A demonstration of grace by a God who knows you well
The key he was using was attached to a formerly colorful owl, distorted by mildew. I knew this PVC keychain. It had lived outside, hidden, ever since this same son locked himself out of the house nearly a decade ago and broke a large window to gain entrance.
Or so he said.
(In fact, he did the limbo through a 12-inch window opening and spared the window. No small feat for a 6’3″ football-player-sized teenager. But he had sent me a series of texts that told a different story. It made for a fun blog post — later — and a reason to hide a key outside.)
Adam was cat-sitting while we were on vacation, and he shirked his duties (with our permission) to come to spend some time at the beach with us. That was when I noticed the key (and keychain) he had chosen to add to his own.
“Why are you using that set of keys?” I had questioned him. I had left him a set of keys and sent a text to tell him where they were.
“I forgot that you had left me a set and so used this one.”
It wasn’t a big deal, but I thought it was sad that he might have had a better set easily accessed if he had only heeded my instructions.
(It’s so easy to see that failure in others, right?)
Same suggestion, different day
While I was on vacation with hours free to write, I failed to write. I fought against myself to get started let alone get a big chunk of it done. But inspiration remained elusive. Any semblance of plan I’d considered made me feel stuck rather than propel me forward. So I spent my writing hours not writing and berating myself because I knew I would not have the time later.
What a waste of a good vacation!
A novel, a novel, a novel! Based “loosely” on my life. Except that every time I tried to use the tools I had for writing a novel — or jotted down ideas for such a thing — I wrote my story. Not a story “loosely” based on my life. My story.
At my writing coach’s recommendation, I had purchased The Secret Life of Bees and started it as soon as I started my vacation. I read it within days and didn’t want the book to end. So I read the reader’s guide at the back of it, which included a conversation with the author, Sue Monk Kidd.
“When I began writing at the age of thirty,” she said, “my dream was to write fiction, but I was diverted from that almost before I started. I became enticed by the notion of writing memoir.”
Kidd mentioned two of her memoirs, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and When the Heart Waits, that captured her spiritual experience.
“I think many people need, even require, a narrative version of their life,” she said. “I seem to be one of them.”
I am one of them, too. Blogging and journaling have been spits and spurts at capturing the narrative version of my life. I want to capture the fuller story in a memoir or two. To free me to write fiction.
Kidd then said that her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, began as a short story in 1993. She didn’t develop it into a full novel until much later; she published it in 2002.
In between writing her memoirs and her first novel, she took on the role of an apprentice fiction writer.
“I read voluminous amounts of literary fiction and set about studying the craft of fiction and writing,” she said. “More important, I practiced — writing short stories and rewriting them.”
Two things hit me: One, I needed to get my own story written — one or two memoirs, I thought. Two, I needed to write short stories.
I had heard those two words — short stories — suggested the first time I dared ask a question during a coaching call in the writing academy. I had been struggling THEN — in February — with how to write a novel when all I knew was non-fiction writing. The coach that day, Mindy, had suggested I start small.
“A short story,” she had told me then. She suggested some short stories and novellas I might read as examples.
While I had nodded and amicably agreed, I hadn’t turned it into action other than starting my next blog post with a fictional account. I forgot she had suggested such a thing and found my own path forward (or not), just as my son had forgotten the keys I’d provided and found his own way to enter our home. If only I had heeded her instructions.
Saved from regret
I could have lathered myself in guilt by reading what James had to say about my inaction:
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.James 1:22-24, NIV
I had followed God’s direction in joining the academy. I had asked for guidance from the academy leaders. I received it — but didn’t act on it. Advice is meaningless if you don’t choose to act on it. And then actually act. Listen and obey.
And so then and there, in the quietness of my vacation condo bathroom (because where else do you get a chance to read?), I determined that I needed to write my true story — and I needed to start small with fiction.
(I also needed to read more fiction to better learn the craft. Yay!)
The next day God gave me an idea for a series of children’s illustrated storybooks — although I’ll start with one. (A children’s book is a short story, yes?) And He started showing me how I might organize my first memoir. Inspiration galore!
Forward progress at last! But, of course, regret had to wage its attack. What if I had acted in February instead of now? Had I wasted too much time? Was I too late?
This morning, as I contemplated a title and an image for this post, I made my way to the gym. I saw the crowded parking lot and thought I was too late to get a decent spot. Just as I neared the best spot in the row — extra large and closest to the gym — a car backed out of it. I clicked on my turn signal and claimed the spot. Score!
Once in the gym, I walked past the pool area on my way to the locker room and saw swimmers in every lane — and people waiting. (Sigh.) Was I too late to get a lane? And then as I placed my belongings in my locker, I realized I had left my dress in the car.
Back to my car I went, making me even later. In the locker room again, I forgot to take off my coverup and switch sandals for flip-flops before I locked it. Unlock. Add the items. Relock. Even later.
I made my way to the pool — late, I thought — and found a completely different scenario from the one I’d seen minutes earlier. Two lanes were vacant. I took one and started my workout.
I was just in time. By God’s grace. Despite my forgetfulness and failures, my delays and dilly dallying.
And as I swam in a lane, the words from 2nd Corinthians 12:9 filled my mind:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV
As I reflected on His graciousness, I realized that I wasn’t late for the pool — and I’m not late for this new direction in writing. My heavenly Father knows me well. He knows my tendency to get distracted by the urgent and put off the important. He planned for it the way I might set an earlier deadline than is needed or set my clock ahead to spur me into action sooner.
I’m not suggesting we should look at delay and disorganization and overwhelm as acceptable and right. I’m suggesting that we are human — and we fail. God recognizes that we are humans who fail. But He who sees the end from the beginning anticipates and plans for it. That is grace, my friend.
His grace is sufficient for me. And for you, too. What “instructions” has God needed to present to you more than once before you heard it and acted?
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