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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


If we actually lived in Orange City, what I'm about to say would be judged as heresy. We live in Alton, which has always been rather a somewhat embarrassing suburb of Sioux County's own citadel of righteousness, Orange City, the town Manfred always called "Jerusalem." Because we live in Alton I can say this and save my scalp. Here's the bald truth: I've never been all that fond of Tulip Festival. 

There, I said it. Hang me. 

But I'm learning. Last weekend I spent three very enjoyable hours as a tour guide through the Native American section of the Sioux County Museum, then half a gorgeous Saturday behind a Walmart folding table, selling books. Tulip Festival. I enjoyed being there in the middle of everything, just as I had last year. What's more, I sold books.  

For almost forty years, from behind the walls of Fort Sioux Center, Orange City's deadly serious rival in all things, I giggled, took pot shots at the dopey street dancing and idiotic costumes OC people don annually for their precious fest. And wooden shoes. We went once or twice when the kids were little and needed cotton candy, but mostly I did the lawn on Saturday and stayed away from the madness a dozen miles south and east.

On Friday, an older woman (a difficult phrase these days) came up to me in the museum, grabbed my sleeve, and leaned in toward me as if to whisper intimacy. "We love your town," she said, plain and simple. Things got all shook up in my head because she was talking about Orange City, which has never really been my town at all.

"So do we," I said. Not a lie, but not exactly heartfelt testimony. 

It's over now. Real Orange City-ans love to reminisce, to go over specs and dimensions, to tell each other stories of this year's pageantry, which inevitably leads to old yarns of hallowed festivals gone by. Last night, I listened to countless reminiscences, precious really, all of them. Three times, Mid-May, it actually snowed--did you know that? There were tales of peashooters, squirt guns, float mishaps. One guy said the first year they lived here, he went to every single parade--six of them in two days--and loved every one. Since?--well, not so.

Last night the combined choirs of Unity Christian High, Orange City, surrounded the crowd at the Knight Center, lined the rows and stairs in a kind of hug, and then sung "Peace Like a River." Some hymns pull my heart right out of my chest for all the world to see, the old Horatio Spafford hymn one of them. Mr. Spafford wrote out the text, the story goes, on a ship that was just then going by the spot in the wide Atlantic where, not long before, a killer storm had claimed the lives of all four of his children.

O Lord, haste the day
When my faith shall be sight--
the clouds be rolled back 
as the shore. 
It is well with my soul. 

That hymn's history doesn't stop with a tear-filled hymn-writer aboard a ship on the watery grave of his beloved children. It has become itself a lifeboat, holding up a dozen renditions in time and place that have sustained me like scripture itself through an entire lifetime. Something pulls at the corners of my eyes with every rendition. To say I know it by heart is itself a testimony.

This particular rendition was no different, with one exception. Somewhere in the lines of those choirs stood my granddaughter, brightening the earth's own darkness with a confession that has since Spafford wrote it been offered to the Lord God almighty millions and millions of time. 

No matter. That she was a part of that hymn in that beautiful way last night was a moment like none other. I hope she felt something of the rich privilege it is to make music that has brought so much eternal joy to so many sinners lavishly blessed by grace alone.

It is well, it is well with my soul. 

My parents, both of them deceased, would have loved hearing that hymn last night and seeing their own great-granddaughter as part of that choir holding a crowd of parents and grandparents, as it were, in their arms from all around the hall. 

But then, to be honest, what do any of us know about death? Absolutely nothing. 

So let's just say they were there, Jocelyn. Let's just say from some promontory somewhere, your great-grandparents were listening too, wiping a tear or two just the way your grandpa did. I bet they were. I know they were.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have to be a real Orange City-ite to say I really enjoyed Tulip Festival this year. 

But last night was something different. Last night was heritage

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