Every birthday and Christmas of my childhood, I began my all gift wish lists with the same request: 1. Surprises. I loved being surprised: getting a gift I didn’t expect, something I wouldn’t have known about but felt known by because of the giver understanding what I would like without being told. I loved being a part of surprises, too: being in cahoots with surprise party planning, purchasing and giving an unexpected gift to an unsuspecting recipient. At age 25, I still like surprises. Last week I got a card from a friend I didn’t expect to hear from. Another college pal randomly sent me $5.00 on Venmo to get a coffee, just because. My order at Panera yesterday came with extra food due to an error, but a happy and surprising error for me, the recipient.
In the midst of all these little surprises, I’ve also found myself experiencing plenty of other surprises, too…and not ones I really would have wished for. It’s surprising to wake up on an ordinary Monday morning and break down in tears on my daily morning walk with my dog.. For most of January, I found it surprisingly hard to pray, a surprise because I had felt a particular closeness to God during the fall only to feel a great gap open wide mere weeks later. I’ve been surprised by the lingering difficulties of past conflicts and conversations, ones I thought I’d moved on from. I’ve been surprised that even four years after graduating from college, it’s still so hard. And in all of this, I’ve been so caught off guard—and frankly, sometimes perplexed—by the ways God has chosen to help me. His grace is the most surprising.
In December, I was at home for a few weeks to spend time with my family. I had resigned from my job and had set aside time for rest and recovery, and hopefully rejuvenation. On the last night of a 2 week stay at my parents’ house, I woke up from a nightmare (what it was about, I can’t remember). Waking up from a nightmare is, of course, an unpleasant experience, but as I became more conscious, I realized I had peed the bed at some point either during the night. Reader, first: thank you for reading about me peeing the bed. Second, know I have never in my life, even as a child (I asked my mom!) have I peed the bed. The last time I peed myself was age 5 when I really didn’t want to lose a game of hide and seek! At first I didn’t know what to do. I was incredibly confused, embarrassed, and frankly, grossed out. You might be, too, reading about this! A whole host of questions fired rapidly through my brain: How did this happen? What should I do? Do I have a weird medical condition that is just making itself apparent? Do I tell my parents? Do I just pretend this didn’t happen? How do I deal with this without anyone finding out?
It was around 7:00 am, so I took the sheets off the bed and went downstairs to the kitchen where my mom was making coffee. We said good morning to each other and she asked how I slept. I paused, trying to decide if I would just not say anything or if I would tell her. “Well…I peed my bed??” I said, shaking my head. “I have my sheets. I’ll wash them. I’m sorry.” I went over to the washing machine and put them in. And then I started to cry. “It’s okay, Grace,” my Mom said, or something along those lines. She hugged me and patted my back, the kind of maternal comfort you get used to as a kid and never really outgrow wanting but you outgrow asking for. My mom started the washer, and then asked me just a few questions to make sure this wasn’t something that was happening regularly, in case it needed medical attention. I told her it wasn’t, and then cried again. She told me again, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
I cried because I was embarrassed, because I was tired, because I was coming off of many months of hard surprises and challenging conversations, both ones I had in my head and ones I had in my real life. Standing there in the kitchen with my peed-soaked sheets was a new low, a surprisingly symbolic turning point for me, former captain of the Brave Face Brigade. Pre-2019 Grace probably would have stripped the pee-soaked sheets and just insisted to my mom that I was washing them because I was leaving that day and didn’t want to make her take my sheets off my bed, because I’m a grown woman now and can do that kind of thing. I may have never told her. (And I certainly never would have told the internet!) I’ve always been a resilient individual, an independent thinker and doer, a change-chaser and a change-maker. I dealt with things by myself. I experienced emotions and challenges, but I got through them. I pushed through, pressed on, moved forward.
However, 2019 changed me; I am no longer the person I was before. So there I was, holding those stinky sheets with tears coming down my face, feeling like a child who didn’t know what happened or what to do next other than tell someone and hope they could help. It’s a surprise to me, to be a person who cries on Monday mornings and struggles to let the past pass. In many ways, it’s my default to say I’m worse off than I was before. But as C.S. Lewis writes, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”…I have most definitely tried to be good in all my unpleasant surprises, to keep a brave face and a joyful spirit, to read books that could help and keep a prayer list. I have defaulted to spirit of pressing on that I so want to press against, but God has a way of interceding despite my best efforts.
I’m not saying God made me pee the bed that day so that he could teach me a lesson. He could have. Or I could just have a weird bladder. But peeing the bed was the most surprising way that God gave me grace: grace to see that I needed to speak about my struggles, grace to bring forth my mess, grace to just be a child, his child, in need of comfort from both an earthly parent and a heavenly one.
The biggest surprise in this year of change and challenge is how God’s grace has come to me in the most odd ways and means. In my greatest moments of weakness and embarrassment, he has brought people to come alongside me, time and opportunity to share, safe spaces to say what’s bad, and physical reminders that though my light feels dim, it has not gone out. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a holy day of reminding me of my death, that the light one day will leave these mortal eyes of mine. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a time set aside to remind Christians like me, who so easily forget, the surprising ways that God shows his grace, gives his love, brings redemption into the world and light to the darkness. Lent takes us on a journey to the cross, to the three quiet days following, and to the dewy morning at the empty tomb. It takes us to the best surprise of all: a risen Jesus.