Grace Happens. It’s happening all around you right now. Grace happens because all of Gods creations are one. Grace is natural. It doesn’t require any effort because Grace is Divine.
Grace is defined by Websters as: “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification”. Regeneration, to make new or grow again. Sanctification, to make holy or sacred.
Have you ever received Grace? Have you ever given Grace? In most instances, it is unforgettable. It is life changing. It can be emotionally overwhelming and it can be overlooked but, never forgotten. When Grace happens, it is a message from God. It is a remembrance of who we truly are. It comes to us when we need it. Occasionally, we are able to experience Grace as it unfolds for us, other times it’s not recognized until the blinding veil of pain, self-persecution and misery has been lifted. Grace is a force of nature that cannot be missed, it cannot go unnoticed. We probably take everyday Grace for granted. When we open our eyes to the beauty around us, we experience everyday Grace. Through gratitude, we experience Grace. And sometimes Grace is more profound.
In 1993 I found myself in a very dark place. It should have been a time in my life when the light was shining brightest. I had confidently executed the first phase of my life plan by joining the military, going to college, getting a great job and now I was ready to settle down. Up until this point, everything had worked out exactly as planned. I had moved to the Boston area for a great job and I was living life to its fullest. I had met a girl and we were spending a lot of time together. During the summer of 1993, we learned that she was pregnant. It was both exciting and scary at the same time. It was a big surprise and I wasn’t ready for it but, I decided I would do the right thing. In September of 1993 we were married. Yeah, yeah, shotgun wedding and all. We had been sharing a large multi bedroom apartment with some friends and decided we needed our own place. We had all of the ensuing baby showers and started preparing for the arrival; Picking names; buying furniture; getting a nursery prepared. It got very real, very fast. I slowly started to overcome my anxiety of being a father and started to embrace the idea of having a child. Once you get over that anxiety hump, it’s get exciting. During one of the ultrasounds, we were asked if we wanted to know the gender of the child and we said “yes”. The technician wasted no time in telling us we were having a boy! A boy, every man’s dream is to have a son. Its Legacy! You start the “dream” about who your child will be and what you will do together. Playing catch, riding bikes, reading stories, fishing, football……….We started focusing on names, “boy names”. We bought the book of names and started hashing through combinations until we finally agreed to namesake the child after both of our fathers. His name would be Joseph Michael Bullion. Her father’s first name and my father’s middle name. His name had a “ring” to. It was a solid name. It’s funny what a name can do to bring life to living. My love for this little unborn child grew exponentially on a daily basis. Joseph Michael and I talked every day. I started reading to him in utero. We made plans. I am pretty sure we had a father/son covenant planned out well before he was at 6 months gestation. The excitement and the anticipation was nearly unbearable as we approached the due date. He was scheduled to arrive shortly after the new year 1994. The idea of bringing life into the world made every day brighter. We journeyed through the fall and into Thanksgiving. Life was great. We had been blessed.
On Dec. 4th, 1993, the dream turned into a nightmare. It was a premature labor. We rushed to the emergency room where treatment was administered immediately. They tried to stop the contractions with drugs and gravity and everything else with no luck. Joseph Michael’s life ended before it began. We were crushed. I was confused. I was angry. I was angry at God! What kind of God takes away the life of an unborn child? A child with so much promise and two people who were so eager to share their love and take care of this child. Why would God do this in light of some of the horrific stories you hear about abuse and neglect of children. This child was wanted. More than anything in the world.
The weeks leading into Christmas that year were sad and dark. We didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with the situation. There was silence, there were tears, there was isolation, there was emptiness and anger and hopelessness and confusion and loathing and sorrow. There was guilt and shame. We didn’t know how to hold ourselves up, let alone try to hold each other up. No one ever knows what to say to you. If one more person had told me about the number of miscarriages they had before “they” had their first child, I would have pummeled them. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear about you. I’m the one who is fucking grieving my loss right now, ok? In retrospect, I was feeling very victimized. Up until this moment, there was so much love, excitement and anticipation. There was a dream. An acceptance, that a new way of life was about to begin. New responsibilities. A new identity. I had opened up my heart like never before in preparation of his arrival and it was taken away. I blamed God. My faith had never been tested more than this time in my life. I felt that God was punishing me and it wasn’t fair.
As we got closer to the Christmas Day, 1993, we decide the best thing to do was to be with family. Over the course of my two years in Boston, I had driven back and forth from Michigan to visit my family no less than 4 times. We really didn’t have the money to fly. It was an arduous drive and I learned it took 12 hours going through the states and 11 hours if you went through Niagara Falls and Canada. Being a newbie to the job, I wasn’t afforded a lot of vacation time so I would typically take off after work on Friday night and be in Michigan on Saturday morning for a long weekend. I was young and we had caffeine. It became our Modus Operandi for the drive. In 1993, Christmas Eve fell on a Friday and we had to work a half day. We decided we would leave from work around noon or 1 pm and get into Michigan around Midnight or 1pm. We decided we’d try to save an hour and travel through Canada. The drive had been going pretty well as we made our way into and through New York. We crossed the Falls around 7 or 8pm and started our travels down the QEW for Hamilton. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I didn’t stop in Hamilton to get gas before making the next 200mile leg to Detroit? I knew there were a variety of small towns throughout Ontario and assumed there would be a gas station somewhere? I had just blown through the cozy little suburb of Brantford, Ontario (home of Wayne Gretzky) when I realized we were starting to get low on gas. (Quick geography lesson: Brantford, Ontario is the last bastion of civilization until you reach Windsor). Instead of turning around, I decide to plow on. By this point in the day, it was after 10pm. I started to notice the absence of headlights in either direction and it was clear most people had “bed down” for the Christmas eve. I pulled off the 403 in search of a gas station somewhere around Paris Ontario. I remember it was Paris not because of the iconic name but, because we had recently seen one of those shows that informs you about unsolved murders and their terrifying events. This one occurred in Paris Ontario! To my amazement, I found a station with at least 20 pumps. It was totally desolate but, the lights were on and there appeared to be hope. I drove up to a pump and surveyed the situation. They didn’t have credit cards slots so I headed for the office. I remember It was getting bitter cold. As I approached the office, I noticed the lights were on but no one was home. I couldn’t believe they left the place like this? I pounded on the door for several minutes hoping someone was there. No one responded. I jumped back in the car and drove another 2 miles towards the next small town. Everything was totally shut down. I started to panic. I knew we were in jeopardy of running out of gas and I wasn’t interested in freezing to death in the middle of Canada! I figured our best bet was to get back on the 403/401 and make it to the next rest area; where ever that was? Several miles after we got back on the 403 I saw a sign for the next rest area. It was 10Km away. I was heading up a hill as I passed the sign for the rest area and that’s when we experienced the first “Ca-chug, Ca-chug”. It’s the worst feeling in the world when you run out of gas. It’s even worse when the temperature is 10 degrees outside. It’s even worse when you haven’t seen another vehicle on the road for hours. It’s even worse when your mental mindset is that the “world is out to get you”. As we crested the top of the hill, I prayed the gas would level in the tank and we’d be afforded another 6 miles…..Ca-chug, Ca-chug, Ca-chug. That was it. I pushed in the clutch and we coasted down the hill for another ¾ mile. We had used every drop of gas. We just sat there in silence for a couple of minutes. It was probably close to 11:30 or 12:00 by this time. As the heat in the vehicle dissipated, the cold Canadian air began to signal we needed to do something. We eventually started talking about options. Because we hadn’t seen headlights in either direction for hours, we figured the odds of getting help from a passerby was null. (This event predated cell phones). Fortunately, I was prepared. I had packed well for our winter trip to Michigan and also prepared in case the vehicle broke down. I made a quick assessment and decided I was going to put her in a sleeping bag, lace up my running shoes and head for the rest area to get help. I knew it was cold but I figured If I ran I would be able to stay warm. I had given her the sleeping bag along with instructions to not open the door for anyone unless it was me or the police. I was sitting on the liftgate of our Chevy S10 Blazer trying to lace up my running shoes in the freezing air when our Christmas miracle began. While trying to feel my fingers and block thoughts of serial killers in my head, a set of headlights appeared over the hill. I had this weird flash of thoughts as the headlights came down the hill and approached us. I was feeling excited, nervous, scared, protective and I could feel hormones surging through my body, preparing me for what may come next. As the vehicle got closer, I was able to see through the blinding headlights that it was a truck of some sort. It stopped about 20 yards behind us. At first, it just sat there. I wasn’t sure If I should approach it or wait? I elected to wait. As I continued lacing up my shoes, the door of the truck opened and out stepped what appeared to be an imposing figure. The headlights from the truck were still blasting me but, I could make out the outline of what appeared to be a large man. I jumped off the tailgate and moved toward the figure. As I did, his appearance became clearer. I estimated he was 6’6″, he had red curly hair and a matching beard. He looked like a descendant of Erik the Red or Lief Erikson. He was wearing Carhart coveralls that he easily filled with his large frame. A flood of thoughts raced through my mind as we closed the distance to one another. In a moment’s notice, my mental state shifted as he asked with a genuine and inviting smile “did you run out of gas”? I responded “yes” and he invited me to join him in his truck. As we approached his truck, I noticed it was an old state truck. He immediately introduced himself as Bryce and we exchanged formalities. He explained to me that he was delivering airbrushed floor mats that he and his brother had made for Christmas? He then proceeded to tell me that he had a gas can and was willing to get me to the next rest area. I was immediately grateful. I explained to him that my wife was in our vehicle and then went and got her. It had probably been 5 minutes from the time that Bryce pulled up until the time that I returned to get her. She was totally freaked out and unsure if I was still alive. I assured her we were in good company and we both got into Bryce’s truck. He drove us to the rest area and then retrieved the gas can from the back of his truck. I had jumped out and was trying to understand the functionality of the pump. I don’t recall the specific details but, he wouldn’t allow me to either pump the gas, pay for it or buy the coffee? He said I’d get screwed with the exchange rate? I was talking with the attendant in the service center, sipping my coffee and asking about getting a ride back to my vehicle when Bryce asked if we were ready? I confirmed and he was indeed offering to take us back to our vehicle. What hadn’t occurred to me was where we were in relation to my vehicle and the available exits. Bryce ended up driving us at least another 10Km-20Km westbound on the 401, only to turn around and drive another 20Km-30Km back east bound to Paris, where we turned around again to go westbound to our vehicle! At this point it is well past 1am, Christmas morning. Upon arriving back at our vehicle, he grabs the gas can, insist on putting the gas in my car and then volunteers to follow us to back to the rest area. I thanked him profusely and agreed under the condition that he allow us to buy him a coffee this time? He agreed and we were on our way in separate vehicles. When we entered the rest area, I pulled up to the pumps and I watched as Bryce maneuvered his truck alongside the building to the back. From our previous visit, I learned I needed to pay inside and started heading in. When I entered, I saw the attendant again and proceeded to pay. What I hadn’t noticed in my previous visit was a large glass window across the back of the building. I could see Bryce parking his truck there. I ran back to the front, pumped my gas and we headed back inside. I didn’t see Bryce, so I purchased 3 cups of coffee and sat down. We waited but there was no sign of Bryce. I figured he was in the bathroom? We waited for several more minutes, enjoying our coffee but, still no Bryce. The only other person there was the attendant, so I asked if he had seen Bryce come in? He looked confused, so I described him. I said emphatically, “the guy is unmistakably large with a red curly hair like a Viking”! Still no response from the attendant, just the blank stare. I wasn’t sure if this guy was tired, on drugs or what so I checked the bathroom. No Bryce. I then went to the back of the building and looked through the glass window where I had seen him park. The truck was gone. I ran out the side door and to the back where I had seen him park, and to my amazement I learned there was no outlet? The back of the building formed a sort of alley way but, it was blocked by dumpsters and there was no way a large truck could pass through. Bryce had disappeared.
That night, I found myself tired, confused, inspired and dumbfounded over the events that transpired. As I finished my drive to Michigan, I reflected and recognized it as the greatest act of kindness I had ever experienced. It restored my faith in humanity. I never learned Bryce’s last name or anything else about him but, I was uplifted and made a vow that I would never forget him. Several months later we had conceived again. Although there were complications, our daughter Elise Marie was born. It was another 6 years before we had our second child. A boy, who we named John Bryce.
Over the years, I have thought about Joseph Michael often. I think about Bryce and that night. When I do, I get the chills every time. I now know that Bryce was a Guardian Angel. A messenger from God. He was letting me know that Joseph Michael was safe. He was sent to regenerate my faith. He was sent for my sanctification. I couldn’t comprehend this then. I couldn’t understand that “all is meant to be realized in Gods time”. That night, my hubris, pain, and anger made me blind to the divinity I experienced. It wasn’t until later in my life, when I dealt with the shame, the guilt and truly allowed myself to grieve, to grieve the dreams I had for the little boy who never was and finally realize this was never about me….It was then that I realized I had been given the gift of Grace.