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June 15, 2017
Grace as “an inside job”

Years ago I sat with a therapist, complaining about someone else in my life because it made me feel better, more in control. The therapist listened patiently and quiet, as they do, then responded with one pearl of wisdom about this person, “they can’t give you what they don’t have.” It was a revelation when it came to extending grace to the people in my life, the broken ones, the ones who hurt me often without even knowing it, the ones whose very existence or driving habits make life on this planet more inconvenient for me. You know, ‘cause I somehow dilute myself into thinking it’s all about me on this bus.

I used the mantra like salt and pepper seasoning over my relationships in the following years. Husband not noticing that I’m wearing makeup and have a new haircut? He can’t give me what he doesn’t have. Mother in law not overly touchy-feely with me? She can’t give me what she doesn’t have. Friends not able to visit me while my kid is in the hospital for a week? They can’t give me what they don’t have. My boys who just can’t seem to remember to pick up the millions of lego pieces left all over the ground? They can’t give me what they don’t yet have. It became a measure of grace I could extend, a way to give those in my life the benefit of the doubt .. when I remembered it.

I think we are all doing the best we know how to, most of the time. This is unfortunate because we’re pretty messy and cracked below the veneer of what we put out there. Our various childhoods, complete with trauma and love and sickness and abuse and religion, definitely set us up to have some deficits. We can’t give what we don’t have and unfortunately, many of us don’t have a lot much of the time. But the thing I am learning about grace lately is that it’s a lot like an echo.. the sound I send out into the world, bouncing off of others walls, is the same sound that returns back home to me. Grace is longing to make its home in me, not just through me.

This is inconvenient for me because I really suck at giving myself grace. I can’t give me what I don’t have. I don’t have a lot of patience or kindness for my own self, my own body, my own buzzy mind and wily heart. I don’t have a lot of grace to give when I lay in bed for three days with another migraine and can’t feed my family or hold my kids or fold laundry. I don’t offer any grace when I see my muscles atrophy and my cellulite descend to my knees and elbows. I can throw grace out like candy to others, but receiving it? A person with such prolific cellulite has no right to eat candy at all, right? It’s clear I’ve not made a practice of pouring this thick, syrup like beloved-ness and belonging all over me the way I have all over everyone else.

I think it’s hardest to give ourselves grace because we live with ourselves. We’ve been with ourselves from the beginning and we know where this ends.. we have to die with ourselves.. and no one else comes along for the ride, not fully. No one else has seen us, inside and out, at our best to know, inside and out, what we’re like at our worst. No one knows what a cluster-cuss things are in here. Slow and steady, as I hear stories and come to grips with my own, through pen palling you back and forth, I’m learning what Anne Lamott said the night I met her is true: “It’s an inside job.” This grace I need can only be received for me by me. I can give it out all day long, candy at a parade, to others. But I need it desperately for myself, and when I get desperate enough, I have to accept it and let it stick to my fingers. I’m the one who has to eat the candy for myself, to taste its sweetness, to let the echo of grace reverberate inside the walls of my heart, over and over and over again for me. It’s the only way I give it back to you. I can’t give what I don’t have.

Most of the time I’m still sucking at it. Most of the time I’m still convincing myself not to speak up or show up or write unless I feel valuable or fixed. Most of the time I’m still running from the candy and getting hit in the head by it accidentally. The problem is this is not the kind of grace I want to hand out. I want to be a reminder to others of their radical belonging, beloved-ness, and glory by giving them heaping amounts of grace. Knowing I can only give what I already have on me, one moment at a time, I’m doing the hard soul work of learning to hold out my open hands and say, “grace, please. I desperately need some grace in this moment.” And then I accept the grace already extended to me from Divine Love, I gobble it up for myself, for my mess, my fractured underbelly, my literal underbelly and my cellulite proudly displayed in a swimsuit at the community pool. This is how I grow in grace. I build up my reserves in micro doses each day, so I can give others what I possess. “It’s an inside job.”

dear Ash, once again I have to thank you. since I discovered your letters, I fall into them like into a pile of golden autumn leaves. which is a stupid comparison in summer but I hope you know what I mean. what your therapist said makes a lot of sense. and I always think about that saying ‘you can’t love others if you can’t love yourself’. I don’t know if it’s true but I hope it isn’t! it’s so much easier to give grace and love to others. receiving it feels often like unpacking a birthday present with everybody watching or getting a massive compliment that you don’t think you deserve. you write that we live with ourselves all the time, we know ourselves so well and we know all the things we did wrong or didn’t achieve and all the times we failed ourselves. that’s such a burden to carry all the time and you can’t outweigh it with minor feelings of pride and success. why is it so hard to be proud of yourself? maybe because there’s always this ideal version of whatever we do in our minds that we cannot seem to live up to. but maybe if we loved ourselves too much there wouldn’t be enough love left for other people, you know like those narcissists. when I eat too much candy I get really sick anyway and feel guilty, so your metaphor is brilliant. I am sorry because I always lose the plot mid-sentence. maybe the love we get from others is enough to keep us going. if our happiness is like gas to a car, and we just keep on driving and the people who love us come by with a canister and fill it up, there’ll always be enough to keep moving. but what about lonely people? how do they find this grace and love. I think when you’re really lonely, you must either be completely ok with yourself or not think about those things too much which I find hard to imagine. not thinking, I mean. anyway, just wanted to tell you that this letter is so great and means a lot to me, because I relate a lot to it. you are a wonderful person and thanks for your comment on my other letter. this is a beautiful exchange.

Oh Alexa,
you are so flipping wise. and insightful. and what you name is so fascinating.. I think about the love i receive from others and I realize what grace it is to me, and the more they tell me how loved I am the more I learn to slowly, slowly think maybe they aren’t lying. But the reality is that there is still a disconnect. It’s like I need to connect to the source of all grace, to the deep vein that calls me beloved.. I think that the love of God is ultimately where all hope for belonging and belovedness might flow from – whether lonely or surrounded by loving people.. the source must be always only good, always only loving and giving grace no matter what. I think that’s the grace i am most wanting to accept for myself. that I am deeply and personally loved .. irrevocably loved no matter what. I think that is what grace says.
I loved everything you said.
yes, indeed, this is a beautiful exchange!
love, ash

Um… yes. To all of this. GOOD GRIEF ALL OF THIS IS HARD.

These blog posts are such a poignant part of my day – your words about the truth and beauty and hope that we get another chance even when we mess up… well, I don’t know what could be better. (And because of you, I’ve returned “grace” back to a regular part of my vocabulary.) Hugs to you, sweet kindred spirit. :)

Lovely Monika,
I’m so glad to know you, even if it’s in this small strange sphere of life. I have loved being pen pals and I trust we will continue, but this makes me so thrilled.. that you’ve added grace back into your vocabulary as a regular exchange. I am so thankful to hear that, and I can’t wait to hear how it continues to show up. It’s so fascinating.. the more I talk about it, the more I see it, notice it, chase it down, just don’t want to miss any opportunity for it.
love, dear hear!

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