The Sustenance Of Grace

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

By Angela Shupe | Twitter: @labellaverita

B-Angela

When the words left her lips, I sat stunned. The air in the room was sucked out in a moment’s edict, from a woman of whom I expected grace.

I was one of six, sitting around the table, searching out deeper truths of the New Testament on a windy day in April. Including the teacher, there were four men and two women, one older and one younger—me.

It happened during the break. We were asked us to introduce ourselves. The simple words of small talk common to new groups were spoken. Circling around the table, I was the last to speak. Like the others, I began with my church history, years of attendance, years married, finishing with my son who was six, and my daughter not quite a year old who was born with Down syndrome. 

I’d barely gotten the words out when they were met with the declaration, “You are going to have a miserable, difficult life.” 

Air gave way to these words shot across the table. Definitive words, as if spoken by one with the authority to peer into the future and foretell what lay ahead. If the first steps of stumbling along the path of parenting a child with special needs weren’t unsure enough, this woman summed it up for me with certainty. In her opinion, there was simply no hope. And in that moment, all I could do was sit and stare at this woman, life etched into the creases of her face now pursed in anger. I had no words to offer in response, other than that my daughter was a joy in my life.

When the class finished, I left quietly. I chided myself for assuming encouragement would be offered across the table, like the handing off of a plate of good things. I desired sustenance for the soul, but was given a plate of rotten food. 

I’d made the assumption that grace would be offered. It was an expectation I had of one further down the road. My expectation was formed long before the class, before ever having met this woman, but grew as she’d introduced herself. She was the first in our group to speak. As the mother of an adult daughter with special needs, she told us, “She’s now in college, living at home with me. I help her with her school work.” Nothing negative was spoken, just simple, matter-of-fact words. As she introduced herself, I felt that we held something in common. We both knew what it meant to mother a child with special needs, or at least, I was in the process of learning. I left that day determined to resolve her words with what I knew to be true. My daughter was a joy in my life—no question. 

Driving home, I replayed her words, turning them over and over in my head. It certainly wasn’t the first time someone had spoken hurtful words to me, albeit perhaps the most surprising. Words like these, I knew, if left untended would whisper and echo in the recesses of my mind, bent on defining me. I had a choice to make: let them go and offer forgiveness or hold on and allow myself to be defined. Experience had taught me that words spoken in haste and ignorance were best left at the foot of the cross. 

In all likelihood, I knew I might not even see this woman again in a church our size. Yet forgiveness isn’t just for the forgiven, it’s a lifeline for the forgiver. Misery is built on the weighty stones of unforgiveness. So, I made the choice to let her words go, in an effort to offer grace to us both. Yet, I could still feel their sting days later. As time past, I relaxed in the joy I found in my daughter. It was a spacious joy that filled me. And one day I realized the sting of those toxic words was gone. 

Two years later, I waited in the church lobby to hear my assignment for an event later in the day. The leader approached and asked me to follow her. We walked into another room where my partner for the day was perched high on a chair. It was the woman from the survey class. I’d not seen her since the day of the class and wasn’t sure she remembered me. 

Our leader walked away and we were left crouching around a table too small to seat anyone else. We began with small talk, again. 

“Does your family attend?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I answered, briefly mentioning my husband, eight year-old son and my two and a half year-old daughter. 

She began telling me about her family and her adult daughter with special needs who’d recently graduated from college. “She’s working full-time now,” she said, beaming with maternal pride at her daughter’s achievement. 

“I helped her throughout her schooling. It was a rough go sometimes … A few years ago, it was really difficult.”

She paused a moment to reflect.

“I’m just so proud of her,” she said, breaking the silence. Her demeanor was light. I could see it in her eyes; there was no anger, just peace.

“That’s wonderful,” I said. “You should be proud of her.” 

She smiled. Looking at her in that moment, I saw before me a mother who had long fought hard-won battles on behalf of her child. She began telling me more about her daughter. From her words, it was obvious she loved her daughter and that it had been a long and difficult road, one she still walked. 

She didn’t remember me, but it didn’t matter. I was glad I’d chosen to let those words go years before. I knew even more, at that moment, that words spoken in haste, out of hurt, did not define her as a mother. Nor, did they define me. 

As I listened to her talk, my heart filled with grace towards her. Perhaps, the past two years of mothering had given me wisdom enough to know that grace was essential. And that by offering grace across the table, I could more easily offer myself grace as I stumbled through motherhood.

I began to tell her about my daughter. “She has special needs, too,” I said. “She was born with Down syndrome.” 

“Really?” A smile crept across her face. “Do you have any pictures?” she asked. 

I pulled out two photos to show her my little girl. “I’ll bet you have a lot of fun with her,” she said.

There were no windows in the chapel letting in the April sunshine. But her smile brightened the room.

____________________

About Angela:

AShupe Profile Pic

I live in the Midwest with my husband and two kids. After recently moving out of the woods and into town, I’m adjusting to the busy pace of small town life. When not juggling schedules, I bake blueberry crumble, love spending time at Lake Michigan, and write about life and faith at Bella Verita. Everyday I am awed by the never-ending abundant grace of God.

_______________

Image credit: Ross Griff

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
  • Angela, such wisdom: “Words like these, I knew, if left untended would whisper and echo in the recesses of my mind, bent on defining me. I had a choice to make: let them go and offer forgiveness or hold on and allow myself to be defined. Experience had taught me that words spoken in haste and ignorance were best left at the foot of the cross.” It’s no small act–choosing to forgive over and over. You’re so right that hurtful words define us if we don’t leave them at the cross. A beautiful reminder to persevere and be free. Thanks!

    • Angela M. Shupe

      It’s a truth that’s played out in my life many times, Amy. And you’re right, forgiveness really is the only answer. It seems like a kind of paradox, in offering it, we get the gift of freedom. Thank you so much for your kind words. Blessings!

  • Lori Jean

    A beautiful picture of grace; one I will carry with me & apply. Thank you, dearest friend.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thank you so much, my dear friend. Glad this blessed you.

  • Lisha Epperson

    I’ve mulled over the concept of forgiveness the past few weeks. And I always come back to the idea you shared – no one moment or word should define me, nor should I let it define others. Grace in the margin allows room for forgiveness. I’m happy to know you reconnected. God is good like that.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      This situation nailed home to me, even more, that when hurtful words are spoken, often they’re spoken from one dealing with a great deal of pain. And usually, the words have more to do with that pain, than with me. I’m actually grateful for that reminder. You said it perfectly, Lisha, “Grace in the margin allows room for forgiveness.” God is good, indeed. Thanks, Lisha!

  • Bev Murrill

    Emmanuel! God is with you. Your maturity in dealing with this, Angela, changed so much of what might have happened…That lady never knew, but God smiled at your choices over that period of time.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thank you so much, Bev. God’s grace really is sufficient, especially in our struggles. Blessings to you!

  • Diana Pintar

    What a testimony to the power of God; to comfort and heal, to speak truth where the enemy would try to plant a lie, to “bring beauty from ashes.” I especially love that last because it is so like our God!! He goes beyond restoration and brings Life (capital “L” used intentionally) where the enemy tried to sow death.

    Thank you, Angela, for this beautiful post. God is glorified!

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thank you so much for your words, Diana! They mean a lot to me. It never ceases to amaze me how God brings beauty from ashes & brings, as you said, “Life.” He is good. Thank you!

  • pastordt

    Oh my goodness, what a beautiful story!!! Thank you so much for writing so powerfully and so personally about the power of forgiveness to change us from the inside out. And I’m so grateful that you and she had another chance to reconnect in such a different and far more healthy way. What a gift this is.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thank you so much for your kind, generous words, Diana!

  • I love this story. Although I don’t share the particulars, I understand the costliness of forgiving her… And letting it go – choosing to release her. The part I really love is that God gave her an opportunity to show you that she wasn’t the same woman, even though she didn’t know or remember… You could see she’d grown. And your grace sustained her…

    Quite the image for us. Thanks.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thank you so much, Tina. It was & is a reminder to me of who we are in the Church and that as Thomas Merton said, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” So grateful for his goodness. Thanks again, Tina!

  • Thank you for sharing this with us, Angela. It really touched me deeply. Your grace, from Him, is truly a beautiful and humbling thing to me.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thanks, Michaela! And, congratulations!! Your little one is beautiful!

  • Sandy Hay

    “You are going to have a miserable, difficult life.” I sharply inhaled as I read this. But then I wondered if I was ever guilty of saying something that could have been as impacting. Angela, thank you for showing us grace.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thanks, Sandy. Appreciate your kind words!

  • I love this so much, Angela. Thank you for your grace and for reminding us not to judge in haste, even as we feel judged. I needed to remember that I often simply have no idea where a person’s hurtful words are coming from. And what a redemptive BEAUTIFUL story. Love love love.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Thank you for your kind words, Adriel. I love that God offers his grace to us, to help us when we need to extend grace and forgiveness to others. His grace really is sufficient & I’m so grateful for his help in the struggle. Thank you again!

  • What a powerful testimony of forgiveness … and grace. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to hear those first words … But you lived this beautifully, Angela. Wow. Thank you sharing.

    • Angela M. Shupe

      Your kind words mean a lot to me, Idelette. Thank you so much!

  • Billie Schuttpelz

    Powerful writing Angela. Thank you for sharing your insights!!

  • Anne-Marie

    Hi Angela, and thanks for this oh-so practical call to forgive. I have two now-grown boys who are wonderful but had very complicated challenges. One still does. Sometimes even professionals who are supposed to help offer condemning and untruthful input – evil poking at us. Others are so humble and kind. I needed to hear this today, to put a recent encounter away. And I remember in the midst of hospital visits, the amazing sweetness of our younger son. I don’t know if it’s God’s graceful touch at birth or the difference of having serious health issues – but these children – so incredibly loving. Blessings!