I have a friend, we’ll call her KL, who is currently battling cancer. Her Christmas card this year read “It’s a Wonderful Life.” How can she say this? She said something to me when I was home this year that I won’t soon forget. More than one person has told her that with the cancer, she will find out who her true friends are. She smiled and said that it’s not true. She has found out which of her friends can handle her cancer. Perhaps the truer statement is that we have found out who she is. Ever more herself, her frame sparer and a downy patch of blonde sprouting where her hair has fallen out from her first round of chemo, but full of grace, ready with mercy.
For Christmas this year, a thoughtful friend made note when KL posted on Facebook a small wistful message about wishing she could watch “White Christmas” with her 2 year old, and then open her curtains to see real snow. Some of us may call this corny, but corny is what Christmas is all about. Or should be. How else to explain the kitchy idea of a fat man in velour delivering on the heartfelt wishes of our children once a year while we slept? Anyhow, this friend decided he would make KL’s corny wish come true. He would be her fat man in velour. He contacted her community of friends and invited them to come caroling at her house on Christmas Eve. With the help of his children, he made and decorated her porch with paper snow flakes, and with the collaboration of another friend, he trucked a pile of snow to her front yard. By the time our little crew had trudged through the Oregon chill to her porch, her tow-headed two year old had already made tracks through the 6″ pile of snow. After a few embarrassed giggles and awkward attempts at finding the tune, our motley crew sang to her. And she did just exactly what someone who loves White Christmas would do; she came out to hug every friend who carved out a few minutes from their Christmas madness to stop and be still for a moment with a chorus of strangers, naked in our affection for her. She was not embarrassed. She knew exactly what to do. And in no more time than it takes the sun to set, it was over. But I think it’s fair to say we participated in something special. We shared a moment of grace.
The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest –
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest – it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptred sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute of God himself.
I have just recently come back to my home in northern Chile, where I’m melting under the mid-day heat, too delirious to compose a thought between about 2:00 and 6:00. Rain is the kindest mercy I can imagine right now, in the city where it never rains. Mercy is defined as not receiving what you deserve-it is staying off the proverbial “heat.” When you’re about cooked, and there is no relief on the horizon, rain is the relief that sets you free. I got to experience both mercy and grace this past Christmas. I have owed someone close to me money for too long, and keep hoping that our fortunes will change for the better, to erase this debt. For Christmas, this person wiped the slate clean with a few simple words. I am released, rain has come. I hope it’s true, that mercy blesses both of us. She believes it.
Back to KL. She knows about mercy too. Remember what she said about her “true” friends? She has found out which of her friends know how to help or what to do. She has given a free pass to the rest of us. Mercy always comes at a cost. For the person who forgave my debt, it means fewer options to move, because the money that should have been there isn’t. For KL, it means less support, and awkward moments with people who don’t know what to say, or how to say it, or in some cases, even how to show up. But on top of the mercy, she sprinkles us with grace-the unexpected magic that appears over the mundane, as glittering and clean as snow. It is snow sitting quietly in your front yard on a dry block. It’s a ticket home when you have an empty bank account. It’s a package in the mail when you didn’t even call to say Happy Birthday. Mercy is the forgiveness, grace is the gift. Mercy is peace, and rain, laughter and old marriage. Grace is babies and snow, rainbows and falling in love. We need both, because they are what make it a wonderful life. Without them, we’d live in a desert forever. So thank you to the givers, and may you be a taker.
I leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs of all time, by Mike Knott. (LSU, Grace Shaker).
striving for the answer
in fighting for the streets of gold
hope you’re not forgotten
you wonder if you’ve killed your soul
i’ve heard the words of judgment
but not from the one i know
it falls down on me
it falls down on you
grace falls free
the proud feel the need to work the loom
yet grace falls free
holding up to heaven
the winnings of your plow
look into the poor man
show him what he must do now
you’ve got all the answers
but he’s got a book that shows him how
it falls down on me…
think about the river
how it always flows
they’re still digging in the desert
but that’s not where this river goes
it’s filled with all the living
and quenches every wantin’ soul
it falls down on me…