For the Bitter and the Sweet

Coffee on the veranda

I pick up my scorched oven mitts off the damp, October ground, leaving flakes of charred material and black soot on the earth to mark the spot. There since midnight, they are a testament to the previous night’s disaster. Bright red cloth contrasting with charcoal black. Stationary, since I threw them out the door, onto the step and then again onto the grass where I proceeded to hose them down until the flames subsided—all after they had caught on fire from the heat emitted from my oven burner. And this: because I had brushed the knob of the burner (ever so gently) as I reached into the cupboard for a bowl. Having sat back down at my computer to type, I was oblivious to the smolder, until smoke began to curl around the cupboard, up toward the ceiling: alerting me to the calamity.

If I had only:
Not wanted a cookie.
Not reached for the bowl.
Not brushed the knob.
Not left the oven mitts on the burner.

If I had only.

Life is wrought with “if onlys”.

This week has been a series of unfortunate events, a series of “if onlys”…or so it seems. There is always something to complicate the day. Be that arriving late for appointments, forgetting appointments, or scheduling too many appointments. Be that day-to-day complications like not enough sleep, sickness and low energy. Be that bigger-than-everyday complications like additional work meetings, late night projects, lost luggage, health concerns, and worries that go deeper than surface level. Add to the list, if you will: parenting issues, relationship issues, marriage issues. Life.

There is just always something.

How can we say thanks when life is just not what we want it to be? How can we say thanks when things are just not how we wish they were? How can we say thanks when we don’t FEEL particularly thankful for everything we’ve been given? Giving thanks for both the little things on our ever filling plate…along with the bigger things that make our lives chaotic and stressful?

Is it even possible?

I wake up in the morning to the smell of the charred remains of the previous day. Add to this, the cheesecake boiled over in the oven last night so I now realize that I have the pleasure of a pre-breakfast, ‘make-work’ project. I can now officially confirm that I will be late for church. And on the very day that I have to lead the singing.

I can feel the resentment rising within. Give thanks for this?

How easily I forget that gratitude is a state of the heart. A choice of the soul embracing life in its fullness, both the bitter and the sweet. Joel Osteen: “One of the main reasons that we lose our enthusiasm in life is because we become ungrateful..we let what was once a miracle become common to us. We get so accustomed to his goodness it becomes a routine..”

Life is hard. Of a truth: it is not easy. But it is always a miracle, a gift to have the opportunity to live.

The air in our lungs.
The roof over our head.
The clothes that cover.
The shoes that fit.
The water we drink.
The food we intake.
For the everyday, commonplace miracles of life.  For both the bitter and the sweet.
We are eternally grateful.

This thanksgiving I offer gratitude for the miracles. Everyday and otherwise. They are what cause me to remember how much I have.

And impress on me how much I must be grateful.

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Blessings come through tears

We have a new baby kitten, so precious and sweet. The girls are enamored yet feel completely responsible for this little bundle of love. The other day, M.A. said to Husband with a sigh, “I am soooo tired of looking after this kitten” to which Hubs responded it was not her responsibility to do so: it was the mother cat who had that job.

Nevertheless, she feels it is.

Last summer, we had five little kittens born and raised on our property. One summer evening, the mother introduced them to us, calling them out from a Spirea shrub one-by one. They danced around our feet in the twilight much to the delighted squeals and giggles of our girls. We were taken by these little beings- they quickly wrapped themselves around our hearts.

One busy Sunday morning we were heading for church in a rush when Brian backed the van up quickly. One of the little kittens was situated under the tire, as they all found the warmth of our vehicle comforting. With a sickening feeling, Brian knowing he had backed over it, got out of the van without the children knowing and found the kitten. Still without telling them as he knew it would completely upset them at that moment, he moved the little lifeless body and carried on, feeling sick about the unfortunate event.

Even the life of a kitten has meaning and significance.

This summer, I have been watching this new mama cat as she cares for her single kitten and I have been struck with the fact that although she can do much as a mother, she cannot prepare her baby for the inevitable: its death. It is contrary to our normal inclination to think of death upon the emergence of new life, but the inevitability that life is followed always by death is something we cannot avoid. We as humans have the ability to be aware of our existence, something cats, in all their amazing capability cannot be.

Sadly, we as humans are not always aware that we are born to one day die.   Yet thankfully, we are reminded throughout life that it is the living that is sandwiched in between the entry and exit that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking of how we as parents- how we as the adults can prepare children for death. We know not how long any life has been given, know not the number of our days nor any one elses, for that matter. How do we live life while facing death? How do we prepare for this fact? Even with my own assurance of heaven, there is still the very real aspect of separation in death that we as humans must face. Death causes separation, even if but for a time. No one truly wants to leave behind those they love and adore.

In my extended family, we have had several premature deaths- two to infants and one to a teenager on her graduation night. In all three cases, it has been hard to make sense of the fact that these were not elderly people facing death after a long, fulfilling life. These were babies, these were children. How does one make sense of this? How is it that a child is as susceptible to their mortality as one who lives to be one hundred? But it is the very nature of our humanness to be so fragile- we are but a vapour, a breath- transfixed between the present and eternity with only our next lungful of air as a separating veil.

Is this life we live, as fleeting as it might appear to be, a blessing?

I talked to a dear friend recently about that word ‘blessing’- a beautiful word to describe life when things are going well, but a puzzling one when things are not. Is life a blessing? All life?

The night my aunt was taken, she who was then eighteen years of age and a brand-new high school graduate- that night, two officers came to my grandparents door in the wee hours of the morning. Came there to deliver the inevitable news- news no paret ever wishes to receive.   That an accident had occurred and their beloved baby girl had been the casualty.  Words could not express the emotions that would overcome a parent hearing such a fateful interruption during what would have been prior a peaceful night’s sleep. What images would run through the mind? What visions? Our sole desire as parents is to keep our children safe- and when we cannot, have not been able to keep this sacred oath, what must that do to a parental psyche? Where would one go to find solace?

My grandfather’s devout faith and trust in a loving God- in a God who blesses us even with showers that fall fast and furious at times, pelting us with their intensity. My grandfather said this: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the scriptures, Lord connotates a title of respect for one deemed in a position of honor, much the same as the word Rabbi is used to refer to a teacher. For my grandfather, he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the One he trusted most- the One who had proved faithful to him time and time again, would still prove faithful even in this storm.  And he used the word “blessed” to ascribe meaning- even to the taking of that dear one whom he held most precious.

How could this be?
Was this tremendous loss a blessing? For our family, we suffered the passing of a beloved daughter, sister, friend. Down through the years, we grandchildren have been told stories that honor my Aunt MaryAnne’s life. We have seen her legacy- and my own daughter is her namesake.  While death will never be celebrated as a blessing, for death is not lauded in the same way that we cherish life, the blessing was the life. She has never been forgotten, her life not rendered as history. Because through story, her memory lives on. Her life, however brief it may have been- was a blessing to those whom she met. There was not a soul who crossed her path that didn’t love her- she was that kind of girl. Years later, I still find people who talk of her genuine sweetness and purity of spirit. She was gentle and loving- and the world is a richer place because her life was in it.

We often say that we have been blessed with good health, good fortune, good genes, good luck. When the weather is nice we count it a blessing. But I would counter that life, no matter how short, how seemingly insignificant- is precious. Our lives are precious. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. It is a blessing to have been given the chance to breath in air, to feel sun rays’ gentle warmth on our upturned faces, to know what it is to have felt the rain. My grandmother of 92 sits day after day inside a manor in Fredericton and while it can seem to be a curse to live that long and no longer have the wherewithal to get up and move, the people in her life are a blessing to her. It is a blessing for her to be cared for by people who genuinely love her.

And while I even think of the people in this world who have not been blessed with love and care, I feel the challenge is left up to those of us who know this blessing well to then extend it outwards. So that everyone the world over can feel the touch of love, especially those who need it most. Acclaimed writer and critical theorist bell hooks said this about the blessing of love: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving” (hooks, 2000, p. 74). Were this to be true, how much more would we then understand the meaning of that little word blessing?

The challenge is left to us.

Our lives are not for naught. They are precious, meaningful, purposed for a greater plan. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. A blessing to love, to have loved. And a blessing to have the opportunity to share this eternal love we know so well with the others in our lives.