When I’m walking in the woods in early December there are certain things that I expect. I expect to see and hear squirrels and chipmunks scurrying in the underbrush. I expect to see bare trees. I know that I’ll be walking on a carpet of once-colorful leaves, now various shades of brown. The chill in the air doesn’t surprise me, nor do the calling jays and crows or the honking geese. The pungent smell of the earth is familiar. I expect all of these sights, sounds, smells and more. What I don’t expect is the color green. Evergreen perhaps, but not this vibrant, springlike green. Green grass. Green moss on a long-dead log. Green leaves springing up from the forest floor. A different kind of December green.

I wasn’t unhappy with this unanticipated green, even in the very late autumn. But I was taken aback. I was ready for death and decay, but met life. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. What do you do when you encounter unexpected life? It took me a few moments to wrap my mind around it, but then I stepped back and smiled. Which seemed like the appropriate response. A deep breath, a smile, a whispered prayer of thanks.

Sometimes I think that I know how things are going to turn out. I’ve seen enough of life to know that all of us are broken in some way. And so we stumble into misunderstandings. We cloak ourselves in apathy or sarcasm as a defense mechanism. When we’re walking around in this world we know what to expect. But sometimes this world and the people in it surprise us and we unexpectedly encounter an open heart, a kind word, grace. And when we do, the best thing to do in response is to take a deep breath, smile, and receive it. And whisper a prayer of thanks. Thanks for unexpected grace. Thanks for December green.