And I Understood

I’ve heard it all from day one.

In the womb, I listened to the soft cadence of hymnal notes. As an infant, I was lulled to sleep by the shouting of fire and brimstone, the crying testimonies of grace and mercy, and the ever-whispered word, “Amen.” Then as a tot—in my pretty little hat, dress, and black shoes—I learned the Sunday school stories that always accompanied Crayolas and cartoon coloring sheets.

“Thank God for His mercy,” I’d hear them say.

“Boy, if it weren’t for the grace of God in my life,” they’d echo, and there would always be tears.

“This is Jesus Christ,” the teachers would always explain, “and He died on the cross so that we could be free.”

I understood that He died. I understood that He loved me. I understood that I believed in Him, that I wanted Him, that He’d paved a way for me to reach Heaven.

So as a five-year-old little girl, I asked Christ inside, into a place no one else has ever inhabited. He made a home in the deep places of my soul, and the crimson of His blood covered the ebony of my sin. I knew it was special. I knew August 3rd, 2004 was a day I’d never forget, a day that would forever alter the course of my life.

All through the years, I kept going to church. I kept going to Sunday school class. I kept hearing the teachers talk of Jesus, the preachers talk of Calvary, the brethren testify of God’s goodness.

Funny, but I never really thought of mercy too much. Heard it a thousand times, but never really thought about it.

Until I realized how much I hurt God. How much I failed him every day. How much punishment I deserved, but never received—because of mercy.

And I understood.

Another thing I never really thought about: grace. What was grace, anyway? People were always talking about it, crying about it, praising God about it. Never meant much to me until the day I looked around me and started seeing things I’d never noticed before.

My family—that was the grace of God in my life. My house, the grace of God. My country, the grace of God. My church, the grace of God. My health, the grace of God. My dreams, the grace of God. My existence, the grace of God.

And I understood.

Then there was the cross. I knew all about that. I’d colored it a million times, wore it on my necklace, believed in what Jesus did for me there.

But by and by, it wasn’t just a coloring sheet. It wasn’t just a story. It wasn’t just a place a man named Jesus had died for me…it was something more.

Because I love Jesus. I know Jesus. He’s my friend, the best one I ever had. In the lonely hours of my night, He’s the one who comforts me. In the days when I want to sink deep into despair, He’s the one who lifts up my head, whispers peace into my fear. When I mess up, fail again, He’s the one who gives me a second chance, a hundred times over.

And when I think about that man dying on the cross, it all feels different. It feels real. It is real.

Because my sin put Him there, and He did it anyway. Because even if I had been the only one in the world, He would have still died for me. Because no matter what happens in my life, or what pieces slip away, or what changes all around me, the cross is the one thing that will forever be the same.

I understood the cross.

And now, when I sit in church and someone starts clapping their hands because of mercy, my heart claps too. When someone stands up with tears in their eyes and praises God for His grace, those same tears enter my eyes. When someone starts talking about the cross, with that trembling sort of awesome wonder in their voice, the same tremble thrills my own soul.

Because I’m beginning to understand what I’m still learning, what I’ll keep learning—probably until the day I die.

And oh, how sweet to understand!

Hannah Linder is a Christian fiction author, graphic designer, and photographer.

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