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Many years ago, I worked in an office for a healthcare company. One of the perks of working in an office is that there is usually a break room where you can sit with your colleagues over coffee and just shoot the breeze. It’s a nice break in the day and it can be a palate-cleanser between hectic projects.

So one day, I was working my way from the break room table to head back to my office, and I tried in vain to squeeze past the lady sitting in the chair at the end by the wall. Ever so slightly, I grazed her shoulder as I passed, and she spilled a bit of her coffee onto the table.

“Sorry!” I said. “Let me get a paper towel.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got a napkin. No biggie,” she said, and went back to her morning paper.

A male co-worker, also sitting at the table, said to another person, “But she’s not even…”

He didn’t have to say it, but he was thinking, She’s not even heavy. How did her hips not make it through that aisle and cause a minor spill?

The other person, a middle-aged woman responded, “Well, it’s not about weight, it’s about grace.”

Oddly, I wasn’t offended, even though this woman was, of all things, the communications manager! She should have known better, perhaps, than to say something right in front of me that might hurt my feelings. As a matter of necessity, I’ve developed something of a thick skin through my years here in the garden state, where the passing of the man who played Tony Soprano led to the state flags being lowered to half mast.

I’ve also instituted a personal policy of not being hurt by anything others say, as long as it’s “factually accurate.” This is a phrase we used in corporate communications so often that I truncated it to “faccurate.” We could fend off a lawsuit if the claims were not faccurate. We could put out a press release with documentation of what was faccurate (according to us).

She was right. I wasn’t a ballerina. There’s not a bit of gracefulness in my gait – even more so now that I’m on the mend from an MS exacerbation.

The thing is, we all knew the communications manager was one of those people, as we say in Jersey. Not a bad sort at all, but (as we also say in Jersey) if it’s on her mind, it’s out of her mouth. You get used to people who function this way and work around them, the way you give more latitude with the language to people from other countries. Like Simon Cowell, they seem unfettered by things such as tact or sensitivity, but most of the time, they’re speaking the truth.

I realized that tact just wasn’t her department. It wasn’t her grace.

Everyone has a gift of connection that bonds them to others, and for some, it is empathy. For others, like this woman, it’s effective project management. She could take an enormous project and break it into manageable bites. This makes everyone’s job easier; we all know what we need to do and when it needs to get done.

What’s your grace? For me, it seems to be listening to stories. I know this happens to Lori and SueBE too, and it may be because our friends know that we’re writers, but it happens randomly with strangers too. Offering support and encouragement doesn’t seem much of a ministry, as compared to going overseas on a mission, as one of my favorite bloggers, Ang of Faith Sweat & Tears is doing currently. But it is a grace note on a chaotic day. Another favorite blogger, Debbie, speaks of grace finding us where we are, and just as we are.

I think I’m being faccurate when I say that grace is what is holding the world together. We rely so much on God’s grace that we may forget it’s a gift that never leaves us, even when we give it away. Grace shows up everywhere when you start to look for it. Look around today. Where do you find grace?

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Pulling into the Motor Vehicle Commission inspection station always makes me feel hinky.  For one thing, my inspection sticker was overdue, so I felt that they would give me a hard time about that.  Also, based on past experience, I found that the workers weren’t always that pleasant.

So this is how I felt as I pulled my car into the station.

Normally, as you enter the station lot, you pull up to a spot where you take a ticket that tells you how long the wait will be, and then the arm/gate rises and you drive through.  On this day, the arm was up, and there were no other cars waiting, so I didn’t think I needed to take a ticket.

I pulled up to the place where the workers were standing and idled my car.  One of them waved me over to his bay and I pulled up my car slowly.  He had a thick accent from some other country, but his attitude was pure New Jersey.

“So where ya bin?” He demanded, pointing to the overdue sticker. “License, registration, insurance card, gift ticket,” he said brusquely.

I didn’t know what he meant by gift ticket, so as I tried to figure that one out, I handed him my license, and said, “Excuse me… gift ticket?”

He blocked it with his arms crossed.

“Hold it.  Calm down.  What did I ask for?”

I looked at him blankly, unsure why he was telling a respectful person to calm down.  Indeed, he seemed to be the one needing a chill pill.

“License, registration, insurance card, gisst ticket,” he said again.

Oh, he said guest ticket!

I explained that the arm on the toll machine was up and there was no wait, so I assumed I didn’t need a ticket.

He shook his head, disgusted.  “No.  No.  Go back and get a ticket.”

“Okay, so I should back out and go around, then?”

“Yes, yes.”  He said, waving me off dismissively.

I looked around and realized that this was a holy place, just like a church or a shrine.  This was a place where real healing was needed.  It’s a place where human beings interact, and they can bring the best of them or the worst.

Sometimes in the heat of an unpleasant situation, I don’t even know what to pray for, so I rely on an all-encompassing, one-word prayer that seems to cover everything.  So that’s what I did.

“Grace,” I said to God.

As I pulled my car out of the bay and saw the worker glaring at me, I said something to him but he couldn’t hear me.

“Whad you say?!?” he demanded, ready for a Jersey throw-down.

“I said, ‘Thanks for your help, sir.'”

This caught him off-guard and I saw his genuine surprise at this gesture of respect.  He softened around the eyes and said quietly, “You’re welcome.”

I asked him to help me back out of the bay, joking that I didn’t want to run over any of the workers.

And he did.  He smiled, moved his arms to the left to guide me out and said, “Keep going.  You’re fine.”

As I left, I said, “Thanks again, sir.”

“You’re welcome.”  He made a gesture as if tipping his hat.

I thanked him because he did help me, even if he did it in a way that wasn’t pleasant.  He gave me the information I needed to complete my car’s inspection.  He also gave me an object lesson in what I usually only know theoretically.

I’ve always believed that people in pain do things that cause pain, and that the antidote for that condition is kindness.

Everybody’s got a back-story that leads them to behave the way that they do.  It was clear that he had come here from some other country.  He had a thick accent and probably recoiled when anyone said, “excuse me,” as I had, if they couldn’t understand him.  Maybe he had adapted to this country and this sometimes unkind state by being offensive as a defensive measure, as so many people seem to do.  He was very small and very thin, and maybe he felt he had to compensate by talking big.

Maybe he was cold and wet on this bleak winter day working outdoors, and he was breathing in noxious fumes and car emissions.  Maybe he worked all day and dealt with other New Jerseyans who weren’t always that pleasant, and maybe after working all day, he went home and still didn’t have enough money to put food on the table or meet his family’s basic needs.

As I drove my car around and got my guest ticket, I pulled back to the bays to wait for the next worker.  The one I got this time was perfectly pleasant, even cracking jokes.  He talked about how more snow was in the forecast, and finished my inspection in minutes.  I left the inspection station in a fine mood, and I realized that I must have matured in faith, because I’d put my beliefs into action, and instead of reacting to disrespect with more of the same, I acted from my heart, and it had led to a more positive outcome.

“Thanks for Your help, Sir,” I said to God. Even on a rocky road, grace has never steered me wrong.

One of my favorite old shows is the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  In one episode, Mary had to work alone on Christmas Eve, and there was nothing for her to do, so my first thought was, “why doesn’t she surf the net?”  Then it occurred to me: there was no internet during the era of Mary Richards and the gang at the WJM newsroom.  It seems so primitive to be without the web!  I wondered if “BC” stood for “before computers.”

Life is like that too.  Anyone old enough to remember the Mary Tyler Moore Show is old enough to have had a Defining Moment, aka an Epiphany, and it can seem as if life is divided into two eras:  pre- and post-this event.

For some, it’s a divorce, or a death in the family.  For others, the beginning of a marriage or the birth of a child.  We’ve all experienced post-traumatic stress over earth-shifting events such as 9/11, and more recently, Aurora, as Lori wrote about in her post this week.

An epiphany isn’t always a warm and fuzzy thing.  It can change the way you perceive yourself and the world.  It can knock the wind out of your sails.

It can make you lose faith.

So how do you find a way to move forward when a singular event can change everything?

Re-group: Allow yourself time to sit with your thoughts (including doubt) and accept life in its new configuration, knowing that the tincture of time will bring you to a “new normal.”

Re-invent: The person you were prior to the epiphany may no longer exist, so adapt as circumstances change.  Let go of the past and trust in the One who holds the future.

Re-commit: Decide that life must go on even if you don’t have the answers you need.  Hold fast to the things you can count on, like prayer and the people you love.

So when you find yourself at the crossroads, remember:  with the compass of faith and the power of prayer, you’ll always find your way home.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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