Amazing Grapes

September 30, 2008 | 8 comments

Earth is crammed with Heaven and every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I used to think that grace came down to us only when we sat in the church pew. That was before I saw His colors in the autumn trees, felt Him brush my skin in the wind, saw Him dance in the campfire.

He who lavishes His grace on humanity, poured it out abundantly last weekend at a hillside cabin where I spent precious time with four girlfriends. We’re college buddies, born and corn-fed in Iowa, and we met while working on the staff of our campus newspaper. And aside from the fact that two of us are named Jennifer, that’s pretty much where our similarities end.

We’re as different as the cars we drive: a pickup truck, a Mini Cooper nicknamed Mac, a Toyota Sienna with a cracked windshield. We’re as dissimilar as the pets we raise: Owen the Bird, Otis the Hedge Hog, Pretty Kitty the farm cat. We’re as distinct as our careers: corporate exec, substance-abuse counselor, newspaper reporter, stay-at-home mom.

But for seventy-two hours — one time a year — we are drawn together. We’ve done this for eleven years now. We see each other only occasionally throughout the rest of the year. So it is, in those hours together, that we quickly unpack the previous 362 days of our lives. We find ourselves continually redefining who we’ve become with the passage of years. Who we are is often most clearly defined by what we bring to our annual gathering: a breast pump; organ transplant stories; broken hearts; a string of career achievements; grief; Holy Communion bread; Zoloft; and this year, a Bigfoot costume that looked like Alf.

We are real-life Ya-Yas, only way cooler. Just ask us.

If you looked only at the surface, and you were watching from the sidelines, you might guess we have increasingly little in common with one another. Look deeper. An undercurrent of spirituality connects us. Which may seem peculiar, seeing how none of us can agree on who God is.

We have wide-ranging spiritual beliefs. Like, really, really wide-ranging. But we each sense the deeper things connecting us. On Saturday morning, we sat on lawn chairs on a grassy hillside, and one of the others said it best: “I’ve experienced more grace in the last 20 minutes around this circle of women than I have in a whole year.”

If you ask me, we had church, right then and there. In our sweatpants. With bed-head hair. And bare feet.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning once declared that Earth is packed full of Heaven, and that even an ordinary bush is ablaze with God. “But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

Later, the five us took my Toyota Sienna down a gravel road to a nearby winery, where you could stomp grapes, sample the Iowa wines and see how autumn was turning the valley afire with God.

We took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, stepped into the squishy vat of grapes and stood in a circle, each with a foot in the middle.

Click. Flash.

I took a picture.

Where one might see a pile of smashed grapes, I saw amazing grace.

by | September 30, 2008 | 8 comments


  1. Chris Godfredsen

    Poignant, as always. Thrilled to hear it was a grace-filled weekend – looking forward to more of what comes out of it!

    Grace & Peace,


  2. Chris Godfredsen

    Poignant, as always. Thrilled to hear it was a grace-filled weekend – looking forward to more of what comes out of it!

    Grace & Peace,


  3. L.L. Barkat

    Love the picture. And the thought of being so close in this way is beautiful.

  4. lynnrush

    What a nice post about friendship. Despite differences there is a deep connection. Amazing.

    To have such great friends is such a blessing. To come together just once a year and be able to go right back to the way it was, like no time had passed….it’s amazing!

    Oh, just a fun bit of info:
    My hubby is from Sioux Center, IA and we both graduated with Masters Degrees from the U of IOWA.

  5. Chris Depew

    Great story. I love how other people see that just because our direct faith is different, doesn’t mean God can’t use that to push us toward His will. Even if you had friends with no faith, in that moment God was touching all of them and everyone knew it. Sounds like a great weekend. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Turbo:

    Bitch! That was totally beautiful! I have to confess, I’m scared of the playback on that recorder. The way Colleen physically removed herself from my proximity haunts me still. Oh the things we see, the power that binds us, it’s weird how if one takes away the verbage that we’re all on the same path headed in the same direction.

    Hmm. 🙂

    Love you!

  7. Mark Goodyear

    This is so great. I’m no ya-ya, too manly, you know. But I understand how wonderful it is to have good friends.

    And I love how you enriched Browning’s blackberries poem by mixing the metaphor taking off shoes to stomp grapes and to respect the holy ground.

    I always thought wine-making must be holy anyway.

  8. Becky

    It is beauty embodied, and one of my greatest blessings — the four of you and our tradition. LOVE YOU!!!!!


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