Lights dimmed, a lone candle lit. All is warm and cozy, safe and sound. The Little One and I snuggle under plush covers, heads touching on the pillow. Her fine baby hair spreads fan-like, soft tendrils all around. So light. So easy to be a child. And yet.
I just feel heavy beside her. But still I listen to prayers. Looking, as ever for gratitude in the offerings. She utters words and so do I. But my heart is just not in it tonight. Not in the thankfulness-spirit of it all.
How can we be thankful in everything?
I mean, really. Everything? You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
I have to stop and share this story.
We arrive for a sleepover, the three girls and I. My family’s home place, warm and inviting on a bitterly- cold, January evening. I climb the staircase and round the kitchen corner to find Mom’s water cooler in two pieces, a towel under the floor next to the spot where the container had previously sat atop the base. The over-sized jug stands, stark naked on the middle of the table, half full of water.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Oh,” she says with a tired voice. I came home this morning after having been away for a few hours to find the kitchen full of water. Everywhere, water.”
She tells me of the arduous process of cleaning it all up. Of taking every piece of china out of the cabinet so as to pull the huge piece of furniture away from the wall. Of cleaning the leaking mess all around the baseboards and behind every table and cupboard that might move. Of the hassle this undoubtedly was.
And then she says this.
“And to think. I had just told Him (my brother) the other day how much I loved that water cooler, and how good the water tasted! And now. It’s gone. Just like that.”
We talked for a bit about the ways in which this seems to happen quite often to her, dear Mom. And we both got to thinking of particular stories just lately in which Mom has specifically lost something dear to her heart that she had made a point of being thankful for. For instance. The time when she had just finished saying a little prayer of thanks for the small electric heater in her bedroom that had been given to her as a gift. And then literally, five minutes later, it made a noise and blew a fuse.
And that was the end of that little luxury.
Or this one. The day last fall when my mother was caring for some of her six grandbabies and the older ones took an hour to run wildly through the field behind her house. And so did she. And when she stopped to catch her breath, in those precious moments in which this special memory transpired, she stopped to also say a quick prayer that went something like this: “Thank you God that I can still run with my grandkids, and that I have the energy to move in this way.” And how not long after, she hit her leg hard on a bench in her home and injured it permanently. So that she has never been able to run again in this manner.
And to think. She had just stopped to breathe a prayer of gratitude for this also.
Mom jokingly added this thought: “That’s why I never say thanks to God for my four children! (who knows what would happen if I did?)”
She jests. Of course she does, say ‘thanks’.
But what of the Others who do so also? Those Significant Others in my life who have said countless ‘thanks’ for that precious of all gifts, a child, only to lose that very gift of which they uttered words of gratitude. That Father awakened at midnight by two police officers telling him that his beloved daughter had been in a car crash and was now gone into eternity. That Mother also receiving her bitter news, only this time it was a daughter maimed and her near–to-birth baby in utero, dead. That Man who loved his job but lost it, all because of Parkinson’s. That Boy who lost his eyesight. That Girl who sits day after day in a wheel chair, only to have food trickle out of her mouth even as someone spoons it in, her eyes crusted over from infection. Her head indented from where the snow plow blade sliced skin and bone.
These all. Prayed over, and with thankful hearts, beloved. But life, and love and livelihood taken anyway. Even in the midst of gratitude and thankfulness.
The questions pile over and over in my head, tumbling in a free fall as if they have reached a precipice and due to forces of nature, have fallen over the edge. And so might I, sometime. But for the grace of God.
And all these questions beg an even greater question. Were these people, these things, this precious stuff of which we make our lives so wonderful and rich, were they ever ours to begin with? And is anything ever really ours? Do we hold in our possession any thing, any one? Can we lay claim to anything…ever? What can we hold as our own?
Job 1:18-21 (NIV)
“While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you! At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
I am not Job. Nor do I have the wisdom of Solomon. Neither am I a staunch gratitude champion or a simple idealist. But when I think about gratefulness, I think that this thankful-spiritedness means this: acknowledging what I have (nothing), what I owe (everything) and why I am grateful (because all of life, from the brevity to the length of it, from the richness to the poverty of it, from the joy to the sorrow of it, it is all His).
And because all of life is a gift, I am grateful. And even in this one small thing, in the acknowledgement of so great a truth, we can give thanks. Even when the asking is hard. And even when the answers never come.