The gift of surprise grace

I am not sure if it is true for you, but for me, grace and gratitude are hard to find these days. At first, when life in pandemic mode began, it seemed easy to find gratitude for things in my life. And I was gifted tons of grace to do the work I needed — whether it was tasks at work or personal life concerns. But as we continue yet another month of this pandemic life, I am finding it harder to locate grace and gratitude. While I sit at home or teach online, I am amazed at those who have picked up and moved along without a care in world (or so it seems). So, the grace I give is harder to find mainly because I am tired of it all.

It all seemed to come to a head during midterm exams — a time that is usually chaotic, but had a new level of chaos during a pandemic for students and professors alike. I had lost what little patience I had left, if I ever really had any at that point. And I was just worn down. A student contacted me to let me know that the window of time I had allotted for the exam would not work for his schedule because he was in class in the morning on the exam date and then would spend the afternoon at work to help with his family’s financial situation.

So, on a whim and lack of sleep I edited the time widow for the exam for the entire class. As we logged into our review session, I informed the students that I had changed the time of the exam. And then the flood of grateful responses came in, during the session and outside the session. And this tired, weary, frustrated heart burst open. I held it together as we talked about the exam in our review session, but once I got off the call, the waterworks began.

And they burst forth even more so when the student who had originally asked for a different exam time called to thank me. He kept repeating “thank you, thank you, thank you.” As he shared his story of balancing the financial burden and course load. He was so grateful that I was willing to listen to his request and even extend the exam time for the entire class. When he said the words, “Thank you for your support and help. I wish I had more people in my life who were flexible like you. It means a lot,” I could not believe it.

I know I am the professor known for using the phrase “grace abounds” — especially when we are in exam season. But how little did I realize that grace would come back around to me in this moment. Grace, something that I felt I could not offer or even find in my schedule as of late, was there. And who would have thought that all it would take is a simple act of changing the time of an exam? These students, their kind words, their gratitude opened my eyes to the ways that grace can still be found and to the ways that I could still provide grace, even if at times it seems to have run out.

This moment allowed me to change my outlook on the way life has been lately. I noticed the little things again, those brief moments of grace offered whether through me or the actions of those around me. My frustration levels lessened and I found myself willing to offer up grace to another, without reservation.

As we approach Thanksgiving and all the signs of “give thanks” pop up, I am reminded of this student, his risk of asking and then great reward I was given in the simple act of showing grace. I am thankful for this reminder of how one small act can change a life, even the life and outlook of the one who offers that grace to others. It is true that “grace abounds,” and we need just look for those small and not-so-small ways that it overflows in our lives.

MAGGIE ALSUP lives on iced coffee, believes that Disney movies are for all ages, is obsessed with hippos and loves living in the foothills of the Ozarks. She currently serves as the chaplain at Lyon College, in Batesville, Arkansas, where she helps empower and equip students for the life and ministry of the church universal.