“‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” -John Newton
Today was in many ways not so unlike any other day. I woke up (earlier than I would like), had a cup of coffee (with french vanilla coffee creamer), and went to work. Of course, what happened at work was a little different…and it reminded me that sometimes all we need is something a little bit different to make everything make sense.
So there I was, the day was not going terribly well (I had discovered unexpected rot in the deck I was working on and that meant a significant delay in an already busy schedule), and just when I began to feel frustration rising to the surface the elderly lady whose deck I was repairing came to the door and asked me if I wanted coffee. In a moment of pure selfishness I said (perhaps more curtly than I intended) that “yes, coffee would be great.” She said something polite that I was too busy to hear and wandered off as I returned to dealing with the problems at hand.
Before I managed to solve any of those problems she returned, without any coffee and asked me if I wanted to come in and have said coffee. What I could have said (I had every reason in the world), maybe even what I should have said (I was at work after all, and working and being responsible are ever so important), was “no.” What I did say (somewhat to my own surprise) was “yes.” I took off my shoes, entered into her bright and well-decorated home, passed through the living room and into the kitchen, where I was offered a seat and asked what I take in my coffee. I mumbled something about “milk or cream, but not too much,” while trying to figure out the most efficient way to get home to my large (and to be honest, somewhat ostentatious) television and a cold beer (a just reward for the trials I had been beset with on this most unfortunate of mornings) as soon as possible.
She moved slowly. Slower than I would have liked. But I held my tongue and sat politely in my seat as she, with trembling hands, placed a cup of steaming coffee before me. It was shortly thereafter followed by a tin of “danish cookies, don’t worry, they’re not too sweet.”
I took a sip. The bitter warmth burned my tongue only a little, and I swallowed, savouring (perhaps without even realizing) the respite from the problems of the day. Then she began to ask questions, and before I knew it she began to know me. I told her about my education, my career goals, and bits about my past. She continued to inquire, offering sage advice and 88-year old wisdom when she felt it was appropriate (wisdom, like wine, ages well). It was then that something strange happened. This ancient (or so she seemed to me at the time) woman spoke of grace, and in that moment the years fell away from her like autumn leaves and I saw her vibrant, full of life, and shining. In that light I felt like nothing but a shadow. A part of me wished desperately that I could speak my thirst for grace and that it would be sated (but reflected light could may only pierce a shadow, never dispel it). But then I said something, gave voice to a lesson I have been learning over and over and yet not seemed to ever understand. I said, “grace isn’t about what we’ve done, it’s about who we are.”
I want grace. I suspect we all want grace. Not because of the things we have or have not done. But because we know that we can never be enough. It struck me then that no matter what I accomplished in this life, no matter how strong, or wise, or kind that I become, I will never be perfect. That never changes. It doesn’t matter if you’re a success story, a loser, a pedophile, or a saint. You will never be perfect. But that’s why grace matters. Because I think we all want to be perfect (in some way, shape, or form), and in grace we all can be. It is the light that dispels all shadows.
Today I had coffee with a stranger. I lost track of time, I worked late, and I let myself forget — if only for a moment — the “important” things in life (like time, money and what I “should” be doing). I sat with an elderly lady, and I smiled because she showed me grace. I had been rude and selfish, and she gave me her self, her kindness and her wisdom. All the things I may have deserved I did not receive, and what I deserved least was given to me. But here’s the twist: even if I had been polite, kind, and gone above and beyond at work today I still wouldn’t have deserved it. That moment was perfect (in a rather odd way), and such is grace. It was different, it wasn’t what I “should” have done, or even what made sense at the time…but it made everything else fall into place, if only for a second.
…and such is grace. Unexpected, undeserved, and (perhaps most importantly) unwavering.