While I was looking through some old pictures at Mama’s, I ran across a group shot of my sixth-grade class, taken during a field trip to Montgomery. And since I’m working on a story about the capital, I took the picture to work. Looking at it, one of my young colleagues asked me a question I hadn’t expected: “Who in this picture was your special friend?” I smiled and pointed to a sixth-grader with long blond hair (and very stylish seventies plaid pants). That blond girl and I sat together in church yesterday and watched the son of another dear friend say his wedding vows.
I’m way past the age where I take relationships like that for granted. Unlike some of the exchanges I see on Facebook, life-long friends don’t lob insults at each other and walk away. They listen, they care, they support, they work through their differences, and here’s the biggie—they forgive. My oldest and dearest friends have forgiven me for all kinds of nonsense over the years, and I love them for that. I’m grateful to them for it.
Forgiveness, grace, and mercy have been very much on my mind lately because I read, as part of my story research, a book called Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, and had the opportunity to talk with him about it. The theme of his book is this: We’re all better than the worst thing we’ve ever done.
It’s a liberating and powerful truth. Coming to it from a Christian perspective, it means that Christ’s gift of grace frees us from being defined by—and burdened by—our mistakes, our moments of rebellion and bad judgment, our sins. We have to take responsibility for our actions and turn away from those ill-chosen paths, but then we have to believe in grace and forgiveness. And we’re called upon to show grace and forgiveness to others.
“Let us then approach
God’s throne of grace with confidence
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us
in our time of need.”
(Hebrews 4:16 NIV)