I’ve written about grace before, but I have to say, the concept is still a bit like calculus. Theoretically, I understand the basics. Practically, it is pretty hard  to apply to everyday life.

Then there are moments where I feel like grace knocks me on my butt and makes me take notice. One instance was a warm summer day in Cameroon when I was with some friends heading back from a farming training. We’d spent the better part of the afternoon in a red van, driving back to our village. I was daydreaming, looking out the window at the verdant green hills and yellow banana trees. The sky was full of those puffy white clouds that seem cartoonish. Heavy with tropical rain, the undersides are droopy and silver, while the tops are whispy and the brightest white you can imagine. There was a moment when the sun shone through those clouds just so. The rays were visible above and below, reaching eternity one direction and falling on rows of crops and tiny huts in the other. It took my breath away and I felt goosebumps raise on my arms.

I knew I was feeling God. It was grace, but I didn’t yet know it.

When we arrived in the village an hour later, there was a message waiting. My dad had sent along a note — through a ridiculous process because email was just reaching West Africa — to let me know two things: Mini had given birth to her first son, Bennett. Both mom and baby were doing well and sent their love. And also, my great grandmother Clarice had passed away in the night. My GG was another strong,  instrumental woman in my life. She not only taught me Scrabble but also why it is important to embrace being a woman and see femininity is a gift. She was maybe 4’8″ when she passed away at 93, after decades of slowly shrinking and bending forward. Her hands were constantly aching from arthritis, but she never let her crooked fingers stop her from playing a board game or wrapping her arms around her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It was timely her death was marked with a much anticipated birth. Nonetheless, I cried harder than I had in a very long time until finally an African friend humbled me by saying they didn’t understand  “great-grandmother.” The short life expectancy brought my pity party to a close, so wrote a letter of celebration to Mini and looked to the sky with eyes as puffy as the  ethereal clouds, certain GG was (and is) watching.

My faith makes many in my life uncomfortable. I try to talk about things like grace with a soft voice, inviting questions but never pushing. I am quick to flush when others poke fun; I don’t know that relationships become any more personal or vulnerable. I can say my time with God is usually peaceful and fulfilling. I always feel loved and quite often feel more blessed than I can imagine.

Today, in need of a deep breath of air, I took a walk at Tempe Town Lake. With unseasonably windy and colder weather, I clutched the hem of my linen skirt and listened to my sandals flip flop as I made my way around the lake’s edge. My ears were full of whistling, my mind in prayer, my fingertips light purple from the chill. I have the terrible habit of living in the future, not the present. More than once, this unfortunate trait has brought great and unnecessary heartache. I know better, but it is weeks like these when I fully recognize my humanness — when ugly emotions bubble to the surface and I find myself an overly sensitive, tender mess. My stomach clenches with anxiety and I stop eating. I toss and turn and can’t find the comfort of consistent sleep. My mind races and my heart pounds. I feel like I’ve got an elephant standing on my chest. Needless to say, I am not full of grace.

Ironically, it’s these moments when I am most open to noticing grace elsewhere. Again, the sunshine spraying through the clouds this afternoon at the lake. A friend who picks up the phone with exactly the right words to say. Another willing to pray with me until I can find comfort. And yet another who wrapped me in his arms and just let me cry until I felt better. A day at work so satisfying that’s left me feeling more confident and content with my career than I have in a long time.

Some would chalk these up to coincidence — yet another tie to calculus. Instead, I can’t help but think intention, grace and faith are at play.