I hadn’t met her before this cold January night when we were sitting in a terribly outdated conference room on the fourth floor of a downtown hospital. She kept fidgeting with her hands, and her eyes darted between her text messages and the clock on the wall. Her bright red sweatshirt was the loudest color in a room where most of the attention was already focused on her. I didn’t need to know her to know she wanted none of the spotlight.
Truth be told, we were all a bit fidgety as we waited in the ICU for an update on her husband. He had been in a devastating accident on the first day of the new year and was fighting for his life in a bed across the hall. As a friend and pastor to her in-laws, I was there on a clergy visit. I soon realized that, while I tend to envision clergy as being very grounded and stoic in these situations, I didn’t quite feel that way. With tears in my eyes, I just kept looking at that small woman in the large red sweatshirt and whispering, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
She and her husband have a two-year-old daughter and a baby on the way. In the blink of an eye, she suddenly had to ask herself how she would raise two kids without their dad. This is one of the greatest fears and biggest questions anyone can entertain. I couldn’t help but wonder if she already knew, when she put on that red sweatshirt, that this was the question she’d be faced with that day.
To be honest, I was asking the same question. I had recently given birth to my second child, and I couldn’t imagine going through the rest of my pregnancy and delivery as a new widow, raising two young children in the thick of the grieving process. But as I watched this young wife in the red sweatshirt, I saw her move from moment to moment, clouded in a level of grace that seemed to be custom-tailored for her. It was grace to take this breath…and this breath…and this breath, as her husband was taking his last. It was a level of grace that enabled her to hold tight to his wedding band, wipe blood from his cheek, and whisper as many final I love yous into his ear as she could before they took him off life support. It was grace for her, in her grief, that I, as a bystander, couldn’t quite access because it was made to fit this woman in the red sweatshirt.
I think it’s tailor-made grace wrapped around each of us that gives us the means to make it through our hardest days.
There is, of course, something to be said for our own perseverance, courage, and strength, but I believe we all have (and will have) seasons of our lives when we look back and wonder how on earth we made it through. It’s tailor-made grace—a custom covering of God’s presence, strength, and comfort that we may not even realize we’re wrapped in, but it carries us through the unimaginable.
The young woman in the red sweatshirt did lose her husband to the New Year’s Day accident. When I saw her after that night spent in the outdated conference room, I was shocked to see she that was no longer wearing the oversized red sweatshirt. All I saw was the enormity of the situation she’s facing, and I could not understand how she had it in her even to change her clothes. It’s grace, reserved only for her. It’s a custom-fit, tighter on her than any red sweatshirt could get.
I’ve heard a lot about the grace given to us when we sin, but I’ve both seen and experienced the grace given to us when we’re in agony. I think the many purposes grace serves make it even more amazing. Anne Lamott says, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” And that’s it. It meets us. It covers us. It moves us. Maybe the most relieving part of all is that we don’t even have to understand it. We can be right where we are, and it clothes us, carrying us from one moment to the next.
I don’t know all that the coming days and months hold for that woman in the red sweatshirt. I know it will be gut-wrenching, but I also believe she’ll continue to change her clothes—at least every few days—because of tailor-made grace. How amazing.
Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies—she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and their two daughters. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.
This is such a stunningly beautiful piece. It brings tears and gratefulness for the many times He has clothed me in a tailor-made grace. Thank you.
This story reminds me of when my friend Jim was suddenly and unexpectedly diagnosed with brain cancer, and I was told he would not live long. He was in hospital for 6 weeks, and I wore his red sweatshirt to feel him close to me. I still wear it, but it is quite tattered now and needs to be thrown away, but I am not yet ready to do that. Like your young woman, grace has given me the courage to face loss and to keep moving. I trust grace will someday enable me to get rid of the red sweatshirt. Thank you for sharing.
Or maybe you can make it into something special, like a poem made of the tattered fabric, and framed. Sending hugs.
Mallory, I needed this post today, more than you know. Thank you for sliver of comfort in the midst of so much.