Grace Is a Gift

Laura Durham - Salt Lake City, Utah
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, December 24, 2010
Laura Durham

Singer and Salt Lake City arts administrator Laura Durham learned a lesson about grace from her third grade teacher that has inspired her ever since. Now an adult, Durham believes we all deserve a little grace, especially amidst the unfairness of life.

Age Group: 18 - 30
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It doesn’t always make sense to me, but when ambiguities such as grace and love manifest themselves, I’m moved by the clarity they bring.

The spring I was in the third grade, my teacher planned activities to celebrate the season. For weeks I looked forward to making treats and dying eggs. I remember telling my mom how much fun it was going to be, and I imagined what colors and designs I would choose. Before the big day, my teacher told us to come to class on Friday with a hollowed-out egg. We were also told to bring our spelling test signed by a parent, and if we didn’t, the teacher warned, we would sit out from the activities.

At nine years old, I was the perfect student. I was studious, I was obedient, and I was responsible. So when I forgot to bring my spelling test that Friday, I was devastated. I knew what the consequence would be. When my class jumped from their chairs to collect art supplies, I sat still at my desk examining my perfect, hollowed-out egg, fighting the inevitable tears.

It wasn’t long before my teacher pulled me aside. She knelt down and told me I should join the rest of the class. With tears in her eyes, she told me I could bring my spelling test on Monday. And then she gave me a hug.

I couldn’t believe it. My disappointment disappeared with this unexpected gift.

Twenty years later, I still remember that moment. Even though I fell short of what was required of me, my teacher graced me with love and understanding. She could have stood her ground and let me sit out as an example to the other students, but she knew punishing me for this small mistake wouldn’t teach me a new lesson. The lesson I learned that day was how much grace can lift someone’s spirit.

Yet, I seem to have a hard time grasping grace in my life. I sometimes subscribe to the idea of karma: what goes around comes around. But then I remember that balancing a behavioral checkbook is detrimental to my happiness. If I’m constantly keeping count of what I feel I’m entitled to, I may never be satisfied. If I’m blessed beyond what I deserve, I might never feel worthy. I must remind myself that I know better. Not everyone is punished for breaking the rules, just as not everyone is rewarded for their efforts. Life may not be fair, but when I think about it, more often than not I’m on the fortunate side of the imbalance. And this moves me to offer the same grace to others.

I believe in being gracious to others, and I believe in accepting others’ graciousness whether I’ve earned it or not. Sometimes you are blessed simply because someone loves you. And that is why grace is a gift—not a reward.

Laura Durham lives in Salt Lake City where she works for several arts organizations including the Utah Arts Council, the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll and “15 Bytes,” a visual arts e-zine. She also sings with the Utah Chamber Artists. Durham enjoys music, cooking, traveling, writing and sharing stories with anyone who has the patience to listen to them.

Photo by Jessi Venable