Grace

I close my gym locker with a satisfying slam. The metal-on-metal sound matches the way I feel. I hate this, I think.

The long and lean beauty in front of me steps off the scale, then leaves the sliding weights in place for me to covet.

I roll my eyes and curse under my breath.

Jerk.
While I climb the stairs to the second floor, my thighs jiggle and mock me. Each step seems to remind me of my failures. An extra cookie. Cheese on my burger. Beer.
I don’t want to be here.
On my way across the floor to the aerobic machines, I’m forced to weave through friends talking and laughing. Move! Their presence and happiness annoy me. By the time I reach “my” machine, the weights of guilt, shame, and bitterness are strapped on tight. Before my workout even begins, I’m exhausted.
Come on, snap out of it. I try to coach myself back into emotional shape. You need this.  I shove earbuds, turn up volume, and pump legs. Sweat and pain feel like a just punishment, and I pick up the pace.
After a few minutes, someone moves a free-standing fan, and suddenly, I have a view of the mirror. I realize that the form in the reflection is me, and I silently curse again. Why even bother? 
I level down my program to the lowest setting, take a swig of water, and jerk out my headphones. The coach within me rallies to keep me going, but everything else in me wants to quit. My rotations slow while the internal conflict escalates.
“Hi, Frank!”
I turn my head toward the cheerful voice. Then I see her.
Her feet get my attention first. One is turned outward at an unnatural angle and the other slides across the floor, heavy.
Her lower leg muscles are atrophied and her hips jerk with each shift of her weight. My eyes move upward to her bent torso and sporadically swinging arms.
Her body moves across the gym floor like out-of-tune instruments struggling to harmonize.
Instantly, the perfect rhythm of my own muscles unsteadies me. I look down and grab the machine handle tighter to regain my balance.
“Hey, there, Jill!”
Still pumping and looking down, I track her voice. She uses the time that it takes her to cross the room to greet several more people on the way. Many know her. They smile and say hi.
I feel her gaze and I look up, pretending to be surprised.
“Hi!” she says.I pull the corners of my mouth up, and nod. And watch.
Her smooth voice and graceful expression are a mismatch for her crooked, jerky body. She shifts, leans, and grabs the handle to steady herself before attempting to step up. She pauses for a moment as if to muster her strength. She looks up, signals to one of the fitness attendants, who hustles over to help. Together, they her move her disobedient limbs into place.
“God bless you, Ron!” she says.
I keep pumping my legs and glance down at the timer on my control panel. From my best guess, six minutes have passed from the time that I first noticed her. It took her at least six minutes to cross the gym and get on her machine. Six minutes of step, jerk, slide, swing, shift, …step, jerk, slide, swing, shift… All before her “workout” begins.
Guilt and resentment start to fade, and something new ignites within to fuel me. Something fresh pumps my legs and brings a new rhythm to my heart.
Out of the corner of my eye, I keep observing her. One rotation after another, she forces her body to match the smooth, circular motion of the machine.  The struggle is immediately evident, and I hear her breathing and occasional grunts. She is pushing herself harder than anyone in the room, and motivating us all.
I put my headphones back in, and level up my program once again. I re-engage in my own workout, but I’m still distracted by her.
How long did it take her to get ready this morning? To tie her sneakers? To put her hair in a ponytail? Can she drive herself? Did she have to take the bus, or rely on a friend? How much time did it cost her to be here, on this machine?
At some point, without me noticing, my questions turned to prayers…
Thank you, Lord, for my body. Forgive me for grumbling, resenting, and blaming. Help me to be even more grateful. Change me…
I feel my lungs fill and, suddenly, I have joy that I can breathe.
My weight shifts back and forth without fear of falling, and I have peace.
My thigh muscles push against the resistance, and I am grateful.
I look around and see thick and thin, buff and soft, young and old, and I find myself rooting for them all. Loving them.
I muster up the nerve to look over at her. Despite her obvious agony, her red face turns to offer a smile. I hold her eye contact and silently try to encourage her.
Keep it up, girl. You rock.
No one can see my tears behind the sweat. No one notices the church service going on at the back of the gym.
Body and soul engaged in elliptical worship.
She and I move together, at different speeds, illustrating His unmerited favor.

Both full of Grace.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12;9

Later, on the way home from the gym, I marvel at the work of His hand.
God’s loving hand moved that Graceful girl into place on a day that I didn’t deserve it. Grace.
God ushered me out of my self-centeredness and brought light to my darkness. Grace.
God revealed the cost that another pays for what I have. Grace.
God took my cursing mouth and filled it with words of praise. Grace.
God took my shame and bitterness in exchange for His joy, peace, gratitude, and love. Grace. 
I pull into the driveway, praying, Thank you, Lord, for your unmerited favor. Thank you for your merciful touch today. May all of my life’s working-out be done with Grace.

…as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various form. 1 Peter 4:10

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