Ghana: measured grace (pt. 1)

It’s been a little over a week since I have arrived home from my trip to Ghana.  Thoughts and emotions have coiled and uncoiled themselves in my soul like snakes hiding from light.  I have sat down to write this so many times throughout the week but have found I had nothing to offer but a platitude-filled paragraph or two.  And if you know me, you know that just won’t do.

So I’ve been wrestling with it, sitting with it, trying to process through everything that’s been whirling through my head and heart like an Oklahoma tornado.   And it’s been happening for awhile, this unnamed chaos.

When I first heard of the opportunity to spend a week at the Pearl House in Ghana, I was elated.  I researched the Pearl House and fell in love with what they do: take in at-risk girls from all over Ghana and shelter and educate them.  I committed myself and felt like a floundering fish-out-of-water the entire preparation process.  The trip itself sat blocked out on my calendar like a thing to do rather than thing to look forward to.  I was anxious, overwhelmed, and embarrassed—embarrassed because I felt others were handling the process a lot more gracefully than I was.  I battled middle-of-the-night fears and mid-day trepidation as I readied myself to fly and leave the country—both for the very first time in my life.

A central part of what I and three other women got to do there was teach.  Partnering with Scope Ministries, we shared the bible study “Be Transformed” each morning with the house-moms and each afternoon with the children at the school.  Part of getting ready for the trip meant adapting the lessons in “Be Transformed” in a way that better served the people with whom we were sharing.  I wrestled and cried and fidgeted, feeling in no way adequate enough to share anything.  I would sit before my bible and notes and try to prepare something, but my computer sat blankly before me like a mirror, revealing my abundant lack.

Empty, depleted, inadequate, insufficient—use whatever word you prefer, I felt it all.  I stayed up late one night, running over my list again and again to ensure I didn’t forget a thing.  I wept in the darkness of my bedroom and said, “Jesus, I can’t do this.”

It is no doubt that it is in these moments of our lives that Jesus does that amazing thing he does.  I heard very sweetly, “I know you can’t.  That’s why this isn’t about you.”

It’s one of those things you know.  One of those things you even tell yourself.  Because anyone who’s ever done a thing like this before will tell you: you don’t go to other countries to share Jesus to make it about you.   You just don’t.  And yet… I was.  For some reason, I felt rattled by a profound need to prove myself.   I had an expectation that I was to conquer the unknowns flawlessly and at the end of the day, everyone would be left thinking about how amazing I was.

I will be really honest: this thinking grieves me.  It grieves me to the point of tears.  Why must I make everything about myself?  Here I am, gifted with an amazing opportunity to love and serve others, and I am worried about how amazing I will or will not be.  I wept into my pillow that night and prayed “Jesus, rid me of my pride.  Keep me humbled and steadfast.”

I suspected that God’s antidote to my pride would be a metaphorical knocking of the stool out from under me.  Maybe he would humiliate me, shame me, sabotage me in a way that made me grateful I was even loved at all.  Maybe he’d recall to my memory all the sins I’ve ever committed in order to make me ever more grateful for his grace.

But that’s not what he did.  He remedied my pride by lavishing his love.

After that night of tear-filled prayer, my days were filled with memory—not of unspeakable sin, but of random little snapshots from my childhood, filtering in and out of my thoughts at random.  I kept hearing this one phrase over and over: “Measured grace.”  Soon, I remembered how I was hard on myself even at a young age, obsessed with the idea of perfection because people were watching me and I was a role model and I needed to show Jesus to everyone through my actions.

Measured grace: that sweet spot of perfection, right in the middle of too much and not enough; that metaphorical place of balance where we all strive to be.  Not too loud but not too quiet.  A place that forces our wide souls into a narrow chasm of a science experiment: formulas and restrictions and precision fusing together to form the perfect concoction.

My entire life, I have struggled under the burden of measured grace.

I meditated on this in the weeks before my trip to Ghana, but kept thinking “So what?”  I’ve been a perfectionist since I was a kid.  Big deal.  But, one day, on the way to work, my brain kept churning that phrase “Measured grace” over and over again like hands wringing out sodden jeans.  In my stomach was a flurry of anxiety as I thought of Ghana—I was set to leave in a week.  I chewed on my fingernail, feeling deathly unprepared.  And then, Jesus again, speaking into the dark hallows of my expectations:

This isn’t about measured grace.  This is about reckless love.

     There is a profound structure of a sentence in the Gospels that says “The truth will set you free.”  I can personally attest to the reality of this.  That statement, “This isn’t about measured grace, this is about reckless love,” at one fell swoop, silenced the thunder of anxiety within me and for the first time in weeks, my mind was quiet.  I placed that hand that with the nibbled fingernail back to the wheel as tears flooded my eyes.  Joy and excitement rushed to the scene where anxiety and fear had been for so long, pushing every other emotion deeper into the margins of my life.

     Because love is a force, an energy, a cleanse.  It purges us of what blocks us and lift us weightlessly to where we are meant to be.  Love replaces pride.  Love replaces pride.

     It is a powerful truth that was reflected deeply, intrinsically, in my time in Ghana.  Because if you want to meet people who are full of joy, of life, of servant hood, of love—go to Ghana.  They’re rich and deep, wells upon wells of kindheartedness.

     At my time at the Pearl House, love was center focus.  Love danced behind the eyes of the girls and the house moms, it was infused in the hugs and the stories and smiles.  There was no expectation or standard or need to prove ourselves worthy.  It was just love.  Love met me on the soccer field when one of the girls asked me to play with her.  It was quite embarrassing, to say the least.  I bruised my shins and kept kicking the ball in the wrong direction (I’ve never played soccer before. Ha).  The kids laughed and the girl who had invited me never stopped encouraging me: “Oh, good job, Auntie Lauren!  You’re doing good.”  And with a smile that lights up a whole room she said, “Auntie Lauren, you will go back to America and learn how to play soccer.  And when you come back to Ghana, you will beat us all.”  Oh how I love her faith in me.  See?  Love.

     The truth that started to run like a thread that week before Ghana—no, started weaving itself in my life from the time I was born—was revealed through my time at the Pearl House in a way I am still struggling to put into words.  After all, how do put the ocean in a cup?

     Yes, after my week in Ghana, I am more than certain:

     This isn’t about measured grace.  This is about reckless love.

     Because grace cannot be measured

     Not in miles

     Or deservingness

     Or language

     Or self-adequacy

     Or culture

     But, maybe, just maybe, it can be reflected

     In smiles

     In hugs

     In laughter

     Eyes lit up in wonder

     A soccer field where you truly are not the best, but you are enjoying it and in turn you yourself are enjoyed

     That endless loop love makes around our hearts again, again, and again

     And that beautiful, reckless thing that happens when we let go

     And love

 

 

To learn more about the Pearl House and ways you can help “Give hope a home,” go to http://www.thepearlhouse.org 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Ghana: measured grace (pt. 1)

  1. Lauren! Oh Mi-doh-foo (my attempt at spelling Beloved in Fante)
    This is almost as beautiful as you are! I have goosebumps. Thank you for writing and sharing this incredible gift Father has given you. XOXOXO I love you dear one.

    Like

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