I say this prayer almost nightly, yet I never really thought about what grace actually is; that is, until people kept telling me I had it.
I’d never thought of myself as having grace. Yet when my son Joey was battling terminal cancer at the age of five, people’s favorite thing to tell me was that I was handling it all with grace.
I was taken aback at first. How does one handle the imminent death of her child with grace? Is that even possible?
If it meant not crying in public, I was handling it with grace.
If it meant crafting words that made other people feel better about a child’s death sentence, I was handling it with grace.
If it meant not curling up in a ball and rocking in the corner, I was handling it with grace.
I really had no other choice but to handle it with grace.
And you would, too.
Here's the kicker though: do you know what grace actually is? In Christian terms it is "the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings."
Being told that your child will die of cancer is the exact opposite of this. I was sure I was being punished for some past life sin, or a sin in this life. I definitely wasn't being blessed with anything.
So why did people say this thing about me? This thing about grace? What exactly did they mean?
I took it as a compliment anyway, a life jacket that buoyed me up above the dark water in which I was drowning. Would my son's death be so bad if I could just manage to handle it with grace?
Regardless of how I was going to handle it or not - head held high, writing words to make cancer sound graceful, or leaving rooms to cry and shake my fists at God - it was going to happen anyway.
I didn't cry at his funeral. Not during the service and not when mourners cried in front of me.
Maybe God did do me a favor by giving me some sort of courage I could summon. After all, according to Ernest Hemingway, maybe I always had grace; and once pushed to the limit, it became courage.
Honestly, I'm still not sure what grace really is. I think it looks different to every person who sees it. You see, I've come to realize that grace isn't something that is strived for and perfected. Rather, it is something that comes to you when it’s needed the most.
As women and moms, there are definitely times when grace eludes us.
The day of major screw-ups on our job when all we could manage to do was hide in the bathroom and have a good cry before attempting to fix anything.
The times in the grocery store when we are hauling our entire brood of kids on an epic trip to buy a week’s worth of food and toiletries; and after an hour of whining and begging and continuously searching for our lost toddler in the aisle we just left, WE have a meltdown. Grace definitely eludes us.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Because grace even comes in the form of knowing when we've blown it, blown up, and blown our tops. Knowing that we've been human and made a poor choice is a form of grace, too. Don't kid yourself about that.
Its easy for us to look at someone else and how they are managing a situation that seems hard and say, “Wow, she’s rocking it. She’s handling it with such grace.”
But what grace looks like to you is not always what grace looks like to me.
And how you handle a tough situation is only known when you are facing it. Right in the thick of the crappiest thing you have ever had to face, you will find grace.
Even if you have to pull it from the depths of someplace you never knew existed, even if you have to do things you never thought you'd have to do, and ask people for things you promised yourself you never would, you will find grace.
You will find grace when you need it the most.
Not necessarily when you are at the store with a spit-up stain on your shirt and a Hello Kitty sticker on your butt and your toddler is pulling every can off the shelf in aisle 3 and you think EVERYONE is looking at you (newsflash: they're really not).
But during the super important times.
The first time out with your new baby.
The first day of kindergarten.
The last day of high school.
The first broken heart.
The family crisis they can't know about just yet.
The diagnosis that you didn't see coming.
Grace will find you and buoy you up in it's soft embrace.
And they'll say of you, You are handling this with such grace. I never could.
And you will smile knowingly and say, Yes you could.
I promise you, if I could find grace, so can you.
Just when you need it the most.