I was walking along the roadside in my bright red coat and black riding boots. I’d just dropped my car off at long term storage and I trudged alone towards the store, eyes cast down, hands in pockets –a chain metal fence to my right, cars zipping by on the left. I don’t want to go on deployment, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go…The words repeated to the rhythm of my boots light tapping on the sidewalk.
I must have looked like quite the solitary figure trudging along like that. I certainly felt alone. And defeated. And completely unable to cope with a 9.5 month of deployment. I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go. I was walking alone and submersed in loneliness. The girl who never backs down from a fight wanted nothing more than to flee at that moment. Take off my armor and flee to Brazil or Roma — to anywhere that wasn’t a ship in the middle of the ocean.
A brown flash of SUV registered in my periphery and I paid it little attention just like I’d done to all the other cars. But then something strange happened.
I don’t know if the window was always rolled down or if it rolled down as the car passed me, but I was suddenly covered in a waterfall of balloons. Red, pink, and white balloons surrounded me. I was cocooned in balloons. It was like being eight all over again and making a bed with fresh sheets, snapping the sheets as high as possible and then jumping under them quickly to burrow under the big top tent as they came down on my head. It was unexpected and I laughed aloud at the surprise of it, hands spread like a child in first snow. I stayed in that pose for quite some time, watching as the balloons were picked up by the wind until they came to rest on the chain link fence, where they popped one by one.
I keep coming back to this moment. In fact, it’s only now in writing this that I even realize that it was Valentine’s Day (hence the color of the balloons) when this occurred. It lasted for only 5 minutes, but its effects feel eternal. I got a glimpse of Grace in that moment. Grace: that incredibly churchy word that means getting what you don’t deserve, that means receiving a boon or bounty without earning it. Sure it was only balloons, but it soothed my soul in a way I can’t quite explain. It felt a lot like the Jeremy Camp song, Grace like rain (or maybe that’s balloons) falling down on me. My talents, looks, skill set, education were irrelevant in that moment. I received (with wide opens hands) a gift that I didn’t deserve or do anything to earn. For just a brief moment, I understood how the Israelites must have felt the first time they saw manna fall from the sky. Those balloons were a visual representation of the Divine Favor that I have received from God through his Son.
Justin Holcomb says that Grace is the opposite of Karma. Karma is about getting what you deserve. It’s your reward if you do the right things and your comeuppance for all the wrong ones. But Grace is an entirely different beast.
In the words of Bono:
“[Grace is] my favorite word in the lexicon of the English language. It’s a word I’m depending on. The universe operates by Karma, we all know that. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. There is some atonement built in: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Then enters Grace and turns that upside down. I love it. I’m not talking about people being graceful in their actions but just covering over the cracks. Christ’s ministry really was a lot to do with pointing out how everybody is a screw-up in some shape or form, there’s no way around it. But then He was to say, well, I am going to deal with those sins for you. I will take on Myself all the consequences of sin. Even if you’re not religious, I think you’d accept that there are consequences to all the mistakes we make. And so Grace enters the picture to say, I’ll take the blame, I’ll carry the cross. It is a powerful idea. Grace interrupting Karma.”
Bono, in U2 by U2 (London, 2006), page 300.
The thing about Grace is that once you see it, once you recognize it for what it is, you start to see it everywhere. It’s in the consistent prick of your heartbeat against your rib cage, or the moon’s slow trek across the sky. It’s in every rainbow or child’s laugh. It’s in your roommate’s steady breathing as she sleeps. It can be found when you can’t take another step or you’ve completely lost your direction. It’s even found in the amazing wonder of balloons that flutter unexpectedly from a stranger’s car.
Grace is Everywhere.