“It’s All Grace” – Life at Bodenseehof [My Story, Part 8]
I mentioned Last Week that the theme for the women of Bodenseehof during my student year was “Freedom,” which was perfect for me that year. (They have men’s and women’s devotions every year, and the women’s part always has a theme.) For the next two years, I was put in charge of women’s devotions, and I chose themes for those years that I felt impressed on my heart when I prayed for what they should be. The theme for the first year I was on staff was “Courage,” (accompanied by Psalm 27:14, which says “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”) and theme for the second, “Hope” (accompanied by Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”)
Looking back, I wonder if those themes were as relevant to the students who came those years as they were to me. I had no idea that they would be so perfectly suited to what I would be learning in those years, but somehow it just so happened that they were! If I had to pick one word to encapsulate both years’ learning, however, I think I would choose the word “Grace.” I’ve heard the word grace described before as “Unmerited favour” – which is really a good description of how it met me during my time away.
Not only did I learn and receive so much from the staff and students at Bodenseehof in general, I received so, so much grace from God. I am a perfectionist by nature, and if I ever feel like I’m “Failing” at something, my natural response is to be hard on myself and expect others to be the same. The result then is that I have tended to feel like I’m walking through life, bracing myself for the impact of constant reproof – because, well, I’m not perfect. I have a lot of ways that I know I fall short, and there are a lot of things that need improvement in my life.
Still, time and again, instead of being met by criticism (as I expected), I was met with grace. I was given the gift (grace) of sharing life with the students, and learning with them. I was so blessed to meet people from all over the world, from different walks of life, coming from different cultures and with different personalities. I was given the grace of having people in leadership over me who cared about me and sought to build me up. I was given the grace of not only finding friends, but being befriended, and getting to work alongside of those people in different capacities. I was given the grace of God in financial provision to be there AGAIN (another story!! – and amazing), and the grace of God to be able to spend BOTH of those two Christmases at home with my family, go to BOTH of my sister’s weddings which were happening during that time, and take time off to go back to Canada to grieve with my family over the loss of my grandfather, which also happened during that time. And again, all of these things happened to a penniless me. Somehow, the money came together, and flying across the ocean multiple times happened without too much trouble.
The Lord’s generosity to undeserving people (in this case me) was so incredibly present in my life during that time, it almost felt embarrassing at moments. It was like someone pouring out endless blessings on me, and every time I felt like “Now I need to earn it; please, no more gifts!” Then… more gifts kept coming. I’m tearing up a little as I write this; I’m glad I am putting this in writing. It is so good, and it needs to be remembered.
My time away was also a time of great challenges, and a lot of tears. Yet, in this also, I was stretched and reminded that it is the hard things that teach us and cause us to grow. That too, was a gift of grace.
I remember one time in particular, walking back from the post office, praying about my future and pretty much just telling the Lord that I was afraid of it. That there seemed to be so much uncertainty looming ahead, and the possibility and probability of pain just seemed… too much. So, I was crying out to him for courage in the face of that. And then, looking down at my feet, walking one step at a time, I had this picture in my mind of Jesus, walking in front of me, and that every step I took, he took first. That every bit of ground I walked on, he tested first, to make sure it was strong enough to support me. I think God gave me this picture to help me realize that goodness itself was standing and walking AHEAD of me, not just beside and behind me. Rather, there was nothing to fear in my future because no matter what, he would already be there – and he is good. Meaning, there is goodness in my future – Goodness to look forward to, to be confident in, and to be excited about. Goodness himself walks the road ahead of me, and beckons me forward.
“You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.”
Another key lesson I took from my time away was that love is not passive. It doesn’t just sit back and let people do what they want because they want to – but it recognizes the potential outcome of peoples’ actions, and it encourages what is good and speaks truth to what is harmful. Like a parent who tells a child “No” in order to protect them, so is the Lord to us with his correction.
To that point, I would have always preferred not to speak a word of correction/challenge to another person – But, I quickly realized, that in my role of being responsible to do that at the school (like a parent), saying nothing would be more harmful than helpful. I learned quickly that being quiet in order to “Keep the peace” between people is actually a passive way of avoiding conflict… Which is, at its root, looking out for myself instead of the other person. I learned that sometimes, it’s more loving to say what people don’t want to hear, if it’s right and truthful, than it is to allow them to walk into the consequences of poor decisions and suffer for it later in life.
That is exactly what God, who is love, does for me. Praise the Lord, he speaks truth to me when I am wrong, and he corrects me. Rather than letting me hurt my relationships and damage my integrity, he speaks truth to me and shows me, “Not that way, this way–” But he does it so lovingly, so truthfully, so well. There is no condemnation when he corrects; just gentleness and strength and wisdom. This is what I learned that I need to pray for – an ability to love actively, like Jesus- even if it means that some people will resent me for it… Which was (and is) to me, difficult to swallow.
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. “
Among these, I think the Lord used my time away to teach me many other things which I won’t spend too much time writing about here (you’ll have to request it if you want that), but I need to mention one more thing that I took from my time in Germany.
I think, through those three years, the Lord wanted to impress on me the nature of the gift he’s given to me in Christ. I mentioned last week that I felt the Lord say to my heart at the beginning of all of this that “The gift I had to give was the one I’d been given.” The gift of Jesus Christ is the most valuable, most incredible gift– and it is given to the “penniless” ones – to those who don’t deserve it, can’t earn it, constantly fall short of it, and fail to measure up to it. It’s called “Good news” because to the ear that expects to hear criticism, the news of redemption and freedom is given instead. The news of love and grace is given instead. This is a gift of freedom, of courage, and of hope.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I hadn’t intended that this post would go up on my blog so close to Christmas, and basically herald the good news of the season with it… But there you go. The gift of Christmas is Christ himself, and this is one that you don’t have to buy – You just have to open your hands and your heart to receive it.
*happy sigh* My time in Germany was a rich blessing. May I never forget it – and may I ever give generously of the gift I’ve received. In the words of a very wise person whose life has impacted mine greatly – “It’s all grace.”
Next week, I’ll head back into the “Cake decorating” part of my story – Which might take a few turns you don’t expect. Stay tuned!
To Be Continued…