“Imagine a carpet sparkling with diamonds, stretched out before you and leading only to joy. That is the week God [Spirit/Your Source/the Universe] has planned for you.” ~Marianne Williamson
I am taking an e-course titled “30 Days of Grace,” taught by artist and healer Alena Hennessy. In one of the lessons, she asked us to consider what the word ‘grace’ meant to us. When I initially read the lesson, I groaned thinking, “Yet another important question that I cannot answer!” To my surprise, I quickly realized that I knew the answer to the question, that I felt the answer to the question.
I’d never given the question much thought. Growing up, I was taught to define the word in one of three ways. First, as the prayer that we said before a meal, second, one’s way of handling themselves in various situations and third, one’s way of presenting themselves to those around them.
Yet, as I began writing, it occurred to me that the list of instances and things in which I see ‘grace’ is limitless. There is no set of definitions that can define the word ‘grace.’ Grace means different things to different people and though there may be some commonality, there is rarely a common agreement as to what the word engenders for each of us. In my case, I believe that ‘grace’ = life and all that comes with it.
Grace is the joy that I feel when I look into the faces of my children and grandchildren. Grace is the music of my wind chimes as a gentle breeze rushes through them. Grace is the scent of orange blossoms, jasmine, lavender and more. Grace is a candle-lit room as I sit still in meditation. Grace is prayer and thanksgiving. Grace is the beauty of my daughter as she labors to give birth to her first child. Grace is the love and devotion on my son-in-law’s face as he stands vigil to support my daughter through a long, difficult labor. Grace is being there as my grandson, eyes wide open, takes his first look at his new world. Grace is the sound of rain on a tin roof. Grace is the sound of my favorite songs. Grace is the feeling that propels me to dance and sing to those songs.
Grace is laughter. Grace is a smiling face. Grace is my husband. Grace is having my mother still with us. Grace is in spite of fibromyalgia, being able to get out of bed most mornings. Grace is the trusting look on the faces of my grandchildren as I look into their eyes. Grace is in the beauty of the night sky with its infinite stars, planets and galaxies, unhampered by city lights. Grace is the smell of freshly laundered clothes. Grace is a sense of accomplishment for a job well done.
Grace is a steaming cup of tea or coffee on a cold day. Grace is coming home after an extended trip away. Grace is a field of wild flowers swaying gently in the breeze. Grace is the birds who gather each morning at the feeder outside my bedroom window. Grace is a surprise call from a loved one. Grace is serendipity. Grace is the feel of the sun on my skin. Grace is having the exact amount of money to pay for a purchase. Grace is not looking, but finding that ‘perfect’ gift for a special person in my life. Grace is in the amazing art that my daughter creates. Grace is my son’s tireless determine to make a better life for himself and his family. Grace is in the strength to overcome horrible circumstances. Grace is in falling down, and picking one’s self up.
Grace is being there for someone in their time of need. Grace is saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it. Grace is forgiving, both others, but especially, yourself. Grace is the pleasure of friendship. Grace is going to the mailbox and finding a beautiful card or letter, sent to me, for no particular reason. Grace is helping those in need. Grace is paying it forward. Grace is hot water for an insanely long bubble bath. Grace is having the time to slow down and enjoy the moment. Grace is being alone without feeling lonely. Grace is being my own best friend. Grace is in spite of having three children by 21 years old, I persevered to graduate college and law school. Grace is a piece of ice cold watermelon or a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. Grace is the feel of settling beneath freshly laundered sheets. Grace is expressing my creativity. Grace is writing, painting and drawing. Grace is playing a game of jacks. Grace is playing bingo with my 7 year old g’daughter. Grace is the stillness and quiet of the early morning before the rest of the house wakes.. Grace is realizing that I can after years of believing I can’t. Grace is loving myself, just the way that I am. Grace is reading a good book. Grace is learning something new.
Grace is being grateful. Grace is saying ‘thank you.’ Grace is being a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. Grace is the love that gripes my heart when I think of my little brother who died much too soon. Grace is saying ‘I love you.’ Grace is being told “I love you.” Grace is every morning that I wake to a new day. Grace is kindness and generosity. Grace is the faith that I have in God. Grace is food on the table, a roof over my head and clothes on my back. Grace is in the challenges that I face, in order to appreciate the grace around me. Grace is me and you. Grace is the special person, now a friend, who gifted me this class when we only knew one another through FB and not very well. Grace is in accepting things as they are and not as you want them to be.
I wrote and wrote for pages until I got tired and had to stop, but I could have written for hours. I understand now that grace is everywhere and a quality in everything that I do. Grace is in the faces that I see in stores and on the streets. Grace is in every encounter. Grace is the blessing of each of you that I ‘meet’ and connect with through this blog. In fact, grace is the opportunity to spend my time with you in this way. I feel blessed that I’ve had the chance to ponder this question as it has done for me what I intended in creating this blog, brought me closer to my true and graceful self, as well as an appreciation for all the beauty that surrounds me. As I said earlier, grace is — life.
Blessings and grace to you, Lydia
All Will Be Well, ~ Julian of Norwich
As an initial matter, I want to point out that in this post, I refer to God. That is my preference, but I understand that for others it may be Source, Divine Mother, Universe or what have you. Please feel free to substitute the term that feels right for you.
“At the end of a crazy-moon night
the love of God arose.
I said, “It’s me, Lalla.” ~ Lal Ded (Lalla), a 14th century mystic from Kasmir
Earlier, I was reading this blog and her post led me to ponder the act of prayer. For me, praying is as natural as breathing. I grew up in the very Catholic New Orleans and I spent 12 years in Catholic schools where we attended church regularly. The act of prayer was bred into us. As a child and teen, I prayed about things which as an adult are quite laughable. I prayed that I’d receive certain things for Christmas, I prayed that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself in a PE softball game, I prayed that I could attend a sleep over, and as I grew older, I prayed that a certain boy would notice me, and that I could attend the party of the century, nothing was too trivial to bring before God. At that time, prayer involved getting down on my knees in sublimation, bowing my head with reverence and making an impassioned plea for my request.
As an adult, prayer became less of this rigid, formal affair and more of a way of forming a deep relationship with God and more importantly, a way of communicating with him. In addition to requests and gratitude, I began to, among other things, share my thoughts and feelings, and seek guidance or advice, usually in the form of journaling. For reasons that I cannot recall, at some point, I became concerned about whether I was doing enough and whether I was praying correctly. I was in a quandary because if I was ‘doing it wrong,’ perhaps God wasn’t hearing my prayers.
It was during this period of rumination that I first stumbled upon the above poem. It was so simple and brief that at first glance, I passed it up. Yet, it spoke to me in a very profound and real way, and I returned to it to figure out the reason. I understand that, as with any poem, others may espouse different interpretations to it, but this is my interpretation.
In it, I read that there is no strict formal way that we must pray to be heard. In my mind, the phrase “It’s me Lalla,” implies both a close relationship in which God knows exactly who we are, as well as an approachable God. For me, prayer is akin to talking to a close, special friend that we trust more than anyone in the world. With that said, think of your relationships and particularly those in which you feel a kinship with the person with whom you are talking and perhaps, sharing your heart. Especially in the case of significant or important discussions there is an implied level of familiarity and trust with the person. In the end, we speak to God in a way that allows us to be most open and honest. The poem allayed my fears and concerns.
In my case, prayer became a freer more open-ended exchange. Of course, my adult concerns make those of my youth pale in comparison, but I value my “talks” with God, as an integral part of who I am. Ours is a two-way conversation in which I can rant, rave, question, explain, express gratitude and be exactly who I am, with no doubt that I am understood and loved. I finally realize that as unique human beings, it is little wonder that our methods of prayer, communication and relationship with God differs, and that is as it should be.
This post is longer than is usually the case, but given the subject matter, I am sure that you will understand. Thank you for taking the time to read and experience it.
My father passed away almost two weeks ago. When a parent dies, it seems that most children feel a sense of sadness, longing, grief and in some cases, regret for missed opportunities and all that will never be. However, those thoughts and feelings are often tampered by the gratitude and precious memories that you shared with this man, your father.
A couple of months ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends called to tell me that her father had passed. Upon hearing the news, tears flowed and I was overwhelmed by a sense of grief, sadness and gratitude. The grief was present for obvious reasons; the sadness because a special man was gone from this world; the gratitude, because as fate would have it, I became best friends with his daughter and through her, was able to see and feel all that the word “dad” entailed, and the importance of the role of a father-figure in one’s life. Nevertheless, when I learned of my father’s passing, I felt a sadness, as I would when told of anyone’s death, but more prominently, there was a visceral void.
I suppose that you can say that our relationship was complicated. You see, he turned his back on our family when I was only five years old. When I say that he turned his back, I mean that his leaving was so complete that it was as if he disappeared from the face of the earth, certainly from my world. In fact, he did for about 11 years. At the time he left, I was the oldest of three girls and my Mom was left to raise us by herself, with no contact or support from my father. As a young child, I didn’t have the tools necessary to comprehend my father’s actions, so for the most part, I was confused, and even guilty, thinking that his actions were my fault. As I grew older those feelings transformed into resentment and anger, feelings that failed to change even after he began making the occasional appearance in our lives. He came bearing gifts, but none that I wanted or needed.
The truth is that I didn’t know this man and I knew no more about him than the passing stranger. What I did know was that he wasn’t there to give us food, shelter, clothing or love. He wasn’t there when I had measles or chicken pox, to pick me up when I fell or to soothe my tears over some perceived devastation that all children endure. Complicating the matter is the immutable fact that he is the man who gave me life, and my rational and logical mind knows that were it not for him, I would not be writing this post.
As is expected, people continue to express his or her sympathy at my loss. I’ve noticed that people use the words “father,” and “dad” interchangeably, and when the word “dad” is chosen, I feel very uncomfortable. I find it impossible to apply that word to our relationship. In fact, I feel wrong even trying to do so. My mind keeps returning to the same question: what is the difference between a “father” and a “dad?” Why have I always been unable to refer to this man as anything but my father? In fact, more often than not, I instinctively referred to him by his first name, John. Yet, this is a topic for another place and time.
In reality, I’ve been pulled between the angry, confused and sad child that my father deserted, and the older wiser me that realizes that his actions were about him, not me, and that the anger and resentment has harmed me much more than it hurt him. I don’t know how to feel about a man who is a virtual stranger to me, but is a primary cause of my presence in this world. The icing on the cake is that as one of his next of kin, I am the one who has to make post-death arrangements, as well as pay for them. My inner child is stumping and screaming that life is not fair.
Yet, as often happens with life, a sense of closure occurs in the most unexpected ways. In my case, I was standing in line at the pharmacy after having had an amazing experience with my yoga therapist, which I will write about in a later post. I was next in line and I casually noticed that someone had gotten in line behind me. It is a dapper elderly man whom I later learned was a young 82 years, and a transplanted Californian who moved to Austin five years ago. He said, in a friendly and sincere voice, “How are you today?” The question moved me because so often these days, people don’t take the time to concern themselves with others. This man was different. I turned toward him as I answered and politely asked, “And how are you?” His response took me by surprise. He said, “I am better than great. I couldn’t possibly be better!” I suppose that his answer intrigued me because I can’t recall feeling that way in some time.
As we continued our conversation, I learned that he and his wife had grown children, with lives of their own. Five years ago, they decided that with their children gone and they had no reason to tie themselves to California. They decided to set out to discover a new place to live. Serendipity brought them to Austin, Texas and he is, by all accounts an amiable and happy man. For reasons that I didn’t understand at first, I felt an undeniable bond with this stranger, this man who I’d never laid eyes upon. Before long, it was my turn in line, so I started toward the counter. All of a sudden, I experienced one of those proverbial ‘light bulb’ moments, and in my heart, I knew both why I’d met this man and why he’d affected me so much.
I turned back to him with intense curiosity. Although I hadn’t realized it before, there were definite similarities between him and my father. He was the same height and build with a similar hair cut and the same quick smile for strangers. When I was a kid, this was the type of man who I’d always imagined my father to be. I believe that there is a reason for everyone that we meet and that they arrive at the exact moment when we most need them. Even in his passing, my heart yearned for a compassionate, loving and attentive father who loved and hugged me liberally. I longed for a father just like this man, and I believe that this man represented all that I did not have in a father, and that, if for only a short while, he was God’s blessing to me.
Unconsciously, I reached out to him, grabbed his hand, and thanked him for his kindness. For reasons that I still cannot explain, I felt compelled to explain to him that my estranged father had just died and that meeting him was the balm to my soul that I’d desperately needed. He expressed sympathy and thanked me for bestowing such an honor on him. He hugged me in a fatherly way. I turned back toward the counter, picked up my scripts, waved goodbye and continued on my way.
I was aisles away from the pharmacy picking up a few items when I heard someone call out to me. It was my new “friend.” He’d searched the store for me because he wanted to properly introduce himself and learn my name. He told me that “When he thought about our meeting, he wanted to know my name,” and believed that every experience was a gift to treasure. We exchanged introductions, shook hands and turned to go on our ways.
As I walked away, I felt a weight lifting from my shoulders and an overwhelming sense of peace filled that hollow in my heart. I experienced a letting go, and a sense of forgiveness that eluded me during my father’s life, but now was possible at his death. It is true, forgiveness is more for you than the other. I do not claim to have let go of years of anger, resentment, disappointment and longing in a matter of 15 minutes. Yet, I’ve begun the process and to me, that is profound. As I attend to my father’s post-death arrangements, I intend to extend him the peace and respect that I never received from him. Doing so, brings me peace. It seems to be coming together, as it should be.