You ever wonder why it seems that some people seem to come out of something ok and others don't. You often hear "Therefore but by the grace of God go I". Is it the grace of God that one life will be blessed and another isn't? Does that mean that God didn't grace that person?
Truthfully, I had never really put the words "God's grace" and "Laura's life" in the same realm until about a week ago. I was at church to pick Brooke up from youth group and I got to talking to the youth minister and associate pastor. Kristi knows a lot of my life story and so through the course of conversation she was telling me that I should really share my story. She said my life had been touched by God's grace in many ways and it would be a good story to share with youth. She went on to say that youth really struggle with their identity and don't often see the gifts they have. They can get stuck in their uncertainty and miss the doors that God is opening for them. The initial reaction in my head was that I definitely do not need to talk to youth...she must be crazy. I said that I didn't mind sharing my story one on one with people or here in the "privacy" of this blog....but talking in front of a group of people about it would feel odd. Yes, my life has somewhat been a story of survival....born to an unwed mother, given up for adoption, sexual abuse survivor, young unmarried mother, etc. I am hesitant to speak to in a group setting because I don't want people to think my life has been sad. I have never seen my life that way. It doesn't require people to feel sorry for me. Yet, as I drove home I couldn't get what she said to me out of my head. God's grace? I always thought I was just stubborn and unwilling to let life get me down.
As usual, I have spent the last week obsessing over this thought. My mind can't rest until I figure it out. I even googled "God's grace". I mean if you want to understand something you Google it, right? Here is some of what I found:
Grace is God showing His love to you even though you MAY THINK you don't deserve it.
Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live.
“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. -Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (1888-1953)
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” -Anne Lamott
The more I read, the more I understood what Kristi had meant, but it left me with a new set of questions to ponder. Why is it then that my life has been touched by grace, when others with similar stories have not turned out as well? Aren't they touched by grace?
To understand what I mean I want to tell you a story about a boy named Sammie.
I never knew there was anyone in my Dad's family line named Sammie. My dad is, and has always been obsessed with family history and geneology...and yet I had never heard that name. Then about 4 or 5 years ago, I was doing research on Ancestry.com. I periodically search in vane for my birth father and also for more of my birth mother's history. This particular day I thought I would look up my dad's census records from the early 1920's. I thought it would be interesting....I got more than I ever bargained for. There it was. The last name listed for the household...Samie Arms. Age 12. Boy Baring. Hum. What does "boy baring" mean? So I asked my dad, not realizing this may be a problem.
"Dad, who is Samie Arms?"
"Samie Arms. His name is listed on the census records from 1920 that he lived in your house. He is listed as "boy baring" and I don't know what that means."
"Oh." LONG PAUSE. "Well, I believe my dad was married before my mother and that is his son."
WHAT? There was another son? I was so shocked I just changed the subject. My head was spinning a bit. Why wasn't he called son on the records? What was with this "boy baring " thing? My entire life all I have heard about is Arms family history. My dad even wrote his memoirs, probably a hundred pages, and not one mention of anyone named Samie. There are stories of the other siblings, cousins, neighbors. Probably everyone in Clay County, Tennessee. Nothing about Samie. No pictures. No memories. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. As if he never existed.
So it doesn't take a genius to figure out that something just didn't add up. Maybe most people would think it isn't so shocking....there is probably a "mysterious birth" story in every family if you go back far enough. Problem is, I am not just any person. I myself am a "mysterious birth" story. No one in my birth mother's family had ever heard of me either. I kind of just "showed up" a few years ago. I immediately connected with Samie in my mind. I knew that some way, some how, I would find out his story.
Here is what I know. My grandfather was never married before my grandmother. He had a son with a woman, whose name I still have not found. For whatever reason, Samie (also spelled Sammie and Sammy as I have discovered in my search) ended up with his father. He lived with them until he was around 18 years old. Then no one ever saw him again. Amazingly though, my dad has no memories of him at all. He was 8 years older than my dad. No memories of where he slept, no memories of him at family meals, at church. No memories of him going to school or working with the family on the farm. As if he didn't exist. The picture was becoming clearer to me. An illegitimate child was a shame on the family. He didn't count. He didn't matter. I believe without a doubt this was made very clear to him.
Information about his life is difficult to come by. No birth records. No church bible documentation to look at. Believe me, I have looked. Then finally I came across his death record and found where he was buried. I ordered a copy of his death certificate. He died of a heart attack in the Tompkinsville jail at the age of 45. There is a name for his mother, but I haven't been able to find anything about her, or that a person with this name existed at all. I have also recently discovered through a message board on Ancestry that he never married or had children and that he was an alcoholic. He lived for many years with a lady, 30 years his senior. I do not know the connection between the two, but feel confident I will eventually find out. I do know that although she had been widowed and had children pass away before she died in 1964, ten years after Sammy, she is buried next to him. I take peace in that....for whatever reason, despite his trials, she loved him.
So how is my story similar to Samie's? Even though I too am a child born out of wedlock there are 50 years between our births. That is a lot of time for views to change in the world. Or did they? Did beliefs within the mind change, or just the way these "sort of things" were handled. Remember that memoir my dad wrote? 100 pages. In that one hundred pages, my name is mentioned 1 time. One sentence. I can feel Sammy in myself. He was one line on a census document. I was one line in a book written by my father. A book about his family. When Brooke asks her Papa about memories of me when I was a child, he doesn't have any even though he can recant word for word conversations from 1945.
Nothing for me though can connect me to Sammy any better than something that happened here a few months ago. Christine, a cousin of my father's a daughter of a lady my dad had known in his young years came to visit with my parents. When they got up to go, my dad asked Brooke to go get him "that box". This box had belonged to my great (or great-great) grandfather and carried with him during the civil war. Brooke brought him the box and he handed it to Christine. He asked her to take that box and give it to someone in the Arms family. He mentioned something about someone's children taking it. I had never heard of these people. Talk about an elephant in the room kind of moment. Christine looked at me and at Brooke. She asked Dad if he didn't want to give that to me or one of the grandchildren. He adamantly said again that he wanted it to stay in the Arms family. Christine looked at me again and I quietly told her not to worry, it was alright. They left and a piece of Arms family history left with them.
I was so angry. I thought of Sammy again. Wondered how much of his life had been spent hearing stories of the family history. He even carried the family blood, but it wasn't enough. That night I decided I would have to say something. I told Dad what he had done had hurt me. He looked surprised and went on to explain that he had a problem because he was the end of the Arms line and he didn't know what to do about the Arms "stuff". I pointed out that in his misplaced loyalty to the Arms name he had given "Arms" stuff to total strangers. Strangers who have never heard the stories. To them it might be just a box. Then, not so nicely, I told him to look around. I asked him who he sees. I said "Dad, I may not carry your blood, but I am here. I have always been here. I know all of YOUR stories. Brooke knows all of your stories." I think I was a little harsh because he teared up. Then he said he had loved me just like I was his. Just like I was his. Wow. "Dad, I am yours. I have been yours since March 6th, 1969 when you signed papers that gave me your name. It is what goes on between us, not what flows through us Dad."
So different, yet so similar, Sammy and I. This brings me back to God's grace.
Sammy's story is what was bothering me about the whole idea of God's grace. Despite trials and tribulation, I have a really great life. Why me and not him? So many similarities and yet our lives had turned out so differently. There was one more qoute that I had found as I googled that brought it all together for me.
God supplies all we need, but we must choose to accept His gifts, or to reject them. We have the option of refusing to eat or drink. We have the option of closing ourselves up in an air tight, waterproof and darkened room, but it will kill us.
You know something.....I was back to what I have thought about myself all along....I am stubborn and refuse to let life get me down. Translation in Laura's terms means the best gift God may have given me was that stubbornness to not let life get me down. I have wholeheartedly accepted that gift and many others.
It isn't that God's grace touched one and not the other. It is that one could see it and the other could not. I believe God lays it all out there for us. Our gifts, our shortcomings and trials. The ability to handle both the trials and the gifts is inside us always. Grace is almost like a secret until we figure out that it was there all along. I believe without maybe being able to put the words to it....I recognized God's grace was within me.
I will never count the same as an Arms in my parents eyes. Sammy never counted as an Arms in his father's eyes. In the end, all pf that is ok because we both counted in God's eyes. I just wish Sammy could have recognized the gifts God was offering him....he could have recognized it within himself. There but for the grace of God go I.