The Light of Grace Is Always Shining

barista pouring coffeeA couple of afternoons a week, I bring my work to a local coffee shop. It gives me a chance to get out of the home office, attack a problem in a different setting, and get a gorgeous view of Lake Washington. Sometimes I put on headphones, drowning out the coffee-shop conversation, but sometimes, I’ll keep my ears open for quirky banter. Like today, when the barista and a customer shared a candid moment, and I jotted down the dialogue for use in a future short story.

It’s been a tough week for my writing. None of my ideas are coming together. I’m unfocused. My mind is busy with endless commercial-type thoughts, a fragment of a song, a bit of news I saw on Facebook, or an interaction I had with a friend, yet I push through, until my phone pings with an e-mail from an editor. Nope. She doesn’t like the changes I made and will scratch the article entirely.

Disappointed, I pack up my stuff and walk across the street to stare at the lake. I dial my husband at work. I tell him about my rejection. “I just don’t think I’m smart enough,” I whimper.

Mercifully, he laughs, “You’re smart enough. What you lack is practice, but you’re getting it. Get back at it,” he urges me.

I do, until it’s time to pick up the children, to help with homework, to make dinner. I push through the day until nearly bedtime, when it is time to pray the Examen, the prayer that focuses on highlighting God’s presence in our lives.

Poet Chris Anderson speaks of the Examen in this way: “The light of grace is always shining, it’s always pouring down, through it’s refracted and scattered and easy to miss, and so one way to pray is to look back on the moments of our day and recall when we saw the light breaking through.”

I review my day from the beginning, recalling how my husband and I both woke up early. Refreshed and rested, we had spent a few luxurious moments snuggling before we got up to meet the day. Since it wasn’t raining, a rarity for Seattle winters, I walked my boys to school, sharing conversations we would not normally have if we were looking at one another face-to-face. On the walk back, a hummingbird sat perfectly still on a bare tree branch in my path, only moving to turn her head when I approached, almost as if she wanted to flaunt how her luminous feathers appeared bright pink in the morning sunshine.

I see the richness of a day I had thought I had simply plugged through. Then I remember that conversation at the coffee shop. Touched by the honestly in a moment shared by two strangers, I had recorded it in my journal.

After sharing a personal story, the barista had asked in earnest, “If you learn something by failing, is it really a failure?”

The customer, sensing the sincerity of the question, had answered in a nearly paternal voice, “No, it’s a lesson.”

As I look back, I see these words were for me too, and I almost missed it. God was there the entire time, giving me quiet gifts of love and of beauty, and in the midst of my writing, God had sent words of encouragement: “Don’t think of it as a failure but as a lesson.”

Through remembering, the Examen, Chris Anderson says, is a “practice of joy.”

What a gift.


  1. This is so insightful! And it’s interesting to me that I felt the same when I read it in 2018. Thank you for reminding me that failure is just a lesson. God bless you as you continue writing and sharing insights.

  2. As I was reading this, I suddenly realized that I haven’t done my Examen yet. Thank you God for letting the sunshine through.

  3. Shemaiah, my son is an actor and when he doesn’t get a part and he knows he did his best he says, “they are looking for someone else.” Then, he keeps at it. I have loved reading your posts and encourage you to keep at it.

  4. Nature has a way of bridging the spiritual and physical worlds for me too.
    I love going on walks with my dog, if friends or family don’t accept my invitation.
    Your mention of gazing forward together on a walk with loved ones resonates for me. It’s a form of motion snuggling, repeating your wakeup scene.
    Irridescence of the birds feathers, glimpses of god speaking to us and we hear it, like waves of honest communication at the coffee shop.
    Thank you for the share, Shemaiah.

  5. I said a prayer for my FB friend, Elaine, when you wrote about calling you husband. Don, her husband, went to Glory on 19 July 2018 and she is still grieving her loss. Angie, a relationship with a loved one is a gift from God to be cherished.

  6. Wow. I need to rethink failures, in light of lessons learned. And I love how God used the barista and customer. That is so typical of the God I have come to know.

  7. Shemaiah, your using the Examen as you do is encouraging to me and, from the comments, to many others as well. The conversation you overheard also has great weight. Success rarely comes on the first attempt and most of the time there are several failures (lessons) that precede a breakthrough. I am also reminded of the cliche; “How do you learn to make good decisions?—By having made bad decisions.” I know I learn more from my failures than from my successes. They push me to try harder and get to the next level.How about you?

    • I am completely touched by the comments left here. I appreciate the attempts to find more connections in our stories. Learning from my failures is an absolutely new adventure for me. I hope I will fail gracefully.

  8. Shemaiah, Your reflection will be at the top of my “list of gratitudes” when I journal tonight. Thank you for such honest sharing. And – yes – the best conversations with children (mine are now all adults) are when you are walking or driving. The gazing forward vs. face to face does seem to result in deeper and more honest exchanges.
    Gratefully, Karen
    PS – keep writing and writing and writing! I look forward to learning more from your exquisite reflections!

    • Exactly Karen! Forward gazing seems to open our hearts more. I should write about the conversations we have each morning. Yesterday it was about the Eucharist, seriously. I have deeper conversations with these little guys than with most adults!
      Thank you for taking a moment to write these encouraging words. Writing is so often a lonely and detached vocation. It is so rewarding to hear these connections.

  9. Thank you for this reflection. It explains in a very practical way how to do the end of the day Examen. You are a very good writer and should continue to persevere. God’s blessings on you and your family. Jan

  10. I really enjoyed this. The Examen is such a gift and there is a great lesson in your reflection. It’s an encouragement to me because, though I don’t write professionally, I have a little blog that I do for my own expression. Of course, your message speaks to a much bigger manuscript.

  11. More please…. this is so beautiful…. I too am often home-based with my work and have a local space I love to wander to when I need to lift my eyes and capture a different reality. It has two resident Herons who often let me know they are aware of my presence…. as does our God


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