When the Wheels Come Off

When the Wheels Come Off

I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when parents still told their kids to go outside and play. My friends and I would spend all day in the yard and when we got hot and sweaty enough we’d run to the back patio, open the water spigot on the side of the house and get down on our hands and knees so we could get low enough to turn our mouths up for a drink of water that splashed all over our faces and down our necks. In the evenings I remember seeing my parents shaking their heads as they watched the oil crises in the 1970’s unfold on the nightly news. Gas prices skyrocketed to 73 cents a gallon! “Turn it off,” my mother would say to my dad. “Good grief! The wheel’s are coming off but they make it sound like the world’s ending.”

Like me, as a child you probably hoped for a life that would exceed your dreams but as those dreams collapsed along the way you’ve simply wished for a soft wing of hope but instead have gotten life in a culture of ungrace. That’s not a word but it should be. If you don’t know what ungrace is just listen to most people who didn’t vote for any sitting president, watch how fast Hollywood turns on a star who no longer sells at the box office or turn on the news anytime during the day. Ungrace pulsates in our workplaces, communities, and in the media and tells us that regardless of what has happened we must do better, look better, and make ourselves better. But to love and accept someone regardless of their flaws and failures is a breath of hope in a world that turns more upside down than right side up. That is the gift of grace. It’s being dirty and smelly and turning your face up under the spigot. Sometimes the wheels need to come off and you need to get pretty low before you appreciate grace.

The wheels are coming off for my friend Lisa. She’s the owner of a beautiful clothing store for women. She’s put her heart and soul into the store but then the economy tanked and people ran scared (even those who still had jobs and owned their homes). Trouble is, she did everything right: paid her mortgage, creditors and bills on time so she doesn’t qualify for help. The wheels are coming off for my friend Jacob. When he took his vows he never envisioned this animosity, anger or separation. The wheels are coming off for my friend Gerri. She finished chemotherapy and is beginning nine weeks of radiation for breast cancer. It wasn’t her dream but she’s added it to her daily schedule: go to work, get groceries, go to hospital for radiation, do laundry, make dinner.

When we plan our lives no one ever says, “When I grow up I want to get a divorce, maybe two!” Or, “When I grow up I want to lose my house, my business and my life savings!” Broken dreams are never part of anyone’s plan. We tie our plans up with ribbons and bows and aim for the mountain top but end up in the valley. In Finding Grace (St. Martin’s Press, March 2009) I relate a story of walking with my second grade class to the library when a sixth grader spit on me. He didn’t intend to spit on me but I was fortunate enough to be the one to pass at that exact moment. My teacher Mrs. Brewer cleaned me up but when I looked down at my maroon polyester blend turtleneck I could see the white tissue particles clinging to where the snot had been. “He blindsided you,” Mrs. Brewer said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

At some point, life blindsides us with something far greater than a giant loogie. The diagnosis, abuse, foreclosure, broken marriage, death, or financial collapse brings us to our knees and though we try to clean ourselves up the best we know how we’re still left with the stain of it all. “That’s how it goes sometimes.” True. But isn’t there more? The beauty of grace says yes. There’s more love after the infidelity, more joy after the diagnosis and more life after the financial ruin. Chris Gardner, the bestselling author of The Pursuit of Happyness was once asked how he and his son were able to overcome the shame of homelessness. Gardner said, “We were homeless, not hopeless!” Chris knew he was living on the streets but he was still living. That’s grace. Grace is always present and always near but it’s easy to miss — things aren’t always as they appear. I just returned from Winnipeg where The Christmas Hope is being filmed in a house. In previous months the homeowner fell off a ladder and broke several ribs. During x-rays it was discovered that he had cancer. That break-up, closed door to a job, or fall from a ladder may not be as devastating as you think but an act of grace that will save your life and help you discover higher dreams.

In a country of excess we suffer from a deficit of grace. In the last few months I’ve watched two stories on the news of men losing their jobs then killing their entire families and themselves. In another story a man lost his job after twenty years. “It’s heart wrenching,” he said. “But I still have my family and we’re all together.” That’s the hope of grace speaking and it beats the alternative any day. Last week my friend Lisa liquidated merchandise and said, “It kills me to close this store but I know God still has a plan for me.” That’s grace at the end of a shattered dream. My friend Miriam’s husband was devastated over their loss of money in the stock market. “How much do we have left?” she asked. Embracing and recognizing what is left is grace at the end of an economically depressed rope. There is life-altering power in that.

I once attended several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for research. A man said, “I was a drunk for fifteen years. I lost my wife and son because she couldn’t take it anymore. One day I woke up and said, ‘What the hell am I doing? I need to live.'” For fifteen years the noise of his life drown out the voice that said he was worthy, needed and loved but then came the day that he finally heard it. That wake-up call to life is a gift from God. With what strength that man had left he turned his face up toward that spigot of grace and let it splash all over him.

Finding grace in a culture of ungrace seems an impossible task but it is present, it is real and it is an indomitable gift that has the power to change your life. It does come with one condition, though — like any gift you have to reach out and take it.

Photo by Dave 7

Donna VanLiere

Donna Vanliere, author of Finding Grace, is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Hope series and Angels of Morgan Hill. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee with her husband and three children. For more information please visit http://www.donnavanliere.com

Latest posts by Donna VanLiere (see all)

11 Comments

  1. “In a country of excess we suffer from a deficit of grace.”

    I’d have to generally agree with the statement above and your article altogether. When big events happen, it seems a lot of people band together to make a difference. Take the situation in Fargo with the flood waters as an example. However, in day-to-day life, we seldom seem to offer much grace. We generally seem too caught up in our own world to notice or even consider the needs of others. I know that all too often I am this way. Thanks for the wake-up call!

    Reply
    • @Jeff@MySuperChargedLife, Why is that the case though? Why do we need dramatic events or tragedy to break from our self-centered ways? Would you say it’s human nature?

      Reply
  2. This is amazing and well written. Who can’t relate?

    Jeff I don’t think its human nature. I think we’ve all been sucked into “it’s all about me” or we think we’re too busy to take the time to help others and a million other excuses.

    I think the biggest lesson we’ll learn from out economic troubles is that friends, families and even strangers are more important than chasing material things.

    Reply
  3. Good article and reminder of what is really important.

    I think that to find grace, we have to be grace. It’s taking a step back and looking at what are the most meaningful people and things (?) in our lives. Hopefully we can do this before disaster strikes so we have somewhere soft to land.

    Your friend Lisa is right – there are other plans for her; they just haven’t been revealed yet.

    Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  4. Hi Donna,

    There will be times when time throw us something that we are not expecting but that is what life is all about. All we need to do is to make lemonade out of lemons. :)

    Cheers
    Vincent
    Personal Development Blogger

    Reply
  5. Hi Donna,

    What a fabulous piece of writing! This reminds us that we have to take 100% responsibility in everything we experience in life. And there’s a simple formula by Dr. Robert Resnick that we should all abide to:

    E + R = O
    (Event + Response = Outcome)

    An event is something that’s beyond our control, but we surely are in control of how we respond to it. This will directly affect the experiences we will create for ourselves. Regardless of the whether the event is positive or negative, if we respond positively, we will create a positive experience for ourselves. Though the positive outcome may not be felt immediately, it will come eventually. Patience is also grace.

    Cheers~

    Mark

    Reply
  6. Donna,

    A absolutely LOVE this article.

    With all that’s going on in the world, you have revealed what the lesson can, and should be, to all of us. In spite of every challenge, adversity, and affliction – there is a divine grace inside each one of us that only needs to be discovered. We all have more than we could ever need – we just need to be reminded of it.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  7. I really liked the essence of this article but I can’t agree with some of the examples that are used here. For instance, that the alcoholic gentleman’s change is due to God. Now, I don’t want to offend anyone’s regligious beliefs and I feel very respectful towards people’s own beliefs – but why does this have to be reduced to a diety of some kind? What is the evidence for this? Might it not be that through the passing of time or some neurological / physiological / emotional / environmental change(or arguably a combination of these and more) enabled the gentleman to see differently, to think that little bit clearer? I understand that it is easier to offer a religious hypothesis to things we prima facie can’t explain – but there is rarely an alternative solution presented to God’s ‘catch all’ healling of people who make positive changes.

    Similarly – “…That’s the hope of grace speaking and it beats the alternative any day…”. Why does carrying on beat the alternative? If there is such a God and such an over-riding plan – surely the people who take the alternative action are the clever ones? I don’t think it is balanced to say that people who make positive changes are through God, and those who make other choices have made wrong decisions. I thought one of the proposed tenets of religion is to not judge other people – but it appears this does not seem to extend in some circumstances.

    Apologies if this has gone slightly off topic and the fundamentals of this post are good, but there is a lack of balance in the post which I think detracts from it’s value.

    Reply
  8. In response to Matt Higgins comment,

    Sorry if this offends you, but you critique falls short of any sensibility.

    The alcoholic gentleman had tried to change for fifteen years, as mentioned in the post. Yet you suggest he may have found an alternative solution through the passing of time? A religious hypothesis was not being offered to something that couldn’t be explained. God providing the solution he had searched for for fifteen years was a fact being stated.

    As for “the hope of grace beating the alternatives” – the author never said the alternatives related to God – you did.

    There is no lack of balance in this article because it’s not a news piece, and she’s not promoting an opinion. She is simply relating the beauty of what grace truly is.

    The author mentions God two times in this article – once in a quote, and the other in a non-religious manner. However you mention God four times from an atheistic viewpoint and go on to state that you thought one of the tenets of religion is to not judge others?

    I’ve been in recovery myself from alcohol and drugs for seventeen years, and I know for a fact that the people who survive happily in recovery have a faith in God. Of all the people I’ve seen die from alcoholism or drugs – not one of them was willing to accept Gods gift of grace. They all believed they had the capacity to recover on their own.

    Over the years, I have learned to appreciate and learn from atheists – they spend more time talking about God than just about anyone else.

    Reply
  9. Dear Chad,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to add a response. And not at all, I took no offence from your comment and actually welcome debate on many of these issues.

    One thing I will state right away, is I think you are right to question my comment on balance. Whilst I do think Donna was offering an opinion (very eloquently), I guess it is not really my place to directly question her opinion this particular forum, when the purpose is self development and not necessarily debate.

    However, I would like to add that I was not judging Donna – nor anyone else for that matter – with regards to their faith or opinion. But what I was saying is that, I don’t believe that the following comment can be taken without question:

    “…God providing the solution he had searched for for fifteen years was a fact being stated…”.

    I am glad for any person who has recovered from such a position and honestly, if their position is that God helped them – then so be it. But, respectfully Chad and in all sincerity, this is not fact. It can not be proven. It can be believed and felt by an individual but that does not make it true. And I think that stating truth without evidence can be a dangerous thing to do.

    Maybe we have to agree to disagree and that we both hold beliefs from a differing point of view. However, one point of note is that from my perspective, yes indeed I mentioned God but to me, and maybe this was not conveyed properly, I am questioning the idea of God – not denying, nor talking about it.

    I can understand that those with beliefs in God feel that some atheists are in fact now neo-fundamentalists themselves. That is something that I would partly agree with but for me that comes from frustration at those who believe in God who will not accept the lack of evidence, the doubt, the possibility that God might not exist.

    Anyway, I have gone on longer than I intended but wanted to thank for your response and also to wish you continued success in your recovery. Whether God exists or not, I hope you recognise the success in yourself for that achievement.

    Best wishes, Matt

    Reply
  10. nice post :D

    Reply

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