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What is Grace?

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

On Monday morning Max, one of my two beloved Newfoundland dogs, passed away after a brief but arduous battle with bone cancer. As he died, I held him in my arms and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Max. You are a very good dog.”

In July, Max was diagnosed with bone cancer after a bad limp that wouldn’t heal led us to x-ray his leg. The excellent veterinarians at Frisco Animal Hospital found a large tumor that had destroyed two-thirds of his femur in less than a month. Thanks to Dr. Gaynor of Peak Performance Veterinary Group, which shares office space with Frisco Animal Hospital, Max received an advanced chemotherapy treatment which gave him an additional month.

We spent that time doing his favorite things. He rode up front every time we headed into town. He ate a few steaks and walked along his favorite trails through the woods. But most of all, I got to spend time with Max, telling him how much I loved him.

I adopted Max two years ago, but it felt that he’d been part of my life for all his seven years. He was the most joyful Newfie I’ve ever had. I learned the meaning of joy by watching it reflected in his eyes. And when I saw that joy extinguished by pain, I knew it was time to let him go.

This month with Max taught me many important lessons, but most of all it taught me something I’d wondered about for a long time: what is grace? How can I understand such an enormous concept? Amazing grace, a song we sing in times of trouble, without truly considering the profound question of how God can love a “wretch” like me.

The dictionary defines grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings”.

I’d opened this definition on my iPhone months ago. Every time a link opened a new page, my eyes would invariably go to this bookmark and I would ponder the definition.

How do we experience the grace of God? Why would God give us free and unmerited love that we are not only unworthy of, but could also never return in equal measure?

For over a month I knew I wanted to write about grace, yet every time I looked at that definition, I didn’t know how to approach the topic authentically.

Over the past two weeks, events have occurred that allowed me to believe I have experienced grace and have a better understanding of what it means, both from a heavenly perspective, as well as here on Earth. The Earthly events have given me a better perspective on God’s grace.

Last month, as I prepared for my move, I had to get rid of a lot of furniture. I posted everything on Facebook, and then a friend suggested I also try Freecycle, a site where as its name suggests everything is free. So I posted everything. And then I was intrigued by the other side of Freecycle, where people asked for something they hope to receive.

This intrigued me. Although I knew it was the logical other side of the transaction, it also felt like wish making. On a lark, I posted that I would love a pair of used snowshoes, nothing fancy, just to walk with my two Newfoundland dogs through the woods this winter. I didn’t expect a reply, and I went on with my life.

A few weeks later I received a reply from Julie in Breckenridge. She said she had a pair of snowshoes she’d like to give me. When I picked them up, I saw as much joy on Julie’s face as I felt in mine. When I got home and took the snowshoes out of their carrying bag, I saw that they were Red Feathers, the brand I’d dreamed of.

What do snowshoes and Newfoundland dogs teach us about grace? A lot, I believe. The extra month that a medical procedure provided, enabled me to trade grief for gratitude, to focus my remaining time with Max on my overwhelming love for him.  Julie’s generosity brought me such joy. Weren’t these both experiences of blessing and unmerited favor?

These events gave me the smallest glimpse of God’s gift of grace. As much as my heart is wide open to love, it is also limited by human-ness. My inability to completely forgive and forget, to compare the love I give to the love I receive, always wondering if they are equal and then beset by insecurity if I believe they are not.  

Imagine how much greater is the depth of love that is available to us from God, who has no limitations?

When we experience unexpected love and joy, I believe we gain insight into God’s love for us. The grace we receive when he forgives our sin and promises to never remember it, only because we asked for forgiveness. Not because we deserved it or would ever be capable of never sinning again, but simply we asked and God’s grace said ‘yes’.

In the Psalms, it is said that the ways of God are too great to be understood. That has been my experience when I try to understand why God loves us so dearly. There is nothing we can do to earn this love. And if we tried on our own merit, we would surely fail. Who can be so good, so pure for more than a minute? I can’t.

And that is where God’s grace becomes our bridge. This path of love which asks nothing in return, only that we accept it freely.

I find it easier to accept how I love Max, than I can understand how God can love me. And yet, Max wasn’t perfect. When he sat up front, he put more than one small puncture in the upholstery of the car seat, and the front dashboard was the target of the infamous Newfie drool. Bu, I saw beyond all that to the joy in his eyes that made me love him without reservation.

Can I see myself as God sees me? Not the imperfect woman I see when I look in the mirror, but the woman God created and loves, because he is love and cannot see us as anything other than the one he created in his own image.

When we, when I am finally able to understand why and how God loves me, I will more fully appreciate the meaning of grace. Until then, I am grateful for Max and Julie’s beautiful examples.


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