This morning, a flight notification popped up on my calendar, informing me that I’m heading to Kansas in a few weeks. I wish! It’s actually a holdover from last year at this time; apparently I inadvertently set it up as a repeating event.
I wrote parts of the post below sitting at a formica table in the Wichita Airport, long before Hurricane Harvey. I am revisiting it today because, in a world that’s been fairly bleak for the last few months, there are so many examples of grace at work in the world right now, especially in Houston.
Take, for instance, the furniture seller who opened his stores to people displaced by the storm. “Mattress Mack,” by any assessment, is an instrument of grace.
The people rescuing residents and pets by boat, driving tractor-trailers full of supplies, opening their hearts and homes and wallets to care for strangers: they are grace at work in the world.
Grace, you see, has a habit of appearing suddenly, when we are at our wit’s end and desperately need a helping hand.
What took me to Kansas last year was the chance to meet with people from an organization that works to improve the lives of children and families. One facet of what they provide is a residential treatment facility for children whose suffering precludes their remaining at home — suffering that, unfortunately, takes many, many shapes and forms, and has a mind-boggling variety of root causes.
The facility is a masterpiece of forward-thinking. The staff are highly-trained, committed, and resilient. But submitting to any kind of authority is difficult for many of these children, who’ve had little to no structure in their lives. Redirecting the instinct to act out is a big part of the program, since living in community with others and learning to accept help and abide by rules is key to a productive, happy future.
So, the kids are given behavioral assessments and assigned a color. If you’ve had a difficult morning and are on red, for example, there are coping and positive behavior skills that you must model before you can earn back the privileges that go with being on green.
There are over a hundred and sixty positive behaviors that a resident may do to return to good standing. The behaviors are drawn from a deck of cards.
But here are two things that I found amazing:
1. The behavioral assessments are done at every shift change— not at the end of every day, or every week. This is critical, because it means that if a child has had a bad morning or afternoon, the afternoon or evening provides a means of turning the day around.
As the gentleman leading the tour explained, even going an entire day without the chance to return to a positive state is too long. “Because the kids know another assessment is coming, soon, they have hope. They know that they have the ability to change their behavior, and see the results. Hope is essential.”
2. The deck of cards — the 160+ positive behaviors that a child can use to turn their day around — holds some special cards that may be drawn at random by any child, at any time. When one of them is drawn, the child no longer has to perform the skill that would return them to a positive behavior assessment; they get returned to green status just by virtue of drawing the special card.
These are the Grace Cards.
Grace Cards! What a wonderfully visible, tangible reminder that grace comes to each of us undeserved, unbidden, and unearned, to give us hope and, like the sunflowers that grow all across Kansas, reorient us towards the light.
Anne Lamott explains grace this way:
“It is unearned love–the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate … Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.” (Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith)
My hope is that we all learn to look at the cards that we’ve been dealt — as bleak as they may seem in the moment — and see the Grace Cards that have been, are now, and will ever be, in our deck.
Let us remember that grace takes many forms, and doesn’t play favorites. God’s grace doesn’t care what faith tradition, church, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or socio-economic status you claim. It is given, freely, by a God who sees us only as his beloved children, and asks only that we care for one another.
May our eyes be open to recognize grace…
And may we let grace reorient us towards light, and hope.
If you haven’t seen this video yet, take two minutes to watch grace take the form of a beautiful voice!