“How Can You Explain God’s Grace?” She Sighed.

I talked on the phone with Dustin DeFord’s mother at the end of August, before leaving on my cross-country trip.  Tall (to me) and  lovely with strawberry blond hair and pleasant features, Celeste DeFord talked graciously about her family: “God is working uniquely in each person.” (I took notes.)  At the very beginning of the conversation, she replied to my inquiry into how they are doing with a little sigh: “How can you explain God’s grace?”  Obviously, many folks have asked this question.

Her sigh and rhetorical question indicated that God’s working in their lives with His comfort, perspective, and strength are somewhat inexplicable. That is, for them God’s grace is not surprising or unbelievable, for it is clearly taught in Scripture, and they live by faith. Yet, living within God’s grace often defies description. Most of us have not walked in their shoes — with this kind of grief.  The DeFords live on another plain that is both spiritual and practical, enabling them to prosper inwardly, even in their sorrow, while moving forward in life. They sorrow but not without hope (I Thessaloians 4:13-18).  Each of us sorrows in various ways, though most of us have not lost a child. A few of you may have. The DeFords lost Dustin (for this lifetime) via the devastating blazes of the Yarnell, Arizona wildfire on June 30, in which 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters lost their lives in a startling change of winds and flames.

You know, I remember the exact hour Dustin and the others were translated to another realm.  I live about 40 minutes from Yarnell.  I was sitting on my front yard swing, observing the changes in the skies beyond the Bradshaw Mountains — over where the boys were — but I didn’t know.  The mountains were hazy. It was around 4:30. The boys lost their earthly lives around 4:45 — somewhere in there, although we didn’t know until later.  I was swinging comfortably while it happened.

Deb, my neighbor walked over and sat next to me. We talked. We watched. Something seemed different.  Then I saw an airplane flying over the Bradshaws, some kind of plane I’d never seen before.  On it’s fat belly or mid section were wide stripes of our flag’s three colors. Paul was in the front yard, and I called to him. “Paul, Paul!”  He didn’t hear me. By the time he did, he couldn’t see the plane well enough to identify it but thought maybe it was a coast guard plane. I said, “What would a coast guard airplane be doing here?” (In the high desert of Arizona.)  I’ve never discovered what this airplane was doing, but I’d guess it had something to do with the fire. Maybe it was one of those that drops water and fire retardant chemicals on raging fires. Do any of you have any information on this?

The fire has been investigated, and no mismanagement or unwise decision making process has been discovered.  I hope no one is living with guilt over this, but of course, I’m sure that some are.  If only. . . .  We can all identify in some way, for if any of us could live any part of our lives over with the wisdom of hindsight, we’d change things. I say, anyone who says they have no regrets is either living in denial or is living an un-reflective life. May the Lord grace every person involved in any way in this tragedy with inexplicable grace.

What is grace? Ah! Now, we’ve stepped into a theological and existential sea of infinite depth. I can only snorkel so deep.  Yet,  that depth offers sufficient nourishment and comfort (to mix metaphors) to fuel me for life.  Grace is a word that seems so overused that it has become a cliche, emptied of meaning or so nebulous that it can mean anything anyone wants it to mean.  So, we have to do some snorkeling in God’s Word to scoop up some cups of meaning. Oh, why can’t I just write about stuff that does not require fresh study. . . Just write off the top of my head. . . . which I do do, but usually there’s something that needs verified or just plain explored.

Off the top of my head, I’ve heard for decades that grace is “God’s unmerited favor.”  Grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Many years ago,  Paul and I studied the Greek word for grace, charis, and thus named our second daughter Charissa.  (What a beautiful name! And our first daughter’s name, Amanda, means “love” so we have “love” and “grace” in our family!! )  I’ll just take a fresh look at some key references and Bible dictionaries.  Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast.”  In Dr. Zodhiates’ dictionary, he states, “Charis, when received by faith, transforms man and causes him to love and to seek after the righteousness of God.”*

Grace is huge. Yes, it’s God’s favor freely given, not earned, providing forgiveness through the cross of Christ.  Grace is also the cause, the ability, and the fuel that God provides so that we can choose change and be changed — to become more like Him, to respond to Him with “Yes!”– to follow Him. Grace is the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.  “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  And amazingly, grace is God’s joy, the source of gladness and rejoicing given to us. It is the spirit of gratitude. “Charis,” is related to “chairo” and “chara” — joy and thanks!  You may want to do a word study on this family of ideas. Very refreshing and transformative.

How can you explain God’s grace?  Well, God does in His Word, so that we can live it out, becoming living illustrations.  The DeFord family illustrates for me what grace is and what it looks like: real gratitude within the context of hurt, the result of God’s grace gifts to them, enabling them to trust their wise Father and live full lives investing in others. Each of them continues in ministries of service. They show us that it is true that through God’s grace, we can “do all things through Christ who gives us strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Grace to you and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.

*Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary (New Testament). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993.

Categories: Joy & Suffering -- Good & Evil, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on ““How Can You Explain God’s Grace?” She Sighed.

  1. “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,… T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!” – Words: St. 1-4 John Newton, 1725-1807

  2. debra

    Lovely Karen, just lovely. Kind words respecting the pain of the family while acknowledging God’s Sovereignty as well as the mystery of His grace interwoven.

  3. Jess Harkins

    This article is a blessing to me. I heard Steve Deford as he spoke at a community service in Ekalaka, In August and he shared Dustin’s testimony. Every time I think of that day Philipians 2:17 comes to mind. Thank you for writing.

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