advent journal: grace with a face


Friday night I am going to see John Prine.

It’s an early birthday present, and a great one at that. My friend Terry is picking me up from work and we are driving over to Greensboro to soak up one of my songwriting heroes. Today at work at the computer store, I told a couple of people (much younger than I) what I was going to get to do and they asked, “Who is that?” Even after I mentioned “Angel From Montgomery” they still stared blankly. Not that I was surprised. The song had been out twenty years before they were born.

Last week, one of the managers came in beaming because he had been to see Third Eye Blind the night before and all I could think was, “How many times could they sing ‘Semi-Charmed Kind of Life’ to consider it a concert?” I told Dan, one who is closer to my age, what had happened and he and I spent the next hour talking about Prine and John Hiatt and Kris Kristofferson and Joni Mitchell and Nick Lowe and — well, you get the picture. When I left work, I said, “I’m going to have to go home and listen to old records.”

In one of the quiet moments in the store tonight toward the end of the evening, I heard the piano of “Linus and Lucy” drift down from the speakers in the ceiling and it made my heart smile. Everyone in the room knew the melody — and it’s probably older than “Angel from Montgomery.” Perhaps the musical connectedness, or lack thereof, stood out for me because I was looking for connections. Today was a heavy day. That’s the best word I know. The sadness sat on me like chainmail, like a lead coat. I was grateful for work because it gave me something to do, something to bounce off of. During my lunch hour, I read an essay from Wendell Berry’s What Are People For? in which he talked about the necessity of connectedness, of community to live with and live through tragedy and grief. In isolation, we are left bitterness and anger; in community we find the grace to keep going.

I came back to the store with about fifteen minutes left of my lunch hour and was sitting alone, by chance, in the break room when one of my coworkers who is both young and acquainted with grief came in and sat down beside me. “I know yesterday was four months,” she said, “and I just wanted to tell you I can see your sadness, and you’re getting through it better.” I found comfort in her words because she talked about getting through the day rather than getting over something.

Soon after Dad died, I got a note from another friend who spoke of her “fifteen minute life” after the death of her father. The grief was so heavy she found she could only cope in fifteen minute segments, so that’s what she did. Over time, her life grew to twenty minutes, then thirty, an hour, and a day. What I am learning over and over again is I need the companionship of John Prine and those who have never heard of him, of those who know the road I am walking and those who don’t yet know to get through the day.

The insidious lie of depression is that I am alone. The fundamental truth of grace is that I am not. Grace always has a face. And that I can hold on to, even when to believe in this living is such a hard way to go.




    • I had a friend ask once why I loved such a depressing song and I answered as you did, that I found it hopeful. The hope is in that it stares the despair so honestly in the face and keeps going.


  1. Beautiful. It’s hard to imagine that there could be any person on earth who has not experienced grief, so this hits home for all of us. I had forgotten that it was four months, and now I understand why God led me to pictures of your Dad (at my
    graduation and later ones) on that same day.

  2. I feel your heart and I understand. And i am sorry. I know for me, as I shared with you earlier, losing my dad hit me a lot harder than I had expected. I found and continue to find, comfort in the pain… if that makes sense. The pain itself tells me that I was incredibly blessed to have a person of that calibre in my life. One that could have such an impact that now going on six years, they are still so deeply missed and whose spirit is so alive. Life is so bittersweet. That difficult journey we take with our loved ones is not one of weakness, but of strength and courage. The tears speak more honesty than words ever can, and tell a story of unspeakable love. Mourning is a constant reminder that things are and will forever be different and that we become a changed people when it hits us. We never sees it coming nor can we plan the way that we will react or the very depth in which it hits us. Some may not be able to connect or understand, but wisdom teaches us that the sting of death will visit each of us and through our journey, grace teaches us how to reach out a compassionate heart to aid others in their time of need. Fifteen minutes at a time. Then thirty. One day at a time my friend.

    Peace and love.
    Sherry T.

  3. Someone once asked me why I loved Bob Dylan’s “Blood On the Tracks” [specifically “the New York Sessions” more specifically “Idiot Wind” — the slow depressing version] and while I do not remember what I said, I *do* remember saying something like: “Well, first of all it lets me *revel* in my sadness & my angst & — yes! — my DEPRESSION; which is because my second reason: because I now KNOW that I have *at least ONE* companion on this road … Worst case scenario, we can still sing songs that have a two-part harmony!”

    As you can see, you are certainly NOT alone, Milton … And you NEVER will be.

    Thanks for being you …
    Mitchell Covert

  4. “The insidious lie of depression is that I am alone. The fundamental truth of grace is that I am not. Grace always has a face. And that I can hold on to, even when to believe in this living is such a hard way to go.”

    Yes, absolutely true and beautifully phrased. This is a truth that is difficult to see in the midst of grief, and it is a blessing that you see and articulate it. A hard blessing, but still a blessing. Thank you for giving voice to what I recognize in my own grief. May peace be your companion along the way.

  5. There will always be “flies in the kitchen.” Some days, I find, all I can do is watch them and wonder what the heck it is that they are feeling. Love you MB-C.

  6. Thank you for this! Grief always sneaks up on me this time of year and snuggles up against me even before I know it. Both of my parents died in the month of December…one in 1978 and and other in 1989 and yes, the sadness and sense of lose still comes. Once I re-member and let it settle in, I can breathe a little easier and the grief shadows become part of the day and “all is well.” Take care!

    • Carla,

      I wrote a while back about grief becoming a primary color in my life; I hear that in what you are saying. We learn to embrace the absence and find strange comfort there.


  7. Thank you. Reading your entries has caused me to earmark the concept of grace to ponder in the upcoming year. As to losing a parent, I fall into the category of one of “those who do not yet know” the road you are walking. I am following you closely. Yes, I’ll dust off John Prine today. I saw him last summer – he’s aging along with us all, but his words are still filled with magic. Enjoy and absorb every one.

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