3Nov

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

The amount of glitter covering our house right now is fearful and wonderful to behold. I’ve dusted purple sun-shards off the sofa cushions, rousted them from behind the television, and swept them into iridescent mountain ranges, but our house still channels a Disney diamond cave. I imagine we’ll still be catching jeweled glints from the floorboards six months from now, and the thought charms my whimsical side as much as it horrifies my inner June Cleaver.

If not for the glitter, you might not know that anything out of the ordinary happened at our house this week. Of course, that’s counting on your not noticing the tray of leftover caramel apples on the kitchen counter or the bags of crumpled giftwrap waiting to be recycled. You’d also have to mistake the heavy brocade of fatigue draped across my forehead for sleep deprival or sun damage instead of what it actually is: introversion, post-party.

We had twenty-six children in our living room on Wednesday—twenty-six(!) children(!) in witch capes and vampire teeth brandishing fistfuls of glitter and construction paper while their parents chatted in the wings. I hadn’t expected all twenty-six to accept Sophie’s 5th birthdoween invitation, and while my heart warmed at having so many of our neighbors and friends under one roof, my personality had to fight hard for stable footing.

This is the tricky thing about being a textbook introvert who strongly values relationships. I’m always searching for the balance between life-giving alone time and love-strengthening social time, but sometimes circumstances don’t measure out the magic proportions. Sometimes, say, I find myself standing behind a locked bedroom door with a freshly burnt finger, wet glue on my jeans, and the shouts of two dozen sugar-high kindergarteners bouncing off my eardrums while I try—as my friend Erika would say—not to lose my freaking shit.

And right there, in the chaotic dark, is where religion most often becomes real to me. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t mean the kind of religion that happens behind church doors or sanctioned by committees, but the kind that meets us on unexpected roads and whisper-nudges our hearts, the thrillingly unorthodox reality of God-with-us that I can only seem to glimpse through my peripheral vision.

That’s why I wanted to tell you about the party, about the moment I stood behind a locked door with drained batteries and flat-lining hospitality and whispered “Peace, peace, peace,” and about the following moment when I unlocked the door to a wave of noise and color and four-walled chaos and felt it. Reserve power tingled all the way to burned fingertips and overloaded eardrums, and a sense of calm spread like mood lighting through all the tapped-out corridors of my mind. Friends, I stepped out of that room directly into a pile of glitter, caught a toddler swinging from the bunk bed, smelled grilled cheese on the verge of charcoal, and was cornered by four miniature witches asking a total of thirty-two questions at once… and not an ounce of shit was lost.

~~~

I’ve never once in all my life understood clearly what we Jesus-followers mean by the word “grace.” In Sunday School as a child, I absorbed the idea of grace as undeserved divine kindness that I should forever be working to repay, a guilty obligation we owe to God. That understanding didn’t sit well with me, and I’ve gravitated toward more beautiful and hopeful definitions over the years. However, none of them quite explains the quality that I sense when I brush up against the divine—that electric pulse of all-made-right-ness which fills the depleted parts of my personality, underwrites my true self, and consistently bowls me over by how it sees worth and makes beauty and flips expectations on their heads for the sake of greater love. It’s not the kind of thing to be summed up neatly in Webster’s.

I want to understand this word better, to graze its contours with my palm and catch its molecular dance-beat, to track it into the wild and record strains of its native tongue. I know instinctively that grace—whatever and however it is—has everything to do with who I am today, so I’m going to be exploring this more here over the coming weeks. I have no agenda except to try and capture my own peripheral glimpses, whether they be of glitter in the floorboards or windswept lines of song, and I would love it if you joined me for this adventure. {You can get automatic updates by RSS or email, and I’m honored as always to hear your take in the comment section!}

  ~~~

What do you think? Does “grace” hold religious connotations for you, or do you have a different definition (or impression, or story, or empty question-space)?

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7 comments

  1. I am coming to terms with the word grace. It has induced shudders in me for several years now, bringing back feelings of never ever being ENOUGH. But if I can separate the religion from it, it’s a lovely, kind word, and that makes me smile. But not as much as glitter in your floorboards for all eternity. 🙂

  2. My name is derived from the word, Grace, and I have only begun to understand its meaning. I thank a certain Singaporean pastor, Joseph Prince, whose webcasts and sermons have completely flipped my prior understanding of what God thought and demanded of me. God is so fantastically good!!!!

    PS – didn’t realize you were such an introvert, Bethany. that’s awesome.

  3. Bethany, you need to stop writing posts that make me wish I could get in the car and spend time with you. 🙂 I miss you, and I miss knowing you as a sort-of-pretending-to-be-a-grown up, instead of that awkward 13 year old girl with glasses AND braces (oh, the horror) who hadn’t discovered Stacy London OR a hair straightener. (Oy.) I would so love to have a catch-up as a grown up who’s tried to get a handle on her weirdly grown up life and who is learning a lot about grace in her own way. 🙂 Love you!

  4. This is such a great post. So clear, a perfect example. I didn’t grow up with the word “grace.” I remember Sam writing a comment wishing me some…I was probably out on a ledge again, and she was talking me down. I have never really understood it, but this gives me something to pay attention to. I will tell you that there are definitely times when I am standing on holy ground, and sense the divine. I guess I just didn’t have the right label. So thank you for teaching me something (important!) tonight! xoxo

  5. how I wish I could put my thoughts and questions as beautiful into words as you do … and help others understand – like you again helped me understand! Grace is such a complex idea, which I have not yet dared to explore more (maybe of fear there is something unfair about it because it seems not reach everyone).

    Thank you for this wonderful post and encouraging me to explore it further, Bethany!

  6. soulsigh….
    you always leave me in a conflicted state of jealous rapture, the way you wind sentences around your finger like a baby’s curl.

    ::

    i love this series (?) and deeply look forward to future installments. i’ve come to consider grace to be a very personal thing, multifaceted and reflecting a different shade of life (i meant to write “light” but i think life needs to stay…) to each and every soul.

  7. Krista – The religion-aspect gives me shudders too. I’m generally allergic to Christianese (in fact, I had a minor meltdown over the “Grace as” graphic turning out too much like the cover of a devotional book), which is exactly why I wanted to do this series — to figure out the mystery and reality of it apart from religion. I wish so much we could get together for the afternoon; the things we have in common could fuel hours of conversation, I think!

    Hannah – I haven’t heard of Joseph Prince, but that’s an awesome description of his webcasts. 🙂 And speaking of awesome, I’ve never thought of being an introvert as good in any way–it’s mostly just annoying and tiresome–so thanks for the surprising compliment!

    Steph – I wish we could get together too, but not because there was anything wrong with you as a thirteen-year-old. 🙂 (By the way, you wouldn’t think your younger self awkward in the slightest if you’d known me at thirteen!) Thank you so very much for your encouragement; it means more than you know.

    Megsie – “I will tell you that there are definitely times when I am standing on holy ground, and sense the divine.” Yes, exactly! Those are the moments I’m hoping to notice more acutely and hopefully sketch out in words. Love you!

    Heike – Oh man, the part about it being unfair… It’s probably my biggest struggle with the idea of a loving God. I actually get angry sometimes when things are going well for me because I know that they’re going terribly UN-well for others, and how can I be grateful for that? It’s a concept I want to write through a lot more than I have. Thanks for being brave enough to voice your thoughts. <3

    Rain – That conflicted state of jealous rapture goes both ways, my dear, just so you know. 🙂 Your site was early inspiration for this series, and I might never have wanted to explore grace more thoroughly if you hadn't shared some of the personal ways it reflects in your life. Much love.

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