Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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It’s All Grace

April 18, 2024

Nicole Howe

Cultivating Presence is dedicated to the intentional practice of its title – cultivating presence. Each of us has wild, untamed places within us driving us to isolation and tempting us to despair, yet our truest story is one of wholehearted connection. Here we will explore everything from spiritual disciplines to setting proper boundaries to recovery from trauma and addiction – all for the purpose of helping us live more deeply attached lives, present and available with God, one another, and ourselves.

I don’t always remember my dreams. For many of them, that’s probably a good thing—I am not the most peaceful of sleepers. I wake up many mornings with a vague sense of having spent the evening in a cage match, the state of my hair serving as the strongest piece of evidence. Psychologists have all kinds of things to say about the meaning of dreams, so I’m sure it means something that my recurring dreams are of drowning or teeth falling out or showing up unprepared for an interview. I haven’t given much thought to what this says about me; I’m mostly just glad for the way they seem to dissipate from my awareness before I can finish my morning coffee. I wish I could say the same for my hair. 

But some dreams linger. Some are so vivid, so real, they actually shape my point of view and forever change how I see the world—even years later. One such dream happened about eighteen years ago. I’ve forgotten some of the smaller details over the years, but I’ll never forget one simple phrase. 

“It’s time.” 

Even now, those two words can summon an emotional rainstorm.  

The scene opens with just Jesus and me. We are seated on a grassy hill, and the shadow of the cross is off in the distance. A buzz of activity is swirling down the way, closer to the cross, but it doesn’t concern me. I can hear a steady murmur of voices, but I can’t make out what they are saying. We are away from it all. The warm, spring breeze is setting the blades of grass into motion, just subtly enough that they look like they are buzzing with electricity. Jesus is in a reclined position, and we are seated face to face. His full attention is on me alone. No words are exchanged. He is simply with me, His Presence and attention fully alive to this moment. 

And I know what He is about to do. I’m fully aware that He is about to walk quietly down that path toward the cross and give His life. But I know this in the sense that I have always known it. It’s the story I’ve grown up with my whole life. It’s the narrative. Of course that’s what He is going to do because that’s what the Bible tells us happens. I don’t yet grasp what it really means. I look at Jesus, and He seems impossibly calm. His eyes are filled with love. There is no anxiety or regret or fear in Him. I am at total peace, too. 

And then, the silence breaks. He looks me right in the eyes and says the words. 

“It’s time.”

And there is no mistake that He’s about to do this for me. The buzz of activity, the murmur of voices, the chaos happening down toward the cross suddenly disrupts my peace and pushes forward into my awareness. This is all for me. He’s about to walk down there and give up His life. For me. For my sin and shame. For my brokenness. For my mistakes. For just a moment, it was as if I was the only person in the world. And the reality of the cross landed squarely on my shoulders. I could feel the weight.

And for one split second, I thought it would break me. I thought I’d be crushed under a cement block of shame. I thought the familiar words that live in the closet of my heart would sing their haunting refrain, yet again. 

“Look what you made me do.” 

“Do you see the mess you’ve made? The messes you always make?” 

“Everything is broken. And it’s all your fault.” 

“You’re costing me everything. Hope you’re happy.” 

Somewhere deep inside me, the seeds had been planted. My very existence was a burden. I was broken and a mess—too much and not enough. Whatever I was, I was something to put up with, tolerated, at best. My spiritual life was often spent under the shadow of Christ’s suffering, afraid to lift my head and face how my very existence seemed to break things. Look what I had done.

But those words never came. Jesus simply says, “It’s time.” And He says it with such determination and peace that somehow, I’m not ashamed. I feel no condemnation. I am filled with sorrow over the cost of my sin and astonishment at His willingness to liberate me from it. Somehow those two feelings co-exist peacefully. When He looks at me, deep into the whole of me, I see joy in His eyes. 

For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.

It feels so clear in this moment. He will endure the cross to protect and preserve the very connection we are having on that grassy hill. The peace, the togetherness, the safety, the stillness, the beauty… He is going to the cross to fight for that. To fight for me. To fight for the world. To fight to make right the mess we made. To resurrect the Garden Dream that God had in the beginning where we walked with God in the cool of the day. 

I had somehow lost this message throughout much of my childhood. But the grassy hill, the pleasant breeze, the love and tenderness in His eyes… it was bigger than the shadows.

How could such beauty and goodness exist right alongside such sorrow? How could He feel such delight in me just moments before He would break on my behalf?

Maybe grace is exactly that—willing to sit in the sorrow, to be present with and in this brokenness, to come alongside fleeting, feeble bodies, to bind up and to repair what has been ruptured. Grace whispers to us that there is a path forward out of the broken. We don’t have to stay in that part of the story. 

Adam, where are you? 

Adam—the word for human. He knows we are but dust. Here I am, little human that I am, trying to stack up the shattered pieces of my life, one on top of the other, hoping they lift me to heaven. They never do.

Grace says they never will. 

I do not have the power to turn dust into breath. To fashion glory out of tragedy. I cannot un-shatter the shattered things. I cannot account for the messes I’ve made or the messes others have made, especially the ones that live inside of me. The tears I’ve poured out wishing I could! Wishing I could go back, do it over, try another way, never say the thing I said, never do the thing I did… wishing I could have better shielded myself from the messages hell-bent on destroying me. 

Grace reminds me I don’t have to. 

He knows we are but dust. We are held close by One who has made peace with the fractured things and walks steadfastly into the pain with joy in His eyes. He sits with us on grassy hills and kisses our dirty faces, and whispers to us that everything sad will come untrue. Lifted from shame, we too can confront the broken things head-on with steadfastness. We can freely admit when we have wronged someone, acknowledge our dusty existence, stand up to injustice and harm. We can face our teetering, fractured humanity with courage because we know we will not be abandoned in that place. And then, sanctioned by Grace, we go about the work of renewal with the power of His life-breath, not ours.

You are not something to be tolerated, dear reader. You are delighted in. 

Even in your fracturing. Even in your unmended, tangled heart.

Even in all your wishing for it to be different.

He is making it all brand new. And we carry the promise. 

I will be with you, even to the end of the age. 

I know it can be a struggle to believe it. 

And even then, may we ask for grace. 

It’s time. 

The featured image, “Crème Brulee early spring,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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