Writers are told to write what you know. I started writing about mercy for the exact opposite reason. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t understand it. It was a word with a heavy veneer covering the solid wood underneath. While I almost never heard the word outside of a church, I could see the need for giving and receiving it everywhere. It’s as ancient as the air we breathe and as transparent. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it and life is suffocating without it.
The more I hung out with mercy, the more I heard about grace. Mercy and grace went together like the moon and the stars. I understood the connotation of grace, but not its meaning.
Grace was pretty and frilly and made an excellent name. There’s the whole “by the grace of God” and “in good graces,” but what did all that really mean?
Then my dear friend, Laura Rellihan, passed away at age 36 from lung cancer. Since she was diagnosed last year, there was mercy. Mercy was in the meals friends brought. Mercy was in money raised. Mercy was in the laundry that others washed. Mercy was in the house cleaning. Mercy was in the childcare. Mercy was in the visits to the hospital, rides to chemo, and dedicated hospice care. Mercy was in the mass celebrated in her bedroom surrounded by family during the last days.
Mercy showed up big for Laura.
But after her passing, I wasn’t thinking about mercy. It was grace that came to mind. The grace in which Laura lived with persistent positivity despite her illness, the grace with which those that were closest to her spoke of her life and loves with such peace, and the grace of her joy, passion, faith, and ease that inspired so many who mourned. For the first time, I understood grace. Like Laura, it radiated beauty.
I was reading old texts from Laura and came across one where I invited her to a talk I was giving on moms and mercy. And what did she bring up but grace. I confessed that I didn’t understand grace that well. She wrote, “God provides you with it every day. It’s the patience you give your sweet kids. His grace and mercy are the only things that get me through the day.”
To know Laura was to know grace. Even when cancer had progressed to the point of near-death, she had an impossible glow. I used to say it was the Holy Spirit because I didn’t know how else to describe something so radiant. But now I think it was grace.
Another text she wrote said, “God’s glory is shining so big through all of this.” So, it was. It certainly shined in her.
And like the lyrics of the 1779 hymn, Amazing Grace, all I can think is how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
In loving memory of Laura Rellihan
Do you have an experience with grace you would like to share?
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