“God’s plan from the start for this world and your heart has been to show His glory and His grace.” — from ‘Glorious Unfolding,’ Steven Curtis Chapman
Because neither of us is that great with goodbyes, my best friend and I spent close to forty hours together in a Hyundai Sonata on a trek to-and-from Canada before grad school and work forced us to part paths. We had planned the trip for over a year, and when the departure date finally arrived we loaded snacks into the back seat, buckled ourselves into the front ones, and took the nearest exit onto I-15 North.
It was what any good road trip ought to be. We managed to misplace a freeway, to get lost on the prairies of Alberta, to “encounter” a tornado and exaggerate our experience with it, to inadvertently massacre insects at 70 MPH, to discover a lake, to keep quotes, to crack up and cry and discuss politics and eat pizza and sing along with the radio and learn what produce may and may not cross the border.
And we managed, for the most part, to avoid discussing my friend’s impending move across the country. We couldn’t talk about it. We didn’t want to sour the mood of pretended stability and carefreeness.
But the thought still gnawed at the backs of our minds, burned in the pits of our stomachs, tore at the flesh of our hearts. Separation. – And not just separation, either. Uncertainty. Adulthood. Moving on.
Maybe it would be easier to face if all this graduation-and-going-forward stuff were all that bears down on us right about now. Maybe if every other aspect of life were well-planned-out and controllable—maybe if everything else felt solid and safe—maybe then we could tackle the foreboding unsureness with a little more perky pluck. Instead we skirted the topic, or made vague allusions to it, feeling nauseous while doing so, giggling nervously, and then shifting subjects.
I’ve tasted enough heartache to realize that things like this aren’t fatal. When disappointments or separations or uncertainties pop up, they leave scars but not corpses. We can talk about “moving on” because somehow we’re all capable of doing just that. Something in the human spirit, some miracle of resilience, keeps us stumbling along even after—even during—the wounds and wars we face daily.
I thought about that on the trip—about the staying, fighting, get-up-and-keep-going power that’s healed me through horrors before, that’s healing me now, and that I hope will heal me in the future. As a child I learned to call this power grace, and to point as its source to the Savior, Who volunteered to endure every brokenness known to man so He could support, lift, heal, encourage us when we break. Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, and Calvary all tell the story of the source of hope and healing. They tell the story of grace—a story recounted billions of times every day when our vias are a touch more dolorosa than we can handle, but somehow we pull through and look back and marvel, “My goodness, how did I survive that dark patch?”
We survive by grace.
Jesus’s grace, poured out through Atonement to soak us in warm cleansing curing gentle succoring power when our hearts bleed and our souls break.
God’s grace, proved by sacrificing one perfect Son to save billions of sinful children.
I guess I’ve always looked at grace primarily as something that heals or makes up for or soothes. It’s the stuff that God uses to forgive the sins of repenters. He takes it to make salves for the scrapes and gashes we incur through offense, disappointment, or failure. Jesus came to earth to “[suffer] pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,” to take on Himself “. . . the pains and the sicknesses of His people,” to suffer our transgressions, to be infirm, and to die, all for hope’s sake, all to know how it feels to be fallen, all to make it so bad things can be righted through grace (Alma 7:11-13).
“If men come unto me,” God told one prophet, “I will show unto them their weakness . . . that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all [humble] men . . . [to] make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). Grace strengthens the weak stuff. It heals the hurt stuff. It cleans the filthy stuff.
It comforts the sad girls who weep when their best friends up and move across the country for graduate school.
That’s how I typically look at grace—for its make-this-stop-hurting side.
Which is to say that for the bulk of this quarter-century life I’ve examined only half of that piece of Godly goodness—or perhaps much less than half.
I learned a gracious thing or two on the road trip to Canada, and one important lesson occurred when my former mission president (who, along with his wife, played Albertan host to me and my friend) put his hands on my head and prayed out a Priesthood promise that pierced through my practiced pessimism. Although I hadn’t said anything about the questions that nagged me, the uncertainties I faced, or the sorrow that grumbled in my heart, President van Bruggen’s soft voice became firm as he said:
“God wants you to know that life will be good.”
And my soul recognized that that promise was true.
Because grace isn’t just a post-facto power that swoops in to sweep up the mess of shattered lives. It’s not just meant to make up for bad things, or to salve cuts and bruises, or to smudge away tears. To be certain, grace does all those things, and thank heavens, because I’m sure I couldn’t have made it this far without grasping for grace in tough times, and I’m sure I won’t ever reach Heaven without scouring my sins with the Lord’s Atonement.
But God wants us all to know that life will be good, so Jesus’s mission on earth wasn’t simply to learn how to feel for us during our pains, but also to pave the path to rich blessings. Not just yet-to-come, someday, celestial blessings. The here-and-now ones. Mundane ones. Tangible, earthy ones that we can wrap our fingers around and hold onto and hope for.
The scriptures say that “in Christ there should come every good thing,” which means that grace isn’t only a reaction to bad but a promise of good (Moroni 7:22). In Christ there comes every vibrant sunset that bounces orange-yellow-pink beams off cumulus canvases set against a blue sky. In Christ there are friendships, romances, and “chance” encounters that are anything but. Without Christ we could never be giddy. We could never be satisfied. We couldn’t be comfortable, warm, or secure. Hope couldn’t crawl chills up our spines—joy couldn’t squeeze wrinkles from our eyes—glee couldn’t shake laughs in our bellies without grace. And grace comes in and from and through and with and by the One Whose life means Life itself, the One Whose name is Love.
I’ve seen the strengthening, healing, and cleansing part of grace when weakness, hurt, and sin have stung me and made me wonder how I’d ever make it. I’ve seen grace smooth over the aches of separations in the past. I trust the current throbs will ebb with time and prayer and sighing.
But I’ve also witnessed good things come of grace, and something tells me grace has yet to exhaust the blessings God still keeps in store to give His children every day through light and love and laughter and excitement and fresh air and nieces, friends, forever families, music, plants, beaches, sleep, summers, snow, dirt, galaxies, wind water petals sunrays roommates muscles conversation textures shadows mountains education eyes reflections pebbles prairies. . . .
I believe in a Savior Who felt and feels both pain and joy. I believe in a Christ Who lived and lives through hurt and love. I believe in a Messiah Who gave and gives the strength to endure trial and glory. He’s the “high priest of good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11) and He blesses us in ways built with a beauty we can’t fathom, either by gracing our path out of sorrow or by gracing our path into bliss. Separations, anxieties, and burdens will come. But God crafted a plan to bring salvation to His frightened children, and that plan is called grace.
And it’s glorious.