Four distinct times yesterday, a single phrase drifted into my head, so strongly I had no choice but to contemplate it for a few seconds. I’m an extremely visual person—words aren’t just letters of the alphabet to me: they sing, dance and prance around as if they had hands, feet and bodies. As the phrase drifted into my head for the third time, I savored it as one might savor a piece of chocolate. Each letter of the phrase scrolled from one side of my mind to the other, giving me time to think about the words.
It was a beautiful, beautiful day and so we decided to go to the park. We packed up our schoolbooks, a rather large picnic, some stuffed animals and toys, roller skates and a kite and off we went. Normally, we’d have gone to Long Hunter or maybe even Centennial downtown. But my heart was in need of something more: it has been for quite a while now. So I drove forty minutes to the one place that has acted as a sort of respite for my heart: Spring Hill. Though pain followed us there, this small town was a haven when I very much needed it. Its people, its scenery, its quiet peace offers my heart and mind enough space to simply be. The fact that it has what is quite probably Middle Tennessee’s best park is icing on the cake. Nashville is my home—I love it and I belong here–but Spring Hill is special. We arrived around 11 and immediately set about running around the playground. After that, we settled down into working on schoolwork beneath the shade of a big tree. Reading, math and history… then it was time to play some more. They donned roller skates and off they went while the wind lapped through the trees, misting the entire area with enough of a breeze to make being inside seem unthinkable. Lunch called soon enough, then it was time for the creek. The first time I waded in an early Springtime creek was about a dozen years ago (I’m so old) and, ever since then, I seek them out every chance I get. My girls lasted a couple minutes in the frigid water before getting out to warm their feet in towels but me, I pretty much wanted to sit in the freezing water and laugh until I cried at the joy the day was bringing.
Eventually, I tired; walking seemed to take more effort, so I sat down on the blanket and let the girls race off to the jungle gym. Resting on the blanket, my eyes surveyed the park: a dad was playing catch with his son (I’m not making that up), a mom pushed her kid on the baby swings while a few other moms walked around the pathway with their strollers. A man walked behind me with his dog. But our blanket was far enough away from the action that the only noise I could really hear was the wind whipping through the tree above me. It was while I was on the blanket that the phrase drifted into my consciousness for the second time:
The first time I “heard” the phrase, I’d brushed it off as sentimentality getting the better of me on what was probably the first really good day I’ve had in awhile. But this time… this time I wasn’t pushing one of the girls on the swing or trying to avoid a dangerous fall in the creekbed. This time, I was just sitting on a blanket, so I had more time to ruminate. My heart softened as the song I’ve loved since before I can even remember drifted into my thoughts. I didn’t really focus on the phrase itself, just the song it immediately brought to mind. Normally, I would have spent the next few minutes lost in thought, but I didn’t really want to think. I just wanted to enjoy the space I was in—and the peace that was slowly sinking its way into my heart for the first time in over a month. So instead of thinking too much about it, I just promised myself that we’d listen to the song in the car on the way home later, and got up to join my girls. I helped them climb the rock wall and then we played ball for a little while. Soon, it was time to do more schoolwork and then they decided roller skating had been too fun not to try again. After that, we got out the kite. It was a cheap one and nothing too spectacular except…. I LOVE kites and the windy day we were enjoying made it a perfect day to fly one. As watched it soar and dip, then soar and dip, my heart caught in my throat and the phrase that had been shadowing me all day made its way back into my head:
The third time is a charm.
This time, I didn’t think about the song. This time, I thought about the phrase itself. I thought about each word in it and then what it means when those two words are brought together to form one phrase.
You can’t buy grace.
It’s not like a show you can record and then watch at your convenience.
Grace isn’t something you can schedule into your day.
Grace is a gift made even more beautiful by its unexpected presence. Grace is the drink of water your soul was thirsting for after wondering around in a desert filled with one cactus plant after another for days and weeks on end. Grace is the indescribable knowledge that, no matter what you feel like, you’re not truly alone. Grace is the belief that, no matter what medical or emotional war you feel like you’re fighting, you’re protected by someone greater and bigger than you, bigger than your foe. Grace is a feeling of safety. Grace is an overwhelming sense of peace that’s so strong it wakes up your hibernating heart. By definition, then, grace is always amazing and, when you feel it, the resulting awe that shakes your soul is enough to bring you to your knees in gratitude.
I know what it feels like to walk through a day without grace. I know what it feels like to walk a week, a month, a year without feeling grace. I know how draining and emotionally exhausting it is to try to live a rich, meaningful, joyful life without soaking in a bath of grace. I’ve been walking in this tunnel for awhile now, blindly feeling my way and trying with my whole heart and soul to stay true to God and to myself. I’ve taught classes at church and kept up remarkably well with the girls’ homeschooling and I’ve refused to stay in a bed all day. I’ve kept putting one foot in front of the other, again and again, and just kept trudging on. I’ve stumbled but then dusted myself off and kept on going. And through it all, I’ve looked to God as my friend, as my protector, as my harbor in the storm. I’m not angry at Him, I’m not disappointed, I’m not even asking Him the infamous “why” questions. It doesn’t really matter why, after all. What matters more than the whys is not walking through this tunnel alone. And I’ve done everything from writing Him letters to consciously making sure I rely on His scripture more than I ever have in my life in order to remind myself that He has never let me go through anything alone. Be that as it may, however, there have been moments in my life in which I felt alone. There have been hours, minutes, seconds in which I’ve mourned the fact that sometimes it feels as though no one on the planet understands, moments in which I’d have given everything I own for one long hug. Moments in which I’ve longed for grace so much I couldn’t fathom walking another step without it.
I know what it feels like to miss grace but I also know what it feels like to play at a park and have it wash you from head to toe. Instantly, the Sun seems brighter, the freezing creek water perfect, the kids’ chatter beautiful. Grace is the hug that convinces me I can do this. Grace is the loving voice that whispers “everything is going to be okay.” Grace is a gift…. one that colors the whole world in a new light, one that fills you with a sense of purpose and a crazy belief in the impossible. I wish I could convey how grateful I am for having spent the day at the park in that idyllic town where peace seems to run rampant. I wish I could convey how grateful I am for the phrase, amazing grace, that brought forth memories not only of a song I’ve loved for years but also of a healer, of a prince, of a Savior who has not only already conquered death but also named me His friend.
I’ve spent the last ten years making homemade playdough, dancing in the rain and exploring our city to its utmost fullest. I’ve spent the last ten years playing and talking and singing with my little girls. I’ve made creating time a priority. We go to the park at least a couple times a week. We go to science and art museums at least as often. When we stay home, we make things and have pretend fashion and puppet shows. We spend twenty-four hours a day, every day, in a world as close to storybook perfect as I can manage. And we do it because I know that the most important thing of my life is now and will always be the legacy I leave those two girls. I know that one day, when they become grown-ups, what they will remember is that I took the time to play and that not nothing, not a phone or a computer or a book or work, was more important than listening to and play with them. Spending time at the park isn’t a novel experience for us. And yet, yesterday, our time at the park rejuvenated and inspired my heart; it gave me the strength to stand upright today and face the myriad of uncertainties that come with the whirlwind I call Tiny. And this euphemism is accurate for any tunnel we go through—be it daily stress at an unpleasant job, health scares, family problems, whatever. No matter what the problem, God’s grace is bigger. I know that because all it took was one day at the park for me to feel stronger again, for a tiny piece of my broken heart to glue itself back into place, for the exhaustion that has been weighing me down to lift just enough for me to enjoy a deep breath.
People say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Frankly, there have been days I’ve doubted that. But, just when I think I’m at my breaking point, just when I think I can’t possibly take anymore, I get a day with beautiful weather, unlimited time with my girls and, most of all…