Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.
— Donald Miller
A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When (my sister) told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this IS grace.
— Elizabeth Gilbert
I’ve loved a certain antique diamond and gold ring for as long as I can remember. It belonged to my great-grandmother Elizabeth Tandy Trabue Goodlett. She gave it to my mother, Jean Tandy Goodlett, when she turned 16 years old.
I, Jennifer Tandy Cobb, was born in 1971. I grew up seeing the ring on my mother’s hand. It was a part of her. She was never without it. It looked large and wide on her tiny hand. I loved it.At some point along the way, we all began referring to it as the “Tandy Ring.” I don’t remember how old I was when I first learned it would be mine one day. “Since, you’re Jennifer Tandy, I’ll give it to you when you’re older,” my mother explained. “Maybe when you’re 40.”
Over the years, that statement morphed from “I might give it to you when you’re 40” into “I will wrap it up with a bow and it will be your 40th birthday present.” I’m fairly certain my mother never spoke those exact words, but I came to believe the ring I associated with being a grown up would be mine when I turned 40 years old.
Imagine my surprise when, two weeks before my 40th birthday, my mother asked, “What do you want me to get you this year?” I laughed, convinced she was trying to throw me off her trail. “Oh, I’m not sure! I’ll have to let you know,” I replied.
The next week, she called again. “Seriously, I need to know what you want for your birthday.” Again, I laughed. “I’m sure you’ll think of something!” I told her.
Two days before my birthday, she phoned once more. “So have you decided what you want me to get you?” she asked. This time, I was honest: “Well, what I really want is the Tandy Ring, since you’ve always said I could have it when I’m 40.”
My mother took a deep breath and said:
“Well, here’s the thing. I went to get the ring appraised and cleaned. They told me that they could size it to fit my finger and so I asked them to do that. I’ve been wearing it nonstop ever since and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever owned. I love it.”
I hung up the phone and burst into selfish, childish, stomp-my-foot-because-I-didn’t-get-what-I-wanted tears. My whole life I’d dreamed of the perfect 40th Birthday Party, with karaoke and all my friends and an open bar. I’d envisioned being the center of everyone’s attention, as I proudly showed everyone my fabulous right-hand ring.
Sheesh. I was so self-centered. Me. Me. Me. But, enough about me! What do you think of me?
Fast forward to my birthday last January. In the four years since I turned 40, I’d lost a house, moved twice, changed jobs twice and gotten a divorce. My focus had shifted from trying to be perfect to just trying to be my messy, genuine self.
My mother and I had already agreed that she would give me money for my birthday. So, when I sat down with the family for my birthday lunch, I expected no gifts. I looked around the table, soaking it all in: my children, my brother, his wife, their children, my mother and her husband. Honestly, what else did I need at that moment?
Then my mother placed a tiny gift bag in front of me. I looked up at her, confused, and opened it. Inside was a small, felt pouch. I turned it upside down, and out fell the Tandy Ring.
Because she knows all my imperfections and loves me anyway, my mother knew it was time. And she was right. I hadn’t been ready to receive it four years before. I was too focused on owning and doing the right “things.” I was caught up in being “busy,” so I wouldn’t have to face what was really going on in my life – the money troubles, the marital problems and my tendency to step back instead of lean in when things got really tough.
Over the last year, I’ve been deliberate about coming to terms with my imperfections. Or, to use slightly more casual language, I’ve tried very hard to “own my shit,” as my new idol Myrtle would say.
Like the Donald Miller quote above, I’ve come to a place where I now believe the mistakes I’ve made (and those I’m still making … and those I’ll make in the future … because I’m messy, people.) are exactly what make me able to spot and receive grace.
I’m fairly obsessed with the idea of grace. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for it in the wrong places and demanding that it show up at the right time – my time.
More often than not, though, grace comes in the form of something small and unassuming that takes you by surprise.
When that happens, you get a glimpse of understanding. Life takes unexpected twists and turns. You make mistakes. Your heart might break. But one day, when you least expect it, the good things– grace, hope, joy, love – will fall right into your hand.
What’s meant to be meant to be will always find a way.