Editor's note:

When I began reading Glandion Carney’s book, The Way of Grace, I was immediately drawn into his story of how profoundly God’s love, compassion and grace had impacted his life. At the time of his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, Glandion had already committed his life to God’s work. Yet, in the days and years following this life-altering diagnosis, he has experienced God’s grace on this journey at an even deeper level than before.

In The Way of Grace, Glandion uses his experience to reassure us that even when we find ourselves in the midst of fear, pain and despair, God’s grace is already at work in us, accomplishing far more than we could alone. We learn that with God’s help, we, too, can live in ‘the way of grace.’

As someone who struggles daily with pain and a chronic illness, I was inspired, encouraged and motivated by Glandion’s testimony. This is a must-read for anyone who yearns for hope and desires a fullness of God’s grace, most especially those who also live with a debilitating disease.

—Linda Christians

Excerpt from The Way of Grace

It was 2008, and I was lead­ing a pas­tors con­fer­ence in the city of Kigali, Rwan­da. Men from many coun­tries were being encour­aged as I took them through steps of med­i­ta­tion, reflec­tion, and com­mu­nion with God. Dur­ing my trip to Africa, I had become increas­ing­ly tired, more so than I had ever been in the past. The work was gru­el­ing and the hours were long, but I had done this before and it had nev­er both­ered me. It felt as if my thoughts were being stolen from my mind. I would begin a sen­tence and then, mid­way, I wouldn’t know where the thought was going.

My good friend, William Wil­son, had gone along to min­is­ter with me. A for­mer Trap­pist monk, he was now an Angli­can priest like me. William noticed how slug­gish and stiff my move­ments were becom­ing. At his encour­age­ment, I decid­ed to go to the doc­tor for a phys­i­cal when we got home. It seemed log­i­cal that I had picked up a virus or oth­er ill­ness while traveling.

My physi­cian did his usu­al exam­i­na­tion, but then asked me to do sim­ple move­ments like walk a few steps and bend at the waist. He inspect­ed my arms, knees, and legs and test­ed my reflex­es. He shined a light in my eyes and then said sim­ply, You have Parkinson’s disease.”

Stunned, I ques­tioned him. How do you know? How can you say You have Parkinson’s’ when you’ve done no test or blood work to deter­mine this diag­no­sis?” He looked me straight in the eyes and respond­ed, You are not smil­ing like you used to and your face looks frozen in a frown. Your move­ments are dif­fi­cult. Your joints are in pain. All of these point to Parkinson’s. You can get a sec­ond opin­ion from a neu­rol­o­gist, but he will tell you the same thing.”

Words escaped me. I felt noth­ing. I was emp­ty. Numb.

There was no bril­liant log­ic to apply. There were no prayers to pray. There was no believ­ing or trust­ing in God for the future of my life in gen­er­al or my min­istry. All was blank, as if erased. I walked out of his office in a fog. When I got to my car, I wept like a baby, lean­ing on the steer­ing wheel for sup­port. I called my wife and told her, “ The doc­tor says I have Parkinson’s.”

Mar­i­on dropped what she was doing at work and came home to sit with me in silence. That’s when the process of feel­ing noth­ing moved to dark­ness and hope­less­ness. Like Job and his friends from Scrip­ture, we sat in the ash heap of despair.

At that point, I couldn’t see any appli­ca­tions of grace. No Bible vers­es imme­di­ate­ly came to mind to soothe my dark and fore­bod­ing spir­it. The words you have Parkinson’s dis­ease” played over and over in my mind like a record that was stuck on a track. I felt sab­o­taged. Tears of hurt, grief, and fear fell unceas­ing­ly. I couldn’t stop them if I tried.

Many saints through the cen­turies have referred to tears as a gift. 

The gift of tears” writ­ten about by the desert elders and sev­er­al cen­turies lat­er by St. Ignatius of Loy­ola are not about find­ing mean­ing in our pain and suf­fer­ing. They do not give answers but instead call us to a deep atten­tive­ness to the long­ings of our heart. They con­tin­ue to flow until we drop our masks and self-decep­tion and return to the source of our lives and long­ing. They are a sign that we have crossed a thresh­old into a pro­found sense of humil­i­ty.1

I couldn’t come up with any long­ing in my heart, except for this new diag­no­sis to be recalled. It was eas­i­er to deceive myself with the drug of denial than to begin the hard work of acceptance.

A Dif­fer­ent Direction

The physi­cian rec­om­mend­ed I seek phys­i­cal ther­a­py. He remind­ed me that this dis­ease would take its toll over time and to slow the process, I need­ed to change my lifestyle. Get more rest. Exer­cise more. Start med­ica­tion. Eat well. It was all so overwhelming.

When I got up the courage, I made an appoint­ment with the phys­i­cal ther­a­pist. I walked into the rehab hos­pi­tal not know­ing what to expect. I was blown away. Hunch-backed patients, shak­ing vio­lent­ly, were strain­ing to remain bal­anced while they walked. Most were suf­fer­ing with the vis­i­ble effects of Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, or Parkinson’s. So many dis­eases and dis­abil­i­ties were rep­re­sent­ed — you name it, they had it. I saw myself in them and I was scared.

When the ther­a­pist called my name, I jerked to atten­tion. Instead of fol­low­ing him into the ther­a­py ses­sion, I ran out of the wait­ing room in tears. I left and did not go back for a year. I have nev­er con­fessed this to any­one before now.

This was not sup­posed to be my jour­ney. How could I face it?

I had no direc­tion or sense of des­ti­na­tion. I didn’t even have a com­pass. The noth­ing­ness I had felt ear­li­er turned into a dark shad­ow of gray with shades of anger. I was on a jour­ney with no end in sight, not one I want­ed any­way. Severe dif­fi­cul­ties had sud­den­ly been thrust upon me, and they hov­ered over my head like dark­en­ing clouds in a storm. Ques­tions tor­ment­ed me: Will I die? Where was God in the midst of this? Where was my courage?

I went to see a neu­rol­o­gist who was also a mem­ber of our church. After he con­firmed the diag­no­sis, he explained that Parkinson’s is a dis­or­der of the brain that leads to shak­ing and dif­fi­cul­ty with walk­ing, move­ment, and coor­di­na­tion, and it con­tin­ues to get worse. See­ing the imme­di­ate tears in my eyes, he came to my side, took me by the hand, and said, Just pray, Glan­dion. God will show you the way.”

Even after two doc­tors con­firmed the diag­no­sis, it took me 12 months to accept it. Dur­ing that year, I con­cealed my dif­fi­cul­ties. Even though my wife stud­ied to learn more about the dis­ease, I refused to do so. I hid out like a fugi­tive. I denied every­thing. I fool­ish­ly thought if I didn’t acknowl­edge the symp­toms, they would just go away.

One Sun­day morn­ing, I was shav­ing in prepa­ra­tion for church when I heard these words in my heart: Glan­dion, you don’t trust me. You say you do, but you don’t. You mas­quer­ade and cov­er up your weak­ness­es. You hide because you will not accept what I have allowed.”

It was Jesus speak­ing to my heart at the deep­est lev­el. It wasn’t a harsh rebuke; it was a gen­tle voice ask­ing me to admit my weak­ness and come to the truth.

That morn­ing I stood before my con­gre­ga­tion as asso­ciate pas­tor and spoke these words: As your priest, today I need to make a con­fes­sion. I have Parkinson’s dis­ease. I have been cov­er­ing up my weak­ness and I need to share it open­ly. I’m try­ing to accept it as a grace. I hope you will pray for me.”

Many came up after­ward to speak to me. My weak­ness is drug addic­tion.” My weak­ness is pornog­ra­phy.” My weak­ness is con­trol­ling oth­ers.” My weak­ness is alco­holism.” We wept togeth­er, held by a pow­er­ful cord of accep­tance and confession.

The spir­i­tu­al direc­tor side in me want­ed to sit down with each of them over a cup of cof­fee to val­i­date their expe­ri­ences of integri­ty, hon­esty, and true con­fes­sion. You see, my con­vic­tion is that we don’t walk alone on the path of faith. We explore it togeth­er, learn­ing about grace, tri­als, and new begin­nings. We may have dif­fer­ent paths on the jour­ney, but we all end at the same des­ti­na­tion — the dis­cov­ery of God’s faith­ful­ness in what­ev­er we face.

But how could I express this truth to them when I had not expe­ri­enced it myself?

I admit­ted my weak­ness and began to accept it. Now I had to act on it. It was the first step to heal­ing and free­dom. There would be many others.

A year after I ini­tial­ly vis­it­ed that rehab hos­pi­tal, I returned for phys­i­cal ther­a­py. This time I knew what to expect, but I was ready to do the work. Now what I noticed in the oth­er tor­ment­ed bod­ies was not their dys­func­tion, but their eyes. Their eyes con­veyed hope, courage, and a will to over­come. The grace of accep­tance allowed me to see them in a dif­fer­ent light. Instead of run­ning away from these fel­low suf­fer­ers, I was moti­vat­ed to join them. And, I was moved to offer up deep prayer for them as a sign of accept­ing our com­mon experience.

Anoth­er turn­ing point in this jour­ney of accep­tance was the night my wife and I ate din­ner at our close friends’ home, Ricky and Mar­jean Brooks. After din­ner, they shared a video with us, say­ing it remind­ed them of Mar­i­on and me. In the video, a man was sleep­ing on the couch. His wife talked excit­ed­ly about a new home improve­ment tool as she walked up to the cam­era, draw­ing us in. She guar­an­teed results and encour­aged all view­ers to use one like she was about to demon­strate. Mar­i­on was get­ting inter­est­ed. She need­ed some things done around the house and had been try­ing to moti­vate me to do them. As the woman on the video spoke, she rolled up a cat­a­log in her hands. When she fin­ished with her spiel, she walked over to her reclin­ing hus­band, whacked his back­side with the cat­a­log, and yelled, Get yo’ BUTT up!”

Mar­i­on and I laughed hard at that unex­pect­ed end­ing. In fact, that line has been a stand­ing joke with us ever since. After­wards I felt as if I had been prompt­ed: Okay, Glan­dion, when are you going to get yo’ butt up’ and work on your life?”

Like the main char­ac­ter Much Afraid in the clas­sic alle­go­ry, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Han­nah Hurnard, I glimpsed the jour­ney with all its peaks, val­leys, and shad­ows. Just as Much Afraid took the hands of her com­pan­ions, Sor­row and Suf­fer­ing, I took the first step of accep­tance. With­out real­iz­ing it, I had been block­ing grace by refus­ing to be hum­bled. Now I made the choice to embrace a dif­fer­ent way to live and a fresh pow­er to love through God’s empow­er­ing grace. I had no idea what lay ahead. But I was ready.

Begin­ning the Journey

In the course of Much Afraid’s jour­ney to the High Places, she faced tremen­dous dif­fi­cul­ties. After each moun­tain was scaled or each ter­ror was over, she would put a stone in the pouch around her waist. They became tro­phies of grace, remem­brances of all that the Shep­herd had brought her through. In the end, they were turned into beau­ti­ful jew­els, placed in a crown for her to wear.

I haven’t picked up stones along my jour­ney. Instead, God has shown me many dif­fer­ent graces that have spurred me on my way. I have car­ried them until I am used to their weight in my back­pack. They once seemed heavy, but now they are weight­less. They are so much a part of me that I could not live with­out them. God’s grace has been man­i­fest­ed to me in beau­ti­ful yet chal­leng­ing ways. He gives these kinds of graces to all of us — if we learn to rec­og­nize, accept, and embrace them to live vic­to­ri­ous­ly in this world.

Tere­sa Avi­la, a 16th cen­tu­ry Span­ish mys­tic philoso­pher and Catholic saint, described the jour­ney through dif­fer­ent graces in her book, The Inte­ri­or Cas­tle:

Let us imag­ine … that there are many rooms in this cas­tle, of which some are above, some below, oth­ers at the side; in the cen­tre, in the very midst of them all is the prin­ci­pal cham­ber in which God and the soul hold their most secret inter­course. Think over this com­par­i­son very care­ful­ly; God grant it may enlight­en you about the dif­fer­ent kinds of graces He is pleased to bestow upon the soul. No one can know all about them, much less a per­son so igno­rant as I am. The knowl­edge that such things are pos­si­ble will con­sole you great­ly should our Lord ever grant you any of these favours.

As I began to look dif­fer­ent­ly at my cir­cum­stances, I want­ed God to show me all the rooms in my cas­tle. I espe­cial­ly want­ed to see the prin­ci­pal cham­ber where he and I could hold the most secret intercourse.

Jesus, Full of Grace and Truth

On this jour­ney into grace, I was led to see Jesus as one who both gave and mod­eled grace in his earth­ly life. It start­ed with his accep­tance to come to this world. Philip­pi­ans 2:6 – 8 speaks of his will­ing­ness to be hum­bled and to emp­ty him­self of the rights of heav­en in order to take his assign­ment on earth. Jesus went from heav­en­ly rich­es to earth­ly rags; from exal­ta­tion to humil­i­a­tion; from author­i­ty to obe­di­ence; from ulti­mate sig­nif­i­cance to ulti­mate rejec­tion; from com­fort to hard­ship; from safe­ty to dan­ger; from glo­ry to sac­ri­fice; and from life to death. And he calls us to go into the world in exact­ly the same way!

Jesus’s accep­tance and obe­di­ence brought about the sav­ing grace of God. Grace is sim­ply God’s unmer­it­ed favor. In oth­er words, He gives us what we don’t deserve (grace) and doesn’t give us what we do deserve ( judg­ment) through Jesus’s death on the cross. But it’s more inti­mate than that: Grace is God’s bless­ing over­flow­ing into our lives. To expe­ri­ence God’s grace is to open gift upon gift of com­fort, com­pan­ion­ship, and empow­er­ment. In his grace, God saves us, strength­ens us, and sanc­ti­fies us. He freely offers us the gift of grace, but we must accept it.

We cel­e­brate grace and thank God for the lib­er­at­ing pow­er that comes to us through it. But it doesn’t stop there — there are oth­er graces God longs to show us. The fore­word to Max Lucado’s book, Grace, reads: We know grace as a noun but Max tells us to think of it as a verb. It is an action. It’s not enough to read about grace; we must expe­ri­ence it.”

When he came, John 1:14 tells us Jesus was full of grace and truth.” And if we, as believ­ers, have accept­ed him into our lives, then verse 16 tells us from his full­ness we have all received, grace upon grace.” If Jesus is full of grace and truth and he is in us, then we too can expe­ri­ence lives full of grace and truth. What a privilege!

The way of grace is the phrase I have used to describe my jour­ney. It is option­al whether we embark on this road. It can be the cho­sen path or a reject­ed course. God offers it freely and open­ly. He will not force it upon us.

God issues an invi­ta­tion to ven­ture to a new land. It is much like the chil­dren of Israel jour­ney­ing to the Promised Land. There are dan­gers and giants in this for­eign coun­try, but there are also mys­ter­ies to be revealed and pro­vi­sions along the way that only God can give. The invi­ta­tion is to cross over into the land of grace. Will you go?

The Grace of Acceptance

This book is sim­ply a recount­ing of the graces God has worked in my life. Each chap­ter will high­light a dif­fer­ent grace. We start with the grace of accep­tance, for it was the first step of many in let­ting go of the con­trol I thought I had. For me, it became a three-step process of accep­tance, sub­mis­sion, and relin­quish­ment. It is not a new con­cept, but one that must be expe­ri­enced before mov­ing on. God’s com­ing along­side me to extend grace, not just once, but every day, hum­bles me as he pours out grace upon grace. Accep­tance is sim­ply this: I receive God’s invi­ta­tion or offer, and will­ing­ly embrace what He gives. I come to terms with the fact that I don’t have all the answers. I accept his gift of grace even when it comes along­side ill­ness, weak­ness, or death. I move from a place of depres­sion, self-pity, and denial into the grace of acceptance.

This is what I might have become had I not expe­ri­enced this grace:

  • An alco­holic, abus­ing a sub­stance in order to find peace.
  • A bad hus­band, seek­ing men­tal and emo­tion­al health from oth­ers while neglect­ing my wife.
  • A dis­be­liev­ing priest, all the while act­ing out the role of a life lived in faith.

Accep­tance changed everything.

  • Instead of think­ing about death, I began to embrace life.
  • Instead of ignor­ing peo­ple who were hand­i­capped, I prayed for them.
  • When I need­ed help, I asked for it, even from strangers.
  • Instead of hid­ing, I tried to live open­ly and hon­est­ly about my condition.
  • Even though I still had tears, I wel­comed laughter.
  • Instead of being afraid to open up to oth­ers, I rel­ished in deep, hon­est relationships.

It was revolutionary.

Grace enlarges the capac­i­ty of our heart. It allows us to be guid­ed into truth. It gives us courage to accept, a rea­son to cel­e­brate, and opens our eyes to glimpse won­ders from God. The foun­da­tion for expe­ri­enc­ing this unique call is the knowl­edge that we are saved by grace, live by grace, and are filled with grace if we are in rela­tion­ship with God through Jesus.

At a con­fer­ence one year, I talked with Chris­t­ian philoso­pher and friend Dal­las Willard about my strug­gle to under­stand grace. He leaned his tall frame toward me, gazed at me with his deep blue eyes and said, Grace, you know, doesn’t have to do with for­give­ness of sins alone. Grace is for all of life.”

Anoth­er friend, Richard Fos­ter, told me: What hap­pens after grace? Is there any­thing after grace? The answer is no; there is just grace.” The great­est thing I want to expe­ri­ence and pass on to oth­ers is the real­i­ty and total­i­ty of God’s grace — how to apply it to any sit­u­a­tion, and to be nur­tured and empow­ered by it. It is greater than we could ever imagine.

Reflec­tion

What about you? What is the cir­cum­stance or dif­fi­cul­ty that is hard for you to embrace? It may look com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than mine, but no one gets through life with­out a cross to bear, a thorn to embrace, or a dif­fi­cul­ty to overcome.

I heard a unique sto­ry while trav­el­ing in Africa with a Bedouin tribe. It goes back hun­dreds of years. Two Bedouin men were trav­el­ing in the desert and came across a man who had died at an oasis. One man asked, How could he have died — he’s right at the oasis? There is shade to cov­er his body and plen­ty of water to drink.” The oth­er man replied, He died out of fear. What he thought was a mirage was, in fact, reality.”

Let us not miss the waters of grace, or faint beside them. They are not a mirage, but true waters of refresh­ment and life. As the prophet Jere­mi­ah stated, 

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree plant­ed by water,
send­ing out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anx­ious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jere­mi­ah 17:7 – 8)

Appli­ca­tion

Take five min­utes to sit qui­et­ly and reflect. To begin, med­i­tate on John 1:14 and 16. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glo­ry, the glo­ry as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” From his full­ness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Med­i­tate on the phras­es Jesus, full of grace and truth” and grace upon grace.” Say them over and over in your mind. Think of them through­out the day when life becomes demand­ing. Let the words become waters of refresh­ment over­flow­ing into your life.

Pray a sim­ple prayer:

Jesus, I thank you for your grace. May you impart your gifts to me. Help me to rec­og­nize them and to apply your grace in every sit­u­a­tion. Grant me the grace of accep­tance for what I’m strug­gling with today. Amen.

Excerpt­ed from The Way of Grace by Glan­dion Car­ney and Mar­jean Brooks (For­ma­tio, 2014). We grate­ful­ly acknowl­edge Inter­Var­si­ty Press for their per­mis­sion to use this excerpt.

[1] Haush­err, Irene. Penthos: The Doc­trine of Com­punc­tion in the Chris­t­ian East. Cis­ter­cian Pub­li­ca­tions, 1982.

Originally published October 2014

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