My blog has been sadly neglected these past several months, and I’m so thankful to be inspired to share this new post. ‘Tis the Season, and while everyone is thinking about gifts, I can’t help but recall the greatest one I’ve ever been given.
Let me start with some background to frame the perspective…
I was born from a German-Irish-Catholic mother and a Thai-Buddhist father. A bit eclectic, yes, and a great example of the true melting pot of America. My father had come to America seeking what most immigrants do – “the dream” of what our country offers. I suspect for most, including him, it meant prosperity, wealth and success – largely in the form of financial, material and socio-economic gains.
He left our family to return to Thailand when I was nine years old. I’ve never seen him again, and there’s been very little, if any, real conversation about it since.
One consequence of his unexpected departure was a mother, who as a result, taught me to be fiercely independent, capable, well-educated and without a need for others, most certainly. I listened to and heeded her advice, because, I had seen what happened to her.
I had seen her heart break. I had seen our needs outweigh income. I had seen her juggle a less-than-ideal job as she returned to college at nights to earn a degree (which she had earlier sacrificed to pursue a youthful marriage.) I had seen her frustrated, angry and resentful because of all of these things and likely more that she shielded from me.
Her coaching was meant to protect me from the same hurt, I’m sure, and I took it to heart. I earned straight As and consistent high academic honors. I started working at an early age. I spent my own money on clothes and entertainment, and I saved for a car and college.
I had great work ethic. And a whole lot of perfectionism.
My plan was to out-perform the world, so it couldn’t deal me a bad hand. I was going to be good enough, smart enough and capable enough to control everything that happened to me…and it was all going to end well. Fairy-tale like, if you had asked me.
I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. (sigh…)
I still remember getting my first B on a report card. I was devastated. It was one of the first signs that “bad things” could still happen; that I couldn’t perform well enough, do enough, be enough to control my life and everything in it.
I was fearful that all my striving was pointless….which meant that I had to question everything, since all I was doing was striving for perfection, praise, affirmation and reward. My life’s equation was: be smart enough + pretty enough + nice enough + work hard enough = it all turns out well for me.
Input in exchange for output. As if I had that kind of control.
You can only imagine how any level of failure did so much more than simply disappoint me. It rocked my entire world view. #ouch
Then…one day, someone invited me to church. It was there that I heard the Gospel for the first time. Perhaps it had been said before, but I had assuredly never heard it. Not like this.
I was a Senior in high school, and we were working on a crossword puzzle in Sunday school. The clue was: God __________ you when you sin.
I filled in the word CONDEMNS.
Turns out, it has the same number of letters as FORGIVES.
Thankfully, the teacher called on another student to share his response. I’ll never forget sitting there, literally bewildered, wondering how all the other kids knew this. In fact, they were certain of it – as if it was a no-brainer…and I had no idea.
Life had already taught me that my equation didn’t work, remember? You can DO all the hard things, but the world wasn’t going to be nice on the other side of the equation. You can BE good, but it will never be enough. We get punishment for falling short. That had made sense to me. That was how life was.
I remember grabbing that Sunday School teacher as quickly as I could after class had ended. I asked him why the word was forgives. How could it be? It didn’t make sense. How could it possibly be the right answer?
And, he told me about Jesus.
He shared the Truth about how God sent His one and only Son to live as a human among us; to live perfectly, and yet to be tortured, crucified and ultimately killed, only to rise from the dead and live again three days later to prove to the world that He is, in fact, God and, in fact, greater than death, sin or any other power. God did this not to show off, not for a good tale, not as a game…but to offer a perfect sacrifice for us and for our sins yesterday, today and forever. Because He is a God of extraordinary love and grace, He did it to build a bridge between us (imperfect humans) and Him (complete and total perfection and purity.) His Son’s sacrifice could make us righteous (clean, clear and totally unblemished with complete perfection) because His Spirit would live within us and would be only thing that God would see — like stained-glass gives us colored vision, when God looks through Jesus at us, all He sees is Jesus’ perfection.
If we believe. If we receive the gift that’s offered to all of us.
That’s the thing. God is a gentleman and not a bully. He doesn’t force himself; He offers Himself. He made the first move, but He waits for us to acknowledge and receive it. He waits patiently for us to open the gift and run to Him with thanksgiving. He beckons us with forgiveness, peace, comfort and joy, and if we run to His lap, He wraps us in His bounty.
I learned all of this and twenty-five years later, I continue to learn and grow in my knowledge and understanding of who God is and just how much He loves us. That crossword puzzle was a game-changer. A life-changer, actually, because my striving has drastically decreased. The pressure that I lived with is no longer. The false notion that I could control my life is like a bad dream from my past, and the freedom I gained from Christ has released me from so many chains that I had shackled to my life, expectations and performance. He has done the work. He has made the sacrifice. He’s already made me perfect in God’s eyes, and because of that, I have great hope. The best hope there is. Hope that lasts for eternity.
That crossword puzzle clue was so much more than a clue. It was a gift; one that led me to the perfect gift — the Sacrificial Lamb that God offers; the perfect gift of His Son.
This Christmas, I hope you’ll open that gift if you’ve never opened it before. If you have, and you understand what it means, I hope you’ll share the gift with someone who doesn’t know Him. Just give them a clue…it could result in life change. It just might be the most perfect gift. Ever.