On the Wilderness and Unexpected Grace

Greg and I have arrived home from our stint on the Colorado River, and, as I mentioned, we were not kicked to death, even a little, by donkeys.

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I was kicked to death a little by my sleeping bag, but I learned, after grumbling secretly to myself for 3 nights about the design of my bag and basic things that any sleeping bag engineer should know — like the obvious fact that scratchy velcro tabs and pokey zipper pulls and strangley drawstrings would be more comfortable and less deadly on the outside of the bag — that it works better when you turn it right side out.

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Ah, well.

Live and learn, right?

Live and learn and be laughed at by your wilderness companions.

It’s all part of it.

It’s all part of it, and so are cold, dark nights, and zipping up tight, and huddling close for warmth, and finding it; and so is falling asleep, and waking sporadically to the small sounds of companions and creatures and the unexpected light of the moon; so are the star scapes, and the sunrises, and the slow thaw of ice in your kayak as you set off the next morning despite the cold because you trust the sun is coming. The slow thaw of ice in the vessel that will take you down river, propelled at times by the strength in your arms and your senses of direction and purpose, and at times carried by the current in straight lines and curves and swirls that sweep you where you wanted to go and where you didn’t want to go and where you didn’t know you wanted to go. 

Three months ago, I turned 40, and I celebrated here with you with 40 Days of Grace.

40 Days of talking about Sanctuary, and Radical Acts of Self Care, and Letting Those We Love Be Perfectly Themselves.

40 Days of Letting Failure Go.

40 Days of Kindness.

I didn’t know at the time that I wouldn’t be able to wrap it up.

That I wouldn’t be able to continue writing about it.

That I would need time to rest my soul and quiet my spirit and discover my discomfort and let myself be.

Because, you see, 40 Days of Grace had more grace to give me than I was prepared to receive. 

I am prepared, it turns out, to give grace to others. To upend the benefit of the doubt bucket and let it spill. To assume the best. To spread the news of Love and of Light. To be vulnerable and authentic and laugh at my foibles and unfold my flaws. 

But I am unprepared for surprise parties. And cards. And gifts. And attention. And eye contact. And being seen. It was a barrage of kindness, and my friends, Heidi and Grace, topped it off by giving me 40 gifts for 40 days.

Forty gifts for 40 days.

Something new every day. A scarf. A pillow. Earrings. Coffee. A note. A random act of kindness in my name. Chocolate. Socks. More.

It was… too much.

Too much attention.

Too much stuff.

Too expensive.

Too time-consuming.

Too extravagant.

Too generous.

Too much love.

Too undeserved.

And, at the core, I knew I’d never be able to reciprocate. I’d never be able to repay them. And it made me jittery and unsure, despite knowing they had no expectation of or desire for reciprocity.

I’d wait 3 or 4 days at a time, sometimes, to open my gifts, too overwhelmed to handle the task every day, and then, in a whirlwind of paper and envelopes, I’d rip through them all at once, like tearing off a bandaid.

Isn’t that silly? The inability to accept gifts? But there it is.

And then I’d sit with my stuff and cry. 

Sometimes I’d text a thank you.

And sometimes I’d say nothing at all. 

And then it occurred to me that this is what grace is. An extravagant, unmerited gift of love. And that this was my opportunity to accept it.

It was the well, shit moment of 40 Days of Grace.

Well, shit, I opened my mouth about grace, and then look what happened; I have to accept grace and not just give it. 

Well, shit.

Spiritual of me, yes?



But yes.

The gift of being extravagantly loved. The reluctance and feet-dragging and ultimate well, shit acceptance from me. This defines much of my relationship with God, as it turns out.

On Day 40, Heidi and Grace arrived with balloons. One for each of us. And we took them out to the fields behind my house and wrote prayers on slips of scrap paper with markers we found in Heidi’s car.

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I wrote in purple marker the lyrics to Nate Macy‘s song about grace. A prayer of grace for me. A prayer of grace for you.

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And then we sent our balloons up the sky. To God knows where. To litter the earth with our bits of mylar and ribbon and pieces of our hearts.

Grace’s Elmo balloon looked back at us for a long, long time, floating free.

So maybe you’ll understand the way I felt when I watched one of my paddling companions this week pull an Elmo balloon from the reeds on the side of Colorado River.

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And the way I held my breath ever so slightly.

And the way I released that breath with a quiet “oh” and a soft “thank you” and a happy “well, shit” whispered to the sky.

And the way my soul settled with the reminder of unexpected grace.

And the way I sang Grace to You — to you — the rest of way down the river. 

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Thinking of you. And thinking of Grace. And of a Love extravagant and wild and free.







You can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts here.

Grace to You by Nate Macy used with permission.

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11 responses to “On the Wilderness and Unexpected Grace”

  1. I LOVE that you found an Elmo balloon. I was reading along & that took my breath away. I loved that your friends spoiled you so. and loved that you sent your prayers up with the balloons. But it stopped me in my tracks when you said you found that balloon. It proves to me how much God loves us & hears our prayers.

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