Hands clenched white, he gripped the drooping paper plate for dear life. My four year-old tracked me down between sips of orange juice and a double Dutch chocolate donut bearing his latest Sunday school creation: a slightly squashed green plastic planter sheltering what may charitably be dubbed a struggling tulip bud.
"Just water it good" Josiah instructs. "And itíll grow into a beautiful flower" he chirps, arms outstretched, "A big yellow one." My favorite.
Smiling like a sunbeam, my cherubic towhead thrusts the muddy plate with planter into my hands. "Itís yours Mommy, take it" Josiah prodded. I hesitated as I considered my sparkling white dress. Maybe Josiah had similar reservations.
"Mommy, I get cruddy every day" my loquacious preschooler declared later.
"What do you mean?"
"Every day I go outside and play with Eve and we get dirty."
"Then I come inside and take a bath and clean up" Josiah explained.
Eve is our dog, Josiahís best buddy. Which got me thinking. About my son, a Golden Labrador Retriever, baths and Grace.
Ask a theologian to define "Grace" and chances are youíll hear something like "unmerited favor" or "Godís Riches At Christís Expense." True. But what does that mean to us mere mortals? Specifically, what does Grace look like? Well, when I think of "grace," I think pooches and puddles. Let me explain.
When it comes to our dog, Iím convinced that a more grace-filled creature never roamed the green earth. Our Golden Lab is lavish acceptance in a fur coat. Take this morning. The moment I open the back door Eve bounds out of her dog house, tail wagging furiously. She dances a canine jig as I chug toward her gate. I open it and brace myself for the palomino tornado of extravagant delight that bowls me over at my grand entrance. Talk about a warm reception. That dogís a virtual scirocco! Sheís 75 pounds of faithfulness on four feet. Or, in a word, Eve is gracious.
Our gentle, tawny canine has perhaps taught me more about grace than a hundred sermons. (Which says something about either the sermons or me, but thatís another story.) For example, Iíve never seen Eve nurse a grudge when someone hollers at her or forgets to change her water. Does she harbor resentment when we give her a smelly, less-than-fun flea treatment? Does Eve look down her licorice black nose with an accusatory stare when I take her to the vet for her shots?
Yesterday I accidentally stepped on her front paw. I didnít mean to. I just wasnít watching where I set my clod-hoppers. She dashed in front of me and we collided, feet to fur. Eve yelped. I apologized. Do you think that dog licked her wounds or nursed a grudge?
Are you kidding?
At the moment of "repentance," Eve "forgives" every trespass immediately and unconditionallyóif a dog does such things. Indeed, yesterday Eve embraced me with warm amber eyes, anxiously awaiting the slightest signal of acceptance. "Come" I said, slapping my leg, and sheís greased lightning with a tail, grinning ear to ear. If a dog is that gracious, then how much better and bigger is the living God?
Then thereís Josiah and mud. That boy has puddle radar. He can find every soggy, dirty mess within 10 miles and manage to park himself smack-dab in the middle of it, usually with both feet. Eve joins him with the exuberance of Santa sliding down a chimney. Today both dog and boy resemble walking rain puddles, dripping mud from head to toe. Theyíre dirty on the outside. A little soap and water and voila! Clean as a whistle.
Thatís "grace" on the outside. But what about the inside, the part we can hide from everyone but the One who knows?
Did God really hear those unkind accusations flung in anger? The juicy tidbit of gossip we just couldnít resist passing along? Did he notice the smug satisfaction we felt over the sudden downfall of a rival? See us call in to work "sick" when our only real malady was last nightís late, late-night movie? We may look spit-and-polish spotless on the outside, but what about the inside?
Josiah and Eve get dirty every day. So does their Mom. Oh, I may look spit-and-polish on the outside, but inside? Well, thank goodness for Grace. For an internal shower.
When God scours off the dirt and debris of your soul, what does His cleansing reveal? An untreated wound thatís turned septic? Oozing resentment? We may squirm and struggle, but somehow I think the antiseptic hurts Him more than it does us. After all, it cost Him a Son.
One splash of grace and weíre restored. Clean. Like my white dress. It morphed into a muddy mess by the time I got home with Josiahís tulip planter. But a spin through the "Wash Ďn Wear" cycle with plenty of Oxyclean and voila! Clean as a whistle.
Thatís grace. Lavish acceptance. Abundant favor. Blessing beyond measure. Smudges and stains bleached blood-white. And while grace isnít a license for wanton recklessness or sloppy living, it is a full pardon purchased by Another. Or, in terms I can better relate to: all the free chocolate I can eat without gaining an ounce (think Olympic-sized pool). Swapping rags for rubies. Laughter in the dark. The window sign that never says "Closed." Unfading smiles. Startling spotlessness. Or, as I like to picture it: a divine-sized tub of extravagant acceptance where Iím learning to follow Josiahís instructions: "Itís yours Mommy, take it." And dive right in.