I was making salsa when she called. The tomatoes were roasted and nestling in with the jalapenos—marinating in a bed of onion, garlic, and cilantro… and just a dash of cumin. You know, it’s that time of year when the garden bursts with tomatoes. So there I was, knee deep in them, trying to save as many of them as I could. The canner was heating up, and everything was almost perfect. I was palpating the lime on the counter—getting the juices ready for squeezing—when the telephone rang.
My sister doesn’t usually call in the middle of the day and you know how it is when a family member calls at an unusual time. My mind went to worst case scenario.
And it was bad news, just not the news I had expected. I’m in the lunchroom at work, she said. I just picked up a newspaper that someone left on the table. And I saw his obituary.
An old friend—one that I hadn’t spoken to or even seen in over 20 years. He had passed away at the tender age of 50—finally succumbed to a long battle with brittle diabetes. I could tell by her voice that she was as stunned as I. This friend…this, former friend? Once he was a very important part of our lives.
I looked up his obituary online and read about his life—full. Kids and work and love. And then it said, “In his own words, ‘I lived, I died, party on.’” And those words made me choke back tears. See, it was in the midst of the party life that we became friends.
I was sixteen, a straight A student, struggling against the poverty and dysfunction that marked my family. I found a job to help save money for college. I knew I couldn’t go unless I found a way to pay for it myself. And when I started working I entered a different world. I made new friends—saw new things. And the sheltered life of a naïve young girl suddenly grew bigger. Suddenly, I had more freedom than I’d ever had. That can be a dangerous thing for a kid. I was hurting from the breakup of my family, I was angry at the unfairness of life…I won’t make excuses, I was young. And I made a lot of mistakes.
This friend—the one my sister called to tell me about—he probably saved my life more than once during those years. He wasn’t that much older than I, but he tried to parent me during that time. This guy—he was always a safe place in the midst of so much that was not. He was no saint, mind you. He was right in the midst of those bad choices But he was a friend. He looked out for my sister and I. He had a heart of gold.
I grew and moved away from that life, I moved away from my friend too. Who wants to be reminded of bad choices from the past? Who wants to remember those broken places?
We fell out of touch. And years passed. I moved away from that life but I didn’t know what I was moving toward. See, I grew up knowing about Jesus. It was a crazy, mixed-up picture of Jesus that the faith of my childhood painted but I loved him. And after those mistakes I made…I just couldn’t believe that God would ever want to have anything to do with me. How could he love someone so tainted, so…broken.
My sister’s phone call brought back a flood of memories. Lost. I was so, so lost. And I wondered…was my friend too? That man with the heart of gold…had he found Jesus before he died? Had Jesus found him?
Do you know that there is no one who is beyond God’s reach? There is nothing that God will not do to recover the lost. There is nothing we can do, nothing so terrible, so vile, that God will stop loving us, stop seeking us. Grace tells us this: that no matter what we’ve done, God wants us. Addiction, adultery, thievery, immorality, greed, lust, pride…Jesus will walk through any door to bring back the lost. He never stops looking…do you understand that? Never. And until I understand—I mean really understand to the marrow—that God’s grace knows no bounds…that there is nothing he will not forgive if I turn to him…until I understand that, then I am lost myself. I can be sitting in the pew every Sunday, doing good things for my neighbors, tithing regularly…Because I can know God and still miss the gift of his grace.
The word for grace used in the new testament is charis. When I heard Beth Moore speak last week, she gave this definition for charis: grace, particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification. It’s favor, acceptance for a kindness granted or desired, the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men, unearned and unmerited favor. It changes the individual into a new creature without destroying their individuality.
Grace gives us the strength to become a new creation. To leave that old man behind. Only God can do that.
Found. No, there is nothing He won’t do to recover the lost. As for me, I remember sitting in a back pew for the first time and listening to the preacher speak the word of God and realizing that I had been found…And look what God has done. But that is another story.
My friend? With the heart of gold? When I went to his memorial service at the church he attended before his death, I saw a picture of him on the day he was baptized. I stood beside his daughter as she, beaming, told me how much he loved the Lord.
We have all been lost. Haven’t we all been that one lost sheep? Isn’t it the grace of God that brings us home to the grandest party ever?
Amazing grace. Party on.