“Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo.
Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.” ~Karl Barth
This has been a hard year but in the pantheon of hard years, this one does not take the cake. There was the year that my oldest daughter had three open heart surgeries the third week of January. My employer at the time graciously allowed me to drain my entire vacation for the year to sit with her in the ICU by day, leaving my husband to sleep there at night when I would go home and nurse my nine month old baby. And then there was the year that, exhausted from the full time employment required to support myself and the demands of upper level college courses required, my grades slipped and I lost my scholarships. And my grants. Determined to complete my degree I worked two more jobs to pay my $900 a month tuition bill in addition to rent and utilities and the other bills that one pays to keep one’s head above water. Or there is the year that we moved to a new city, weathered a layoff and had a baby in a few short months. None of these hard years were the same. All of them hard in their own unique way.
This year has taken its toll in different ways, in some ways softened by the resilience that only age and experience brings, in some ways harder to stomach because I’m now old enough to know the cost of such change. My kids while wearing the hell out of me with their constant raiding of the pantry and leaving socks everywhere but the hamper have weathered this year well. I might even dare to say that they have figured out ways to thrive in the midst of a pandemic. My work while slowing down to a Covid-crawl is still beautiful and holy.
As we draw near to the season of gratitude, I have been thinking about the way that grace shows up in the mess. I think about the year of my daughter’s surgery, a family in my church who ran a cattle ranch left the most beautiful and savory pot roast dinner on my front porch. To this day I remember standing at the kitchen counter at 10pm after another long day of accompanying my daughter through a day in the ICU taking bite after bite. Savoring the sacrament of such an offering, allowing the gift of it to nourish more than my grieving body. I think about the friend that came and sat in the waiting room with us the day of her first surgery and the friend who came on day seven when hopes of a full recovery were grim. I remember the professor who caught wind of my scholarship dilemma and who personally marched himself into the university financial aid office and demanded to know the appeals process for my case and then ushered me through the process. Or the church secretary that knew my school and financial hardship and would keep crackers and peanut butter in her desk in case I came to work having not eaten that day. Quietly she gave me the gift of maintaining my dignity, never letting on to anyone we worked with my situation.
This year I think of the grace of Zoom nights with girlfriends, small handwritten cards in the mail, long walks as the sun rises to meet the day, the way punchy with exhaustion my partner and I can crack a joke that puts the other to tears. I savor the rare occasions that we’ve gathered safely with family this year after the holy practice of quarantine, their rarity making them all the more sweet. Grace evoking gratitude like an echo, grace inviting us to look beyond the broken to the beautiful.
I have said before “this is not the year we wanted but it can still be a good one.” I still believe that is true. It is the twin gifts of grace and gratitude that act as an invitation for us to see God working in the midst of the mess. It is grace that creates just enough space for gratitude to enter in. And it is gratitude that reminds us that there will be better days, but that these hard days have their own ounce of beauty too.
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