Scraping for Grace
Last summer an old friend found this blog and sent me an email.
It brought me to tears. But the part I remember most was where he told me it was okay if I broke down once in awhile.
I knew what he meant. He was giving me permission to be less than perfect.
I thanked him for his wise words. But I also told him the truth, which was, I wasn’t faking the decision to be happy. In fact, cancer – somehow – increased my capacity for joy.
I’ve not felt much like breaking down these past three years.
I’ve gotten tired. I’ve gotten sore. I’ve gotten frustrated. But I’ve never really felt like I’m falling apart.
People tell me that’s incredible. I’ve just thought it seemed the only thing to do. I didn’t have time, energy, or space to let myself break down.
And then came last Tuesday.
For any of you who’ve expected a serious collapse at some point, well…
It finally happened.
Almost a week ago now – has it really been that long? – I took the girls to a local bookstore. We looked at toys; we read stories. I talked Noelle into trying Adventures in Odyssey instead of more Veggie Tales.
As we went to the cashier, I remembered something David had said about a store credit. I pulled out my phone to call him.
The phone blinked at me.
Two missed calls – David Meredith.
I scrolled over to text messages. Nothing. David always texts me if he doesn’t get through. I tried calling – straight to voicemail. I texted him – where are you? When he didn’t respond after five minutes, I texted again – what did you say about that store credit again? They can’t find it.
But he didn’t reply.
Frustrated, I paid for our things, got in the car, and turned on the newly-purchased Adventures in Odyssey. The girls complained at first – Mom, TV is so much better than this radio thing – but quickly became engrossed in the story. As I pulled into our garage fifteen minutes later, my phone rang.
David Meredith, mobile.
Finally, I thought.
But he wasn’t in the mood for small talk either.
Where were you? he begged.
His voice was croaky. Is he getting a cold? I wondered. I sighed heavily. Just what I need, on top of all the rest, is a sick husband.
I recounted the events of the day, irritation creeping into my voice. You didn’t answer my calls, I said.
He was quiet. Then – I’m at Surrey Memorial.
What? I gasped.
Somehow my vibrating fingers turned off the car. David fired out random facts over the phone as they came to him: I’m in emerg. They put me under. They gave me drugs… chest… pain.
Okay, I nodded. Okay. He’d had that before; each time he’d gone to the ER it had checked out normal. The doctors said he was anxious.
But this time the pain didn’t go away.
Someone at work broke a door down. They put me in an ambulance. My heart rate… too fast. Nothing … worked.
So they put me under and shocked me back.
I’m not sure what to call the sound I made when I heard that. I think perhaps the closest word is shriek.
Noelle reached out and grabbed my hands. Why are you crying, Mommy?
I closed my eyes and counted to ten.
I’m sorry, kiddo. Deep, deep breath. Everything’s fine. Daddy just had a scary day.
But he’s fine?
Yes, he’s fine.
Noelle frowned. Daddy’s had scary days before, Mommy, and you’ve didn’t cry then.
I forced myself into nurse mode.
Get the kids food. Assess the situation.
I scrambled to get coherent information from my now-post-anesthetic husband. What did the doctor say? What drugs did they give you? Are you staying overnight? Where are you?
He relayed my questions to the nurses. They answered in reassuring tones, but I could hear the pause – the one I give to patients when I really don’t know what’s going to happen but I know they need something to hold on to.
We’ll see what happens, they said.
David took several shallow, uneven breaths, then: Can you come?
It was almost dinner. We were going away the next day. My kids were starving. I needed to pack, clean, and finish an assignment.
Of course I’ll come.
My whole body shook as I packed up the girls. I’ve dreamed things like this before. Each time, I’ve woken in tears. And each time, the steady snoring of my husband reassured me that it didn’t really happen.
Not this time.
I kept trying to reason with myself.
It must be a dream.
We’re dealing with too much already; why would we be given something else?
I mean, this stuff gets evened out eventually, right?
Everywhere I turn, I see people under stress. Some sag with the weight of the world, others grate that things aren’t happening exactly as they planned them.
I’ve been… edgy… for awhile now. As things have gotten harder, I’ve worked to keep anger out of my words, my thoughts, my tone. Who wants to be around someone who lets their trouble color everything they see?
I’d been doing okay until Tuesday. But now…
I can’t hold my tongue anymore when someone tells me their biggest problem is whether they should go to France or Italy this summer. I’m in constant battle with the raging bite that threatens to engulf the next person who complains about a problem comparable to hangnail.
I scrape for every smidge of grace I can find, and it seems like there’s none left.
And that’s when it hit me.
We lack grace for others when we don’t feel like much grace has been given to us.
In other words – what comes in, goes out.
I know there’s no grace left in me. But fortunately, I also know that I am not left alone to handle all this.
And if I look at it right, there were little scraps of grace left all the way along this whole week.
Last month Noelle had asked me, Mom, have you ever seen a miracle?
My answer was immediate: yes.
Her sweet voice sighed. I haven’t.
I smiled. I think you have.
She frowned, then gasped. I missed it? Where? When?
I took a deep breath. My smile got deeper. Together we remembered two days where she was really worried about something. Contrary to probably every parenting book on the planet, I pointed out everything that could have gone more wrong and didn’t.
After a few minutes, she smiled with me. Those were miracles?
Yes, girl, I said. Those were miracles.
And, let’s face it: sometimes those tiny things – the small escapes or good fortunes – are the only miracles we get.
This past Tuesday, my best friend got an extension on life.
That’s a pretty big miracle – one I didn’t even know to ask for.
That best friend also got the right people to pay attention to something he’d worried about for months, even years. He sees the cardiologist next week.
Those of you familiar with our health care system know that’s a miracle in and of itself.
But that’s not all. In fact, as I remember these last seven days, I see detail after detail far too provisional to be coincidence.
I’d initially ignored these small miracles because I was so caught up in how unfair it all was.
But as my six-year-old forced me to remember, there was grace all along.
So, if any of you feel like me, that the world seems to be spinning off its axis, that you don’t manage problems so much as brace yourself for the inevitable breeding of stress with more stress into grand-baby catastrophes, know that, again… you are not alone.
That’s grace right there.
But more than that, know that no matter how hopeless your situation seems, no matter how steep the hill you’re climbing gets, there is at least one other person who stubbornly chooses to believe that there is –
– still grace –
for each step along the path.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss it.