Monday, June 08, 2009

Sunlight, Grace, and Itchy Skin

I woke up at midnight, itching all over, having gone to bed early last night, at 9:30pm. I'm sure that the itching was not just a reaction to sunscreen, sun light, and bug bites. I do have a problem every summer with adjusting to direct sunlight and I seem to get a type of skin poisoning where I itch all over and feel like I want to tear my skin off. It's a lovely feeling, let me tell you.

The first time this happened was when I was in Spain, at the age of 14. We were there on a two week vacation- my mom and dad and younger sister and myself. I laid out by the hotel pool one day and soaked in all the sun- and then later in the day went back to the room and started to writhe in agony as my skin reacted violently to the sun. I'm not a pale skinned blond, and I don't know why I suddenly couldn't handle all the sun.

So last night, after we got home from visiting with some friends (sitting outdoors in their backyard and eating fruit and talking and talking), I went to bed a little itchy, fell asleep, and woke up a LOT itchy. Maybe I had gotten a few more bug bites. Maybe it was adding in more sun exposure. And maybe it's the new soap we are using in the shower, cause we ran out of the gycerin Bath and Body Works soaps that we always use. I don't know what it was, but my skin was reacting.

But I didn't wake up just because of my skin itching all over. I also woke up because my mind was alert and stimulated by the honest and invigorating conversation my husband and I had earlier that day with our friends. I ate the cherries and strawberries that they beautifully laid out on a tray, and I ate up the honesty and the candor of our conversation. It's not so much that we aired our dirty laundry as it was that we all admitted we had dirty laundry that needed airing. We had "issues" and we all knew we did. But we're working on our issues. And we smiled at each other in relief of knowing that, really, that's all you can do. The sense of relief and lack of pretense was precious. Powerful. And I didn't know that it meant great grace was there.

When I say I'm "working" on my issues, on my deep seated thought patterns that are helpful and not so helpful- I mean it. It is work. It's a type of labor that goes against the norm of maintaining status quo. I'm changing the way I look at things, the way I frame my questions, the way I see myself, even.

On the other hand, I'm also recently consciously practising a type of non-work- which I now realize is called grace- where I deliberately don't allow myself to strain and strive in order to accept good things. And this is where the itchy skin comes in.

Sometimes Grace is so against the norm of what we humans think we should receive, that it's like getting too much sunlight. Grace can make you itchy, uncomfortable, fidgety. Flowing in a state of grace is rare. I think people who grasp what grace is expect to find it mysteriously powerful and almost overwhelming- like the way sun light can actually overwhelm your body if you get too much of it.

There are warnings when it comes to taking in the sun. There's sun burn and sun poisoning and even skin cancer. Watch out for too much sun light. But when it comes to Grace, can there be such a thing as too much? When the Bible mentions about "great grace" being "upon them all"- did it cause problems? Itching? Fidgeting?!

What would happen if we lavished grace on people, problems, and predicaments? What would happen if we gave ourselves grace when we hit a wall? What would happen if we were quick to give grace? What would happen if we admitted that we're still a bit fuzzy on what Grace is? I'm sure that we would have to keep redefining what grace is, just like I have to keep figuring out what is really making my skin react, cause there's so many things the skin reacts to.

Grace comes in a variety of expression and flavors. Grace changes how you react in a situation. I think grace is a balm that calms inflamed situations, shattered self esteem, and raw emotions. Grace doesn't just blanket things and hide their reality- instead, it helps you to cope and see the thing that scares you.

And maybe grace doesn't mean that no one is wrong or that nothing needs to be done. Rather, grace could mean "we've got a lot of work to do, this is a mess, and boy is this itchy and agonizing." Then Grace becomes the hand that restrains yours from scratching your skin so hard that you hurt yourself- even though Grace is also what is making you so itchy and fidgety.

Maybe I came home from our time spent with our friends, feeling like I had been more honest than I had cautiously intended to be. I was itchy and uncomfortable because I had been seen, known, and loved- warts and all. My friends drew me in with their accepting love and their own candid sharing. But then more than that, great Grace was upon us. So we all dared. We all shared. And even though we knew we couldn't really handle too much of it, we took a step closer to the Son light.

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