she was most welcome to come back downstairs again under one condition: that she would do what had been asked of her initially. To practice her piano under the guidance, expertise and experience of her older sister’s watchful eye.

She acquiesced with nary a noise or squibble. For what she had rebelled against was now the ticket to her freedom. She got it. And while this might be a shallow example of grace, it is yet a practical one. For in my love for her, I found within myself, grace to give. And in her struggle, she realized that what she needed so as to gain grace was the very thing she was resisting. That is, there needed to be a laying down of sorts of her own desires and wishes so as to later gain that which she wanted in the first place: her freedom.

But freedom came at a price. It always does. A lost hour of painful agony spent separated from the rest of us. We who knew what she did not from the very start: if she had only spent the five minutes practicing, she would have had the rest of the evening to spend at her leisure. We who knew to look beyond the moment into the foreseeable future. Something she could not do in her limited understanding. For with experience one comes to understand that freedom in grace is always paid for at a cost. We must at times lose that which we hold dear. Our will to fight for what we think best is often the snare. And when we fall into the trap we blame- because something has to be held accountable. Something has to be held up as responsible. But never is it our own selfish ambition.

As for me the mother, in offering grace: I have but a miniscule glimpse into heaven’s grace. A Father’s grace.

A glimpse of Your great grace. And it is in my children’s cries that I most often find grace. That I learn the depths and heights of grace itself. It is there, in those moments of tension that your grace finds me.

Somewhere between joy and frustration, tears and laughter: Your grace finds me.

It’s there in a newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me
Yes, Your grace finds me

It’s there on the wedding day
There in the weeping by the gravesite
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

It’s the same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

Publishing: © 2013 Thankyou Music (admin. worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com, excluding Europe, which is admin. by Kingswaysongs) (PRS) / sixsteps Music / worshiptogether.com Songs / Said And Done Music (ASCAP) / Shout! Music Publishing (Admin. at CaptiolCMGPublishing.com)

Writer(s): Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

On being authentic…and why it matters

Authenticity. It is a remarkable characteristic. And when that authenticity is combined with humility and grace, the possibility for greatness is within reach. And what of greatness? Is it defined by how high the reach or how far the circle of influence? How much one is lauded? And how often?
Often, the student becomes the teacher. And in this way, the student leads the way to greatness. Leads the way to greatness because of their authenticity. Because of their grace and humility. Through their strength of character. And although the scope of influence might be very small- it is influential nevertheless.
When I am duty teacher, I often experience my greatest teachable moments as an educator. I get to see students as their authentic selves. I see them at their very best. And although at times, I see them behaviorally at their worst, those times are few and far between. Usually there is a story behind the difficult behaviors: one that helps to explain why things are as they are. In all, interacting with students during their free time has been for me one of the most rewarding experiences of my career as a teacher. There are times when I have taken groups of students aside so as to facilitate them in solving their own personality disputes. Watching these students talk through their own problems has been a teachable moment for me, proof that students are their own best teachers. At other times, I have had the pleasure of watching students work cooperatively in a game or physical activity. At times, I have walked with students having difficulty connecting in play with other students. In finding these students their special niche, it has been rewarding seeing those same students who once ended up getting in trouble turn things around so that they were able to assist me in caring for students’ needs and requests.
Recently, I was involved in a duty incident in which I had to settle a dispute between two students. And do so quickly. Tensions were rising, along with voices and blood pressure. Mine primarily, as I knew if I was unable to cool things down quickly, there would be some serious concerns on my hand. As I quietly lowered my voice and tried to separate the students involved, I realized that one of the students had lost something which he wrongly was accusing another student of taking. As I had not been there when the incident in question went down, I was grasping at straws to figure out how to help these two students solve their issue. In the meanwhile, I petitioned the rest of the class to help me in finding the lost item, hoping to buy myself some time.
As I was rounding up my search and rescue effort, one young girl approached the boy who had been crying initially- the one who believed his desired item had been stolen. And completely unprovoked by me or any other prompting, she quietly said this to the boy:
“You can have mine. I have one of those (item that he was looking for) too. You can have mine.”
Her response was authentic. There was no glory for her in doing this, as no one could hear her over the din of the class, save for him or me. Furthermore, her response had been gracious. She was willing to forgo keeping an item if it meant one of her peers would be in distress. And her response was done in humility. She could have kept the item for herself- what it was, that particular item, was in hot demand. It was something everyone else in the class had been given as a token for Valentine’s Day, and each one of the children in the class had been enjoying that particular item during indoor recess. But this one little girl decided that it was not about her- it was about the greater good. It was about making someone elses’ day a little brighter. And she chose to place her own wants and desires on the back burner for the good of the other. She chose to be authentically graceful and humble.
And when I think back to this incident, as I have several times this weekend, I find myself believing that this child has much to teach me. For she has begun her journey toward greatness. She is well on her way. And too, when I think of whom I admire most in my own circles of influence, it has been the people with the most authenticity. For they are authentic in the ways in which they interact with others as well as they have been consistent in their own character. These people I admire most, they are gracious. Humble. Compassionate. And they have been my greatest life teachers.
And isn’t it interesting how many times, those people who’ve influenced me the very most have been children. We as adults would do well to listen closely to the teachers placed in our lives to keep us humble and authentic: our children. They have much to teach us about life and humanity. And we have much to learn.

That one small detail…

Everyone has at least one detail about them- one missing piece of the puzzle. One clue, one secret, one aspect of their life. That if you knew that one thing, it would make ALL the difference.

And how often do we take the time to stop and consider that people are more than meets the eye? That people are the composite of all those details- overt and subtle, big and small- details when viewed as the entire package, make a person unique and whole?

And so I did just that.

I took the time, a day or so ago, to notice. Took time to show an interest. To listen. To ask. To really feel what it might be like to be this person. I felt it, even if for just a moment. I was quiet. I spoke when necessary. I heard. And I came to realize: Unless I stop and truly see, truly listen, truly understand, those details go unnoticed. And it’s the details that make all the difference. A spotlight on the details helps to clarify and shine light on dark corners of the soul.

Everyone has at least one detail about them that if you knew it, it just might help you tolerate them, like them, love them, understand them more. It just might make the difference between writing that person off and giving them a second chance. It just might make the difference between forming a positive opinion as opposed to making a negative one. It might make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

And you never know. Looking for the beauty- the humanity in the little things (in that which is small and hidden deep inside, which we all carry around within us each and every day), just might make us more aware that those details EXIST. Just might make all the difference for us in understanding the bigger stuff that everyone sees about that person we ‘just don’t GET’. Sometimes we THINK we understand, just because things are obvious and visible.

It is often what is hidden that truly reveals the condition of our soul.

Truth: we all deserve a sober, second thought from one another. And we all need to be understood by each other, at some level or another. And even if we never choose to share that which is deeply kept within the confines of our private person, we can still offer kindness and compassion to our brother. To our sister. To the children. To those we understand and even by times, to those we don’t.

We can still offer grace (it’s been offered to us…). And sometimes that grace cracks open the door to understanding more.