A few weeks ago, in the middle of Peter Heller’s mystery novel Celine, I ran across this quote that I needed:
“There might not be a measure of happiness left in a life, but there could be beauty and grace and endless love.”
This last refrain resounded like a prayer, like a song: there could be beauty and grace and endless love. Whether or not happiness is part of the equation or even a possibility: beauty and grace and endless love are always available to us. In some way or another.
This quote arrived in a week where I was holding the tension of obvious, goose-bump inducing grace (or serendipity or coincidence, but I choose grace) on the one hand and a whirlwind of crap and heartbreak and uncertainty for people I love on the other hand. What do you do with that?
In the week that I read this quote, the following happened.
Someone broke my son’s headphones. “Not Me” and “I Don’t Know” are rascals who apparently run amok in my house. My son was upset. His headphones are expensive, and he didn’t want to spend the $100 it would cost to replace them. We weren’t going to spend that money on headphones either.
“But where am I going to get money for new headphones? It’s not my fault. I won’t get any more money until I can ref in the fall.”
“I know. That’s tough isn’t? That’s part of the risk of buying expensive things and living with people. I’m sorry.”
These answers weren’t satisfactory.
The next day, seriously the next day, he came home from school saying: “Mom! You’re not going to believe this! I sold my shoes!”
He had listed a few pairs of shoes on a shoe-selling website back in early December. We had almost forgot about them because nothing had happened with them. Until the week his headphones broke, and someone wanted to pay $90 for a pair of used Air Jordan basketball shoes. (I don’t get this shoe world.) He was going to walk away with about $70 after all of the fees.
“Did you say thank you, bud?“
“Pretty weird timing, right?“
“It feels like Someone is saying hello. I don’t think God cares all that much about headphones or sneakers, but I do believe God cares about you. Maybe this is God reminding you.”
My kiddo nodded and threw up a “Thanks!” with a grin.
A few days later, he sold another pair of the shoes he had listed in December giving him an additional $30 to cover the cost of his new headphones.
Usually, I see this Mystery at work more subtly. That same week someone shared a prayer at the beginning of a class I’m taking. Our teacher had brought the same prayer on a bookmark for everyone to use as the closing prayer that evening.
And two days later, in another group, someone opened with a poem that fit perfectly with another’s presentation later that morning. “What are the chances?” I wondered out loud. “Not chance. That’s Grace,” a friend replied with a smile.
Grace. What a lovely name for this mystery. These glimpses of some deep kindness connecting us to this source of Love and to one another, glimpses of Mystery and Love (or God if you prefer) at work in the ordinary business of life.
And in this same week, at this same time, life was throwing every curveball it could offer–like some cosmic game of dodgeball–at others I love. It was an “if something could break, it did” kind of week.
So if God is saying hello and I love you with these obvious gifts, what does that mean when life falls apart?
Does this mean an absence of grace? An absence of love? I can’t think so.
I also can’t think of God orchestrating or even “allowing” the chaos and horrors and heartbreak. This just hasn’t proved helpful to me. (If it’s helpful to you, I’m not trying to change your mind, this is just how I cope.) We live in a world where beauty and terror co-exist. Life comes. Death comes. This cycle is currently uninterrupted.
Our bodies are absolute miracles. The fact that we exist at all is mind boggling. And there are a million ways that our bodies can break down.
We live in a world where the earth’s plates shift. Where cold fronts meet warm fronts and the weather spins out of control.
This is Life. Pain is certain. Loss is guaranteed. Suffering is inevitable if you live long enough.
But so is grace and beauty and endless love if I can keep my heart open and soft enough to receive it.
In the middle of these weeks and months or years when one thing or another goes wrong, Grace is still at work. She doesn’t save her gifts or presence for the happy times or when things just fall into place.
I need to practice keeping my heart open for her presence when pain and sorrow are sticking around.
Exactly one year ago, a friend died unexpectedly. Grief was such a heavy thing. It hurt to breathe.
And in the days that followed, there was an invitation for me to keep showing up the best that I could, whatever that means. My previous reaction to unexpected and deep grief was to declare everything pointless and stupid. For some reason, this time, I felt the nudge to stay open. What would that look like?
It looked like showing up for my daughter’s science fair exhibit and cheering for my son during his basketball game. Today, neither the science fair nor that basketball game mean much. But showing up for my children still does.
Grief weighed heavy. And we played in deep, fresh snow. Falling backwards. Leaving a chain of hand-holding figures behind. And the sky was a beautiful crystal blue. And my dog made us belly laugh at his attempt to run through snow so deep he had to hurl himself in the air to move through it.
Joy. Grief. Tears. Laughter. The same day. In the same heart. Beauty. Grace. Deep love.
Grace shows up. She always does. Sometimes it’s in the goose-bump inducing timing of gifts. Sometimes it’s a heart-shaped cloud in the sky a moment after I asked for some love. Sometimes Grace appears with words I need to hear on a page or from a friend. Sometimes it’s a hug. Or she is flowers on my doorstep. Always, Grace reminds me that I am not alone.
Even when, especially when, she’s harder to see through tears.