The title, "Guided by Grace" is a bit of a pun. On my Android, I have a navigation app and I have voices to choose from. I've chosen a pleasant, female voice called "Grace." Partly I liked the voice and partly I liked her name. So, whenever I am trying to go somewhere, I "ask Grace" for directions. I have joked with travel companions about going where "Grace" tells me to go or about "Grace" guiding us to our destination.
To me, though, "Grace" isn't just a name or a voice. Grace is REAL. Grace is something hard to define but I know it's there. In this way, Grace is a lot like God. Grace is undeserved forgiveness, unconditional love, and what gives me the faith to trust that I am following the path that I am meant to be on, even though I have no idea where it is taking me. I am being guided by grace, as long as I choose to follow and to listen to directions.
In some ways, this journey began several years ago, when someone confronted me with the question of my "calling." This was in reference to ordained ministry but as I've contemplated and studied that question, I have realised that there are other ways a person can be "called" in life. I feel a call to service to God and to others. This is a call that is not easy to answer and requires a lot of grace to discern and to follow. I found myself meditating on faith and found that I was being directed to take just one, sometimes tiny, step at a time. The way would unfold and all I needed to do was to take the next step, not knowing where the path might be leading. Since then, the path has taken me through some very rough and rocky places. At times, I thought I had lost my way. I felt stuck in the mud, mired down by fear; fear of losing my security, my income, my family, my life. These fears threatened at time to overtake me and cause me to quit trusting God and grace to lead me and to try, instead, to forge my path on my own. I have learned in life, and often need to be reminded, that going it alone simply does NOT work.
It was at one of those times, that I was beaten over the head with what could either be seen as a roadblock or an opportunity to change direction. Last August, when I was told my contract with my employer would not be renewed, I was faced with a difficult but exciting opportunity. I recognised it immediately as the "sign" that I needed to get unstuck and follow a different path. Grace was "recalculating" my route, so to speak.
That all led me here, to New Zealand. Frankly, I have no idea why. It sounded fun and exciting. It's also scary. I will have an opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do: teach medical students. I will get to learn about a different healthcare system. I will meet new people and experience a different culture and way of life. If I keep my eyes and ears open, I will be given the grace to answer the call to serve and to act.
In the recent past, I have found that opportunities to serve others present themselves in strange and powerful ways. A few months ago I met a homeless woman named Rebecca, and her daughter (whose name was a derivative of "Grace") in Las Vegas. I talked to them and bought them a meal. It was a powerful experience for me. Rebecca had lost her job and then her home and was living a very difficult life. Talk about being guided by grace! She had to live one moment at a time, humbly asking for help to feed her child and find shelter. I helped as best I could and I pray for them still. They touched my heart and my life for a reason. I may never know what, exactly, that reason is, except to show me that I need to keep watching and stay alert to where grace may be guiding me next.
Not too long ago, when I was hoping, praying, and wishing for some help with lugging stuff to the dump, a man came to my door asking for help. He needed some money for dog food and gas. A house painter, his work had been slim during the winter. Immediately, it came to me, that this man could be the answer to my prayers. I asked him to do the work which he happily did and I gave him money and food. I know him, and I know it was very hard for him to ask for help and I never ever want to discourage someone from asking for help. It seems people are being told far too often to value self-reliance and "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps." What a gift it can be to be able to move beyond self-reliance and ask others to help us when we need it. I am grateful for the opportunities that I've had to help others and I would not want to deprive others of that opportunity as well.
I know that these opportunities will continue to present themselves. As Bishop Brookhart said at my friend Donna's ordination to the Diaconate, we don't do these things because they make us "feel good," we do these things because Jesus told us to. We do them because when we serve others, we serve Jesus. Many people are waiting anxiously for the second coming of Jesus, praying for Jesus to return and "fix this mess." I think Jesus is here and we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus who, through us, IS "fixing this mess."
And that is where grace comes in. I cannot begin to even KNOW how to begin the job of "fixing" things in this world without following the directions that I am given, without the faith to take one baby step at a time and without the courage to act, even if it means that I get off track. I will never get anywhere if I am paralysed by fear. I must be willing to take the wrong road, mess up, fall down, skin my knees, break my neck, whatever it takes to keep following this call.
I am reminded of a verse of a very popular and favorite hymn, "Amazing grace."
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
May it be so.