Free and undeserved help from God

Despite our lives coming up short, the Lord gives us chances to do more and be more

By George Valadie

It was exactly one month ago when we sat down for lunch in our living room, Nancy in her chair, me and the dog in mine. It’s how we eat most meals these days.

Even though we both worked at the same school for almost 20 years, our schedules seldom allowed such niceties. It’s amazing how routines change once you’re retired.

Our days together have provided two revelations—turns out we still like each other while being constantly amazed we’ve been together for 50 years.

We share all sorts of things. “Nanc, the deadline for my January column is in three days, and I’m struggling.”

As you would expect, print deadlines come well in advance, and it’s not the first time I’ve asked her to weigh in.

“Well, tell me what you have so far.”

“I’ve been fiddling with the idea that I’ll turn 70 in 2023. So, I was thinking perhaps I’d begin the new year with some sort of retrospective looking at all that’s happened in the Church and our world in the last seven decades.

“Or maybe a look at 70 years of inventions we now take for granted. Or how our cultures and lives have changed in that time. Something like that. What do you think?” I asked, looking for a nod of approval.

Sometimes she ponders; sometimes she gets right to the point.

So, picture if you will her scrunched-up nose, furrowed-up brow, and a bit of a turned-up lip, which by itself says it all, looking not unlike she does right after I’ve just suggested a new restaurant. It’s how she says, “I’d rather eat cold oatmeal than go there.”

She didn’t actually say anything in response, yet her message was clear, “Seriously, George, who would want to read that?”

“OK then,” I continued, now grasping a bit, “this next edition should come out about mid-January—what would you think if I wrote about New Year’s resolutions? Two weeks in—that ought to be enough time for people to know how it’s going. It usually is for me.”

She nodded, then offered, “I don’t know where you’re going with it, but tell people to cut themselves some slack. To give themselves some grace. Others, too. And be thankful for what they do have. It’s been a tough year.”

Indeed it has. A couple of very tough years.

Cut some slack; give some grace; offer some thanks.

Enough said. You’d be hard-pressed to improve on that message. And I could have, probably should have, stopped writing right there.

She was dead-on. We’re on a text chain with our three daughters, two who have kids of their own. And a recent theme of theirs seems to have been “My latest Parent Fail #(add one more).”

Thank God, they’ve forgotten most of ours.

We had to laugh at Meg, though, when she reached out one evening to tell us she was feeling horrible having just discovered she had forgotten—for the first time ever—to pack a lunch for her son.

The boy does love to eat, and she does love that boy! She’d sent him to school with a lunchbox; she just didn’t put anything in it, realizing she’d unintentionally left her 7-year-old to fend for himself.

I’d have given anything to have seen his face as he apparently sat down on Thursday to open what had been Wednesday’s spaghetti-filled thermos now offering not much more than some crusted-up remnants. No snacks, no dessert either.

School fed him, he survived, he moved on.

But moms don’t. “How could I do that to him?” she bemoaned.

This morning, Katy texted from the doctor’s office to relate her own Parent Fail, telling us our granddaughter Emma has—for the last four weeks—supposed to have been on crutches with no weight on her boot.

“Apparently, that was in the follow-up e-mail from the radiologist, and I missed it. How does a mom miss that? How does anyone miss that?”

Feeling four weeks of guilt rolled into a single moment and fearing she had caused the break to get worse, she was let off the hook by the doctor’s good report and her own daughter, who said, “Mom, it’s OK, we all know I’d have broken my other foot if I had been using crutches.” Some astute wisdom and a trip to Starbucks, and all was well for Emma.

But Katy’s still not sure what sort of mom she’s been lately.

True, both have probably forfeited their shots at Parent of the Year . . . who hasn’t? But both feel guilty, both swear life will calm down this year, both pledge to get better.

But they work and have kids . . . so probably not.

We’re always telling them, “Give yourselves a break.” They even tell each other that, but when it’s your kid with the broken leg or the empty lunchbox, you tend to dwell in the hole of regret.

It’s good to strive for perfection, but if moms and dads can raise kids who are kind, empathetic, resilient—and forgiving of other people’s screw-ups—well, there are worse things.

So how about you? How’s your New Year going?

Have you set out to lose 25 pounds, though frustrated because they’re remarkably similar to the 25 you tackled last year? Maybe success can be celebrated at the five-pound mark—or three—or when you skip a dessert.

Have you been discouraged your Christmas Fitbit still hasn’t logged those 10,000 steps you hoped it would inspire? If the mailbox is as far as you got today, be grateful you can do that. And don’t take it back—better days and longer jaunts await.

Maybe eliminating debt has been your new focus. Good for you, but let’s be honest, if you get but a single credit card paid off, how awesome would it feel to step out from under the weight of just that one?

Since my career was spent in schools, I know teachers are no longer battling COVID, but the effects remain. Students are behind in so many ways, leaving kids and teachers with more goals to master, more ground to make up, more material to cover. And more frustration when it doesn’t quite come together.

These stakes are critical. And falling short cannot simply be washed down with a drink from Starbucks.

But if kids leave a classroom—your classroom—knowing they are loved, that you have their back, that their progress will never be tied to how much you care for them . . . well, that in itself can change a life. And changing a life is a pretty good add to one’s life resume.

Cut some slack; give some grace; offer some thanks.

According to our Church’s Catechism, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God . . .”

Free and undeserved.

For some, the big ball at Times Square marked the 12 months we’d just survived. But for most, at least a portion of our midnight toast was for opportunities that await in this New Year.

The chances God gives us to do more and be more.

Somehow, in spite of the moments we came up short, had no patience, cursed instead of cared, in spite of all that, the Giver of All Good Things gives us grace and the year ahead.

Freely and undeserved.

We should do the same, shouldn’t we? To ourselves? And to others?

Let’s all cut some slack, give some grace, and offer some thanks.

And enjoy a blessed 2023!

Dear God—We look like you did. We laugh like you did. We eat and drink and sleep like you did. Why can’t we bestow grace like you did. Thank you for your mercy—free and undeserved. Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.

Comments 3

  1. I live what you wrote. It made me fill inspired, optimistic, and hopeful. Thank you for those gifts.

  2. What an uplifting and timely article! Truly needed in my life… In everyone’s life these days. Thank you!

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