Growing up, my dad kept a coin jar on his dresser. Every night when he got home from work, the first thing he did was head upstairs to change his clothes. You could hear the familiar jangling of pennies as they spilled from his pocket into the jar. When I was about nine years old, I decided his coins should be mine. Over time I pilfered a few nickels here, and a handful of pennies there. Before I knew it, I had successfully swindled my dad out of all of his loose change, and he never even noticed.
Sometime later, guilt gripped me. I knew that what I'd been doing was considered stealing. I had no way to explain away my behavior. With a pounding heart, I penned an apology to him, confessing my sin and asking for forgiveness. I tucked the note under his coin jar along with a pile of pennies as restitution.
I waited anxiously for my dad to confront me. Day one went by, and he didn't say anything. Another day passed; still nothing. And then another, and another. Eventually, I forgot about the note.
Then one day, out of the blue, my dad stepped into my bedroom, and said, "Marian, I got your note and the pennies." My heart raced; my throat felt like a marble was lodged in it. I didn't know what to expect next. I didn't see a belt gripped in his hand, as I would have expected after behaving so badly, and he didn't seem especially upset. In fact, if I didn't know better, he seemed on the verge of tears. But that didn't make any sense. I had wronged him. He had every right to be mad and punish me. Instead, he said, "Thank you," and gave me a hug.
Then he left.
We never spoke of it again.
I stood there dumbfounded. Why, when I fully deserved my father's wrath, did he instead show me mercy? I didn't deserve it; I hadn't earned it. I felt like a criminal let off scot-free! In that moment, we were fully reconciled.
This was my first powerful lesson on forgiveness and grace. Since then I've never gotten over the way grace feels. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does. It's experiencing utter relief and humility in the face of guilt because you know how bad you can be, but God (or your father) chooses to love and forgive you anyway.
In Kelli Trujillo's article, "Freedom in Forgiveness," she echoes this experience of grace, and spells out five key truths about our God of grace.
Grace is the true secret to forgiveness. Unless we know what lapses in judgment and character we're capable of, it's difficult to extend the grace of forgiveness. And it's nearly impossible for reconciliation to occur.
Take racial reconciliation, for instance. On Martin Luther King Day, we remember one man's dream of a world not divided by the color of our skin. For true, lasting peace to take place across racial and ethnic lines, there has to be grace—grace to listen, grace to forgive intentional and unintentional wrongs, grace to understand and, ultimately, celebrate our differences. Austin Channing Brown helps us get closer to the celebration part in her article, "Living a Color-Conscious Life."
For a radical story of forgiveness, Kim Phuc, the now-grown girl in the Pulitzer prize-winning photo taken during the Vietnam War, tells about her life-long journey of coming to peace with those who leveled horrific wrongs against her as an innocent child. Her life is a testimony to the secret of forgiveness—that in extending the gift of grace to those who wrong us, it is we who are set free. It's by the God of grace who reconciled us to himself through Christ that we're able to find this kind of real, lasting peace in this world.
Grace to you,
Marian V. Liautaud