Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Moment of Grace in a Public Arena

I had an experience in the ninth grade that has made me especially conscious of failures in public places. In my case, I was selected to become a member of the Junior National Honor Society and was inducted into the Society during a student body assembly. As part of the induction ceremony, several of us were assigned to highlight the various aspects of the Honor Society’s values. We were to light a candle that symbolized the value and then give a short speech about that value.

When my turn came, I walked up to the table where the candles and matches were located. I struck the match, but I was so nervous that my hand began shaking as I reached out to light the candle. My hand shook so much that I couldn’t light the candle. The first match went out, and I had to light a second match. This time my hand shook even more. Finally I put my elbow down on the table, grabbed the match with both hands, and lit the candle. Of course, there was a loud wave of laughter that arose from the student body. I gave my short speech flawlessly, as I remember; but no one paid attention to the speech. All they remembered (and all that I can recall) was my difficulty in lighting the candle.

The next year in high school, one of my church friends was chaplain of the student body. She oversaw a morning meditation period before school each day. She asked me to speak at the morning meditation. Needless to say, I accepted reluctantly; and the memory of my embarrassment from the previous year soon seized my mind. I didn’t want to be laughed at again, and my anxiety began to rise. On the morning I was supposed to give the morning devotion, I woke up physically sick. I couldn’t get myself out of bed, and I persuaded my mother that I was too sick to go to school.

Fortunately I made it through that experience. In the next year or two I gained confidence and even gave a testimony before a large congregation in our church. The public embarrassment of that Honor Society assembly, however, has remained in my memory these many years.

This memory came flashing back in connection with my middle daughter’s recent marriage. My youngest grandson, Clay, is now six years old. He is bright and articulate; and somewhere in the planning for the wedding, Clay volunteered (or was enlisted) to give a brief recitation during the wedding. He marched in as the ring-bearer with the rest of the wedding party and then took his seat beside Evelyn on the second row on the bride’s side of the audience. In preparation for the wedding vows, the bride and groom moved up on a higher platform; and I was to signal Clay at that point to walk over to a microphone on the floor of the auditorium and give his brief recitation of a Mr. Roger’s song, “It’s You I Like.” To make his recitation a surprise for the bride, he hadn’t practiced during the rehearsal the previous evening; but he had both spoken and sung the part for us previously.

When I gave Clay his signal, he was just a little reluctant to move to the microphone. With a little encouragement, he walked over to it; but when he turned to face the congregation, you could sense the fear in his eyes. He stood there frozen, and I kept signaling him to go ahead. After a long hesitation, Clay walked away from the microphone toward the outside window aisle. He stopped there and stood frozen in place. With more encouragement, he moved finally back toward the microphone; but he still stood there frozen. And then came the moment of grace.

Diane, our youngest daughter and Clay’s mother, was the matron of honor in the wedding party. Grasping the situation, she came down off the platform and knelt down beside Clay to give him encouragement. When Clay was still reluctant to recite, she volunteered to say the piece with him. That seemed OK, and Diane began the recitation. Clay still said nothing. Diane, who probably had said the piece as often as Clay had, stopped as if she couldn’t remember what came next. Clay began to whisper the words into her ear so that she could recite the piece with him as the prompter. At one point she made a mistake (whether deliberately or not, I do not know); but Clay stopped her. He continued to whisper in her ear as she made the correction and then finished out the piece. Diane redeemed the situation. She acted with love for her precious son. She protected him from the embarrassment he would have experienced if left alone to fail. She gave him the opportunity to show that he knew the piece he was going to recite. She became his voice for a message he wanted to deliver to the bride—It’s you I like, just as you are. I love you for who you are.

Diane returned to the platform after the recitation, and Clay came back to sit with his grandmother and me. The moment of grace passed on to other moments of grace as the bride and groom gave their vows and became a new family together. I never have been prouder of my daughters—one who was wrapped in love by a new relationship and one who with love and grace rescued her son from an uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing situation. That is what grace is about--taking us from our moments of incapacitating fear and rescuing us with grace for another day, speaking the words of our hearts that we just can’t seem to vocalize on our own, wrapping us in loving arms that restore our confidence and gives us expansive opportunities for tomorrow.

And that is just a peek at what divine grace offers us.