Saturday, April 14, 2012

I gave her a C-

Back before the internet, e-mail, unlimited long distance, and text messages people used to write letters. By hand. And I still have every letter ever written to me (and to me and my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron).

Except two.

One of them was a "Dear John" letter I received from a girl I was dating while I was in college. She lived back home so maintaining a long distance relationship wasn't easy in the time before instant communication (that was free). I wasn't that surprised by the letter, but it wasn't anything I wanted to be reminded of, so I threw that one away.

The second letter was from a friend I met on a cruise in the mid-90's, who I will call Meagan. I was on the cruise with a couple of buddies, and she was there with some friends of hers. She had a boyfriend back home, but he was unable to come on the cruise. Her group and my group were pretty much the only ones our age that weren't married, so all of us spent a lot of time together during the week-long cruise.

A few months after the cruise was over I got a birthday card from Meagan. (October 7th. Shop early, shop often.) She wrote a very sweet message inside. It was nothing other than friendly, so I mentioned it to one of her friends (who I also remained friends with after the cruise).

A few weeks later I got an angry letter from Meagan. She was very upset that I had told other people about the card, said some mean things about my character, and told me to never speak to her again.

I was confused. I didn't think there was anything private in that birthday message, so I thought there might be more to her anger than what was mentioned in the letter. A mature person would have contacted her to find out the real reason for the anger, resolve the issue, and maintain our friendship.

I was not that person.

Instead, I took the letter she had written me, and I circled all of the spelling and grammar errors, added some notes in the margin, graded it, and mailed it back to her. I had no idea if she was going to read it or even open it, but I mailed it anyway.

What grade did I give her? I gave her a C-.

EPILOGUE: Ten years ago I decided to track down a few people I had wronged over the years and apologize, and Meagan was one of those people. She responded, explaining what really had upset her back then, and it wasn't the letter. In fact, it had more to do with something outside of our friendship. And for the past ten years she has been one of my dearest friends.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The sweet sound of grace

John Newton was a wretched man. He was born in Britain in the 1700's. His mother died just before he turned 7, and he later joined his father at sea at the age of 11. After his father retired, he began sailing with a merchant ship. He was later pressed into service for the Royal Navy, was caught attempting to desert and was flogged in front of the crew. He later transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa.

While on the slave ship, John was such a problem for the crew that they left him in West Africa with a slave dealer. The dealer gave him to his wife, who abused and mistreated him along with her other slaves. He was later rescued by a sea captain sent by John's father to find him.

John Newton was a wretched man. But while sailing back to England, his spiritual conversion began when the ship he was sailing on was miraculously saved from sinking after he called out to God. Although he began reading the Bible and avoided gambling and profanity, it took several years before he finally renounced the slave trade and apologized for being an active instrument in that business.

He later became an evangelical lay minister, and he was eventually ordained as a priest. He was a popular speaker and was sought out for advice by young churchmen on religious matters. While serving in Olney he wrote several hymns that were later published. One hymn, "Faith's Review and Expectation" as it was called at the time, began with this familiar line:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

John Newton was a wretched man. But despite the wickedness of his youth, he was saved by God's amazing grace. He knew the depths he had sunk, and he knew the gift of that grace. He didn't write that it saved a wretch like you. He wrote that it saved a wretch like him.

"Amazing Grace" became one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world, performed in one form or another an estimated 10 million times each year. And each time it is performed the same words are sung: That saved a wretch like me.

And that is the sweet sound of grace.