this is grace
I hear the door open, and with that sound comes the volume of her sadness, the distinct sound of brokenness. Tears always steal her breath the way they still steal mine, and before I can see her I hear that awful gasp, the way she hungrily stuggles for air. She cries with her whole body. The sobbing shakes her shoulders, and she bends, crumpling, laying an arm against her middle as though somehow that will stop the flow of pain. I know this, even before I see her.
I move toward the doorway to find her, and as I do, I hear another voice behind the weeping, steady.
“Zoe. Zoe, it’s o-kay. Really, it is.”
“No! It isn’t. It isn’t okay,” Zoe says, and the words tumble out in a tormented fury, blurred with grief.
Could it be that they’ve had a fight? I round the corner and find them standing in the doorway, my daughter and one of her dearest friends, and instantly I know that whatever this is, it will only draw them closer to each other. Because immediately I see that their sadness is not for themselves; they are sad for each other. They have a friendship other women will one day envy brutally, the kind with space enough for different interests and other friends, the kind without comparison. They’ve been close since before they even knew the word friend. My friend and I have pictures of the two of them side by side, batting at each other’s round baby-cheeks, the glisten of drool on their chins. And now they stand in the doorway, suddenly growing into women. Somewhere in the two of them, I see my friend and me—her wild hair licking the edges of her face like flames, her steady voice calm below my tears.
“What’s wrong?” I say, gathering in the sight of them. Mascara leaves ghoulish smudges under Zoe’s eyes. She doesn’t usually wear makeup, but today the two of them braided their hair and painted Fall colors on their nails and smoothed on red lipstick for their music video. For the last few hours, they’ve been outside, filming.
Zoe turns to me, words gushing, punctuated by agonizing wails. “I dropped her phone—Her phone, Mom! —We were shooting video on the sidewalk and she reached for it and I thought she had it and—Mom—Mom, the screen is all cracked. —-I broke her phone. I can’t believe… —I didn’t mean to, I really didn’t mean to. Mom, please. —Please. —We have to fix it. I’ll pay for it, I will. I don’t know how—-but I’ll pay for it. Please. We—have—to—fix—-it.” Love leaves her truly sorry—messy sorry and shattered, jagged lines mocking her glossy look. With these last words, Zoe buckles.
“Zoe, please. It’s okay. PLEASE…please don’t cry.” Zoe’s friend’s face is a cloud of bewildered pain, a helpless shadow, but her concern is entirely focused on Zoe, not the phone with the wrecked screen dangling absently in her hand.
Before I can open my mouth to say a word to them, the Word rests heavily on my soul. This is the repentance brought on by love—this grief-stricken ownership of fault; this desperate urgency to make things right; and this—this is Love responding—this beautifully unselfish desperation to see another left unscarred even by the pain of her own mistake. That’s the kind of love that changes the world.
“But it’s your phone,” Zoe says, “oh, —I’m so sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”
“It still works. It’s just the screen,” her friend says, tossing away the implications of the mistake, the inconvenience, the blight on something she enjoys.
Zoe drags a palm across one cheek, suddenly reaching for her friend’s hand. “Do you need a bandaid? Mom, she cut her finger on it.”
“Please, it’s fine. It’s not even bleeding,” Love says, making light, once again, of her own wound. She is entirely willing to sacrifice herself to spare Zoe further pain. I inspect the finger first, but finding no evidence of blood, I turn my attention to Zoe and the situation.
“We will make this right. We will. But look at your friend,” I say to Zoe, nodding toward the sweet soul standing next to her. I still see the babies in both of them; I still know how to interpret those trembling chins, those flushed cheeks, that if-she-cries-any-longer-I-will-fall-apart look. “She cares more about you than she does her phone. She doesn’t want you to be sad anymore; she doesn’t want you to spend these last hours grieving. Your time together is so precious. We can’t undo the mistake. We can only move forward. I will talk to her mom about this. I will see what we can do, but for now, you two just enjoy each other, okay?”
I watch my daughter slowly heal, slowly gather the remains of the day. She turns, searching her friend’s face, and I see it pass between them—this Love understanding, this settling, an almost imperceptible nod. “Really, it’s not a big deal,” her friend says, but what she really means is that it shouldn’t have to be, not between two so tightly tied. “Let’s just go hang out in your room or something,” she says, and Zoe nods, sniffling, turning hesitantly away from me on one heel as though she’s not sure how to leave this brokenness behind. But her friend reaches for her arm and gently tugs the way Love does, pulling Zoe back into the light and the truth and the wholeness of real friendship.
I pick up my phone and dial my friend, my sister. Her recorded voice—all butter and ginger, even over the phone–invites me to leave a message, and I smile, seeing her gather that wavy hair with one hand, letting it fall in ribbons around her face. That hair—it’s beautiful—as vibrant as she is, as wavy as the way she speaks. We haven’t been friends all our lives like the girls, but it feels like we have. I wait for the beep and then I tell her first that the girls are okay, because we mothers share the same alarms, and then I explain the situation. “We want to fix this, so please let me know what we need to do and how much it will be,” I say, before finally ending the call.
But what comes in reply–in the form of a text an hour or so later, when the girls have finally washed their faces and the tears are dry and their laughter falls like confetti again in the hall—is just Grace.
It was an accident. Don’t worry about it. Tell the girls to have fun and not to fret.
It’s as though she reaches right through the phone to hug me, and not just with her own arms, but with the arms of Christ himself. Because this is how it happens, the way God wrote it: Love sacrifices self and Love repents and Grace pays every debt.
And the sum of that Love and Grace is the Redemption that heals us all.