Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A Year of Morning Thanks

Broken reeds
and smoldering wicks


It seems to me that our sorrows, which have come not like spies, but as battalions, as Shakespeare says, began the assault long after the siege of cold we’ve been suffering was already well positioned all around us. It’s been an awful winter. This howitzer-sized icicle hanging from our neighbor’s gutter doesn’t even tell the whole story of either the iciness that’s assailed us or the depth of our hatred of it right now—day after day, night after night of arctic cold.

When the weatherman calls it “bitter,” it is. Right now, maybe -4. Tomorrow night, wind chills in the twenties—that’s below zero. I wouldn’t call it an icebox—this is the deep freeze. It’s mid-February and throughout the upper Midwest even Calvinists think we’ve somehow earned the grace of a reprieve.
I’m tempted to call this juxtaposition of bitterness within and without some touch of an old literary idea, “the pathetic fallacy," because it seems to me that nature is conspiring to make our lives inescapably miserable, for miserable—trust me, inside and out—is what we are, body and soul.

On Sunday morning at church, my wife and I, turned on cue at the outset of the service and shook hands with a couple who almost always sit either just behind us or just in front of us, our colleagues, in fact, friends for decades. That afternoon, Mother Nature snarled and the road filled up with ice, even though there was barely a cloud in the sky. That couple—good folks—spun out of control, and an oncoming truck hit them. For two days now, they’ve been at the heart of a thousand prayer as they lie in critical care, lives in the balance, both of them with severe head injuries. All we can do is wait and pray.

They’d been visiting their children, whose lives had been graced just a day or two before by the very special homecoming of a four-month old adopted child from Ethiopia. Tonight those children, new parents, stand vigil over their comatose Mom and Dad.

And there’s more. My mother-in-law, who is in hospice care, is approaching the end of her time here. Her husband is not healthy either, and my wife, an only child, barely knows what to pray for. Her father can’t get out—the weather is too cold, the wind too strong, the roads full of drifting winter. Meanwhile, staying in and full-time care giving is taking its toll. Really, there’s no way out but the exit.

This afternoon, at a prayer vigil for the couple in critical care, I looked around and saw a woman whose son was killed a decade ago; she was drying tears. On the other side of the chapel, another woman sat alone, a mother who lost a high school daughter at just about the same time. A woman who stood up front and prayed began by telling us her own son was in an accident and suffered a brain injury that changed his life and theirs, but that there was no reason to despair. Her hair is still short. The chemo she had a year ago took it all, but it’s coming back.

I would never discount the words of scripture, but this afternoon in a chapel effuse with prayer, the words of the Bible were given flesh by those around me who’d suffered, those whose very presence at that vigil, whose posture and prayers gave witness that they were survivors, those who claimed they knew God’s hand, those who assured us that, even in their own cold Februarys, they’d never really been abandoned by God’s love. Those stories sustained me, and do, even now.

These friends who often sit a row in front of us—I’ve often envied them because when they sit in church, she folds her shoulder into his, as if they were lovers, which of course, they are. Tonight, in separate hospital beds, entirely on their own, they fight for life, upheld only by a thousand prayers.

And it may well be the last week of my mother-in-law’s life. The nurse warned her of the possibilities of pneumonia, but she told that nurse she didn’t want to go the hospital because, really, she just wants to go. Honestly, it’s not hard to know what to ask the Lord for anymore—just grace for the journey.

And for her husband. And for her daughter, who is my wife.

And for our little grandchildren, who are likely soon to experience death for the very first time.

And for a couple and their family locked in ICU.

It’s very cold outside. It’s bitter cold, as if the sun itself had turned it face, as if we live almost impaled on the kind of monster hanging from the neighbor's gutter.

But then we have this, don’t we?—“a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

Not even in the deep freeze. Not even in the bitter cold.

And for that assurance—and the testimonies of many who’ve been out in winters even tougher than any I’ve seen—for the comfort of their stories this morning, I’m deeply thankful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.
A reader in Florida.