Small graces


It’s been a long year.  A year I didn’t expect.  Emotions I certainly never thought I’d face.  I know I’m not alone in the pain of Things Coming Out of Nowhere, like a beast in the night.  Whether it’s cancer or the death of a mother or divorce or the loss of a child: you can’t build up reserves in advance to “handle it.”  You are just thrown right in that cold lake without quite knowing how to swim, and you have to just keep gasping for air and thrashing around until you can find a way out.

I’ve yelled at God a lot lately.  Maybe not literally, but inside of me there’s a hot place in the middle of my chest that burns, and grows large, and I think things like “you must be on vacation” and “seriously? I’ve been saying the exact same prayer for a year now and I’m getting sick of listening to my own internal dialogue.”  And then I feel guilty, because God’s God and I’m trying to squeeze into his chair and tell him how to run things, which makes me sad again, and it’s a vicious cycle.  But I say the same prayer anyway, because there’s that old story of a relentless widow. I hope God doesn’t get sick of reruns.

Today, a friend told me that every day provides us with small graces.  Look for them, she said. I nodded, because that’s what you do when people say that things will look up or God will redeem all or time heals.  You just smile and nod, but they don’t really know my life.  The vending machine is all out of small graces, because butterflies floating on my lantanas don’t make my heart heal, or pay my bills, or make my soul at peace.  I glare at the monarch in an angry, pity-fueled darkness, and I just want to release my grasp on the log that keeps me afloat and just sink underneath in slow motion. I grit my teeth and say the same prayer that I say every freaking day, over and over again, and hope God will listen. I might not be in his chair, but I’m going to sit at his feet and just keep tapping on a toe until somebody hears me.

I don’t think we would be human if we didn’t go through times like this.  Just psalmists crying out in lamentation about the unfair, cruel, and often confusing place we find ourselves in. I know I should be thankful for a thousand gifts, and see all these small graces fluttering on my nose, but I’ve clenched my eyes shut.  Because as it turns out I don’t run the world, and I can’t see into my future, and I don’t always know what’s best for me.  Like the time I cut bangs and wore acid-washed jeans.  We can’t trust ourselves, people.

I think sometimes it’s easier to rot in our own self-pity than force ourselves to prop open our eyelids and see the protection around us.  The fact that our legs are strong, and the log came floating by, and there’s a stranger fishing for carp that heard our cries.  The fact that the rains stopped, and the boat came, and you looked up to see sunlight streaming like laser beams through the parting clouds.  Maybe God’s the one who’s yelling, and we’re so busy wallowing that we don’t even notice.

So now, my legs are still shaking but steady, and I’m heading slowly to shore in a beat-up old fishing boat.  My arms still clutch an imaginary log in the water, and I’m hoarse from screaming, but I’m humbled.  And quiet for a change.  And slowly, as tears of gratitude well, I croak out the same prayer.  The one I’ve yelled and screamed and whispered and sobbed. The same one I said yesterday and the same one I’ll say tomorrow.  Once, months ago, I said this same prayer and sat there in my bedroom for a solid four hours waiting to hear a reply, like a staring contest with God.  I heard birds, and an airplane, and a squirrel’s chatter, which hardly counted.  And yet now with a blanket around my shoulders it feels suddenly new again, and I know that every single heartfelt prayer has been heard and felt and inhaled like incense to a loving Father. I don’t know the answers, or my future, but I smile at the benevolence I do not deserve.

A butterfly rests on my arm – wings like lace so delicately displayed.  It’s high noon, and the sun that has provided me with such little warmth fuels it’s very flight, all the way to Mexico over fields and river and stale grey condominiums.  It breaks apart from his brothers to land here, just for a moment on my arm, like he’s been waiting for me to come.  It fills that burning hole in my chest with love.

She’s right, my friend. Every day does indeed provide small graces.  Look for them.