Gratitude and Tears of Joy


A few weeks ago, when I posted this slideshow, my good friend Elizabeth wrote me a quick note commenting that she didn't know why it made her cry. I knew right away. Elizabeth and I have a kinship that goes far beyond our shared name. We have both experienced  pregnancy bedrest and we have both lived through traumatic premature births. More significantly perhaps, we are both cancer survivors. [Yes, Elizabeth, dear, you are a survivor. Say it out loud, please:-).]  So, even though she didn't ask me why the post made her cry, I told her why it makes me cry. I wrote:

Here's why it makes ME cry: when I hear that song, it is a wish and aprayer. I hope that when my daughter is 18, she'll think of me what Taylor Swift thought of her mom when she wrote that song. I want the best days to be the ones they've spent with me. And...those are the days I begged for in April of 1990 when the tulips were blooming outside the hospital and I was begging God to let me raise my baby boy. And those are the days I begged for again last fall. I just want the chance to make those days happen for my kids. When I see photo evidence that they do happen, I cry tears of gratitude for second chances. And third chances. I'm just glad to be alive.

Sometimes, when I am awakened in the middle of the night, I remember the midnight ride to the hospital before Sarah was born. I remember the look on my daughter's face when she saw how urgent the bleeding was. I remember leaving my house and wondering how long it would be and who I would be when I returned. I briefly wondered if I'd return at all.  And then, my focus was solely on my baby. I understood then that mothers don't think twice about themselves when their children's lives are at risk. It was all about my baby. And the baby born before her and before her and before her (and so on- you get the idea). All I wanted was to live to take care of those precious children. I wanted to live to love them. And when it was all over and Sarah was safely in the world, though not yet in my arms, I sat up in the hospital bed, looked at my husband and my firstborn and all I could say was, "I'm so relieved I didn't die."

But that didn't begin to express what was in my heart. I'm still learning all that is in my heart.

In the days before Sarah was born, while I was on bedrest, I was immersed in quotations from saints. This was not some strange birth preparation; I was researching a book. But, since I was well aware that the doctors were throwing out the same mortality statistics in this scenario as they had when I had cancer, I did think about death. And life. I commented to a friend that all those saints I was reading seemed eager, ready and willing to die. "And I," I lamented, "am no saint. Because I'm begging God to let me raise my kids. Even more, I'm begging him to let me be there for them as adults." She assured me that she thought that if I did come close to dying--if I needed the grace--it would be there.  Indeed, there was grace sufficient for perfect peace that night and I didn't even use it up dying;-)

So, now I'm alive. And I know again the sweetness that comes with a new lease on life. Every day dawns with opportunity for blessing. Every day brings with it exquisite joy. These children look to me to be the most beautiful creatures on earth. Except for their father. He is love itself. He wrote to me last night, a brief but poignant note composed in midair somewhere over Kansas. He was worried that his current traveling was taking too big a toll on me. He was afraid that I am unhappy, that I need to get away, that I want more than what is here in the heart of my home.  It was a sweet, dear note that made me smile in wonder.

How could he not know? All I've ever wanted is to be here. Perhaps I am a very simple person. Or perhaps I've just been granted the grace to see with clarity the extraordinary joy in the ordinary. On the good days, the bad days, the busy days, the lonely days, I am truly able to count it all joy. And I am keenly aware that time is a precious gift and every minute of it can and should be used to bless. It's difficult to express, I think. And I don't do it very well.  Fortunately, I am befriended by women of strength, and faith, and a way with words. Of her own appreciation of life following a birth that nearly killed her, my friend Kathryn Mulderink writes:

Truly, no day is mundane, there is no time to be disengaged. Knowing firsthand the fragility and brevity of life does sharpen your pencil and make all the colors look brighter. And knowing firsthand that God's grace is always there when you need it, that He will support you through what seems (from the outside looking in) to be impossible, is very freeing.

I have never feared death since the day I almost died, because I know His grace is sufficient. I have never feared crisis since that moment when I saw that God truly does walk with us, and that He really does support us and those we love through very difficult moments and days. And I have never wasted another moment worrying about what I cannot control, because I know that even when things look messy and even wrong to us, He can make it all right as long as we are reaching for Him and taking care of one another as well as we can.

So, each day, we need only be grateful to Him for each moment and circumstance, and focus our energies on living for love. He will orchestrate the rest. We need to trust His love for us.

I know Kathryn well enough to know that she lives that philosophy--really, truly lives it. I'm not quite there. I sometimes worry still. But I'm nearly cured of that, too. I live life deliberately. I measure every moment and ask myself if I'm using it well. And I know that He does walk with me, every single step of the way. When Mike wondered in his note how I do what I do, I reminded him that I do it by the grace of God. And that is why I do it with gratitude, and frequently, with tears of joy.