The Unmistakable Touch of Grace (Introduction)

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How to Recognize and Respond to the Spiritual Signposts in Your Life

The Unmistakable Touch of Grace by Cheryl RichardsonONE DECISION, MADE ALMOST twenty years ago, altered the course of my life and brought us here together in this moment. Since then I’ve come to believe that my life is guided by a powerful Divine force, and when I choose to align myself with this energy, the best and most advantageous path unfolds before me.

I’ve also learned that there are no coincidences. Every event we experience and every person we meet has intentionally been put in our path to help raise our level of consciousness. When we awaken to this fundamental truth, life becomes a true adventure, a spiritual adventure. The person who smiles at you while you’re walking down the street is no longer a stranger. The phone call from an old friend who crossed your mind the day before is no longer a surprise. And the failed relationship that left you brokenhearted is no longer a source of bitterness and pain. Instead it’s seen as a blessing in disguise, a gift that makes you stronger, more conscious, and ultimately, more alive.

Over time, as you come to understand these events for what they really are, you recognize that a benevolent force of energy has been available to guide and direct your life all along. I call this energy “the unmistakable touch of grace.”

Defining Grace

Grace comes from the Latin word gratia, meaning favor, charm, or thanks. Spiritual traditions from around the world each share a similar understanding of this word. For example, in Sanskrit, grace is akin to the word grnati, which means He praises, and to call or invoke. In Christian terms, grace is defined as the infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill shown by God to humankind. In Judaism, the concept of grace is expressed by the Hebrew word hesed, meaning mercy, or loving-kindness. Grace is seen as a creative force — an act of exceptional kindness and goodness. And my friend, Lama Surya Das, author of Awakening the Buddha Within, and a leading Buddhist teacher, says, “Grace is the “isness’ of life. It’s the recognition that everything is connected and sacred. The more in touch we are with this natural abundance of life, the less we need.”

To me, grace is a kind of spiritual intelligence, a form of energy that comes from the Divine Source. This energy is available to each and every one of us at any moment. When we connect with and trust this Higher Power and follow its lead, we step into alignment with a larger vision for our lives. We wake up and suddenly become aware of signs, symbols, and messages that lead us to our highest good.

How do you arrive at a place where you view your life from this perspective? By opening your eyes and your heart to a new way of looking at yourself and the world. One decision is all it takes to get started. From there, your life can change in ways you never could have imagined.

Many people begin this journey when faced with a life crisis or challenge that inspires them to begin making different choices. I’ve seen it time and again in my career as a coach. “Life change” has been the focus of my work for the last eighteen years. I’ve taught self-management techniques, offered strategies to eliminate procrastination and energy drains, and preached the gospel of self-care from one end of the country to the other. Along the way I’ve helped people to see the meaning and purpose behind what appear to be random, everyday events that are, in fact, signposts directing them to a new and better life.

My first two books were primarily focused on helping readers to manage their external lives — finances, relationships, or busy schedules. My most recent book, Stand Up for Your Life, shifted gears and challenged readers to turn inward to develop the qualities of character that would allow them to live a more soul-directed life. My writing and teaching have always been a direct result of my own experience. For example, I wrote my first book, Take Time for Your Life, because I didn’t have one. And, as I became better able to honor my top priorities, I shared what I learned with others.

Finding the Right Direction

As I considered the topic for this book, I felt conflicted. My head told me to continue to write about tangible topics like overcoming procrastination or improving financial health — topics that I knew were important to my readers’ lives. Yet, as I began to develop these ideas on paper, I quickly discovered that my heart wasn’t in it. I felt moved to write from a deeper, more personal place about my emergence from an unconscious life and my evolving spiritual journey. I wanted to share what I had learned about the myths of success and the reality of what I believe it takes to lead a meaningful life. I worked on outlines for two different books, and then, faced with a deadline, I did what I often do when I need clarity and inspiration — I went to the beach.

I am blessed to have six miles of federally protected shoreline on an island near my home. The coastline stretches out farther than the eye can see, and I can get lost for hours in the beauty of the open ocean. Once there, I walked along the water’s edge and began to pray out loud. “Dear God, I have to make a decision about my next book and I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of struggling so I’m surrendering it all to you. Please allow me to be open to seeing the right choice.” Then, I continued my walk.

Sometime later the phrase “the unmistakable touch of grace” popped into my head. “Hmm,” I thought, “what a beautiful expression.” As I slowly made my way down the beach I started to think about how grace has influenced my life.

Since my late twenties, I started noticing unusual occurrences, what some would call coincidences, that provided me with guidance and direction when I felt lost or unsure of myself. I remember one incident early in my career as a professional speaker, when I felt stuck and questioned whether I should continue. I had been looking for a speaker’s bureau to represent me and was having trouble finding one. The pressure of trying to make it work was frustrating and one morning, as I was ready to throw in the towel, my phone rang. When I picked it up and said hello, I heard a woman’s voice say, “Faith?” “Excuse me?” I replied. “Who are you looking for?” “Faith Richardson,” she answered, and a few seconds later the phone went dead. I stood in my living room staring at the receiver in my hand. A smile slowly crossed my face as I realized I had my answer. I needed to trust myself and hang in there. I needed to have faith.

As I thought more about the unmistakable touch of grace during my walk, I could also see that writing about this topic would address the epidemic of fear, anxiety, and disconnectedness I’ve found in audiences while speaking throughout the country. As I talk to people about their lives, I often see a distant, almost vacant look in their eyes — a look that says “I’m so busy trying to survive my life that I have no soul left to live it.” The events of September 11, and the chaos in the Middle East, along with the overwhelming amount of information and stimuli that assault us on a daily basis, have caused our anxiety levels to soar. Living on the edge of uncertainty has made fight or flight our standard operating mode.

As technology continues to give people more ways to intrude on our time, we end up retreating from the world in an attempt to shelter ourselves from a busy, chaotic life. Clients often tell me that they spend so much time on the phone or computer communicating with people at work that they no longer have the energy or desire to talk with their friends or family when they get home. As a result, our most soul-nourishing relationships start to deteriorate and we end up feeling lonely and isolated. We can try to fill the hollowness inside with everything from the latest reality TV show, to overspending, or the restless pursuit of a purposeful career, only to be disappointed when the emptiness remains. It’s no wonder most of us feel as though something essential is missing from our lives. There is. We are starved for a connection to the sacred dimension of life.

I understand the dilemma. I feel privileged to have experienced the kind of success that most people only dream of. I’ve written books that have made the New York Times bestseller list, built a large online community that brings together thousands of people from around the world, and had the amazing opportunity to lead a series on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” As my career took off and my schedule filled up, I got seduced by my own busy life and lost sight of my spiritual center. I became more focused on leaping the next highest bar. One bestseller wasn’t enough. There had to be another. As soon as I accomplished an important goal, I automatically moved on to the next, never allowing myself an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of my hard work. Enough was never enough and even when I knew better, it still wasn’t enough. These accomplishments (and the life lessons that ensued) gave me the rare opportunity to know for sure that no amount of money, popularity, or success can give us the happiness and peace we all long for. This comes from the daily rituals and practices that keep us connected to our spiritual core.

As someone who has dedicated her life to helping people honor their values and most treasured priorities, it’s clear to me the answer to living a genuine, soul-directed life is not just about practicing time management techniques or self-care strategies. While these tools are important, as long as we look for solutions in the outer world to calm our fears and anxieties, or to alleviate our loneliness, we’ll always be disappointed. Instead, we need to go deeper. We must embrace what great spiritual teachers have known all along — freedom from suffering and true happiness are found in the connection we share with a power greater than us all.

I left the beach that day with a greater sense of clarity and feeling more excited about the direction I wanted this book to take. So I made a decision to sit with the phrase, “the unmistakable touch of grace,” to see what happened.

Later that night while lying in bed, I continued to reflect on my experience and relationship with grace. I truly believe that more than anything else, my commitment to live a spiritually based life has been the source of my success. The more I surrender my will to the Divine, the less I’ve had to worry about how to achieve anything. Instead, the path finds me. Grace leads me to the exact events and experiences I need at exactly the right time.

There have been striking examples of this throughout my life. Sometimes the messages were like whispers — an unexpected e-mail with a helpful invitation, or a call from a colleague at the exact moment I needed support. Other times, they were like a loud roar commanding my attention. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Several years ago, my friend Max and I were having a conversation during a sunset walk along the beach. I had just ended a five-year relationship and felt conflicted about my decision. Deep in my heart I knew separating was the right choice, yet I kept feeling pulled to call my former partner to give it one more try. Max, being the good friend that she is, encouraged me to stay true to myself. She suggested that I focus on my own self-care and the new emerging chapter of my life.

Like so many of us who go through a tough life transition, I felt pulled in two directions. In my heart I knew that I needed to hold still and stay strong, but my head screamed, “Call him!” I felt as though I was caught in an emotional battle of wills, struggling to keep the peace between two feuding factions.

As Max and I continued our conversation, I said that I needed a sign — some kind of divine confirmation to help me make the right choice. Just then, I looked up and saw a man running toward us. He was striking; muscular and tanned, with piercing blue eyes. When he passed us, Max and I looked at each other and smiled, acknowledging his powerful energy. We continued our walk and eventually headed for the car.

Arriving at the parking lot, we sat down to put on our shoes. Taking one more look out over the ocean, I once again saw the same man running back down the beach. As my eyes followed him, he suddenly stopped, bent down and started to scratch something in the sand with his finger. After a few moments he finished and continued on his way. Max and I immediately ran to see what he had written.

When we arrived at the water’s edge we found the words MENTAL TOUGHNESS scrawled in the sand. Stunned, I stood looking at the words, amazed at how appropriate and timely they were for me. When I glanced up to find the angel who had delivered this message, he was nowhere in sight. Instantly I felt a sense of relief and reassurance. I knew I had my answer — hold still and stay strong.

Stories like this are powerful examples of grace in action. They give us comfort and a sense of direction. Sometimes we see the influence of grace in hindsight when we step back and view our lives from a higher perspective. When I look back at my early years in high school, I can see that the two teachers who fueled my passion for reading set the stage for my future career as a writer. Or, the difficulties I faced in my relationships with men were exactly what I needed to build the solid core of self-esteem and inner strength that I would rely on to face the challenges of life. Even the most agonizing experiences of all — the death of a loved one and the diagnosis of a serious illness, turned out to be blessings; pivotal events that dramatically altered the way I live my life today.

Conducting My Own Experiment

The morning after the phrase “the unmistakable touch of grace” first came to me, I woke feeling energized and excited. If I was going to write about grace, I wanted to engage this energy and allow it to guide my next steps. I made a decision to keep that phrase in my mind and watch for what showed up in my life. Almost immediately I began to see the signs.

That afternoon a friend called, excited to share a story of what she called synchronicity. Emma was a new writer who’d been invited to submit an article to her local newspaper. Even though she’d done a terrific job with her first draft, she kept procrastinating about finishing it up and sending it to her editor. After admitting her hesitation, Emma revealed that, like most new writers, she was afraid of having her article rejected. Each time she got close to hitting the send button on her e-mail, she’d freeze and back away.

Two days later, Emma attended a professional women’s luncheon. When introductions were being made around the table, Emma was shocked to discover that the assistant editor of the newspaper was sitting next to her. During the meal, the two women struck up a conversation and Emma shared her dilemma about the article. The editor, sympathetic to the anxiety that new writers experience, offered to look at the article, off the record, and suggest changes if necessary. Her support was all Emma needed. When she arrived home after the luncheon, she immediately sent the article to the editor. Three weeks later, she was a published writer.

Was it merely a coincidence that Emma was seated next to this editor? Could be. But after the many times I’ve witnessed these kinds of events, both in my life and in the lives of others, I no longer believe this to be the case. Instead, I see them as examples of how recognizing and acting on the effects of grace leads us in the best direction for our lives.

The signs continued. Later that week while driving to the cleaners to pick up a dress for an anniversary celebration with my husband, Michael, I noticed the beautiful peonies that were blooming in our neighborhood. These flowers had been a special part of our wedding day and I made a mental note to pick some up on my way home. When I finished my errands, I pulled in the driveway, only to realize that I had forgotten to get the flowers. Feeling pressed for time, I decided to let it go. I parked the car, gathered my bags, and headed for the front door.

Just then my neighbor, Gail, arrived with a gorgeous bunch of pink and white peonies in her arms. “Hey Cheryl,” she said, “I just finished cutting these from my garden and wondered if you might like some.” I smiled, feeling strongly that, once again, I was touched by the hand of grace. To me, it was one more sign that I was on the right track with the book.

There were plenty of other signs telling me that I needed to write about grace. A favorite magazine arrived with a cover story entitled “Living a Life of Grace.” After discussing the idea of grace with a member of my staff, she called later that day to say that grace had been the topic of her yoga class. And of course, it seemed that every time I got in my car to drive somewhere a Grace Happens bumper sticker was staring me in the face.

The final message came two days later after a speaking engagement in Manhattan. While there, I had dinner with a friend who introduced me to a woman named Michele. Michele was an intuitive consultant and writer. During our conversation, she suggested that I take a look at her website to learn more about her work. As I jotted down her address, Michele also said, “Be sure to check out ‘word magic.’ It’s an area that visitors seem to love.” I included word magic in my notes and continued our conversation.

The next day, as I sat in my office going through the notes from my trip, I came across Michele’s information. I logged on to her website and clicked on the phrase, word magic. I discovered that it was a prophetic game whereby the visitor holds a question in mind while several colored spheres circle around the page to the sound of calming music. Then, when ready, the visitor clicks on a sphere to reveal a word that represents the answer.

As I watched the spheres on the screen I focused on my question: “Which topic do I need to write about in my next book?” Then, I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes and pictured the spheres. When I opened my eyes I was immediately drawn to a lavender colored one, and, without hesitation, clicked on it and waited to see what happened. I saw the word grace appear and float slowly toward me on the screen. I felt chills run through my body; I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

Being a skeptic by nature, I immediately called Michele. Like so many of us who get Divine signs, I doubted my experience and wanted to know what the odds were of seeing the word grace. I was convinced that each of the eight spheres represented one word and I had a one out of eight chance of choosing it — odds that, to me, weren’t very impressive. As luck would have it, Michele immediately picked up the phone. She was shocked to hear my voice on the other end. “I was just sending you an e-mail.” Another coincidence?

When I asked Michele about the game, she told me that there were more than seventy-five words available to be assigned to a sphere at any given moment. And, since the words were assigned at random with each visit to her site, the chances of choosing the sphere that represented grace was pretty slim. Several weeks later my friend Ed, a mathematics professor, confirmed this when he informed me that the odds of seeing that word appear were more than a million to one.

Some might say that these events were simply the result of focusing my attention on the topic of grace. And, in the past, I would have thought so too. But, experience has taught me that these examples are not just the result of wishful thinking. They are a response from a Divine Source that guides and directs my life.

Science tells us that the universe vibrates with the same force of energy that created it in the first place; the same energy that created you and me. As we raise our level of consciousness and learn to work in partnership with this Divine energy, it provides a feedback loop of sorts, a way of communicating with us that takes the form of signs. The more awake or conscious we are, the better able we are to see these signs for what they really are — unmistakable evidence of how grace shapes our lives.

My friend Peter, a recovering alcoholic, said it well: “Before I got sober, I couldn’t see a Divine sign if it hit me in the face. I was living under the influence, too unconscious to recognize that a power greater than myself was attempting to offer the guidance and support I needed to change my life. When I finally woke up and got into recovery, things changed dramatically. Suddenly I could see the gifts of grace everywhere. They were constant reminders that I was not alone and that as long as I stayed sober and paid attention, I’d be guided to the life I was meant to live.”

I’ve watched this same kind of thing happen in my work with clients. Regardless of their beliefs or spiritual orientation, once clients made the decision to wake up, they could see and experience grace. For example, I’d watch the president of a company cut back on his hours at work to spend more time with his family, only to have his sales increase. Or, conversely I’d see a stay-at-home mom with special artistic talent decide to bring her paintings to a gallery where an influential owner would steer her to great success.

Over time, as I watched what happened, one thing became quite clear — grace was unmerited. People didn’t need to work hard to earn it, feel worthy enough to deserve it, or surrender their needs to receive it. The gift of grace had been available all along. They just needed to be awake enough to see it. Then, from this more conscious perspective, they would engage this power as they faced the truth about what wasn’t working in their lives and began making changes. Doors would open, resources would appear, and a veil of uncertainty would lift, revealing their next step. Seeing evidence of grace allowed them to trust that there was a higher purpose for their lives, and this fueled a desire for a more conscious relationship with this Divine, creative force.

Some clients called this force God; others called it Providence, the Universe, or Spirit. There were some who had no name at all. They had lost touch with a spiritual way of life or had experienced a crisis of faith, when they felt angry with God or disconnected altogether. As a result, they needed to redefine their relationship with a Higher Power. I had been through this process myself. For years I felt uncomfortable with the word God because of the fear-based, parental relationship I had been encouraged to form during my early religious training. It wasn’t until years later, when I made a conscious decision to combine the comforting, religious rituals of my youth with the spiritual values and practices I developed as an adult, that I would establish a new relationship with God. Although I now feel comfortable using the word God, I often use the word Divine when working with clients, in an effort to be respectful of their beliefs. Based on what I saw happening around me, it was clear that grace was operating in the lives of the people I worked with, regardless of their religious orientation.

I began to understand the significance of the phrase “the unmistakable touch of grace,” and I was starting to believe more strongly that my prayer on the beach had pointed me in the right direction. Once I decided to move forward, I went back through my life looking for how my own relationship with grace had evolved over time. I read through twenty-five years worth of journals, and when I was finished, spoke with friends, clients, and members of my online community about their experiences with grace. As I sorted through this information, I wanted to find a way to help people open more fully to the presence of grace in their lives. This book is the result of that journey.

The Promise

By embarking on this adventure you’ll awaken to the presence of grace in your own life and sometimes, the lives of others. Whether you already feel a connection to a Higher Power or not, pretty soon you’ll find that your anxiety, fear, or uncertainty about the future will gradually be replaced with the comfort and security of knowing:

  • You are not alone. There is a powerful, supportive energy guiding your life and it always has your best interest at heart. When you call upon it for guidance and support, it will respond. Spiritual signposts will be put in your path to guide you to your highest good. Follow them!
  • You have a higher purpose for your life. The more you surrender to Divine will and allow grace to lead, the more you’ll find that the right doors open to support you in fulfilling your life’s purpose. You’ll learn to recognize and respond to them. Walk through those doors with courage and faith.
  • You have what it takes to face any life challenge. As a human being you will experience loss, disappointment, failure, and fear. But you don’t have to suffer. As a matter of fact, your most challenging life circumstance may turn out to be your greatest blessing. Your reliance on the power of grace will give you the faith and spiritual fortitude to face life’s ups and downs with confidence and poise.
  • You are a student in the school of life. As you view your life from a higher, more spiritual perspective, you’ll begin to see that everything happens for a reason. Every event, experience, and person you encounter is intended to support your soul development. Take advantage of these opportunities.
  • You have the peace and happiness you desire already within you. When you deepen your connection to the Divine by balancing activity with silence, you’ll discover the true source of all joy and happiness. You’ll experience a heightened sensitivity to beauty, deep inner peace, and a profound feeling of connectedness to all living things. Enjoy these gifts.

The journey you’re about to take is exciting and full of promise. As you read through each chapter, allow yourself to drink in the inspiration of the stories first, without worrying about having to do anything. Stories themselves are a powerful source of grace. They give us insight and provide us with inspiration that shifts our thinking or way of being in the world.

Once you’ve finished reading a chapter, you’ll be ready to conduct the experiment.

The Experiments

At the end of each chapter I’ve included an experiment designed to help you recognize and use the power of grace in your own life. Think of yourself as a spiritual scientist, ready to explore new territories that will alter your view of the world forever. You may also want to assemble your own team of scientists. Invite one or more people to work through this book with you. While you can conduct these experiments on your own, you’ll dramatically increase your ability to see the influence of grace in your life by witnessing its effects on others. If you’re unable to find someone, don’t worry. We’ve made it easy for you to locate like-minded people in your community, by using our free global database of Life Makeover Groups on our website at www.cherylrichardson.com. There you’ll find all the tools and resources you need to find or start a group in your hometown. As I write this book, more than four thousand groups are already in action around the world.

The Resource Sections

At the end of each experiment I’ve included a list of resources to help further your spiritual exploration. These books, websites, and other programs have been helpful during the various stages of my journey. They provide a variety of perspectives and teachings. And, while some may contain information or opinions that differ from your own, I encourage you to keep an open mind. The influence of grace is often found in unexpected places.

This book is filled with stories of how grace has touched my life and the lives of clients, friends, and members of our online community. While some stories may seem unbelievable, all of them are true (some names and details have been changed). It is my prayer that this book serve as inspiration and motivation to open you more fully to your own divinity and the sacred dimension of life. At a time when so many of us feel hopeless and powerless to change the troubled world in which we live, it’s important to remember that there is a Divine power far greater than anything else that exists on the planet — a power that resides within each of us. When we learn to align our own Divine nature with the ultimate Creative Source, miracles happen. As Ramakrishna said, “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.” This book is my gift to you in the hopes that it will help you to do just that.

Experiment: Finding Grace

The first experiment is designed to help you become more aware of the presence of grace. There are five parts to this experiment:

1. Start a grace journal. Find a journal or notebook that’s easy to use for the experiments throughout this book.

2. On the first page of your journal, write the following:

I am open and receptive to the power of grace in my life now.
I ask to be shown clear examples of how this energy is operating in my life.

3. Now, declare out loud that you are open to the influence of grace. As silly as this may sound, it’s important to get in the habit of consciously working with this energy. Try it right now. Repeat the following statement:

I am open and receptive to the power of grace in my life now.
I ask to be shown clear examples of how this energy is operating in my life.

Develop a ritual of writing this statement in your journal every morning and night, and when you do, repeat it out loud. (If you really want to accelerate the process, repeat it at random times throughout the day).

4. Begin to focus on the concept of grace. Notice what shows up in your life and write about it in your journal. Does the word come up in conversations? Do you find it in a magazine article, or on bumper stickers? Start to keep track of the signs of grace that are already in your life.

5. Finally, sometimes we experience grace in how we relate to the stories of others. As you read through each chapter, pay close attention to the reactions you have to the stories you read. Does one push your buttons, move you to tears, make you angry, or cause you to daydream?

Mark the stories and write about any insights, similarities, or reactions in your journal.

Resources

BOOKS

Awakening the Buddha Within: Eight Steps to Enlightenment by Lama Surya Das (Broadway Books, 2004)
This book provides a great introduction to Buddhism by exploring the ancient teachings in a modern-day voice.

Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles by Marianne Williamson
(Riverhead Books, 2002)
A beautiful book about harnessing the mystical power within so we can change ourselves and the world.

Roadsigns: Navigating Your Path to Spiritual Happiness by Philip Goldberg, Ph.D. (Rodale, 2003)
This book provides a realistic look at the twists and turns of the spiritual journey and provides wise, common-sense advice on making life choices.

To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking by Harold S. Kushner (Warner Books, 1994)
Kushner discusses the essence of Judaism in simple and clear language, touching upon the meaning of Jewish customs and ceremonies, and the purpose of prayer.

What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 1997)
A Christian perspective on the meaning of grace told through stories and examples from everyday life.

 

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