The goal of this website, at least right now, is to offer “a whisper of grace and a touch of mercy to help you through this day.”
To be honest, I needed a “whisper of grace” this morning. All day yesterday I wrestled with three pieces of writing. From the moment I woke this morning, I fixated on the problem of how to tackle and pin even one of the pieces in place.
Trying to avoid the challenge, I scrolled through email and opened a “Facebook Memory” from my niece Heather. She had posted a quotation from Frederick Buechner (one of my favorite authors). The quotation whispered “grace” to me. So, here it is for you:
Because the Word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word–a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see–the chances are we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and previous beyond telling.
It had been a day stuffed with meetings in airless rooms. Hot, tired, and exhausted, I set my heart on a quiet evening at home. I stuffed the remainders of the day into my backpack, slogged to the main road, and hailed a taxi.
An eager motorcycle driver swerved to a stop. I inhaled three days of his hard work in clothes worn as long. I climbed onto the seat behind him. “In fifteen minutes I can wash away the day,” I thought.
The driver jockeyed other motos and swerved around packed lories as we threaded through diesel smoke and road dust—a typical Beni commute. We bumped over unpaved road for the last kilometer and pulled to a stop at the front gate of my house.
I paid the driver and tossed a brief greeting at our guard Jonas who held open the gate. Crop-dusted in road dirt and exhaust, I yearned for the sweet relief of a bucket shower and rushed past gentle Mama Edwidge with a insincere “Habarii kazi leo (How was the work today)?”
I lunged into the house, plopped a pot of water on the propane stove to heat, then headed to my bedroom to unpack and undress.
A gentle tap on the bedroom door tugged me from my self-absorbed frenzy.
“Habari (welcome)?” I queried.
Mama Edwidge stepped into the room. In customary manner, she extended her right hand with her left resting on her extended forearm. She held a tattered Congolese 500 franc note. This weary bit of paper, the rough equivalent of 50 cents American, bore the scars of a hard and short life. It had been wadded, folded, creased, and torn as it had paid for taxi rides, pineapples, and phone units in its brief existence.
In Swahili Mama Edwidge explained that she had found the bill in my jeans while washing clothes. She discovered the money while hand-scrubbing the seat and pockets of the jeans. Holding the note as if it were a peace offering, she apologized for getting it wet.
My ego buckled under the weight of grace.
Congo is a culture of relationships. The workday begins with intention and heartfelt greetings. “How are you? How was the night? How is the family?” Business transactions freeze or flow on face-to-face exchanges. One drops tasks, offers tea and unfettered time to planned and unexpected guest alike. I know this well. I forget this often.
This day, intent on my own needs, I didn’t forget. I neglected.
Mama Edwidge and Jonas are two of the many people who made my life manageable in a place where I was an immigrant. Mama Edwidge walked over a mile one-way between her house and mine to keep my house and clothes clean. Jonas and his colleague Kasikas alternated 24-hour shifts to secure my safety while leaving their own families vulnerable.
Mama Edwidge, Jonas, and the taxi driver had returned my selfishness with kindness. I had treated them like a crumpled, forgotten franc note.
Today, as I recall that lesson, I wonder how often I treat people in my daily life here, now, with similar disregard.
St. Paul and King David knew what they were talking about. Paul advises, “In all things give thanks” (I Thes. 5:18). David proclaims, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1).
When we hold a posture of gratitude, we recognize the small graces in the day. When we hold a posture of gratitude, we recognize God’s grace in the form of the people around us.
I have to remind myself of this daily, sometimes hourly.
Today I pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. God, bless those whom I neglect to bless.” Today I will repeat, “In all things give thanks.”