Friday, June 14, 2013

Grace Notes

“Let writers beware who from the start know too much about what they are doing and keep too heavy a hand on the reins. They leave too little room for luck as they tell their stories just the way Abraham and Sarah, if they know too much about what they are doing as they live their stories, leave too little room for grace.”
—Frederick Buechner, “Faith and Fiction,”

I want to tell you about one of the few times I was sure I knew what God was doing in my life. When I got pregnant with my third child, a lot of things were up in the air. My husband was in school full-time and working almost full-time. I was embarking on my first year of homeschooling. We had no idea what was ahead as far as a job, or where we would live next, or anything else, really. But I was sure, absolutely sure, that this child was a sign of God’s blessing. I was sure that everything would be neatly tied up, just like I’d hoped, after our two years of upheaval. The baby was a sign, and I took great comfort in it.

And then I miscarried.

A miscarriage was one of those things I knew I could never handle. It is something I still don’t really know what to do with—that blessing given then taken away. And it reminds me that there are other things from my please-not-that list still waiting for me down the road. I’m not looking forward to them. And yet there is nothing to do but face them. 

And yet, also, there is more to them than their pain.

It strikes me now that the weeks following my miscarriage forced me to realize my life was not going to be the tidy little story I would have written for myself. And I was very attached to that story. Everything fit, and it was so lovely and shiny. It allowed for a few bumps, of course, because one must be realistic, but nothing too tough. It was in fact sort of smug and boring. If I were to find it in a book I can pretty much guarantee you I wouldn’t bother reading the whole thing.

That doesn’t necessarily make the story easy to give up.

I had an inkling of where the tough stuff in life can take you but I only imagined the hardness of it, because that part loomed so large it was hard to see anything else. I knew from other people’s stories about the grace that came along with it in a yeahsureofcourse sort of way. But I’m not sure the grace really starts to take hold until you need it.

I could not know until it was time how clear it would be that even while I mourned my loss there was no denying the two precious children who were with me. I could mourn—I had to—but I did not have to mourn everything. And so I was numb and I cried and I loved them even more.

I could not know until it was time how certain moments could stand out in such a way that I now carry them with me, treasures I don’t quite understand.

*     *     *

Agrement (ah-GRAY-mahnt, mahn) noun: 1. Formal approval, especially one given by a country to the proposed diplomat from another country. 2. Grace notes: notes applied as an embellishment on a piece of music. From French agreement (approval, agreement, pleasure), from Latin ad-(to) + gratus (pleasing).
—from A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg

Somehow these two definitions work together in my mind.

Grace notes are ornaments, hung on choice notes. You cannot ornament every note, or you would lose the melody. But certain notes, yes—especially the ones you want to stand out—and that is something that strikes me as the formal approval of a note. This one—here at the height of the phrase, or here towards the end—I want you to notice this note, especially. It is telling you something.

And often, but not always, a grace note is a dissonance—a note from outside the scale, that would sound out of place if it lasted too long. Dissonance, in order to highlight. In order to heighten the beauty.

*     *     *
There are moments that stand out from that fall:

Let some things go. This seems small, in a way, but it was freeing: it suddenly didn’t matter if my kids mixed their Play-doh colors. It was okay to use all the glitter on one project. Yes things got used up, ruined, wasted. Except none of it was wasted at all.

You don’t have to understand it. I like to understand things. At some point, something in me needs desperately to arrive at some sort of conclusion about pretty much everything. Even if I have to change my mind later. And my beautiful conclusion here was, You don’t get to know why. You don’t need to know how much of a person lived inside of you for such a short time, or anything else about this. This is just where you are. You can trust that it’s taken care of even though you can’t grasp it.

The trees, dying. It was on a family walk that it struck me how amazingly beautiful the trees were. And how surrounded I was by things dying. And that, even though I don’t think of death as the end, I still think of it as loss, and fading-away, and pain. But trees—trees facing their winter-death go out in glory. Arms stretched to heaven, they blaze, intensify, burn with color, they make you see the sky differently, they take your breath away. And it made me want to live like them, no matter what.

*     *     *

I cannot pretend to know the purpose of hard things. If you had told me, while I was reeling from a miscarriage, that it was for a purpose, or somehow for the best, I probably would have nodded in agreement. Weakly. Inside it would have torn at me.

I cannot say I understand better now, or that I do not carry scars.

And yet from that time I also carry these moments that glow.

A grace note alone is a trifle.

But with the melody—or in the telling of the story—not the one I wanted, but the one I have—there is richness. Beauty. Certain notes standing out from the rest, moments that shine through the story I didn’t know I could want.

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  1. "A grace note alone is a trifle.

    But with the melody—or in the telling of the story—not the one I wanted, but the one I have—there is richness."

    Perfect and so good.

  2. What a beautiful, beautiful post. I sat here nodding as I read. And ended up thinking that, yes, you did know what God was doing in your life at that time. XO (alison)

    1. Alison, thank you for that thought--I've been mulling it over since yesterday morning, and will continue to do so. It is encouragement for the present, as well.

  3. This is beautiful. I want to share this with the world! Annamay

  4. The "please-not-that list" --- perfect description of something we all feel at some point. Thanks for another beautiful post.

    1. Thank you, Sarah! It's not a list I've ever written out, but it's so very real...always good to be reminded it's universal.

  5. Sigh.

    You are so gifted, Karen! And isn't it crazy--I think that's another hidden blessing that comes from those "please-not-that"/dissonance moments. A depth--a well from which to express yourself. A more interesting story, indeed.

    Grace notes. This one is going to stick with me.

    1. Thank you Shonya! There was a time when I would not have thought it possible to be thankful for those moments/dissonances. Now I know to be thankful for how they work on a person, even though I still would like to avoid the ones ahead.


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