Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
For three days, the child bled profusely from the nose. She was six years old, and doctors had no idea what was causing the bleeding. What’s more, they understood that if the bleeding didn’t stop, her life was in grave danger.
It was 1913. The doctors knew very little about transfusions, but they’d started to believe in the importance of somehow getting good new blood back into the little girl’s system, so they asked her father to give his daughter some of his. He complied, one of the first blood transfusions in the state of Michigan.
The yellowed newspaper story is titled, “Minister Saves the Life of Daughter By Giving Blood,” and the story it tells ends by explaining how the father “was considerably improved and was able to dress.” Then it adds, “The child was also considerably better and hopes are entertained for her recovery.”
Two weeks later she was dead. Little Agnes Gertrude, my grandparents’ oldest child, succumbed once the hemorrhaging returned. For a time, her father’s blood had brightened her face as well as her possibilities, but his gift—as odd to the newspaper readers as it must have seemed to him—would not and did not save her life.
Family lore says, at the time, the doctors knew nothing about blood-typing. Her father, my relatives speculate, was as good a choice as the doctors could have made, but he was not a match. Agnes Gertrude, my aunt, died two weeks after that strange new procedure the doctors called “a transfusion.”
I have no newspaper accounts of my grandparents’ grief, but I know some oral history. Agnes’s little sister told me how her father lay face down on the rug of the living room for almost a week after Agnes’s death, as if unable to move. She told me my grandfather was lethargic, depressed, his whole countenance darkened by the mysterious and horrible death of his child.
Nothing changed, she said, until he accepted a call to another congregation, a small country church up north. She told me how she remembered riding on a wagon up to that country church, all their possessions packed up behind them, then being greeted by the entire church right there on the lawn, all of them waiting for the new preacher and his family.
“And then it was over,” my aunt told me. The darkness ended.
I can’t imagine all the sadness was completely over. If my grandparents were still alive today, I’d love to ask them about that loss, if even today they could talk about it. But in the eyes of their five-year-old daughter, the one who told me the story, the darkness ended on a summer day on the lawn of a country church full of welcome.
I wonder how someone like my grandfather, the preacher, read a verse like this one from Psalm 90. He probably read it a hundred times, at a hundred funerals. I wonder what he thought of its modest proposal: “Lord, give us as many days as you do nights, as much joy as sorrow, as many smiles as tears. That’s all we’re asking.”
Charles Spurgeon says the request is dear because it’s so childlike. Maybe he’s right. What it is—and thank God almighty for it—is so very human. What he's asking so understandable, so understated, so obviously wrenched from a mournful heart.
Once in a while, Moses says, just let us laugh, Lord—we’re not asking for much.
Is it any wonder why people love this psalm?